There’s a beautiful thing that happens when 9 verses are removed from a chapter and given a chance to expand into healing scripture. This is one of the things that has troubled me about the correlation of LDS curricula – all of the answers are there. There’s little room to explore much more than what’s already been said and accepted as the definitive word. This is what makes it hard for people to see church essays on various topics like race and the priesthood or polygamy as more than publicity moves by the Church in response to Google, because the answers about race, polygamy, and other topics are already there. They’ve been there since some blurry time period of “whodunit: Joseph or Brigham?”
But I digress.
“Stick to the manual” Sunday School, and other, teachers can be told while fulfilling their calling to teach. Because teaching is correlated, too.
And even so, organizations like Sunstone still exist. I’ve been aware of them for more than 10 years and appreciated the conversations they attempt to foster. I’d read most of their publications from the margins, myself. It was nice to see critical thinking paired with fervent faith. This past weekend was no different. Sunstone hosted a spring conference in Utah encompassing the experiences of my fellow melanin-ites in this beige-doesn’t-age-because-we’re-blinded-by-color LDS Gospel. I missed the conference and showed up after it ended to fellowship with friends and fellow believers. The room was abuzz with energy as members cleaned up from refreshments and processed the information they received from the speakers that day.
On the minds and from the mouths of many were responses to Dr. Fatimah Salleh’s keynote sermon. It wasn’t a talk. It wasn’t a presentation. It was a sermon. I was pretty sure I saw Jesus leaving the building as I entered. I definitely felt his presence and I saw people experiencing the wholeness that comes from receiving healing through the Word. I was sad to have missed hearing her, but Sunstone got her sermon up Bonneville-communications-quick and within 12-24 hours after the conference, I heard a Sister preach about healing, wholeness, and a scarcity mentality that starves the Body of Christ.
To give you a background before sharing a few insights – because my words can’t hold a spark to those of Dr. Salleh, and you really should take the time to listen to her words – in the mental health field, we speak often of the need for both healing and wholeness from the perspective that there is strength in every person and strength in every community. As the Black Panthers would say – all power to all people. Social workers and therapists say it too, just in a different way.
Dennis Saleeby (2006) in the introduction to his book, The Strengths Perspective, says, “Healing implies both wholeness and the inborn facility of the body and the mind to regenerate and resist when faced with disorder, disease, and disruption.” It’s important to me, that we read those three words, disorder, disease, and disruption – emphasizing the “dis-“ so that the lack of order is understood, the lack of ease is felt and the brokenness of disruption is clear.
Saleeby continues, “Healing also requires a beneficent relationship between the individual and the larger social and physical environment. The natural state of affairs for human beings, evolved over eons of time and at every level of organization from cell to self-image, is the repair of one’s mind and body…. All human organisms have the inclination for healing… But, the bottom line is this: If spontaneous healing occurs miraculously in one human being, you can expect it to occur in another and another.”
The introduction chapter, coincidentally (or not), is called Power in the People. Maybe Saleeby knew some Panthers.
Now, turn to Jesus and review the 9 verses, Dr. Salleh used to frame her sermon: Matthew 15: 21-29 I loved these 9 simple verses because of how Dr. Salleh expanded them and herself in reaching out to us. Was she reaching to us on the margins or reaching for us from the margins? It was probably a little bit of both. She dared us to look to the margins. I envisioned looking toward the horizon at the end of the ocean. Is it really a margin, or is it just the extent of my ability to view? The ocean continues beyond my view – I know this logically because I have seen maps and I know that the earth is round. The ocean continues beyond the horizon in ways that I cannot see with my eyes. As such, the same question applies to people when we find ourselves at the center position looking outward toward the margins. Just because we think that it ends at some sort of visible or invisible-yet-acknowledged marker, it only does so because that’s the limit of our human understanding, not God’s.
Dr. Salleh focused on the interaction of Christ and his disciples, likening it unto us. How was it that Christ actually ignored someone who came to him crying? How was it that in the healing stories before verse 21 and the healing stories after verse 29 that descriptors of people were not used, just their afflictions? What was it about that story’s beginning (a Canaanite woman) and one of its endings (her daughter being whole that same day because of her mother’s faith) that calls us to recognize our positions in the center when we have them?
Dr. Salleh, in so many words said, tell me there’s no place for me or my family – I’m gonna worship anyway. When this woman was turned away by Christ’s disciples and, essentially, passively turned away by Christ himself, this woman – a Canaanite – knowing that Christ’s healing was big enough for her, even if He himself didn’t see it – continued to worship and to challenge and to remind the Lord that he is Lord and can do all things, even, and especially, for her.
“27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
Because he had just finished telling her, after ignoring her and hearing his disciples say to send her away:
“But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
It made me wonder about Jesus’ thoughts at that time. Sticking to the agreed upon manual. I’m only here for the house of Israel and you are not part of that house.
Yet, she persists. Her faith in healing is challenging the manual Christ is pulling from.
25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
And he sticks to the manual, still.
26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.
Can you imagine your Savior, saying that he can’t give something to you because you are less than? When have we ever heard such from the Savior? It might not be in the manual.
But when you are used to being cast away and yet, you know your worth and you have faith even when others hate you and tell you that you don’t belong – you persist. You need Christ to know that you see him and that he is greater than what is apparently expected of him by himself and his disciples.
27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
Have you ever been on the margins where it matters? Have you ever believed that you were less than and had to use your position of being cast out in order to help those who should know better, do better? We can learn from this Canaanite woman. Yes, I may be a dog. I am treated as a dog by you, by your disciples, by your devils, but even I because of my daughter, am worthy of at least a crumb from my oppressor’s table. Even I, am worthy to touch the hem of your gown and believe you can make me whole. Even I, am worthy to wash your feet with my tears and anoint them with oil. Even I, a sinner, cast to the margins of the body of Christ. Even I, am worthy even if you, my Lord do not see it.
And while verse 28 is awesome because it’s our happy ending that we expect from Jesus because he fed 4000 more people in verses 30 through 39 – verse 29 is even more powerful to me. But first, verse 28:
28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
From that very hour, her daughter was whole. Her faith transformed the Savior from the manual to the Truth. The Truth that there is enough, even in Him, for her. As I read verse 29, I was sobered to think of Christ turning in to himself to explore what had just happened and why.
29 And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there.
If you pay attention when you’re reading, I hope you notice how often mountains and height are used when Prophets go to commune with God. I see this mountain as no different from that except that I think there may have been more going on there than sitting. I don’t think Christ went there and sat on the mountain and looked to the expanse of the sea for the view. I do think that Christ went up into a mountain, sat and talked with his Father about how he turned one of his children away because he was attempting to stick to the manual. I think, if Christ looked out over the sea of Galilee, he looked to the margins for the Canaanite woman. I think Christ departed from the manual and worked to compensate for that failure to serve until even he was compelled by Truth.
Maybe she wasn’t agreeing with him that she was oppressed and deserved lesser treatment because of her position in society. Maybe she was reminding him that he is better than His manual and should be guided by Truth because he IS Truth. The way, the Truth, and the Light. Maybe she saw a light that, for a moment, was dimmed even for the Savior.
And maybe Christ remembered that as he sat on the mountain and maybe that’s why verse 30 feels so crowded with acts of commitment to do better (I’d call it repentance, myself) through service: 30 And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them. Christ didn’t hesitate. He healed. He healed because he was healed. He knew better than to behave the way he had just done. Once he knew better, he did better. Once he was healed, he was whole and he turned to others and regardless of margins, of invisible borders, or societal markers, and he healed.
And maybe this is why in Luke 22:32, we see Christ say “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” After that woman from Canaan strengthened Him with her faith, he, too, was converted and strengthened his multitude of brethren, “those that were blind, dumb, maimed and many others…. And he healed them.”
May we too, be strengthened by the faith of others who see Truth in us that our manuals do not permit. May we, too, be converted by their faith and go to the Centers we inhabit and strengthen others. May we, too, be whole.