Healing vs. Curing

Not long ago, my friend Richard sent me a copy of a sermon given by Rev. Dr. Heidi Joos at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. As sometimes happens when people send me things that look interesting, it went into a pile “to be looked at.” I’m glad I came upon it this past weekend (albeit accidentally, while looking for something else) at a time when so many of us are experiencing so much suffering.

Rev. Joos drew a distinction between cure and healing, which is so important for us to keep in mind. She talked in the sermon about a friend of her who was dying of cancer, but who spent her last days “calling in old friends to help her gather up the memories of a full life, and to celebrate what they had been to each other.” She wasn’t cured of her cancer, but tremendous healing occurred before her death.

Likewise, she recalled John Howard Griffin, who spent the last part of his life working on a biography of Thomas Merton, all the while suffering from diabetes, a heart condition, and a kidney condition that caused him frequent painful infections and terrible weakness. The words of his she quoted were very powerful:

Last evening I finally steeled myself to remove the bandage from the inside of my mouth. It was such a shock I had to take Darvon. I went to bed at 10:00 but could not sleep. I lay there watching the flickering of the vigil lamp in the chapel, waiting for the rain, wondering how I could be in such misery and at the same time so transformed by the joy of these radiant silences. Every time I opened my eyes, I looked down over the foot of the bed, through the kitchen, to that glowing, flickering rectangle of doorway into the chapel, and felt the deepest union with it, with Christ in the tabernacle, and Christ in the silences, and Christ in the falling rain, and Christ still dazzling silently within me from the communion earlier in the evening. Strange, this frequent conjunction of physical misery and radiant happiness. The wounds groan, the rest of me is aware of that; but it does not touch the core of jubilance within me.

Like Rev. Joos’ friend, John Howard Griffin was not cured. But he experienced healing. The words she spoke about him could also have been said of her friend: “He let himself be filled with joy at being touched by God, just as the Samaritan was elated and ‘praising God with a loud voice.’ They were taken beyond the surface of things by their praise and gratitude, and were brought to the deep gift of God’s love. They claimed their salvation. Whether in life or in death, their faith had made them well.”

We won’t always be cured, but that doesn’t prevent us from being healed. If we can remember this distinction, I think we will have an easier time dealing with our own pain and with the pain of others, whether that pain be physical or or emotional.