“You really don’t understand…”

I was a curate (assistant) at a fairly well to do Episcopal parish.  The Rector who saw himself as “up and coming” ministered primarily to the influential and wealthy, and I as curate saw to the rest of the parish.

One person I got to see regularly was a woman named Audrey, who was dying of throat cancer.  Audrey was the kind of person that I went to see when I was having a bad day. She had a genuinely wonderful perspective and good humor in spite of her progressive illness.  She had a ritual at the end of my visits, insisting that before I left I laid my hands on her and prayed for healing.

Over the months she got progressively weaker and more visibly ill.  I began to feel that this ritual of praying for healing was, for me, a sham.  Here she was getting sicker and I was praying for her to have a miraculous restoration to health and vigor when I did not believe it would happen.

One day I had stopped to see her and she seemed quite tired and on the verge of the final stage leading to her death. I gave her communion and we talked. Then I tried to leave without the healing ritual.  She called out to me hoarsely, as I tried to get out the door, “Wait Father! You forgot something!”

I turned back, with my face betraying my feelings. She looked up at me and said just loud enough for me to hear “You really don’t understand, do you?”   Puzzled I asked “What don’t I understand?”  A look of peace spread across her face as she said with wonder “I have been healed!”  Looking at her wizened frame and cancer ridden body I must have again betrayed visually the confusion and discomfort I was feeling, for she added “I used to be afraid to die, I’m not any more – I have been healed!” And suddenly my understanding and my view was widened

.           Just as the human being is more than just a physical body, having emotions and intellect and spirituality.  So too healing can be needed and be given physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually. God gives to us the healing we need, not necessarily the healing we want.  The forms in which this healing comes may be disguised so that it may appear even to us not to be a healing at all.  Yet the healing we receive is the healing we really need.

About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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