Healing Community

Reading 1 A Brave And Startling Truth, Maya Angelou

A Brave And Startling Truth

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth
And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

*** 
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it. 

~ Maya Angelou ~ 

 

Reading 2 Excerpt of Listening as Healing, Margaret Wheatley

A young black South African woman taught some of my friends a profound lesson about listening. She was sitting in a circle of women from many nations, and each woman had the chance to tell a story from her life. When her turn came, she began quietly to tell a story of true horror--of how she had found her grandparents slaughtered in their village. Many of the women were Westerners, and in the presence of such pain, they instinctively wanted to do something. They wanted to fix, to make it better, anything to remove the pain of this tragedy from such a young life. The young woman felt their compassion, but also felt them closing in. She put her hands up, as if to push back their desire to help. She said: "I don't need you to fix me. I just need you to listen to me." 

She taught many women that day that being listened to is enough. If we can speak our story, and know that others hear it, we are somehow healed by that. During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa, many of those who testified to the atrocities they had endured under apartheid would speak of being healed by their own testimony. They knew that many people were listening to their story. One young man who had been blinded when a policeman shot him in the face at close range said: "I feel what has brought my eyesight back is to come here and tell the story. I feel what has been making me sick all the time is the fact that I couldn't tell my story. But now it feels like I've got my sight back by coming here and telling you the story." 

 

Sermon

A few months ago, I shared a meal with a Baptist ministry student. We were at theological college and in that environment, conversations – like island weather - could change very quickly. We were talking about something banal like the food on offer that day and suddenly we were talking about miracles. 

The food was certainly no miracle, so I don’t think there was a connection there, but I found myself in a rather intense exchange about miraculous healing. My Baptist colleague was plainly broken-hearted. He was despondent. Miraculous healings were not happening in the congregation he led. They happened for Jesus – why not for him? 

So, here I was in a conversation that felt to me absolutely surreal. I truly felt for my colleague. His sense of his own ability – his own vocation – his life’s work and his understanding of his identity were all being called into question. It was shaking him to his core – everything that he was living for was being undermined. 

And at the same time I wanted to scream ‘get real!’ I wanted to shake him and explain the nature of metaphor and parable. “It will all be OK if you don’t take it so literally!” But there was no use in that. There would be no gentle way to change his perspective. I could offer no healing for his crisis. Or could I? 

I don’t believe in the sort of miraculous healing that is described in the bible and in the scriptures of various other religions – the kind where the holy man or woman cures blindness or lameness with a touch or a look – or maybe even with the right words. 

If you do believe in such healing, you may be right and me wrong. I want to hear about it. I’d be very happy to be proved wrong, despite the massive reconsideration of belief that I’d have to do… Like everyone else, I could use some healing and I certainly wouldn’t mind if it was fast and painless… 

But miraculous or not, I do believe in healing. And I know it’s not limited to Jesus or the Buddha – and it’s certainly not limited to the Baptists. 
 

Come, dream a dream with me,
come, dream a dream with me,
come, dream a dream with me,
that I might know your mind.
And I'll bring you hope when hope is hard to find,
and I'll bring a song of love and a rose in the winter time. 


As your minister, I want each of you – and I include those who are here for the first time today as well as those who have been here a long time – I want you to know that I am available for you when you need me. Phone me and I will do my best to be there. 

Understand though that I am not – as some religions would have it – your channel to the divine. I am not God’s admin who can get you access if you say the right things. Unitarianism has always held that clergy have no special access to holiness – we are heirs to a tradition that emphasises the “ministry of all believers” – the ministry of each one of us to the other. Now that we live in a network world – a web world – perhaps it becomes easier to accept our individual connections with the sacred element of life. We don’t need to go through channels to ask for access - the sacred is in the nodes where we intersect. It is here among us. 

I am not here to bring the sacred to you, but to help you bring the sacred to each other. Our community can be a place where ministry is something that every one of us offers to each other. My role is not only to minister to you, but to help create a community where each of us ministers to the others – a community of healing and a community of wholeness. 

Does this sound daunting? Surely, it is countercultural. When we go to get medical care, we expect to be treated by a doctor – not by other patients. When we attend a class, it’s the teacher we expect to provide the learning – not the other students. 

This is different. This place is different. This is the place where we commit to one another – where we know that the more we care for each other, the more we ourselves will grow. The more we offer healing, the more we receive it ourselves. 

There may be something quite intimidating in what I’m saying. It may seem unrealistic. You may be thinking “how am I to offer healing to someone else?” “How am I to help another on a path that I haven’t found for myself?” 

A great truth was once told to me in some simple instructions for offering care and support in times of crisis and grief: “Don’t just do something. Stand there!” 

Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Christian writer of the 20th century authored a book entitled “The Wounded Healer,” borrowing Carl Jung’s label for the power of our own woundedness to help in the healing of others. If we think we must be fully whole, to help another find their wholeness, we have got it backwards. 

Nowen wrote “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing... not healing, not curing... that is a friend who cares.” It is also a friend who heals. 

Healing is often not about what we do. We offer healing through the quality of our attention and care. As Margaret Wheatley concluded about the experience of being with a woman whose grandparents were slaughtered in South Africa: “She taught many women that day that being listened to is enough. If we can speak our story, and know that others hear it, we are somehow healed by that.” 

Here is poem written by Nick Penna: 

When you listen you reach into dark corners and pull out your wonders.
When you listen, your ideas come in and out like they were waiting in line.
Your ears don't always listen.
It can be your brain, your fingers, your toes.
You can listen anywhere.
Your mind might not want to go.
If you can listen you can find answers to questions you didn't know.
If you have listened, truly listened, you don't find your self alone. 

I have to tell you that the author of this poem was 10 or 11 years old when he wrote it. “If you have listened, truly listened, you don't find your self alone.” 

We are not alone, but we often act like we are – we believe that we are – we come to think we can not know our part of the interconnectedness of life. We can know that connection. Listening – a loving quality of attention - is a way that brings our togetherness to light. When we have truly listened, we know that we – the listener and the listened – are not alone. 

Listening builds relationship. True, open, deep listening is the way we create and show love, and love heals. 

A group of Unitarians in the US was asked how their congregation had been a healing community for them. Here are a few of the things they said: 

The dear ones I have been blessed to connect with here love me for who I am and give me the strength to learn to love myself, be compassionate with myself […] 

[…] It helps just to know that others know something of one person’s struggles. 

This is a place where I can be vulnerable, imperfect and forgiven. 

This congregation allows me to be sad or happy with no judgment or pressure. I […] feel clean and good when I leave. 

During the intense care-giving and ultimate death of my partner […], I was able to continue and get through each day because I had [this] community, the very strong feeling of being not alone throughout it all. […] Listening was so valuable. Such a gift! 

Words from a healing congregation… 

Listening is a healing gift. Rather than just talking about it, I’d like to invite you to take a few minutes now for listening. If you would rather not participate, that’s OK too. 

First, I’ll lead us into a moment of silence. In that brief time, I would ask you just to let your thoughts go - focus on your breath and let thoughts come and go as they will. 

After the silence, I’ll ask you to turn to a person sitting near you and lead you into listening and speaking. Each of you will have an uninterrupted time to listen and an uninterrupted time to be heard. When you are listening, do nothing but listen. When you are speaking, you may speak or be silent. It’s your time to do with as you please. One condition: if you participate, you are agreeing not to repeat anything you are told. 

The question for the speaker to address is “who are you?” 

[Silence] 

Now, if you are going to participate, please find a partner next to you or near you. 

The person whose given name comes first in the alphabet will speak first. Sit comfortably, facing each other. When you hear the chime, we will begin a minute of listening and speaking. The second time means it’s time to switch roles. The third chime will be your signal to bring your attention back to the group. 

The question is “who are you?” 

[chime] 
 

Come, dream a dream with me,
come, dream a dream with me,
come, dream a dream with me,
that I might know your mind.
And I'll bring you hope when hope is hard to find,
and I'll bring a song of love and a rose in the winter time. 


I don’t know if healing miracles began to occur in my Baptist colleague’s congregation. I sincerely hope they have. I expect that they have been there all along – only not the kind he was looking for. 

I do know that I have witnessed healing right here and, I know that our power to heal grows as we take our rightful place in a community of healing. 

“When we come to it” we recognize that we “have the power to fashion for this earth a climate where every man and every woman can live freely […] Without crippling fear” 

The same hands that so easily wound, “can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness” 

“We must confess that we are the possible” 

“We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world” 

May it be so.