Ah! The Power of Prayer, Part 5: Faith Healers, Snake Handlers and Other Stories from Cheese Station C

Read the rest of the series

Gentle Shepherd Metropolitan Community Church Phoenix, Ariz.

Every morning after that, the mice and the little people dressed in their running gear and headed over to Cheese Station C. It wasn’t long before Hem and Haw regarded the Cheese they had found at Cheese Station C as their cheese. It was such a large store of Cheese that they eventually moved their homes to be closer to it, and built a social life around it. To make themselves feel more at home, Hem and Haw decorated the walls and even drew pictures of Cheese around them which made them smile. One read: “Having Cheese Makes You Happy.”

(Excerpts of pages 28-30 of Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.)

And immediately Jesus left the Synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told Jesus of her. And Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And Jesus healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons, and would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

And in the morning a great while before day, Jesus rose and went out to a lonely place, and there Jesus prayed. And Simon and those who were with him pursued Jesus, and they found him and said, “Every one is searching for you.” And Jesus replied, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” And Jesus went throughout Galilee, preaching in their Synagogues and casting out demons.

(Mark 1:29-39)

This has been quite a journey into the field of prayer. This is the fifth part and not once have we talked about prayer as “Oh God! I need!” Isn’t that amazing? We have evolved in our view of prayer. We no longer see it as something you do. Prayer is more than that. Prayer is an integral part of what it means to be “us.” To touch deeply “us” and to arrive at an understanding of how we are connected to God and to others. If cheese has the power, as the commercials say, to get kids to be quiet and to get adults to behave, then I tell you that prayer has even more power! Prayer has the power to draw us to God, to our roots, to our deepest truest selves, to our greatest potential. Prayer has the power to do all of that.

During this part of this series, we begin to grasp what it means to actually pray – the role and function of prayer in our lives. What place should prayer have? In this part, we see how prayer has the power to restore us to wholeness.

Faith healers, snake handlers and others stories of faith from Cheese Station C. We all have laughed about these, I’m sure – I know. I’m amazed at people who seem to have an intimate connection with creation. You’ve seen them, such as the people who have been on TV and have bee’s covering them? I run screaming when there is only one bee! But the idea of all of those bees, all over you, and you being okay with that and them being okay with that – what’s that about? Come on! Is that something the average person does? NO! It may take a bit of a twisted mind but what about people who handle snakes and it seems to be no problem what so ever? There were churches in my former faith-based tradition where they have snakes right under the altar and people just pick them up and handle them and that’s part of what they call worship! Again, I would run screaming. But it is amazing to me how people can have such an intimate connection with nature.

I will never forget the Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson talking about her first trip to South Africa. They took her out into the wilderness preserve, which is considered the wilds of Africa where wild animals are roaming free. They stopped and got outside of their very protective vehicle that had steel mess to protect them. The driver said to her: “Do not behave like prey.” So she stopped and thought of what he meant. He then said: “If you act like prey the animals will come after you.” There is, on some level, some type of communication, some type of connection, that goes on between people and animals that has nothing to do with speaking. I tell you that same communication and connection goes on between people. Have you ever walked into a room where there are two people and they may not be sitting near one another but you could tell that they were passionately attracted to each other? You just “knew” it. There is communication and connection that goes on between all living things.

We have seen the negative side and heard the stories of the faith healers. How many remember the movie “Leap of Faith”? It was all a parody about faith healers and the faith healing movement. But what if there were a core of truth to it, even as some have learned to exploit it for greed? It doesn’t change that there is a core of truth, that there is healing and wholeness for people. Who among you has heard a story of how prayer has somehow touched a person’s life, changed a circumstance or brought some type of healing? How many of us could say that we don’t know one person who hasn’t said that prayer brought something to them that they thought would never happen? The miraculous does occur or perhaps it would be better to say that “wholeness is natural.” Our problem is not with the miraculous or with wholeness. I think the problem is not in how it happens, instead I think it is in what it means. You see, so many of us think that healing is a reversal of what has happened. Well, if that were the case, then if you were healed you would never die! You see, you cannot postpone that which is natural. Death is natural. It happens to all of us. So healing cannot be that, even if it is what we have been told, such as: God will fix everything for you, everything is going to be okay. You’re going to be absolutely perfect. Why are you not perfect already? When that happens, I suggest that you tell them to get over themselves. Who are they to tell you that you aren’t perfect the way that you are?

Maybe the problem isn’t in what happens but it’s in the understanding of it. Sometimes healing is recovery. There are people who recover from amazing things and there are people who die. So that can’t be the answer for healing, can it? What if being whole really means “being in harmony.” Such as harmony with yourself, with other people and being in harmony with nature. What if being whole has nothing to do with whether or not you sneeze? What if healing were simply that act of being at peace so that whatever happens, you are at peace with it. What if it meant accepting change? If that were healing we would call it “embracing the breath of the moment.”

Our Gospel lesson continues with Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as one who gets into the thick of things. Jesus has just left the synagogue. He has gone to Simon Peter’s home where Peter’s mother-in-law is ill and has a fever. In that culture, for her not to have served guests in her home would have been shameful. Jesus walks over to her, helps her to her feet, the fever leaves her and she serves her guests. The word spreads throughout the town and people are amazed so they come to Jesus and there are many who are healed. I love the fact that it doesn’t say that they all were healed. That amazes me because we have this feeling that healing is getting over being sick but healing is accepting the changes that come.

As we go on with the story, after Jesus prays for all these multitudes of people, he goes off alone to pray for himself; to refresh himself and then they move on to other places. It’s a rather straightforward text but I found something amazing as I reflected on it. Most of the time, when there is someone who is healed in the Gospels, Jesus makes a statement: “Your faith has made you whole” or “your faith has healed you.” On some occasions, though, Jesus seems to just pray for people and give them something. In one story, a woman touches Jesus’ garments and then power, virtue, energy goes out from him and then she is healed. You see, I believe, that in each and every one of us (and I believe this is what the scripture says when the breath of life is given to us) that the very power of life lives inside of us and if we are aware of it and available to it, we can give it to other people. We can share it with other people. Jesus gave what he had to give. He gave the power of life, the energy of life that was in him.

It amazes me how we approach what prayer should be. How many of us prayed and prayed and struggled and prayed for God to change the very nature of who we were? Some of us spent years doing it. God didn’t answer that prayer. I think we misunderstand what prayer really is. We misunderstand what it means to pray! I will tell you about my earliest prayer that I remember, and now that I look at it from what I’ve just told you, it’s amazing that it was the prayer that I prayed. My prayer was: “Don’t let my parents die until I’m sixteen or eighteen.” You must understand that I grew up with older, very ill parents. Death was a reality in our home and I knew it was coming. Now I realize that probably I kept them alive because my dad died eight days before my 18th birthday and my mother died when I was 20. They stayed around for me because they knew that I needed them. Prayer isn’t: “Oh God will you please, Oh God will you please!” Prayer is letting what is true and real inside of you communicate to God – to other people.

In Part Four of this series we saw that Sniff and Scurry, Hem and Haw, arrived at the place of fulfillment for them where they got what they wanted. Now that they have arrived, the mice everyday are going to Cheese Station C and sharing in the joys of life that they have known. But the mice know something. They’re watching what’s going on. They know that even though they have arrived, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be beautiful, wonderful or good. Things are going to change, so they have their shoes around their necks, ready at a moments notice to take off, searching for what they still need ≠ the food of life.

The little people, Hem and Haw, have a little different attitude. Where Sniff and Scurry have an attitude of accepting things the way they are, Hem and Haw decide that this cheese is great and this cheese is going to be here forever, so they move their homes closer; they build their worlds around that cheese and they get comfortable. Instead of wearing their sneakers around their necks, they put them away and put comfy house shoes on and make themselves at home. They throw wine and cheese parties and develop an attitude of arrogance. Sniff and Scurry are watching and you’ll find, if you read past the part of our the selective reading for today, that one day they came to Cheese Station C and they saw that the cheese was gone. They had been noticing that it was going away, changing. Immediately Sniff and Scurry saw that the cheese was no longer there and it had come to an end. Why? Everything changes! You cannot hold on to anything. However, Hem and Haw had convinced themselves that things would always be the way they are today.

How often do we do that in life? We convince ourselves that this job is perfect, it will always be this way. This relationship is fabulous. It will be fabulous everyday from now throughout eternity. Another example is: This church is wonderful and they’ll never, ever say anything that makes me mad. Hem and Haw came to believe that having cheese would make you happy. That getting what you pray for, the “Oh God this is what I need” is what makes you happy. We are gifted at what, I would say is self-hypnosis – self-delusion. We are gifted at saying; “Having this or that makes me happy.” Sniff and Scurry knew the real truth. Having cheese did not make them happy, it made them alive! It fed them. But, you see, when the cheese changed, they moved. They went on, they found other cheese.

Healing is not getting what you had back. Healing is moving on to what is next. Having cheese does not make you happy. It feeds your life. Having a job does not make you happy. Having a relationship does not make you happy. Having anything cannot make you happy. The cheese changes and it means that life needs to change. The only choice any of us really have is to choose to be miserably alive or happily alive. That’s it. In whatever context we are in, whether that is 20 years or 20 minutes, that’s the choice. The cheese merely feeds our lives. The only choice we have is to live in wholeness or not. We can either move with the flow of life or we can fight against it. I think Part Four’s analogy was right and I’ll use it again. We try to hold on to life. Breath is life. Hold your breath for 10 minutes and tell me that you can hold onto it. You cannot hold on to life. You can merely live it. Wholeness is choosing to work with the flow and be at peace.

I believe that we miss the whole power of prayer because we only scratch its surface. We pray very shallow prayers. When we pray just for what we need or just what the world needs, or just for anything, we miss the point. What if prayer isn’t in asking for anything? What if prayer isn’t about a list of what is needed, even if they are good things? What if real prayer, true prayer, is the willing of good, the power of creative life flowing out of us, touching others? What if prayer is truly internally in your heart and mind and soul, wanting something good for someone else or for yourself. If that is true, I’ll bet there are many people who have never really prayed. How many of you have prayed for your own needs? If prayer is the willing of good, how many of us have thanked our hands for what they do for us? Have you ever thanked your hands for what they do for you? If prayer is the willing of good it is the willing of good for our bodies, our minds, and our hearts. If prayer is the willing of good, it is the willing of good for others. It amazes me how we misunderstand prayer and misuse it.

Maybe it is time to really pray for the world and for people. Maybe then there will be real healing. Meister Eckhart, in the 14th century, made an amazing statement: “If the only prayer that you ever pray, in your entire life is thank you. It will be enough.” Maybe if we just gave back the good to other people, to creation. Maybe that’s why bees aren’t afraid to land on some people? Maybe the bees know something about the person? Prayer IS the willing of good. You see, prayer is not feats of daring. Prayer is not begging and crying and pleading. Prayer is maybe not even asking for a thing. True prayer is willing the best you have intentionally for yourself, for others, for all the world. And that prayer brings wholeness.

Faith healers won’t bring that kind of wholeness. Snake handlers, not in the sense of what I was talking about in my tradition, will not bring that type of wholeness. Do you know what will bring that kind of wholeness? You. Just letting the good that you have in you, be for others. I encourage you to write your own story of faith from Cheese Station C, in prayer.

Amen, Shalom and Blessed Be.