#12: Come to me

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

John Koenig is a dean at a theological college and an Episcopal priest. Here, he writes about the establishment of a healing group specifically for health care professionals.

The shape of our health care system is driving painful wedges between those trained in the healing arts and those who require their talents. Corporate insistence on containing costs makes it hard for physicians and nurses to care for patients in ways that attend to the spirit as well as the body. Mistakes are often punished severely, and it is difficult to find avenues for dealing with the failure and guilt that are inescapable parts of this work.

Such concerns shape [a] group at Grace Lutheran Church: the health professionals group. When ministers sent an initial invitation to church members in this category, they discovered a widespread feeling that the congregation had thus far failed believers by not providing emotional and spiritual support for the almost daily crises they had to face in fighting off death for their patients. On the other hand, members expressed gratitude for the safe place granted them in this group. Because of it, they felt a new freedom to tell stories about God’s presence in their working lives and to confess their feelings of inadequacy.

Gradually, as they began to open themselves to one another with more honesty, it also dawned on them that their desire to reach out for help had often come to expression through regular involvement in a wide range of church activities. As physician Doug Anderson writes, each of these healers realized that “one of the main sources of preventive and restorative therapy was participation in congregational life and worship.” For him, singing provided a special tonic to strengthen his own work as a healer. “During a festival concert at Grace Church, in the course of which I had the opportunity to sing Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs, I witnessed and experienced a powerful dimension of congregational healing. As I sang the words of the mystical poet George Herbert, ‘O let thy blessed spirit bear a part and make up our defects with its sweet art,’ perceptions of separateness from the self, of freedom and well-being washed over me. With the self removed from the center of attention, I was able to focus on God’s spirit. The invitation, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28), was accepted and experienced as a physical reality in the lives of many congregational members present at that service.” Here is a caregiver finding union with God’s renewing Spirit, not simply as an individual but also in company with his needy fellow worshipers. Here is healing in the midst of the congregation. Ω

Reflect: What heavy burdens weigh you down? What are you carrying that you need to put down? Where do you experience the rest and renewal of the Holy Spirit? Pray about it.

#Lent2020 © Sanctuary, 2020, quoting John Koenig ‘Healing’ in Dorothy C. Bass (ed.), Practicing Our Faith. A Way of Life for a Searching People. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997. Buy it through your favourite bookseller.


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