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January 14, 2004
The rector across the street is away, so I'm taking his 10:00 healing service. I remember this service from when I was a curate there 23 years ago, remember who used to come regularly. Just about all those people have died by now; there is a new crop of the faithful, the fearful and the bewildered on Wednesday mornings now.

It features the Laying On of Hands. That goes all the way back to the New Testament and even further, the idea that prayer for the sick should be accompanied by physical touch. Sometimes just the priest places both hands on the head of the one who seeks healing; in other places, the whole body gathers around and places a hand somewhere, either on the person or on one of the other people praying. It is rather like a football huddle. It is rather like the completing of an electrical circuit. It is rather like both.

Healing comes from God alone. We believe it comes through Christ -- in the end, it's the same thing. It's God. We pray for healing without knowing in advance what will happen, which is what distinguishes prayer from shopping -- in shopping, you know what you're going to get, and you can return it if it doesn't suit. Or from ordering from a menu. Or from giving instructions to an employee, or commanding a powerful but obedient genie. Whatever prayer for healing is, it is not a way of ordering God to do our bidding. Or finding a way to talk God out of making people sick. We don't think God makes people sick.

Prayer for healing opens many more mysteries than it solves -- in fact, I'm not aware that it solves any mysteries at all. The why of sad things remains stubbornly unknowable, the outcome of most things utterly unforeseen. The people gather together, touching each other on the head, on the shoulder, gently -- before the God who created them and to whom they will all someday return. They live in a hard world. It is best not to try and face it alone.

After the Laying On of Hands, they gather again at the table of the Eucharist. Life is hard here, it says silently as they repeat the familiar old prayers, but there is more than just what you see. A larger life awaits us, exists even now, all around us, although we do not see it. They take a sip of wine and a crumb of bread, and it enters their bodies, becomes part of their physicality. But their physical bodies become part of it, too -- the Eucharist is a two-way street. So there really is no longer any such thing as the merely physical. The existence of everything has a spiritual life beyond its earthy molecules.

After the service, the people greet each other and chat. Some of them stay for a cup of coffee. Then they return to their lives, back to whatever it was that brought them to the healing service. There will be another one next week. It will all still be here.

I will hang up my white alb and put my stole away. I will remember the people who used to come to this service all those years ago -- the little lady who looked like Helen Hayes, Betty and her daughter, Charles who died alone in his living room. Ed, who came when he got his leukemia diagnosis. All healed now, perfect and joyful and alive. It is good of you to come, I might tell them. Wonderful to be with you again. Thanks.
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