A reflection by Sharon NelsenFor the first Sunday of the New Year, the Church proclaims Psalm 72:
“For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,And the afflicted when he has no one to help him.He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;The lives of the poor he shall save.” (12-13)
The question for us is not will God help us, will God help the most desperate among us, the most desperate within each one of us? The question is not will God, but how will God save us? How does God want to save the lives of the poor? How does God want to rescue those of us afflicted with broken relationships, festering and wounded spirits, addictions of all kinds, mental and physical diseases, poverty, helplessness, hopelessness, bondages?
Over the years, in praying with small groups, I recognize a polarization between believing in the power of prayer, one’s own or the prayers of others, and in believing in the power of medical treatment, social outreach ministries and material resources. I found it more common than I anticipated for good praying Christians to fall into an either-or mentality, thinking that faith means God comes singularly with a mighty ZAP, or, that God works only through what has been scientifically discovered, manpower and resources.
Recently, I was reviewing a section of a book, The Healing of Families: How to Pray Effectively for Those Stubborn Personal and Familial Problems, and found a wonderful wording that addresses one aspect of how our wounded condition affects our prayer. Father Yosefu-Balikuddembe Ssemakula, or Father Joseph, as he so graciously translates his name for us, says:
Watching this happen over a period of time, my hypothesis crystallized as follows: God dwells in people, and anything that isolates us from people isolates us from God. He meets us in people and we meet Him in people, this is why our faith in God is always to do with relations with others. When traumatic situations happen, for the most part caused by people to people, the victim, because of the hurt, experiences an automatic isolation from “people”, whether personally from that person, or even any people who in some way may remind the victim of the offender, even if just a simple resemblance. This therefore leaves the person (the victim) on a bad note with people, which note the Lord doesn’t want to underscore by healing the person directly or miraculously, or the person will be confirmed in this negative view of people in general: people are bad, they do me harm; but my God is the only good one as he heals me! This attitude obviously becomes a problem to the God who always comes to us through people. He would be setting Himself up to be systematically missed by this person, as the person will be looking up to a God in the sky, the good God, surely not in people of whom the person may naturally tend to be suspicious. So what does God do? It seems God prefers first to seek out other people who will first undo the traumatic damage done by the first person, or at least some of it, and then He comes in with His own healing power to heal whatever else remains to be healed. What is the effect of this? The person remains on a good note with people: yes, there may be people who do harm, but there are also good people, like the one who helped me redress my trauma, you just have to look for them. The trauma victim’s openness to people seems to be what the Lord intends to obtain first, by not short-cutting the healing of heavy trauma. (Pages 254-55)
This dynamic resonates with my forty years of leading prayer in small faith-sharing groups. First, Father Joseph names the lie that begins the isolation process—“People won’t help me; only God will help me.” This lie generates another that lays the heavy burden of “having enough faith” on one person: “I have to generate the faith that will in turn generate the healing response for me.” Or, another lie that only holier others can pray effectively--the Contemplative Orders, the Ordained, someone who expresses prayer “better” than I do. The truth is, it’s me and thee. I agree with Father Joseph’s hypothesis that God’s primary desire is that the humanity He created, creates and heals in community, not in isolation.
So, what does God want us to do? I hear God saying, “Adios, Lone Ranger!” First, get in touch with our own tendencies toward isolation. Then, with Jesus, gather together and share our neediness, our brokenness, our giftedness, our resources and talents with each other. Share them in meaningful, concrete, open and obvious ways, with trust in, and respect for, each other. Pray together, hold what we hear as a sacred trust, and move out together, strengthened by each other’s expertise, talents and insights.
God could have sent Jesus as the greatest Zapper of all times. Zap, you’re healed, Zap, the world is healed. But the way God shows us through Jesus is that the power to transform the world resides in each one of us, individually and collectively. Jesus chose to form community and to work in community as the Master Teacher.
Ben Franklin said, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” Followers of Jesus say, “The Lord helps us to help ourselves”—and we interpret the plural form collectively.
A hundred years ago, God cried out, “There are lonely, abandoned boys living on the streets of Omaha--whom can I send to help them?” One person responded, “Send me! I’ll do what I can.” He begins, others join him and together a healing home is created—Boys Town.
While suffering is caused by humans who harm, healing happens when we as a people hear and respond to God’s invitation to rescue the poor, the one who has no one to help him.
A note for our readers, there have been some pastoral (not magisterial) concerns raised about Father Joseph's work. In the interest of our readers having all the information they need in their spiritual jouneys we are including a link to the Fathers of Mercy website for more information: http://fathersofmercy.com/events/official-statement-fathers-mercy-healing-families/