A Healing Effect

Everyone gets wounded in life. Some heal and some don’t. Why?

2016-11-06 oos image


Share the plate: Meals on Wheels

Celebrant: Ann Hanus, Anchor: LJ Frederickson
Music both services: Loraine Stuart

Centering Thought: As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. ― Martin Luther King Jr.




Ouch! Got a deep cut on my finger (or leg or arm). Blood flows. No worries though. I know exactly what to do: I command my first responder red blood cells to begin clotting to prevent further loss of blood and simultaneously send out an emergency call my white blood cells to rush to the scene of the injury to fight off any rogue bacteria that might infect the wound; next, I summon some fibroblast cells to come deposit collagen to replace the damaged connective tissue so that the dermis and epidermis can grow back together – stronger than ever. Isn’t it amazing that I’m smart enough to know how to do all this, even while smarting in pain? Actually – I’m clueless. It’s the unfathomable wisdom of the body at work here – I’m in awe of it! Isn’t it amazing how the skin reknits itself back together with more skill than any grandma knitting a blanket for her beloved grandchild?

Whenever our bodies and souls are wounded they are healed by a subtle process greater than our conscious selves, call that power what you will. Truthfully, no one can claim to heal themselves or others. At best, someone may be wise enough to help bring about the right conditions for the healing process to occur.

Well what about Jesus? (and other spiritual giants, saints and sages or yore)? Doesn’t the bible say that HE healed “the lame, halt and blind” people and even brought Lazarus back from the dead? I can well imagine that Jesus, and other great souls, who were so full of love had such a profoundly calming and reassuring presence and thus healing did occur in their presence (although I daresay the scripture greatly exaggerates the miraculous nature of Jesus’ role in this).

Well, then, what about doctors? Don’t they heal? Not the ones I’ve talked to. They have told me that the body heals itself and their job is to create the right conditions for that to happen (which certainly requires great knowledge, insight and skill).

It has belatedly occurred to me that we must possess an inner wisdom leads us to act as our own spiritual physicians in that one of the things we do for ourselves is seek out the right conditions for our spirits to heal. Years ago, when I was a very young man, it didn’t occur to me that this was what I was doing, but in retrospect I can see that I acted as my own spiritual physician. Some might say there was a guardian angel at work. Or grace. It’s a mystery.

In my case, healing was sorely needed. My spirit had been deeply wounded by the disintegration of my family of origin caused by divorce, mental illness and things more distressing and heartrending which shall go unmentioned here. Then there was my state of confusion – I didn’t know who I was called to be in the world – I only knew that I was failing at being the person society expected me to be. Then there was the general turmoil in society as the Viet Nam war raged and protestors – among them myself – raged in the streets. It was the worst of times.

And yet, it was also the best of times. Why? Because through some amazing grace beyond my understanding I discovered the two sources I could and would return to, again and again, for the healing and restoration of my spirit during the next four plus decades – sources that have lifted me out of the hellish realms of despair and towards the heavenly realms of hope, peace, love and joy.

I was in desperate need of healing spirituality in my life, but I was completely disenchanted and disillusioned with my southern Baptist heritage and thought religion in general held no promise for me. Then a good friend of mine – my roommate, a Chinese exchange student from India – introduced me to Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. Together we began a meditation practice and sometimes we went to meditate with a small Zen group at the one of the few congregations that would allow such a thing – the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta.

This isn’t the time for a lecture on meditation right now, but I will say this. When you practice a style of meditation that involves being in the present moment and letting go – again and again – of thoughts and feelings – especially the toxic, despairing, anxious, fretful and fruitless ones that come into your mind – you remove yourself from self harm’s way. Your spirit begins to heal – not because of something you DO but because of something you DON’T DO – afflict yourself with the toxic, fretful thoughts and feelings that create human suffering.

I’m reminded of the story of man who was whipping himself – “why in the world are you doing that,” an astonished passerby asked. “Because it feels so good when I stop.” Meditation not only helps you experience how good it feels to stop mentally whipping yourself – it leads you to realize that it’s a good idea to let the whip go and center yourself in the healing present moment, as much as you can. Even if you don’t think you’re any good at it (I’m not), you’ll still reap the healing benefits.

Now those were the days my fellow countercultural friends were all listening to rock and folk music. For reasons I don’t understand, my spirit needed and sought out something else. Somehow, I discovered Beethoven – the majesty and strength, the profound depths and sublime height of his music left me awestruck (and still does). His music allowed me to acknowledge and explore my pain (Beethoven was no stranger to pain and sorrow – listen to the 3rd movement of his 29th piano sonata or the 2nd movement of his 9th String quartet) and it enabled me to experience the healing balm of beauty. One summer I must have listened to his 4th piano concerto 100 times. I thought I listened because it was such beautiful music. Yet now I think I listened so many times is because my spirit sorely needed exposure to this healing musical balm. Thus began my forty plus years joyous exploration of the music of great classical masters from Bach to Bartok. It was Bach who noted that music is for “the glorification of God and the recreation of the human spirit.” I’m good with that. Music has re-created my spirit, reknit my tattered soul, again and again.

Yet I have learned that that which heals my spirit – meditation and classical music – may not be for everyone. I’m not here to convert you to do it my way (although I’m glad to chat with anyone about classical music – especially Beethoven – and meditation). I just encourage you find those places and practices that heal your spirit and weave this healing contact into the fabric of your daily life. It may be gardening, star gazing, hiking, painting, poetry, prayer, dancing or singing or sacred ritual or counseling. If you do allow your spirit to be drawn to those realms where healing happens of peace then life’s healing balm can do it’s wondrous, beneficent work.

And if you DO NOT do this you may end up being among the walking wounded in this world who unwittingly inflict their own pain on others. As mystic and spiritual teacher Richard Rohr put it: “unresolved pain gets disowned and gets used up as energy in our shadows as anger, rage, hatred, and resentment and gets projected onto our partners, family, friends, co-workers and the world at large – it you do not transform your pain you will transmit it.”

A lot of unresolved pain certainly got transmitted to Herb – a diminutive, elderly gay man who was a member here some years ago. I know so because Herb told me of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his macho, militaristic father and a bullying, homophobic society. He told me these sad stories over the lunches we would have at his apartment in north Salem. Our very last lunch was quite different, however – a lunch Herb was very anxious to have with me before a certain date. Turns out he was facing some very serious surgery, and he had a special favor to ask: Could we, would we, pray for him on the Sunday morning during worship before he went under the knife at the VA Hospital? Of course I said “yes” but wondered exactly how I would do this in a UU congregation wary of traditional forms of intercessory prayer.

On the Sunday before Herb’s surgery – right after the regular service ended – most members joined me as we all gathered around Herb, laid our hands upon him and I prayed extemporaneously invoking the spirit of love to heal his spirit, if not his body.

A few weeks later it truly astonished to learn that this prayer had been answered. Herb died after surgery, and I was called to the VA hospital to talk to the doctors and nurses and the chaplain because he had no family or heirs. Everyone separately mentioned how Herb repeatedly talked about this prayer – this one simple congregational ritual served as a validation that he was a good and lovable person despite what he had been told all his life. This prayer – and more importantly, the compassionate laying on of hands – helped heal his spirit. I had not realized that such a simple prayer could have such a powerful effect. It restored Herb’s soul.

Once we recognized the power of such a simple act the Life Lines Lay Ministry and I created the simple meditative ritual we offer on the second Sunday of each month – we call it “Compassionate Connection.” It’s for those who are going through difficult times and enables them to be honest and vulnerable, to acknowledge their pain and sorrow and to be open to receiving a compassionate, connecting touch from those who are there to offer support. It’s very simple, the language is theologically inclusive and it seems to make a difference.

If you search your heart I believe that you will discover that you do feel called to make a healing difference in the world. In the Jewish tradtion they speak of this as “Tikkhun Olam” – which means “to repair the world.”

It certainly is in need of repair, isn’t it? My God! There is so much hurt and woundedness and injustice and indifference and greed and cruelty. What can you do? Look around. Pay attention. Become aware of those places where there is hurt and sorrow and despair. And being thus aware you’ll do the right thing for a healing spirit will guide you.