Image: ‘Spirit of freedom’ by Ann Younger, 2018.

‘Prayers for healing’

Andrew Collis
Epiphany 5, Year B
Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147; Mark 1:29-39

In the early centuries, the church developed a liturgy of exorcism as part of baptism.

Candidates for baptism were questioned by the bishop, and the key question was: “Are you living your life under the fear of Rome/Empire, or are you turning toward the joy of Jesus?” A sign of the cross was then made upon the ears and eyes of a candidate, against the reinvasion of fearful forces.

As we approach Lent, and our own Easter-time rituals of reaffirmation and baptism, we might ponder: In what ways have the controlling forces of our dominant culture and time come to dominate our lives?

In what ways have we absorbed/internalised foolish and harmful desires? In what ways have they made us afraid, distorted or diminished the promise of salvation (wellness, wholeness, freedom with and for others)?

Foolish and harmful desires may include conquering, possessing, coercing, silencing, manipulating, exploiting, defeating, avenging, destroying … others, the community, the Earth …

There is another way, Mark says, another possibility. Controlling forces or demons are like shadows that recede/disappear when the light of truth is brought to bear.

The film Wonder Woman 1984 (directed by Patty Jenkins, 2020) presents salvation in terms of renouncing mere wishes (demonic desires) and learning to pray (with and for others in a world of truth and beauty).

It’s a fun movie, not without serious plot issues, yet posing a serious eco-feminist distinction. Perhaps a Christian one too (a televangelist makes a brief/key appearance).

In our text for today, a (wonder) woman is called a deacon, one who serves (Mark 1:31). The same Greek word is used by Jesus to describe his saving mission: “The Promised One has come not to be served, but to serve …” (10:45). Jesus prays, and teaches his followers to pray: “Let it be not my will, but your will” (14:36).

What, then, is the difference between a wish and a prayer? How might renouncing wishes inaugurate/enact prayers?

Wishes, we might say, tend to be self-centred, short-sighted, passive.

Prayers involve us wholly, just as ministry, for Jesus, entails both preaching and exorcism, words and action – words about freedom and commitment to freedom with and for others. Jesus prays (v.36) amid concern for healing, in a Spirit of freedom, as a prelude to service …

Wishes turn us in on ourselves, stop our ears and obscure our view of the world, keep us from growing in wisdom.

Prayers heighten our senses, increase our capacity for care – both whispered words and weeping – because prayers are, to put it simply, events of call and response (Chrétien). To pray is to pay attention to something other than oneself (Auden). To pray is to converse and to commune. To listen before speaking. To discern many voices. To appreciate multiple perspectives. To collaborate.

Those who wait for God (those who listen, discern, appreciate, collaborate), the prophet says, find a renewed power (to engage but not condescend; to communicate). “They soar on eagles’ wings, they run and don’t get weary …”

The psalmist offers praise (public witness, commitment to freedom with and for others) in response to a call of God in and through healing care, in and through beauty (Augustine) – the beauty of stars, rain, birds, animals, earth, snow, hail, frost, spring thaw, desert dryness and tropical lushness.

The promise of Easter lies before us (in this year of St Mark and longer period of discernment/transition/renewal): Renouncing our colonised/frightened selves for the sake of Christ and the gospel … to find ourselves anew, in a new form of life and community we will not have wished or conjured on our own. Amen.