Jesus the Healer – The Psychiatrist
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’ – 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. (Luke 8.26-33)
It was the late summer of 2000 when I was visiting England with the St Martin’s School, Johannesburg choir, that we went for lunch in the crypt, appropriately, of St Martin’s in the Fields, Trafalgar Square that I bought a coffee mug to take back to South Africa as a gift for my wife.
It has the picture of a cat, all the best coffee mugs do, with these words of Mary Lou Casey on it;
‘What people really need is a good listening to’
Although psychiatry, and other Mental Health Care, is often referred to as ‘talking therapy’ they are more like ‘listening therapies’. Jesus does both.
With the Gerasene demoniac he doesn’t use medicine or touch he simply commands, but in other incidents he heals by listening and being in conversation with those who have needs. We are not certain of the exact nature of the healing of Mary of Magdala but he talked her through it. He talked through the spat between Martha and her sister Mary of Bethany bringing them to a place of simplicity and harmony. In conversation with the woman at the well of Sychar he helped her believe not only in Him but in herself as well.
It should not be a surprise to us that the One who from the beginning was the Word should be a talented wordsmith and able to use conversation to heal and help, to challenge and change, to comfort and call. Would that we were as adept.
Working in hospitals and care homes ministers can so often feel helpless and out of depth. There are some situations so tragic where there are simply no words that can be said and to venture any would be to bring further harm rather than to heal. Then we can only listen and weep with the wounded
There are other situations when words are lapped up by those at whose bedside we sit. People thirsty for succour in a strange place, confused by the present, frightened of what the future may hold, are desperate to hear words of comfort and hope. We must be ready then, having been asked, ‘to give account for the hope within us’. Which reminds me that I need to always have a simple way of telling the Good News on hand – my preferred favourite is the ‘Book Without Words’ using five store cards.
There are also those times when others in a ward do not appreciate the presence of a chaplain visiting someone else in their ward. Earlier this year a patient shouted at a ward sister to have me removed in case she, an atheist, overheard any words of faith I spoke to another patient. The saddest part of this was to see the tears rolling down the cheeks of the faithful Filipino nurse who was helping heal someone who didn’t want help from a Christian…
Sometimes we have no idea were to start at all. We do know that the banal ‘How are you today?’ which is the opening gambit in almost all medical conversations, is both rote and sometimes downright unhelpful.
What do we do then?
How do we speak when we have not the words?
How do we listen when the one speaking, unconsciously or deliberately, evades the key questions about their health they need to address?
We must learn to start and end with listening to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit
Before entering a ward or a sick room, listen to Her
As we approach a patient for the first wondering how to begin, listen to Her
As we leave the ward and another patient looks pleadingly (or angrily) towards us, listen to Her.
We are not in the throes of persecution, though occasionally when faced with upset patients, unhelpful staff, and an unyielding bureaucracy, it may feel as if we are. But the Holy Spirit will be there whispering advice into to our ears, giving us the words to say and the grace to be quiet so that the work of healing may succeed
In the end all talking therapies begin with listening. As Mary Lou Casey said;
‘What people really need is a good listening to’
We pray for those whose work leads them into the dark depths of other people’s minds. For psychiatrists and Mental Health Workers, for Care Assistants and those who have to restrict people’s movements for their own safety.
We pray for those afflicted by any kind of mental illness. That they may receive the balanced mix of therapies they deserve.
We pray that they will be able to remain faithful to their drug regimen and find the strength to be deeply honest with their therapists.
We pray for all whose Mental Health is being affected by the Covid19 pandemic, especially those who are in isolation and whose need for routine has been fractured.
We ask for strength and a deeper understanding amongst their carers and family who themselves are living lives full of stress.
We pray for ourselves that as we care for others we would not neglect to seek care for ourselves.
And we thank you for the gift of colleagues and work consultants, spiritual directors and Soul Friends who call us to wholeness. Amen
Prayer for Healers
You sent your blessed Son to be the great physician
of our souls and bodies:
Look upon those who have dedicated their lives
to the ministry of healing body and soul.
Bless and strengthen them in your service;
use their skill for the relief of suffering
and the restoration of health;
and help them ever to remember
that in ministering to others they minister to you;
through the same Jesus Christ our Redeemer
(after Frank Colquhoun)
Plan a meeting, even if only by phone, with a spiritual friend to chat about how each of you are coping during this time.
If you do not keep a spiritual journal consider starting one as a way of helping you keep your spiritual and mental Health on an even keel.
These Reflections, ‘Jesus the Healer’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 – and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged