Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd Oct 13, 2019
This has been quite the last few days. How many here have been without power? How many still have no power? How many have been sawing up branches and trees that have come down? We saw last week how many of us have farming connections and we are feeling their despair at ruined crops.
If you’re like me, these last few days have taken a bit of a toll. And so many of us are coming to church tired and worried. We may not be in the best frame of mind to cultivate a spirit of gratitude on this thanksgiving weekend.
I had a wedding rehearsal Thursday night at Pine Ridge Hollow beside Bird’s Hill Park. It was to be an outdoor wedding, but they moved it into a tent. We all arrived a bit frazzled, with the winds whipping the tent, snow beginning to fall and some in tears. We were all quite cold so I hurried us through the fastest rehearsal I’ve ever done. I also had to deal with the wedding planner, whose plans for the rehearsal were different than what I had worked out with the couple. I was definitely grumpy as I drove back home. But I was brought up short by what I encountered on my way back. I happened to pass the tent city near Main Street project. Tents were bowing under the weight of the snow. I then saw an older woman heaving two heavy bags across snowdrifts as she struggled across the street. I asked her if she wanted a ride somewhere and she pointed to Main Street Project just down the block. “I’m almost there, it’s ok,” she said, “but thanks.” She smiled with gratitude.
Wow. She, who had no home, not even a tent, hauling heavy bags through deep, wet snow with 80 km gusts, was grateful. As I continued driving back to my warm house full of food and comforts, my grumpiness slinked into a corner and a seed of gratitude that this woman has sown began to take root.
I’ve had to struggle with this fragile shoot since then as I listened to multiple cracks throughout the nights of Thursday and Friday when huge tree branches come down in our yard. I’ve been feeling a deep sadness for our tree apocalypse throughout Winnipeg. Nancy and I offered our own paltry bit of tree first aid as we went down our block on Friday armed with broom and rake to try and rescue some of the little trees bent over double. Almost immediately, we were amazed with the resilience of most of the trees as they began to straighten. We know that most of the wounds from broken branches will heal over. In the midst of this tree-sorrow, I’m finding a gratitude and even awe over the resilience of God’s creation. Healing is already beginning to happen.
Our gospel lesson is about healing and gratitude. There are actually 4 different types of healing that happen in this story. The obvious type is physical, but physical healing didn’t happen for the lepers until their emotional healing began. The term “leprosy” in scripture referred to any skin condition considered contagious. Lepers in Jesus’ time were banned from their own homes, families and communities because of fear of contagion.
Jesus knew that the lepers needed healing not only from their skin condition, but also from their fear and shame of being shut out. Only a priest could declare them clean and acceptable to return to their families and communities. And so, their physical healing didn’t happen until they were on their way to the priest when their emotional healing began.
Two more levels of healing happened with the one leper who returned to give thanks. He was a Samaritan—someone despised as a foreigner of a different ethnic identity and religious faith. He came back to give Jesus thanks for his physical and emotional healing, but Jesus knew that he needed to be healed in two additional ways. Jesus offered him social healing by crossing forbidden boundaries of ethnic and religious divide to accept the Samaritan. Jesus then offered him spiritual healing by telling him that his faith made him well. The Samaritan’s faith opened him to a holistic healing of body, emotions, social acceptance and spirit.
Healing is complex. Our sense of belonging, our acceptance in society, our stress levels, our fears all have an impact on our physical health. And what role does God play in this healing? God sends continuous impulses of love and healing to each one of us and to all of creation—including the trees. We can strengthen this healing in ourselves and in others by opening ourselves to these impulses of love. We can be the healing hands of Christ by breaking down these barriers of social ostracization within our families and our society.
Emotional and social healing can also happen even if the body is not able to heal. Helen Keller experienced a miracle of healing while she remained deaf and blind. “Suddenly,” she wrote, “I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could, in time, be swept away. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. . . . Every object that I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me.”
Miracles of healing happen every day in ways both big and small:
- a restricted body finds another way to live and to love
- a neighbour saws up fallen branches
- friends offer solace in grief
- prayer assures the one with hands lifted that they are not alone
- the relief from stress strengths the body
- a phone call reunites a lost soul
Underlying each of these miraculous healings are the continuous impulses of God’s love. God weeps with the tragedies of this world—typhoons, fires, droughts and even tree apocalypses. But even in the midst of tragedies and challenges, God continues to send us impulses of love that help to get us back on our feet again and reach out a hand to help pull others up. Little seeds of gratitude are sown. We begin to give thanks that we even have power that may be outed from time to time. We give thanks that we have homes, even though they may sometimes lose heat. We are grateful that we even have trees that may lose their tops and branches on occasion.
As we give thanks, we may find another miracle begin to happen. Medical studies have shown that those who practice gratitude have an edge on good health. People who consciously develop a deep sense of gratitude have less stress, are more hopeful and have a stronger immune system. Gratitude, in itself, can lead to healing.
United Methodist Minister Barbara Sholis writes, “Life can make you feel as if you have lead in your shoes. It can leave you lost, wandering and wondering. But gratitude brings buoyancy. It is the antidote for fear. Gratitude flips despair on its back and says, “You’re not robbing me of today!”
Especially in this challenging time of loss, let us give thanks from the depths of our beings to God, to our families, to our friends, to this incredible Creation that both receives and offers healing through impulses of the Creator’s love.
 The Christian Century, https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2004-10/windfall