In difficult times do you wonder where God is at work? Do you wonder how grace might be present and what that means? Are you waiting for some kind of supernatural divine intervention? Bruce Epperly continues his series of reflections on the resources of Celtic theology and spirituality, this time on the question of how God is present in our midst bringing healing to our lives. Take a read and offer your responses as to how and where God is at work bringing grace and healing to our world.
Pastor Liz, Andrea Bocelli, and Amazing Grace:
Healing from a Celtic Perspective
Bruce G. Epperly
It wasn’t a quiet week in Lake Wobegon for Pastor Liz. At the Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church women’s retreat, she discovered she had healing hands. She touched one of the women and a cloud lifted from that woman’s life. Word spread and she found herself besieged by men and women in search of God’s healing touch. They came with their fears, pain, and vulnerability. She claimed no special power and didn’t see herself as a self-made conduit for God’s blessings. Yet, something happened that she could neither anticipate nor control. Just a simple word and a gentle touch lifted spirits and renewed bodies. She was as surprised as anyone else and rightly asserted that God’s grace alone was at work in the healing process.
Who knows why it happened? But, Pastor Liz found herself a partner in bringing wholeness to vulnerable people. After a week of non-stop visitors, Pastor Liz goes to the Twin Cities for a much needed Sabbath (of steak and scotch) and returns to church Sunday, initiating a time of healing prayer in which the community gathers in a circle holding hands as a sign of God’s healing presence. Healing is never individual, but emerges from loving communities of graceful care.
Last Saturday, my wife and I went to hear Andrea Bocelli in concert. He brought down the house when he sang “Amazing Grace.” This wasn’t a church – but regular people in a “secular” venue, but somehow the words of that hymn touched the spirits of thousands that night.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind and now I see.”
Who knows why, but few songs capture the spirit of life with more insight and inspiration than “Amazing Grace.” That night, there were no bagpipes, but the Celtic spirit lingered behind the Italian tenor’s words.
Perhaps, “Amazing Grace” still inspires, despite its history (written by John Newton, a recovering alcoholic and slave trader), because now more than ever we know that we need a grace within and beyond ourselves. We can’t control it but we open ourselves to receiving it. Our institutions are lost and in gridlock. Our illusions about economic growth have been shattered. Our images of an easy and effortless retirement have been blown to smithereens by unexpected unemployment in our late fifties and our desperate searches for jobs that will last until our late sixties or beyond. The planet is in peril, the American empire eclipsed, and our own dreams in doubt. We need “amazing grace,” not as a supernatural rescue operation, but as a second wind that gives us hope and energy to continue our adventures into the wilderness that lies before us. We need grace to transform the wilderness into a frontier and holy adventure.
The Celts lived in dangerous times. Threats abounded from every side. Life was risky business. Yet, they believed in the synchronicity of grace and nature. Grace was not supernatural, but divine. And, divinity was as close as the next breath or rock formation. Grace is the energy of transformation. That’s what Pastor Liz discovered when her ordinary hands became the media of God’s healing touch. Grace spoke through her words and radiated through her hands. It had always been there, waiting to be given and received. It can’t be controlled because it is the life of our lives, the basis for all growth and renewal. When we experience such grace, it truly is amazing.
We don’t need a world-denying rescue operation, or a grace that obliterates our humanness and imperfection. We don’t need grace that suspends the laws of nature or belongs to a select few institutions or clerics. In the spirit of the Celtic theologian Pelagius, we need a grace that comes in and through “nature,” raising the everyday world to its true identity as God-loved and God-breathed.
Grace moves within the ordinary and transforms us with extraordinary love. That’s what Pastor Liz discovered with every plea and each touch. She discovered that grace is not limited to the ordained or trained, but can be found in a simple circle of folks holding hands and praying for each other on a Sunday morning. That’s what the crowd at the Bocelli concert felt: grace within each of us inspired by a grace within all of us. Grace that transforms, inspires, and heals, and brings light to the darkness we feel.
No wonder “Amazing Grace” rings forth from Celtic bagpipes in their odd and unique intonations. No wonder grace grasps us in the most ordinary and extraordinary moments.
“Through many dangers, toils, and snares we have already come,
‘Tis grace has brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home.”
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.