Slow reading: Paralysis

I’m finding it difficult to climb out of bed in the morning. A global pandemic, the monotony of shutdown, the changes to family, work and congregational life, climate catastrophe: unsurprisingly, I find the state of the world overwhelming. I just want to lie in bed and do nothing; to ignore kids, work, climate and let the world hurtle its way to destruction. There are days when I feel nearly paralyzed by grief and fear.

I was in this mood when my slow reading schedule pulled up Luke 5:17-26 (below). Even when I feel like crap, I try to engage with a Biblical text each day, for dwelling in the Word so often restores me. It’s like a thyroid tablet. And so I went through the motions.

As always, I paused, then imagined myself into various characters of the story. First, I was on the outskirts of the crowd. I felt snarky and annoyed at the crush of people, especially those who gouged a hole in the roof and got closer to the action that way. But then I noticed that Jesus didn’t mind; in fact, he implied that their faith made their friend well. I put myself on the roof, and as I looked down at the stretcher, I saw faces that I love.

Finally, sinking into the fullness of my feelings of paralysis and despair, I put myself on the stretcher. I felt wretched, anxious, passive, vulnerable, as I was slowly lowered down. Then love and warmth and strength flowed through me, and I looked up and saw more faces, peering through the hole in the roof and smiling encouragingly: those friends who love me enough to drag me, sometimes limp, sometimes protesting, into Jesus’ presence and the healing that it brings.

I thought about these friends. Some of them are Christian. Some are not. But all of them tell me to keep holding faith, to keep writing, and to keep sharing stories of how faith impacts my life and those around me. Their faith in me rouses me out of paralysis. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning, makes me open up my Bible, and impels me to work and to write. Some days, I do this on a societal level; but today, it’s very personal: this reflection is the result.

When you dwell in this story, I invite you to wonder: Who carries you into Jesus’ presence? How does their faith in you affect you? What response will you make?

1. PREPARE: Make yourself comfortable. Uncross your legs; relax your body; uncomplicate your heart. Ask God to help you surrender to whatever it is that God wants to do in you or say to or through you. Breathe slowly and deeply in, then out.

2. READ: Read the following passage at least three times through, slowly, aloud if possible. Listen carefully. Notice anything which captures your attention.

  • One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralysed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the one who was paralysed—‘I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.’ Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today. (Luke 5:17-26, NRSV).

3. REFLECT: Allow the passage, a phrase or a single word or image speak to you. What catches your attention? What emotions are you feeling? What questions are bubbling up? Reflect in silence.

4. RELATE: Now wonder: What paralyzes you? When you place yourself on the stretcher, who do you see above you, lowering you towards Jesus? How has their faith healed you? What response, if any, do you feel called to make?

5. RESPOND: Arising out of your reflection and any discussion, pray. Tell God about anything which has emerged. If you feel called to action, ask God to show you the next step.

6. REST: Rest now in the Word, who loves you. As you leave this time of prayer, if any word, phrase or image persists, carry it with you and let it guide you. If nothing in particular arises, remember this:

  • His friends lowered him … 

Peace,
Alison

Emailed to Sanctuary 19 August 2020 © Alison Sampson, 2020. Image credit: Jen Theodore on Unsplash.

Prayer

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