Thirty-five years ago, I visited a small Roman Catholic parish El
Santuario in Chimayo, New Mexico. It is an isolated adobe and wood
building, one quarter the size of this room, with a dramatic carved
wooden altar full of reds and oranges, perhaps ten feet high with a
crucifix and a life-size Jesus, who is badly injured. The sanctuary is
very moving and spiritual, but almost no one comes to see it but to
walk through it to a room just off to its left, no larger than a small
office, where there is a shallow hole in the ground.
The story is that about two hundred years ago, on Good Friday, a
local farmer was walking nearby and saw a light coming out of the
earth. He dug and found a crucifix, so he ran to tell his priest. The
priest came and took the crucifix back to his own church, but by
morning it had disappeared. It was back in the hole. He went again and
took it back to his own sanctuary, and it disappeared again. It went
back in the hole that now stands off to the left of the Chimayo
Since then, pilgrims have come from around the world to take some of
this dirt and make it into tea, paste, or another substances for
healing. Tens of thousands of testimonies affirm its power. And that is
a story of its own.
What touches me is simpler, though, and more basic. It is the path.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims travel to this place every year, and in
order to get to the identified source of the healing they have to walk
through the sanctuary but also out of the sanctuary, and they have to
get down on their knees and they have to reach into the earth and they
have to handle the dirt. And, they say, it works.
Now, this is a day of healing prayer at NHCC. It is a long tradition
here and in Christianity. And we like to celebrate the best offerings
of science that endorse prayer and meditation as part of our healing
journey. Some say prayer may be a placebo but that placebos work.
Others point out that those who pray regularly literally increase the
size and change the shape of their brains while also increasing memory.
That's true. A careful study at the University of Texas shows that
those who join a church literally live two to three years longer than
those who do not, and, the more often you attend each month the higher
you go on that graph. This puts church on par with regular exercise and
taking statin drugs, so if you fall into all three of those categories,
you are really doing well for longevity plus being smart.
But our story of healing and health is not one just of placebos and
perfect attendance. Our God has another path of healing, too, which is
not focused only on outcomes but on conditions and doesn't affirm only
pristine studies but the essence of our real life. So Lent begins with
the human condition, which includes a lot of dirt, a variety of
crosses, and some uncomfortable topics. Lent begins with stories of
suffering, temptation, and wilderness as well as wounds.
Christianity has a number of dimensions that may not appeal to our
intellectual erudition or refined tastes. In Christian theology,
soteriology, Christology, and anthropology we encounter the raw human
condition. We begin Lent with our foreheads tarnished by the burnt
ashes of our good intentions from last Palm Sunday, and there is a
significant measure of dirt to travel through. It makes me
uncomfortable, sometimes, and it may make you uncomfortable, too. But
this is our faith. And there is no way to keep it at arm's length.
Perhaps two of the most discomfiting elements of Christology and
anthropology are the notions of the wounded Christ being a healing
power for us and that of the wounded healer -- all of us -- also
sharing God's power. These are long-refined elements of our faith,
essential to the whole story of life and liberation and hope and
We heard almost a five thousand year history of the covenant with
God this morning, and there was so much material that it is hard to
apprehend. We have the Noah story and the essence of the covenant to
heal creation. We have the Gospel account engaging baptism, temptation,
and the proximity of God's realm, and then we have the poetry from
First Peter about Jesus' death and resurrection in the context of
suffering. In these three readings we encounter covenant, temptation,
solidarity, wilderness, suffering, and compassion as well as angels and
demons, too. It's a breathtaking array.
But there are three themes that suffuse all of them: the suffering
of Jesus, the suffering of humanity, and even the suffering of God.
What do we make of this idea of wounded humanity, loved by God? Or
more, what do we make of the notion of wounded humanity being part of
God's resource to heal the world? Henri Nouwen says that we cannot and
will not help one another in healing until we know our own injuries and
limits. Not, he says, in some sort of spiritual exhibitionism or
romanticized view of life, but in solidarity, self-understanding, and
frankly openness to see that the needs of another are real and true and
touched to God.
I can't think of a better example of this than the idea of a sponsor
for the journey in Alcoholics Anonymous. The path of healing is blessed
by one who walks ahead and beside.
None of us would want to visit a therapist who had not done their
own therapy or a physician who thought us all hypochondriacs. The
wounded healer is one who has compassion: feeling with, based on
In a sense, that is the faith of First Peter today. The formula
regarding Jesus' death and resurrection was not as important to the
first hearers as the assertion that Jesus had suffered, and he
understood, and that this offers power. In his stripes, somehow, God is
active. Mel Gibson made both insanity and idolatry of this truth,
rendering it difficult for loving spirits to even hear such a notion.
But the folks in early churches who were themselves suffering found
Jesus Christ powerful and neither separate nor immune. He was, they
said, God-with-us. So we who are wounded are not out of touch with God.
Jesus is a teacher, mystic, revolutionary for sure, but He is wounded
in His humanity, and God's power for us is even in those wounds.
Christianity does not proclaim a final idea or a more refined notion
than former faiths: a Gnosticism for the smarter set who progress
intellectually. It offers us God's humanity and ours, starting in the
wilderness, as the source of liberation. It offers us a cross that
returns to the dirt, scandalous as that is.
In a few minutes we'll assemble at prayer circles, if we like. Some
people may have prayers of physical healing. Some may have prayers
concerning the economy. Others may name the wars in our world, or the
hunger that traverses it. We will not offer any magic. But we offer
compassion, increased memory, and solidarity with Jesus. We offer
ourselves to walk beside one another and to work together. We offer our
faith that in Jesus' wounds God is with us, and that when we are with
God the horizons of the covenant change radically to the point that
what we receive is more than a placebo but a promise and power. We
offer our faith that God has changed this world already and longs yet
for change: for our persons, our nations, our peace. It will not be the
dirt or the ashes that do this; it will be God with us. Amen.
Copyright © 2009
Kenneth F. Baily. Used by permission.