I have come to believe that a great many people are almost too weak to repent in any very open way. There must first be some level of healing. In some cases, including biblical ones, there is not even any evidence of faith on the part of the recipients of the healing. The same would be the case with the lame man healed by Peter at the gate of the temple called Beautiful. He was looking for alms, but was healed instead.
An early lesson I learned in praying for people was that I burdened people too much at the outset. Lots of people are too weak to enter into counseling, or to engage in repentance, or scripture memory, or some regime of “life improvement.” I remember when I was young in my pastorate, I had a very troubled and depressed girl come to me after hearing me preach wanting help, and I entered into very deep questioning, and gave her an “exercise” of some sort (I don’t even remember what) and sent her away. Needless to say, I did not help her at all, and she drifted away. I learned in these cases to be very bold and lay hands on these people — touch is important — and boldly pray for God to work deep in their heart with healing and comfort. I learned even over the telephone when people call with a problem, that it is far more important to say, “let me pray for you” (right over the phone), than it is to talk about it. Later, they can talk.
I think the same is true on a larger scale. I suspect there are many people who need to experience some level of healing and relief before any kind of plea for repentance ought to be given, and some who are too weak or broken to even be able to hear until that happens.
As we move away from “modernity” to “post modernism,” one of the changes is that we need selfconsciously to be less ideological. In other words, our modus operandi for generations has been to convince people of our party line, that we are right, and they ought to sign up. People don’t care about that any more, and this is mistakenly taken as a sign of a growing paganization. What people are open to is a priest. I am amazed at the openness of all kinds of people to being prayed for (I could give twenty or thirty examples off the top of my head of very secular and liberal people).
Babies that are not held die, even if the totality of their health regime is otherwise perfect. And I suspect that unmarried people generally suffer from not having enough tactile contact. We also know that old people and sick people who have dogs or cats are healthier, or get well faster. Our first environment in the womb is one that must be experienced almost wholly as a tactile reality. So it seems that this is our most primitive experience.
However, here is a further lesson, and one most germain to our time. In our time of family collapse, or at least, a high degree of family disintegration and fragmentation, touch is not always welcome, which further complicates things. Touch, for some people, is now associated with sexual trauma and abuse. At one point, when serving as a hospital chaplain, I was called to the Psychiatric Ward. A young lady had requested a chaplain. I came, and we had what was a fruitful time. I sat with her and listened. She seemed clearly a believing lady, so at the end of our time together, I asked her if I could pray for her. She said, “Yes,” with I believe, no hesitation. She was seated in a chair, and I went behind her chair, stood behind her, laid my hands on her shoulders, and proceeded to pray. At the end of our prayer, we exited the little meeting room we were in, and we walked down the hall together as I prepared to leave the ward. I was slightly aware of what now I detected as some sense of ill-ease on her part. I left the ward. The next day, I was summoned to a meeting with head of the ward, and I discerned rather rapidly, that there was some tension. I was informed that the patient I had seen the day before had complained about me, and said that I had touched her in an unwanted way. I explained what I had done, but to no avail. I was not to return to the ward again. I was actually banished for a rather short period of time, and later did return, often, and with clear and real welcome on the part of that particular head of the floor. But, I must say, what happened was a shock to me, and I learned not even to hold someone’s hand to pray, unless I first asked if I could. The amount of sexual traumatization out there is appalling, and it has taken a further toll. It is another sign of the sickness of our times.
Hence, we have both a famine of touch, and now, much tactile contact is unwelcome. It would be like walking amongst starving people who also associate food with poison. There is both an intense need, and intense aversion, all at the same time. Our need is multiplied many times over by internal contradiction.
There is in the end, only one touch that can deal with all depth of need, and all contradiction, all at once, and that of course, is the touch of Jesus.
Richard Bledsoe is a Theopolis Fellow and works as a chaplain in Boulder, Colorado.
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