Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Healing Presence

A clergy colleague asked me to look at a book written by the Rev. Dr. Joanna J. Seibert entitled Healing Presence: Stories of Faith and Hope (Temenos Publishing, 2006). Seibert is a medical doctor and a deacon in the Episcopal Church. She served as director of pediatric radiology at Arkansas Children’s Hospital for 25 years and currently serves as deacon at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, Arkansas.

In the book, Seibert shares prayers, readings, and stories of visiting the sick, the dying, and the grieving that show how she, as a minister and as a physician, found God’s presence – and offered God’s presence – in some very painful and tragic situations.

This passage struck me:

God does not give answers to Job and his companions about why all these terrible disasters happen to him, but instead God sends his presence to Job. Our experience is that in any relationship, presence is more powerful than answers. We certainly do not have answers, but God calls us to bring our presence to those who, like Job, have experienced the pain and sorrow of this life.

And here’s an excerpt from the book’s introduction:

I have met our Lord, not in the church’s sanctuary, but in the garden of all places – the Garden of Gethsemane. I find the Garden not in the beauty of the outdoors, but in the homes of the sick, nursing homes, and hospitals. There I meet the aged, the wounded, cancer victims, the newborn, the young, men and women speechless and paralyzed by stroke, young and old disabled by heart disease. They are all in the Garden praying as Christ did that this cup will pass them by. And I am there praying with them that they may not need to drink from this cup. … 
What do you say to the husband who is about to lose his wife to cancer when he tells you, “I can’t lose her, she is my life”? What do you say to the young mother whose son has drowned? What do you say to the friend who is your age who has undergone every possible treatment for her cancer, but her disease is coming back with a vengeance? What do you say to the blessed man who has lived a life of serving others for over 80 years who is incontinent, can not walk, and can not remember what he had for breakfast much less your last visit? This is where I meet Christ and the suffering he endured. I do not understand why they must suffer. Some receive miraculous cures, but others don’t. They must drink from a cup we all wished had passed them by. I don’t understand this, either.

I do know, however, that the living Christ is there within and beside each of the sick and their loved ones. And sometimes I can see the angels he has sent to guard them – nurses and physicians and health professionals who go an extra mile, the ones who see their work as a ministry and not just a source of income.
If you are like myself, searching for Christ, I know a place where you can find him and I know he will dwell there until all are healed and there will no longer be any suffering and every tear wiped dry.

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