The Beauty of Brokenness
Biblia Luna # 31
Welcome to Issue #31 of Biblia Luna, the weekly newsletter about the intersection of mental illness and faith.
Crazy Lectionary: Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 19, 2023 will be the Fourth Sunday in Lent. The lectionary readings for this day are 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; and John 9:1-41.
The gospel reading today is the story of a man who was born blind, and whom Jesus heals, and whose healing causes quite a kerfuffle among the authorities. There’s a tragedy that fills the very atmosphere of the story, a tragedy that reveals a great sickness of spirituality. This is a story of how a man born blind is healed, and can see; that could have been the central point – look at this healing Jesus can do! Instead, John devotes an entire chapter to showing how this healing affects the culture, how it threatens the religious authorities, how it confounds all its witnesses.
The story opens with even the disciples stuck in an unhealthy worldview: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Somebody had to be at fault. Somebody had to take the blame. If something bad happened, then it was God’s punishment for your actions, or perhaps for your parents’ actions. The disciples had scriptural backing for this idea, but Jesus makes clear that it is wrongheaded. He says:
Neither this man nor his parents sinned. He was born blind that God’s works might be revealed in him. (John 9:3)
Jesus says no. Stop looking for other people’s sin. Stop trying to make sense of the world through blame. Some things just are.
We still encounter this today. We still encounter people who think that bad things happen for a reason. We still encounter victim-blaming. And one of the places we still encounter this is with mental illness. We look for reasons. Parents of mentally ill people often blame themselves, thinking that there was something wrong with their parenting, or that they could have or should have done something more. People with depression often blame themselves, thinking that they have caused it through something they’ve done wrong. (Of course we blame ourselves – our depression tells us to!)
So where does mental illness come from? Great question. Certainly it can come from (or at least be triggered by) events in one’s life. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is by definition a response to a stressful situation. Abuse or neglect in childhood can lead to all sorts of issues cropping up throughout life. Abuse of alcohol or drugs can be intertwined with mental illness – they can each cause each other. However, mental illness can also occur in people with no history of trauma or abuse. There is sometimes a genetic component to it. The genesis of mental illness is complicated, but it is not a punishment from God for our sin, or for that of our parents.
And perhaps one bit of good news in this story is exactly what Jesus said: “He was born this way so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Which doesn’t have to mean that it was God’s plan for someone to be mentally ill (or blind, for that matter). Instead, it can mean that whatever the cause of your problems, God has plans to use you for good. God has plans to shine glory through you and with you. God has plans for you to have an important role. I once attended a healing service at an Episcopal church, and I was struck by the language that was used. When the priest laid his hands on my head, this is what he said:
Michael, I lay my hands upon you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, beseeching our Lord Jesus Christ to sustain you with his presence, to drive away all sickness of body and spirit, and to give you that victory of life and peace which will enable you to serve him both now and evermore. (Book of Common Prayer)
I was struck by the fact that in the Episcopal rite, this healing was designed not only for my good, but also so that I might be enabled to serve God. Just so, God has plans to use us all, no matter what form our brokenness takes. That’s good news.
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Listen for Joy
I want to recommend an artist whose work I have admired, appreciated, and grown from for many years. Melanie Weidner is an artist with a profound spirituality and a vision for depth, color, and nature that speaks to me on a deep level. I first discovered her accidentally, doing a google image search for “Holy Spirit.” Through that search, I stumbled upon her painting “Deep Breath,” a water-marked version of which is below.
Her work is not always this flowy, but there are always colors so deep and rich, and thoughtfulness fills each piece. A few years ago, Melanie started a monthly subscription program called “Brave Joy,” which I signed up for. I receive a new art print each month, along with a spiritual “contemplative prompt” on how to use the print in one’s spiritual journey.
I have used her work in my daily prayer and meditations. I encourage you to check out her work, and consider a subscription to Brave Joy!
You can find her work at Listen for Joy.
"If we start being honest about our pain, our anger, and our shortcomings instead of pretending they don’t exist, then maybe we’ll leave the world a better place than we found it." — Russell Wilson