Posted by: smstrouse | February 11, 2012

The Evolution of Healing

This weekend has been declared ‘The 7th Annual Evolution Weekend’ by Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project. The project began as a call for clergy to sign on to a statement in support of teaching evolution in schools. From there, ‘Evolution Weekend’ has been promoted as an opportunity for discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. The ongoing goal is to show that the relationship between religion and science need not be adversarial.

For me, the challenge has been how to incorporate this opportunity into our regularly scheduled worship service with our appointed lectionary texts. This week, however, that’s not a problem. The gospel text is a healing story: Jesus cures a man of leprosy.
Now it’s one thing if I read this story solely through the eyes of faith. But if I put on my 21st century glasses, with their lenses of scientific discovery, I may find myself asking some hard questions:
Did Jesus really heal people?  How was he able to do that?
Does God heal people today? Why doesn’t God heal everyone?

I find the subject of healing to be murkier than evolution. With evolution, we’re mostly divided up between those who accept it and those who don’t. Healing is more complicated – even among progressive Christians. There might seem to be a clear line between those who accept the healing stories of Jesus as supernatural acts that really happened and those who either disbelieve entirely or who would grant a scientific explanation for the so-called miracle. But I don’t accept the limits of those options.

Some recent scholarship has shed some light on the meaning of these stories. In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, John Dominic Crossan  wrote: “Was he (Jesus) curing the disease (leprosy) from an intervention in the physical world, or was he healing the illness through an intervention in the social world? I assume that Jesus, who did not and could not cure that disease or any other one, healed the poor man’s illness by refusing to accept the disease’s ritual uncleanness and social ostracization.”

While I love reading Crossan, and agree with him on so many other things, I struggle with his (and others’) take on the healing stories. While I can appreciate it on an intellectual level, my gut tells me that there’s more to the story.

I finally found a kindred spirit in Bruce Epperly, who describes himself as a “theologian, spiritual guide, minister, and reiki master/teacher, and companion to persons on their holy adventure.” In an insightful article, ‘Did Jesus Cure Anyone?’ he states that “the area of healing and the significance of Jesus’ healing ministry for 1st century and 21st century persons still remains a barely-charted frontier for progressive Christians.”  And he rightly challenges us to go beyond the old mind/body dualism towards a holistic approach.

OK, but holistic is a word that’s thrown around a lot; what does it really mean? Epperly describes it as being “fully aligned with God’s vision” and Jesus as one who “may have experienced a special connection with the divine power that continuously creates the universe and gives life to every cell . . .”  So in my understanding of Jesus as the incarnation of that vision, there is room for a much wider, more cosmic, both intellectual and mystic approach to both religion and science.

OK again, but how can we live into that kind of model? Maybe by first considering the possibility that some people really did experience healing by Jesus. And secondly that some people also experience it today – through healing touch, anointing with oil, qigong, yoga, laying on of hands, prayer, or any number of healing practices.

This make sense to both my head and my gut. It appears that there is an evolutionary process underway in how we understand our mind/body/spirit connectedness – within ourselves and with others.

There’s so much we do not know – about religion and about science. But I do know they’re not mutually exclusive. Our evolution has led us to this point. As followers of Jesus the healer, will we embrace the challenge to go forward?


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