The Saturday before Palm Sunday, I went up to SCI-Graterford, the state prison in Montgomery County, to visit a friend. He’s currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He has been in prison since he was sixteen years old, he is 47 right now.
On this sunny Saturday morning, in the corner of the windowless visiting room, we talked about how hard it is to stay healthy. The irrational rules, the unhealthy and inadequate food, the drugs brought in by prison guards, the lack of education programs, nonexistent mental health treatment – the whole prison seems designed to keep you physically, mentally, and spiritually sick.
In many ways, my friend knows prison better than he knows anything else. He became an adult on the inside, received an education in history and politics from people serving life sentences who had been involved with the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. He has spent decades learning how to keep himself alive while trapped in a system that wants him dead, or at the least docile.
“They want us sick and distracted and unfit. We need to take care of ourselves so we can stand up together.” In this he reminded me that caring for ourselves not something that we do apart from the pain and sickness of the world. We heal amidst the hurt. We grow amidst the loss. We can always seek the light, even in a windowless prison.
If I had to describe Jesus’ ministry in a few short actions, I’d probably name feeding, teaching, and then healing. Healing people is core to who Jesus was and who Jesus called others to be. Its one of the gifts he passed on to his disciples. For many, this healing did not solve all of their problems or lead them to lives of easy relaxation. Instead, healing opened up new possibilities: The chance to return to the Temple, to be reunited with family, to spread the Good News of a Healing God working in the world.
Easter is our time to celebrate new beginnings, to tell stories of stones rolled away and seeds springing up from the cracks in the pavement. God resurrects us, working away at the brokenness inside us and the brokenness in the world. The healing is ongoing.
So, from now through Pentecost Sunday, we’re gonna spend some time during Adult Education time (10am on Sundays downstairs!) talking about healing. We’ll hear from members of our church who are therapists, artists, musicians, nurses, and anti-violence activists. We’ll ask ourselves, What does it mean to you to be healed or whole? How do your experiences of loss change how you think about your faith? Has your faith helped you make meaning out of suffering? How can we be simultaneously healing and working in the world?
Back in 1969, Carol Hanisch wrote a famous essay entitled “The Personal is Political.” In it, she urged women and others to stop blaming themselves for the violence that is done to them, and to overcome isolation by sharing their suffering and pain with each other. She said, “To admit to the problems in my life is to be deemed weak. So I want to be a strong woman…. It is at this point a political action to tell it like it is, to say what I really believe about my life instead of what I’ve always been told to say.”
Telling the truth about our vulnerability. There’s something deeply Christian about that. We must remember that we can’t heal in isolation, that spending money on a spa day won’t by itself make us whole again (though that can be a nice thing to do). Instead, we can respond to our weakness with community. To use what my friend Elaine Enns taught me to call the “tend-and-befriend” response to trauma and fear.
I’m really looking forward to this experiment in telling the truth together. As a young person, I’m excited to learn from people with more experience and wisdom about what healing looks like to them. I’m not expecting us to bear our souls for each other. There are more appropriate places for that. But I am excited for us to share some of our learnings with each other, and to be honest about what we have to learn about being whole people in a hurting world. I doubt we’ll solve it all, but I’m confident that we can acknowledge the hard work that so many in our church are doing, and lift up the ways that we care for ourselves and each other.
Here’s our schedule: