< Back

Suzanne Hyde

Today is the day we celebrate St Luke.  He was believed to have been a physician and is the patron Saint of Doctors. So, as the Director of Clinical services of the Healing and Counselling centre down in the Crypt, St Luke has a special place in my heart.

Whilst thinking about today’s service, and what to speak on, I went to the cinema to see the film ‘Joker’; which focuses on a dystopian world set in Gotham City. The film gives the backstory of an evil supervillain  – the Joker – featured in the Batman films. It shows the central characters slow descent into mental illness and a life of vicious crime. It is a chilling and difficult film to watch. Afterwards, I found myself thinking about how many times the Joker character had the opportunity to turn things around, or to make different choices. And the times he reached out to others, only to be disappointed and sometimes attacked because he was different or not wanted.  He was not originally a sociopath: he had feelings of love, need, generosity. However, his complex family background, full of secrets and lies, and his sense of rage and injustice, eventually turns him to the dark side. He is desperate to be seen, and in the end, it is by being a figure of terror and anarchy that he finally gets his wish. I don’t want to spoil the film, but there is a deeply moving scene, when the Joker does NOT kill someone – but let’s them live, saying ‘you were the only one who was kind to me.’  One of the cast when interviewed, commented ‘It’s an amazing character study. It’s such an organic evolution of what happens in our society when we don’t take care of people’.

The founder of the healing and counselling centre, the Rev’d Christopher Hammel-Cook] had a vision for St Marylebone to be a place to care for people.   In his obituary in the Times the writer said of St Marylebone: ‘People are offered under the same cavernous roof a wide range of medical, psychological, social and spiritual skills.’ All these services under one roof having a common quest for healing and wholeness.

And of course, never has our world needed so much healing! There has been much in the press recently about the soaring suicide rates in the UK, and just to give you a few facts [sourced from The Samaritans], in 2018, suicide rates rose by 11.8%, with 6,507 people taking their own life. And a chilling fact is that men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. But as the film the Joker so powerfully documents it is not one-off traumas or difficulties that lead to mental illness or suicide, and indeed crime. In fact I was interviewing someone who works as clinical lead in a high security prison last week, and he verified that  all of the prisoners, had suffered long-term, sustained, neglect, abuse and when shown care and kindness, were able to begin changing some behaviours.

Closer to home, a colleague from another pastoral organisation told me over lunch the other day that she had met with a Vicar to discuss a project, and asked him, ‘how are you?’. He looked shocked, and then tearfully said, that in 23 years of being a Vicar, no-one had ever asked him how HE was. This comment has stayed with me and came back to me as I read the two passages we heard earlier.

In the reading from the Second Letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 4, 1-18) St Paul shows that he is no stranger to disappointment, betrayal and pain. In this pastoral epistle, which he wrote at the end of his life, hence his comments about having ‘finished the race’, ‘fighting the good fight’, he takes great care to instruct his friends and colleagues on how to navigate their way through the choppy waters of life. And these instructions address the physical, spiritual and mental needs of people, much as St Marylebone seeks to do and also much as St Luke does in the other reading we heard (Luke 10, 1-9). Neither Paul nor Luke would have had access to the behavioural psychologist Eric Maslow’s famous, hierarchy of needs. However, their instruction follows his pattern. We are physical beings and if are physical needs are not taken care of then we cannot attend to our psychological or spiritual needs. Luke instructs the disciples to attend to their physical needs, to find safe shelter, avoid danger, make sure they eat and drink well. To do meaningful work and to be remunerated for it. Having done all these things, they can be in a position to bring peace and to offer healing to those in need.

Looking at the psychological perspective, St Paul refreshingly expresses his feelings; he talks about his bitter disappointment, his upset about being betrayed. He doesn’t cover over his feelings with sweet platitudes. He confides in his friends so that they can support him. He doesn’t do the British ‘stiff upper lip’, which can leave us isolated and at the mercy of our inner demons.  Equally he warns against taking revenge or bitterness, which can, as we know eat away at a person’s soul and personality – or as I like to think of it, it’s like eating rat poison and expecting the rat to die! Both Paul and Luke caution against naivety, about being wise as to people’s motives and capacities. Not everyone wants our help or is able to make use of what we offer. Likewise we can expect to be deserted and let down at times, and here it is crucial that we can draw on a Spiritual perspective and guidance.

St Paul admonishes us to ‘keep our head in all situations’ and to develop endurance. Carolyn Myss in her book about Theresa of Avila comments that we need to ‘develop a spiritual practice, a discipline, in which every day something is expected of you as an individual……..to maintain rituals that invoke grace and generate a connection with the sacred in your daily life…..and to build a soul with stamina.’ [Caroline Myss, Page 46/47, Entering the Castle.] And of course at St Marylebone we offer a mid-week and a monthly healing service. If you have never been to it, I would encourage you to come along. When I first started here, when people went up for the laying on of hands, I sat back rather primly for the first few times, thinking ‘as Director I should not be seen as needing healing!’ And then I realised, ‘why wouldn’t I receive this beautiful ministry?’….we are all in need of healing!

St Luke exhorts the disciples to speak peace into people’s lives and to bring the Kingdom of God into the world. This is not a just a Spiritual manifestation, but includes bringing our whole mind, body and Spirit into the service of peace and healing.

In conclusion, you may have noticed that we have added a new strapline to the Healing and Counselling Centre’s header. It says: ‘Changing lives every day’. When I first came up with this, I wondered, is that a bit grandiose? but actually it does describe our work and mission – reaching out to people in need and hopefully giving them the tools, understanding and support to make better choices. And this is often how healing and wholeness get established, little by little, day by day, reaching out, being kind – both to ourselves and to others.  The film the ‘Joker’ and the devastating suicide figures and other headline news that one in three people will experience a mental health problem in their life, show that when services are cut and people are isolated, there are terrible consequences.  Similarly, in our own lives, when we get out of balance, perhaps we can remember St Marylebone’s focus on mind, body and spirit as a reminder to not prioritise one part at the expense of the other. Being so focused on spiritual things that we lose our sense of grounded-ness. Being so busy working that we don’t allow time for rest and replenishment, both spiritually, mentally and physically. St Luke laments, ‘the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’ May we all be, in whatever sphere of work or service we perform, the voice of peace and hope – and maybe now and again ask Father Stephen, Father Jack and Mother Katy, how they are!