Oct. 18 is the celebration of the Feast of Saint Luke, physician and evangelist. This special time in the church year once again brings into sharp focus Jesus’ healing ministry as exemplified by Luke and the Gospel stories that only he recorded for us.
Somewhere along the way Luke traded in his medicines for words – healing words, Jesus’ words. These words and stories have been passed down to us as we are charged by our baptismal covenant to “proclaim by word and deed the good news of God in Christ.”
Like Luke, we are called to be healers with word and presence. Like Luke, we are called to be doctors of the Gospel. We want our church to be a place of healing, but exactly how to do it and to keep doing it seems difficult.
For many years I have worked with churches that want to start a healing ministry or reenergize one that has fallen by the wayside. Taking a page from Jesus’ playbook, the method is simple: prayer, presence and persistence. This sounds easy enough, but always the limiting factor seems to be fear.
The questions are always the same: “What if it doesn’t work?” or “What do we do next if people are not healed?” or “What if we fail?” These are valid questions. The truth of the matter appears to be obvious – not everyone who is prayed for or is ministered to is healed – or so it would appear.
I get some comfort with this apparent inconsistency by comparing conventional medicine to healing prayer ministry. We live in the most advanced medical environment in the recorded history of the world. We have multi-organ transplants, total joint replacements and stem cell transplants. The list goes on.
These advances in technology often require arduous periods of recovery and rehabilitation until the condition is resolved or maximized. Sometimes the best the medical world has to offer doesn’t work.
Now, on the other hand some react negatively if immediate improvement is not experienced after one prayer. To them healing prayer is a waste of time, and they throw in the towel. I’m not saying that dramatic healings don’t occur – they do with both medicine and prayer (or a combination of both), but most often healing is gradual.
We know in medicine that when the body or mind is wounded, a complex series of physiologic events must happen before healing is complete. This is called the healing process – emphasis on process.
This process takes time even when supported by modern medicines, technology and healing prayer. The point here is that in medicine we keep on treating as long as there is hope for recovery. Bottom line, we don’t give up – we persist.
Several years ago when faced with these questions I wrote this: “I see the churches healing ministry as an ongoing ‘curing of souls,’ which persists in spite of apparent ‘successes’ or ‘failures.’ I see the church as a hospital where broken lives are made whole and spirits restored through everything we do as a community of faith. Just as in a hospital where rounds are made every day we, too, as Gospel physicians, are called to make our daily rounds in prayer and presence. I think I know what Paul meant when he said, “pray without ceasing.” He was telling the church to persist regardless of what happened. Throughout the entire history of God’s relationship with his creation one clear quality of God emerges – our God is persistent. Can we do anything less?”
THE REV. JOE BOWDEN IS ASSISTING PRIEST AT CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER, AN EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN MARTINEZ.