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The Revd Dr Joseph Balint Gabor

− Evening Prayer with Prayers for Healing at St Marylebone Parish Church 06.03.2016 −

When exploring the message of Isaiah, let us visualise the image of the jelly fish. You can imagine our medusa floating gently in calm water, not disturbed by any currents. You can also envisage its translucent body in the midst of unquiet waves. In both cases, what impresses us is the delicacy and fragility of this delicate being.

The vulnerability of the medusa.

This image resonates with Isaiah’s words with a surprising power.
We live in a world and culture, as well as in a Church, where all of us share the experience of exile.

“Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, says the Lord.”

Being uprooted from the security of childhood: it has happened to all of us.
Being uprooted from the culture in which we were brought up: it happens to us all.
Being uprooted from health, temporarily or for a longer period, it happens to us all.
Aging; fear of change, an unknown future, a serious challenge: all make us exiles. We become ‘strangers to ourselves’; strangers to our previous lives.

All of us who in one way or another have left behind our mother tongue, the life style of our youth, expressions of religious practices from our youth, undergo this experience of exile.

What connects us with the historical audience of Isaiah is the fact that we all yearn for a ‘homecoming’. When, as the prophet says, “God shall gather the lambs under his arm, and carry them in his bosom.” We all want to return to our truer self and find that ‘promised land’, which was promised to us in the first experience of love. In a smile, a kiss, a gentle stroke from our parents and beloved ones.

Chapters 40 to 66 in the Book of Isaiah are known as words comfort. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” Strangely, the real focus of these words is not the consolation what we receive. God the consoler initiates a dialogue of love which extends beyond our healing. He, through his gifts, wants to de-centre us. His healing touch wants to transform our ‘exile’ into a new eye: a new way of seeing others and ourselves.

The underlying message of Isaiah’s comfort is our most beautiful capability. Namely, that that our wounds can become moments of compassion. We can mirror the other. We can respond, through our pain, to the human person in need. We are called to recognise ourselves in the, literally, human face of Jesus.

Facing the challenges of the present refugee crisis, this underlying message of Isaiah is particularly timely. If we extend the dialogue of love beyond ourselves, God’s consolations prompt the challenging question: ‘But who is my neighbour?’ Engaging the words of Isaiah, the focus is narrowed to a more specific enquiry. How can I see the refugee as my neighbour within salvation history?

Julia Kristeva, the renowned French psychoanalyst, invites us to contemplate our shared vulnerability. I firmly believe that her observations illustrate how we should pay prime attention to those whom the media presents as ‘foreigners’ in a superficial way. Kristeva’s ‘stranger’ is a powerful metaphor. It has a universal meaning. We can read it as a synonym for the handicapped, the criminal, the terminally ill, and the person in suffering. It denotes all forms of exclusion. Let these words affect us: that is why I quote them in length. Through this image, I believe, we are being x-rayed by God’s Spirit of healing and compassion. In her book, Strangers to Ourselves, she writes:

‘Strangely, the foreigner lives within us. He is the hidden face of our identity, the space that wrecks our abode, the time in which understanding and affinity founder. By recognising him in ourselves, we are spared detesting him in himself…. The [foreigner] comes in when the consciousness of my difference arises, and he disappears when we all acknowledge ourselves as foreigners, unamenable to bonds and communities.’
‘A secret wound, often unknown to himself, drives the foreigner to wandering…’
‘Indifference is the foreigners’ shield. Insensitive, aloof, he seems, deep down, beyond the reach of attacks and rejections that he nevertheless experiences with the vulnerability of a medusa…’ With the vulnerability of a medusa…

‘Not belonging to any place, any time, any love. A lost origin, the impossibility to take root, a rummaging memory, the present in abeyance. The space of the foreigner is a moving train, a plane in flight, the very transition that precludes stopping. As to landmarks, there are none. His time? The time of a resurrection that remembers death and what happened before, but misses the glory of being beyond: merely the feeling of a reprieve, of having gotten away.’

‘In crossing a border (… or two) the foreigner has changed his discomforts into a base of resistance, a citadel of life. Without a home, multiplying masks and ‘false selves’ he is never completely true nor completely false, as he is able to tune in to love and aversions the superficial antennae of a basaltic heart. A headstrong will, but unaware of itself, unconscious, distraught. … This means that settled within himself, the foreigner has no self. Barely an empty confidence, valueless, which focuses his possibilities of being constantly other, according to others’ wishes and circumstances. I do what they want me to, but it is not “me” – “me” is elsewhere, ‘me’ belongs to no one, ‘me does not belongs to ‘me’, … does “me” exist?’ Can we exist at all unless we exist through Him, and with Him and in Him? – as we pray it in the Eucharist?

‘We all know the foreigner who survives with a tearful face turned toward the lost homeland. Melancholy lover of a vanished space, he cannot, in fact, get over his having abandoned a period of time. The lost paradise is a mirage of the past that he will never be able to recover. He knows it with a distressed knowledge that turns his rage involving others against himself. “How could I abandon them? – I have abandoned myself”. And even he who, seemingly, flees the slimy poison of depression, does not hold back, as he lies in bed, during those glaucous moments between waking and sleeping. For in the intervening period of nostalgia, saturated with fragrances and sounds to which he no longer belongs the foreigner is a dreamer making love with absence, one exquisitely depressed.’ Can one be happy without the grace of being loved for good?

‘Not speaking one’s mother tongue…. You have a feeling that the new language is a resurrection: new skin, new sex. But the illusion bursts when you hear, upon listening to a recording, for instance, that the melody of your voice comes back to you as a peculiar sound, out of nowhere… Thus, between two languages, your realm is silence… Why then you did you cut off the maternal source of words? What did you dream concerning those new people you spoke to in an artificial language, a prosthesis…. ‘ Can someone find a new home without the promise of our Lasting Abode?

This portrait of the stranger to be healed turns out to be our self-portrait. This psychologically sensitive image, however, is profoundly Biblical. In it, the categorical imperative surfaces: love the stranger, the exiled as yourself! Love the foreigner, the wounded, the handicapped, the sick – the excluded wanderer of existence – as God loves you, redeemed Israel! And there is a second imperative underlying this image. Seek the source of life with all your strength, all your heart, and all your mind!

Let us remind ourselves again, here at St Marylebone Parish Church and the Healing and Counselling Centre, that ‘illness’ by virtue of its nature has marked us out as ‘foreigners to life’. The painful experience of the ‘stranger’, however, is not the final word in our story. There is much more to it. Through our need to return to health, our Promised Land, we are invited to become healers through our wounds and patient waiting. In this service, we are invited to become good listeners. One who prays for others in similar needs. This listening itself is part of our being healed.

But as I mentioned, the hidden, not so obvious, but real focus of Isaiah’s consolations is the stranger’s being prayed for through your prayer. This is what unites us tonight with God’s healing touch.

‘The Lord is everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grows weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’ They will have a new home, a new mother tongue, a new culture of their own. Amen.