The other night, during my late-night visitation to the Level 9 living room, Gin and I talked about healing. Gin related a conversation she’d had with one of the outreach nurses.
“Jo seems to be doing well under the new programme,” she’d said to the nurse.
The nurse agreed. Gin and the nurse had both known Jo for many years. What they both knew, and didn’t need to say, was that ‘doing well’ for Jo still meant a life of drug addiction, mental health problems and debilitating physical illness. ‘Doing well’ meant that Jo was managing these things better.
Gin sighed as we debriefed the conversation. “And I thought to myself, ‘Is that all Jo will ever be able to hope for?’ What does healing look like for Jo?”
We tell the story of the haemorrhaging woman in our back laneway – a site that seems to represent the combined hope and despair of this Biblical text. Jesus is on his way to heal the dying daughter of Jairus, a very important man. He is flanked on all sides by a jostling crowd, all seeking a slice of Jesus. All of a sudden Jesus stops in his tracks.
“Who touched me?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” say his disciples. “There are people all around – everybody is touching you!”
Jesus won’t be deterred. “No – somebody touched me. I felt power go out of me. Who was it?”
A woman comes forward and falls to Jesus’ feet, trembling with fear. She has been haemorrhaging for 12 years, but just this moment, since touching Jesus’ cloak, has been healed. The woman tells Jesus her “whole truth”. She had been to many doctors over the years, but they had all ripped her off and left her worse than before. During this time the woman had been a social outcast, because in that society women who were menstruating could not dwell within the community. This woman had been effectively menstruating for 12 years straight.
After listening to her story, Jesus says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
This time, it is Kate who is telling the story, while we huddle close and rub our arms from the chill of the winter shadows.
Gregg pipes up. “Do you see that there are two healings here?”
There are, indeed, two healings in this story. The first is when the woman is physically healed of her bleeding. The second is a kind of ‘social’ healing – Jesus pronounces her healed after listening to her story – her “whole truth”. Perhaps this is the first time in 12 years that anybody has heard this woman’s story.
As we walk down the narrow laneway, past the fit bin and wall murals, I wonder about the unwritten epilogue of this story. What happened to the woman after her encounter with Jesus? Would she suddenly be embraced by her community and treated with all the love and respect she had been denied over the last 12 years? I suspect not. Prejudice runs deeps and low. Moreover, the woman is probably without a husband, so would be in a position similar to that of a widow – with no one to take care of her material needs. The woman has been healed, but her problems have not been fixed.
We tell his story in the back laneway as a recognition of the complexity of what it means to be healed. This is a space where people meet death, metaphorically and literally. There are no TV cameras or white suits in the back laneway. People sometimes fall to the ground, but not usually because they’ve been slain by the Holy Spirit.
But amid drugs and needles, there can be moments of healing, as someone finds a real encounter with another who cares enough to listen to their story. The back laneway also leads to Credo Café, which is where many people find life. Stories unfold over years and years: it can take a long time for a “whole truth” to be revealed. Healing is a slow and painful process. It happens until the day we die.
I don’t spend a lot of time in the back laneway. It’s usually cold and I always seem to be on my way somewhere else – to go to work, to take the garbage out, to see a friend. I don’t listen well in the back laneway – I struggle to sit on the concrete and hear a person’s story. But Jesus stops for the bleeding woman, sitting with her for…how long? How long does it take to hear someone’s “whole truth”? He stops, even though Jairus’ daughter waits, dying. He stops until it’s too late, and Jairus’ daughter is dead.
What does healing look like for Jo? Maybe it’s morning coffee, or candles lit during a moment of quiet on a Sunday night in Credo. Maybe it’s a shared smoke on the Level 8 fire escape. Maybe it’s Jo ‘doing well’ at a new programme. Maybe it’s choosing to stop and chat on the street, even if we have an appointment to rush to.
Maybe healing is about suspending, for a moment, what seems important, to hear a little bit of somebody’s truth.