Healing the body, mind and church

Published July 1, 1998

IN JERUSALEM A YEAR AGO I was going up a set of stairs made of rough stone when I turned my ankle and fell.

The consequence was a serious sprain which healed after about two months of daily physiotherapy and home exercise.

This spring I seem to have done something similar, though less serious, and am working my way towards healing. The pain is gradually diminishing and things seem to be returning to normal, just as they did last year.

But during the time that both of these injuries were very present, my biggest problem was not the pain that they caused – it was the fact that I developed a limp.

In order to give relief to one sore foot, my body redistributed weight and stress in all directions. After a few days my knees and calves ached, my thighs felt strained and my back seemed twisted. All this because of a small problem in one foot.

I realized that I had become the living opposite of the body depicted in the letter to the Ephesians, “the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly.” That describes a functioning body; I felt like a dysfunctioning body.

As I reflected on this phenomenon (especially on the subway, travelling to and from the physiotherapist) I thought about the church, the “body” about which the letter to the Ephesians is talking. One small part out of whack and everything around it starts to ache and disintegrate.

The same interconnectedness of the body which transmits vigour to and from all its parts when there is health can bring pain and disorder when one part is lame.

But the letter speaks of more than simply the interconnectedness. It says that it is Christ who restores and builds wholeness and does so as we play our part by “speaking the truth in love” from one part of the body to another.

That phrase has always been crucial for me. Truth without love can injure the body; love spoken without truth can betray its wholeness. It is the difficult task of speaking “truth in love” that frees the power of Christ to strengthen a healthy body and heal an injured one.

Even our smallest injuries can bring pain to the rest of the body, but conversely even the smallest efforts towards healing, in the most local situations, can set free the power of Christ in the whole church.

In the time and place when the Scriptures were written, the foot was considered the most unworthy part of the body, always dusty and dirty. It was precisely this attitude which made Jesus’ gesture of washing the disciples’ feet so disconcerting. Even today, in the Middle East, to sit with one’s legs crossed in a way that points the sole of the foot to the other person is an insult. But even the foot needs healing so that the body can stop limping.

Even the least of us, even the most despised, has a place in the health of the whole body of Christ. Archbishop Michael Peers is the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.


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