Daughter of Jairus (1) – Waiting

Daughter of JairusPlease read Mark 5:22-24a, 35-43

It’s one of the most difficult experiences in life. Whatever age. Young or older. Those times when one’s child is struggling or unwell – and being unable to do anything to comfort them, let alone fix it. Thankfully, for this particular daughter, Jairus and his wife knew what could be done.

We don’t know whether she had been unwell for a long time or whether this was a sudden onset of an acute illness. We don’t know what else they’d already done. But it seemed they had tried their best and failed. Perhaps asking for Jesus was a last resort. For this upright citizen, a leader of the synagogue, it’s a step of faith to ask an itinerant and controversial rabbi for help. You would have thought Jesus would respond immediately to such an expression of faith, trust and belief. But Jesus makes Jairus wait.

But eventually, when Jesus arrived at Jairus’ house, he is greeted by grief-stricken family and friends. They mock his ‘It’s all going to be OK’ type responses. These are people who had tried their best and failed.

Our childhood experiences shape many aspects of who we are. Devoted parents, like those of this 12 year-old girl, provide many with stability and love. Children raised by lone parents or in blended families, those adopted or fostered, or brought up by other responsible adults also gain those groundings of security. Reassuring faces. Hands that hold.

For others, though, that is far from the case. Behind closed doors, children and young people experience everything from maltreatment to mockery, from anxiety to abandonment. Where who shouts loudest or who hits hardest rules the roost. What stories they have to tell.

Jesus brought God’s love to the daughter of Jairus. A love that told her she was precious and special. A love that tolerated her moods. A love that rejoiced with her singing and dancing. A love that healed and comforted. A love that accepted her for who she is.

Not for her, the noise and the crowds but instead calmness and quiet and those who loved her most. One size does not fit all. We see here a Jesus who responds to someone’s needs in ways which are both appropriate to the situation and are exactly suited to the person concerned. This is not ‘If I were you, I’d do this’ – this is ‘I am with you, I will do as you wish’.

What does Jesus’ approach teach us about our approach to people in need?

 

 

When you’re ready, move on to Part 2 of this story.

Man from the Gerasenes (1) – Healing

The man from the GerasenesHaving arrived in the country of the Gerasenes after a stormy trip across Lake Galilee, Jesus is faced with a challenging situation. There’s a man who’s ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know’… and there’s no time for a risk assessment. (Please be aware this entry considers the sensitive topic of deliverance ministry.)

Please read Mark 5:2-9

This man was somebody’s son. He’d been a child who sat on his mother’s knee. A boy who splashed in the waters on the Western shores of Lake Galilee. And now look at him. He didn’t live with the living: he lived with the dead. Whatever happened? Whatever went wrong?

Today, we’d have a name for ‘people like him’. A nice, politically correct name:

Excluded    Marginalised    Vulnerable

He’s named by his situation not by who he is. The anonymous outcast becomes known by the name of that which possessed him: Legion.

Demon possession is not just the stuff of horror films and ancient history. Exorcism isn’t about spiritually cauterising the victim until they writhe on the floor, screaming unintelligent sounds and foaming at the mouth. Deliverance ministry is highly specialised. It’s to be undertaken only by people who have been specifically trained and who operate under the authority of and accountable to a recognised and well-established church. Carried out in the context of prayer, with no publicity, in collaboration with appropriate healthcare support, and with continuing pastoral care for the person concerned.

The role of deliverance ministry, which is how Jesus’ encounter with the man from the Gerasenes could be described, is essentially one of providing a cure not a punishment (those who are possessed are never described as sinful). In Biblical times, there was a belief that demons would be free to roam the earth until the Judgment Day came and they did this by taking possession of people.

This possession was often associated with disease, because in those times – note, in those times – disease was often seen as the consequence of sin and a sign of being in Satan’s power. Thankfully our understanding of disease has changed and improved considerably but this also helps explain why when Jesus expels a demon there is often a cure as well. This is healing is for the whole person.

The man from the Gerasenes was an outcast – literally cast out of the city.

Abused    Ostracised    Rejected

So used was he to being badly treated by other people, when he sees Jesus coming towards him he is frightened: ‘What have you to do with me… do not torment me.’ Yet, in his running towards and bowing down before the Lord, he grasped the opportunity to get the help he knew he needed. Like so many people before and since, he reached out to Jesus – even though he was afraid of doing so.

Jesus deals with the fears too. Before stepping ashore in to the Gentile-inhabited land of the Gerasenes on the Western shore of Lake Galilee, he had been asleep in a boat with his disciples (Mark 4:35-41). A storm blew up and, woken by frightened followers, he calmed the storm and in doing so calmed their fears also. And now (and yes, it’s a pity about the pigs) Jesus uses that same power to calm the storm that is the life of this man from the country of the Gerasenes.

Think back to a time in your life when you felt as if you were ‘living in the tombs’. A time when life was tough. Perhaps due to illness, difficulties in home or at work, estrangement from family, the ending of a relationship, for example. In what ways did you run towards Jesus? How did he calm your fears and bring healing and wholeness?

 

 

When you’re ready, move on to Part 2 of this story.

Man from the Gerasenes (2) – Wholeness

The man from the Gerasenes - mental illness & recoveryPlease read Mark 5:14b-20

After Jesus’ intervention, the man from the Gerasenes is described as being ‘in his right mind’. (Please be aware this entry considers the sensitive topic of mental ill health.)

Many have described the man from the Gerasenes as being mentally ill. He may well have been: Mark’s account does include a reference to self-harm (verse 5). Whereas demon possession is one of spiritual distress, mental ill health is often more affected and influenced by psychological, sociological and biological factors.

Today, we’d have names for ‘people like that’ too.

Nutter   Psycho   Loony

Stigma about mental illness has always existed: we can read that in to the attitude of the crowd in the country of the Gerasenes. Perhaps that was why the man was ostracised and, even when healed, why he was still afraid and wanted to go with Jesus in the boat? (v18).

Thankfully, attitudes towards mental illness have improved considerably – in particular over the last two decades. Many more people now speak openly about their experience of depression, anxiety or other more severe and enduring conditions such as bi-polar disorder or psychosis. But there are still difficulties for those who experience mental ill health, not least, alas, in some areas of the church.

Although misunderstandings still exist, with one in four of us seeking help from a doctor about a mental health problem at some point in life, it is encouraging to see the increased recognition of the importance of looking after our mental wellbeing.

Being mentally unwell is not a weakness. In fact, it is often those who are the most conscientious and dedicated who experience such difficulties. Depression, for example, has been called ‘the curse of the strong’. Yes, the word ‘stress’ can be used too lightly but there are times when the pressures we all face, both in work and outside of work, outweigh our ability to cope with them – and everyone copes with stress differently.

Feeling anxious or depressed at certain times is perfectly normal. We’re bound to feel anxious if we’re facing an important exam or a relative is in hospital, for example. It’s natural to feel down or low, say, after a bereavement or the break up of a relationship. Indeed, those emotions and responses are a necessary part of who we are as human beings – and integral to our ability to cope with difficult situations.

But it is right to be concerned when those feelings or symptoms affect our ability to function. When work, sleep, family life and other everyday matters are increasingly affected, help needs to be sought.

As a general guide, if someone is experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety most of the day, every day for a fortnight then that’s the time to go to the doctor. Talk early, don’t let it get worse.

The difficulty is that a lot of people don’t seek help that quickly. We feel we ‘ought’ or ‘should’ be able to cope. We might tell ourselves ‘not to be so stupid’. Others might tell us to ‘pull ourselves together’. We might hope that if we ‘bury our head in the sand’ it’ll go away – the only thing that happens when we bury our head in the sand is we can’t breathe… we become ‘suffocated’ by whatever is causing the difficulties. Talk early, don’t let it get worse.

Asking for help is not a sign of failure. But, like with the man from the Gerasenes, paradoxically, although not unusually, the act, or even the very thought, of seeking help may feel a bit frightening at first. We may be scared of ‘what will come out’ or worried about ‘what’s wrong’ or concerned about what other people will think (especially in some church circles, sadly).

Asking for help is a sign of strength. But it is important to be realistic. If things have become difficult, it may get tougher before it’s gets easier. It’s easy to slip in to a pattern of negative thinking – and it takes time to change one’s thoughts. Medication may help but isn’t always necessary. However, it will take time and effort – which is in itself part of the reason why so many people end up struggling for so long: simply because it takes so much time and so much effort.

The good news is that people do get better. Recovery can and does happen. Unlike many physical health conditions, recovery from a period of mental ill health may not mean the complete absence of symptoms but it will see the return to a more comfortable level of day to day functioning.

What do you do to look after your mental wellbeing?

Nicodemus (1) – Darkness

NicodemusThe words of John 3:16 are one of the most well known verses and most quoted of Jesus’ sayings – and behind them lies another story.

Please read John 3:1-21

Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews. It’s possible that throughout his life, Nicodemus may have simply accepted all that was taught to him by the Jewish rabbis. Learning the Psalms and the Law. Listening to the story of how Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt. Acquainting himself with the acts of Abraham, David Elijah, Elisha and so many more. And leading others in doing the same.

But now, afraid to show his interest to his fellow Pharisees, Nicodemus has encountered someone who challenges all that received and perceived wisdom. A man who performs miracles. A man who is different to any other teacher he has ever known. Nicodemus knows that Jesus comes from God: he’s seen the miracles (‘signs’ as John calls them) and we can assume he’s heard the teaching.

Sounds familiar? Years of going to church. Singing choruses and hymns. Hearing the same liturgy (or not). And maybe we also feel uncomfortable with some of it. We don’t like to hear some of it. We’re happy with the easy bits. We decide what’s interesting or important. We tack on the bits we like to make them fit the way our churches do things and other aspects of the system we already live with. We come and listen when it suits us, and go back to our ordinary lives when we need to.

‘There are many ways through the garden,’ someone once said to me. Our journey through the ‘Garden of Faith’ has the capacity to take us in different directions, going deeper and deeper in to the growth and the undergrowth that exists there. It is up to us to sniff the flowers. To climb the trees. And to dig up a few weeds.

If we have been used to one particular type of church or a specific approach towards the teaching from the Bible, for example, it can be confusing when God begins to take us to a new part of the Garden. We may be reluctant to get up from the particular bench (or pew) we’ve sat on for years or to turn away from the view we’ve always had. It can be unsettling and disorientating. We may feel lost. Cut adrift from God. We crave stability but the ground in the garden is shifting.

The ground under Nicodemus was shifting and he began to realise there was another way through the garden: that there was more to God than he had ever thought. God will always take us to an even better place. A place of growth and depth beyond our expectations.

Nicodemus came, in the darkness, seeking spiritual direction. In times of our own spiritual ‘darkness’, it can be helpful to seek assistance from someone else to take us through the garden. A guide. A companion. A wise teacher. While none of us will be able to have a spiritual guide quite the same as Nicodemus, seeking out such advice and support can be helpful.

One approach can be to have a spiritual director. It may well be helpful to seek such direction or accompaniment from someone who is not in the same church as you are. Maybe also from a different background or tradition or churchmanship: if we need space to ask questions or explore uncertainties it’s important to be able to do so with someone who is going to travel with you and not dismiss your explorations. Of particular importance is to see someone who has received formal and structured training as a spiritual director. If you are part of an established church (e.g. Anglican, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, URC etc) then contact a central body (e.g. Diocese) for information about what is available. Guided retreats and Quiet Days can also be helpful: taking time out of the demands of everyday life for prayer and reflection. (Maybe take a look at retreats.org.uk)

Which part of the garden do you want to explore?

Would it help to have someone to guide you?

 

 

When you’re ready, move on to Part 2 of this story.