Becoming a Healing Presence:
This is our first podcast entitled On Becoming a Healing Presence. The subtitle is Through Christ We Learn to be More Aware of Moments of Healing Opportunities. So that’s the hope for this series of podcasts. Together, you and I, we will explore what all of that means. Suffice it to say that becoming a healing presence can be for us a real adventure.
If you were in my place at this moment and you had this golden opportunity to speak into a microphone and have lots of people hear you; have the Lord speak through you, what would be the first thing you would say? Here’s the first thing I will say. And frankly, I hope it’s kind of the first thing you might say – namely Christ is everything. We always start with Christ. We end with Christ. He’s the Alpha and the Omega for all that we do.
Christ is our physician; our complete healer. And He wants us to be His humanity on this earth for each other, to the extent that we can. We’re His healing presence for each other or not. We are a healing presence to others when we give them strength; we have an encounter with them. We give them strength when we give them hope. They leave us, whether it’s a very brief or a sustained encounter, with strength and hope.
This podcast will explore the psychological, spiritual healings that we do for each other. Physical healing is far, far, far too complex for a podcast. Together, we’re going to explore the meaning of becoming a healing presence and precisely how we can become a little more of that. St. Athanasius the Great said of St. Anthony, and in a sense is saying to us, “Through him, the Lord heals many.”
It is said in the present tense. So St. Anthony heals many when he was on this planet, and we know that he is still healing many now that he is in Heaven. What continues to surprise me is how much and how often I see in myself and in others, this lack of a healing presence. That is to say – opportunities come and go, and not only is healing not done, but often damage is done one to the other.
Here’s what’s behind this podcast. When my wife was alive – We were married for nineteen years. She’s dead; buried at St. Tikhon’s and has been at St. Tikhon’s for the past nineteen years. The last year of her life she suffered and suffered greatly from metastasized bone cancer that morphine didn’t touch.
We lived close to St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Sometimes she would say to me, “Al, do you think you could get a seminarian to walk over and have lunch with me?” I’d say, “Well sure, honey.” So I would see a seminarian or two and ask and of course they would. I’d come home from supper, “Honey, how was lunch?” “Oh Al, lunch was really wonderful. I felt so good after that lunch. Do me a favor. Ask them to come back often. That made my day. It lifted my spirit.” “Okay honey. I will certainly do my best to have that happen.”
On occasion, I would ask the seminarian to come. He would come. Supper time I would say to my wife, “How was lunch, honey.” She would say, “Al, please don’t ever let that seminarian enter my screen door again. I’m too sick to have a seminarian come here and play priest.” That was like her definition. Someone came from the seminary and “played priest,” and she was too sick to tolerate that. So of course I would say, “Honey, I will make sure that that person doesn’t come back.”
The scene would have been like this, because I’ve seen it played out. A seminarian would come in, perfunctorily question, “How are you doing?” And even before the full answer would be out, the seminarian would launch into a mini lecturette, a little sermonette. Then say, “I hope that you’re feeling better. I have to go now. Bye,” and walk out the door. The screen door would slam behind him.
He wouldn’t walk out light of foot and almost in a sense chalk it off as, “Yes, I visited the sick. Next thing to do.” He had no idea that the sick person that he visited was lessened; was diminished by his visit. So we all do that. We have those tendencies. So that’s kind of what, with you, I would like to address from the get-go and see what we can do about that.
Right from the get-go, I want to say that these podcasts are team presented. You hear my voice. I hear my voice. But there are really two people who are your hosts – myself and my lovely wife, though dead, very much alive and very much here living with me. She and I are together; any good that I do is her acting through me. We’re a unit or, as they say today, we’re an item. We’re together. She’s good.
When she was alive, she sang wonderfully. And I’m going to play a song for her; let her sing to you now. But she did not sing professionally. She played the guitar, which she had learned herself. She’s now in a new, strange terrain in Heaven with a heavenly voice. But it’s possible for us to go through that semipermeable membrane separating us, our sense data, from the other world, which is really quite close, and live in both worlds so to speak.
So she’s going to sing a song for you now called Today, a song about two human lovers in the moment. But it’s also a metaphor for this podcast and for my being; your being; our being; our soul in its relationship to Jesus Christ. It’s a love song. And it can be heard as a love song between us and Christ. We’re the bride. He’s the Bridegroom.
The song “Today” plays
I think you’ll agree that that song was just beautiful; heavenly. I do like to kid her and say, “Oh honey, you’re in good voice tonight. You’re not always that clear. You must have had a little honey and lemon in some water this morning to clear your vocal cords.” In any case, she’s, as is the whole heavenly hosts, here with us if we allow them.
Let’s deal with two questions. What does it mean to become a healing presence? And probably more important, how do we increase our ability to do that? I think already you can see that this definition is an operational definition for love delivered; love on the street; love in our lives; love with each other.
Let’s look at what a healing presence is. It means that when someone, you or me or some other human, has done something to give me strength or hope. And you might ask in your life recently, who in your life did give you strength or hope when you felt in need a little? And what were the ingredients of that? How was that done? That’s the way we learn how to do that for each other. It means that I do something and give someone else what Christ gives through me.
Christ is the one who provides everything. He provides the opportunity for me to have such an encounter. He provides the energy and energy exchange between two people. He provides the ability for my vocal cords to work; my ears to hear; my retina of my eyes to see. It’s all Him, and all good that I do is Him through me.
He is the fire. He is the magma. He is the sun flame bursting through me the little clay conduit. He’s fire. He comes through this little clay conduit and out the other side as healing fire; as warm light to other people to the extent that this little conduit can allow the fire through. And the conduit itself, of course, can be just put by the side of the road. It’s a conduit. It’s clay and it’s empty. And we try to empty it as best we can.
It’s also true, we know in Orthodoxy, that synergy operates. It’s not all Christ, and I am nothing. Oh no. I have to do my little part. We cooperate with grace, but it is tiny. It is five loaves and two fish. It’s all Him with me along; me acquiescing; me giving Him permission, as Mother Teresa would say.
I’ll illustrate that by a little story of Tommy, a little boy, who wanted to get his mother a Christmas present, and said to his dad, “I’d like to get Mom a Christmas present.” His dad said, “Fine, Tom. Let’s go to the mall and see what we can do.” So Tommy and his dad go to the mall. They go to a store and the dad says, “You know what Tommy? I think Mommy might like slippers. I noticed her slippers are a bit worn out.” “That’s a good idea, Dad.”
So Tommy and his dad go to the slipper department. The dad says, “Well, I was talking to your mom. She just said that she likes pink fluffy. Now I don’t know why she likes pink fluffy, but that’s what she said. So what do you think, Tommy?” “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” “And she does take size 5, so let’s go see what they have.”
“So Tommy, what do you think of these size 5 pink fluffies?” “Oh Dad, that’s exactly what I want. Let’s get those.” “Okay!” So they go to the cashier; the dad takes out the credit card and pays for the slippers. They go home. They go to the family room. The dad closes the door for a little privacy; gets out the Christmas wrappings; lays it on the floor; gets the scissors and cuts it out; wraps the box; hands Tommy a piece of Scotch tape; and Tommy puts a couple of pieces of Scotch tape on the box.
The dad gets a Christmas card; opens it; Tommy prints his name. They put it under the tree. Christmas morning, Tommy’s mom opens the box and says, “Oh Tommy, this is exactly what I wanted! How did you know? It’s perfect – pink, fuzzy slippers, size 5.” The truth is those slippers were Tommy’s gift to his mother. She is satisfied. He is satisfied. Christmas came and went.
But it is also true that the dad was the prime mover in that whole setup, so too for us and God. It takes two. Tommy did have to say, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” But Tommy didn’t have the idea; didn’t pay for it, and he was a tag-a-long, so to speak. We will know that we’ve strengthened another human being because Christ did through us what we certainly cannot do of our own steam; on our own.
We do this, a little bit about the how, by keeping clean; cleaning out, as best we can, the conduit. We allow the clay conduit, ourselves, to be empty and hollow so the fire can go through. That’s the process, of course, of sanctity and of sanctification. Sanctity is a process of subtraction, not a process of addition where you add it up. It’s not a process of multiplication or division. Sanctity is a process of subtraction. We allow Christ to subtract from us our vices, our defensiveness, and all the energy and things we have in us blocking us, walls in us, between us and Him.
We also need to know what we’re in for when we embark on this path. “Well, I think I’d like to do this a little bit more. Be an agent of grace.” One time a college student said to me a quote I’ll never forget. “If I decide to put Christ first, the suffering will be great, but the joy will be greater.”
And yes, the suffering will be great, which is why many of us simply don’t do these kinds of things. Why? Because we don’t want the suffering. We have enough pain on our plate. We shrink. At bottom, we’re all sinners. We’re all deeply wounded and tempted to be hugely selfish. We can be purified little by little, two steps forward; one step backward, by fire if we are aware that that’s one of our roles on this planet.
So then what happens when we talk this way, think this way, and pray this way, something happens to our own self-image; who we see ourselves to be – not about self-esteem but just thought about my own ways. If I begin to see myself as a chosen, healing presence to others then I begin to act slightly different in function of that changing self-image.
I also begin to become more acute to what others are, consciously or unconsciously on their part, when they are being a healing presence to me. And all of that is an upward helix. Grace has a life of its own. And in that sense, healing can become contagious. Others feel it, experience, and see it, and then perhaps do it a little more themselves.
I’ll end this podcast with an anecdote on surrender and emptying and subtraction with a little story about how they catch monkeys in Africa. In Africa, predators catch monkeys by getting a coconut, drilling a hole in the coconut just big enough for a monkey to scrunch its hand together and put its hand in the little hole.
Then, the predators take a second instrument; go through that hole; expand the instrument on the inside and clean out and hollow the coconut. Then, they bore a hole in the back of the coconut; put a bolt in; and then through the bolt, put a chain and a lock and take that and put it on the ground at the base of a tree. They chain that coconut to the tree.
Then, they put rice and pineapple inside the coconut and on the ground outside the coconut. Then, they go home and get a good night’s sleep. The monkey comes; smells the coconut and rice, which the monkey likes a lot; eats some of it. It smells the coconut itself; realizes there’s rice and pineapple on the inside.
It sticks its little hand in, grabs a whole fistful, and then can’t get its hand out. It pulls against the coconut, which is of course pulling against the chain against the tree and immovable. Well, the monkey keeps doing it.
If the monkey wants a free monkey life of swinging its tail between the branches, all it has to do is open its little hand; let go of the pineapple and rice; pull its hand out; and go. The monkey doesn’t do that. The predators know that. They come back the next morning. There sits the monkey at the base of the tree; hand in the coconut; grasping the pineapple and the rice.
Now it does pain me to say this, but this is reality. The predators take and muzzle the monkey; cut the little monkey’s hand off; put the monkey in a sack; and go make monkey soup. That’s a metaphor for us. We hang onto negative attitudes, selfish ways, energies that are working against us. We stay on this merry-go-round of selfishness blocking grace when all we have to do is try and ask for the grace to let go.