Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Mystery of Healing

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

Bernini's The Ecstasy St. Teresa*
In this season of Lent, we are confronted with the reality of death and the promise of healing.  How do we understand those realities?   Sometimes the answers are found in some unusual locations. 
In his epic novel, Cutting for Stone,  Abraham Verghese uses the vision of St. Teresa of Avila as a metaphor for the life and death of the Sister Mary Joseph Praise.  The story of maternal deaths is one that has occupied a large part of my professional life.   There are few harder questions than the causes and prevention of maternal death.  For me, the answer is summarized in the Latin phrase, “Mortui vivos docent” – “Let the dead teach the living”.   My focus has been on prevention and causes; but as Dr. Verghese implies there are important spiritual dimensions.  
St. Teresa of Avila’s impact is primarily related to her mystical visions and spiritual ecstasy.  We see this in the statue of Bernini that combines the apparent opposites of “piercing” with healing.  This is certainly a metaphor for the art of surgical healing; but what about death and healing?   Can we somehow see healing and death in the same story and statue?  Dr. Verghese makes that case in his novel!
I have previously seen this tragedy primarily from the perspective of the death of a mother and not as the reality of the orphans.   When in Africa, orphanages are a reality of lost generations of parents that have occupied the attention of religious organizations and NGOs.   The good news of  Dr. Verghese’s novel is the witness of foster parents.    So maybe the ecstasy that we can experience is found in that difficult but profound act of being a “parent”.   I think that is a lesson for the living!

“True religion is care for the widows and orphans”
“With God everything is possible”


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