The Greatest Healing of All


Jeremy Troxler ends his reflection on the 2 Kings 5:1-14 with the thought, “Sometimes a sickness of the body can heal the spirit by stripping away our illusions of command and control.” Have you ever encountered a physical sickness that has drawn you to a place of greater spiritual depth and reliance on God? Here are some further questions to consider as you meditate on this lectionary passage:

Like Abraham and Sarah, Naaman is asked to leave behind what he knows, trusting that the journey will lead to God’s destination. What privileges in the pastorate keep us away from healing? Is there a simple salve that pride or lassitude is hiding?

The United Methodist Book of Worship introduces its two Services of Healing with these words, “The greatest healing of all is the reunion or reconciliation of a human being with God.” Should every service of worship at which we preside, in some way, announce that?

The following prayer is taken from the United Methodist Book of Worship. It is a prayer after anointing, from the healing service found on page 621. May it be so for us all.

Sea and Sky

–Caren Swanson

Image by Caren Swanson

The Simple Salve: Reflections on 2 Kings 5:1-14


Welcome to the first in a special summer series of guest posts featuring lectionary-based reflections on health. We offer these reflections in the hope that in the coming weeks, you’ll consider the lectionary readings in a new light — one of health and wholeness. We will post the reflections on Wednesdays, a week and a half prior to the Sundays on which the readings fall, and will follow up with questions to consider either in the post itself or on the following Friday.

Our first guest post is by Rev. Jeremy Troxler, reflecting on 2 Kings 5:1-14.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commander Naaman was a four-star Syrian general who bore gleaming epaulets on each shoulder and a constellation of polished medals upon his chest. A revered war hero, he was the kind of stern, stoic, no-nonsense chief who made fellow soldiers wear the uniform with pride, and who emanated the aura of command. When ol’ “Stormin’ Naaman” told you to jump, you didn’t ask, “How high?” You asked, “When do you want me to come back down, sir?”

General Naaman, however, had finally come up against one enemy he could not outflank or outmaneuver, one adversary who refused to obey his orders. Leprosy.

General Naaman’s skin disease began as red spots on his arms, as if it were a child’s case of chicken pox. Before too long, the spots got bigger. They turned white and scaly, marching over the whole of his body. His hair began to fall out. His fingernails and toenails loosened.

He knew what would come next: the joints of his fingers and toes would begin to rot and fall off piece by piece. Eventually his leprosy would eat away at his face until the commanding visage that once had garnered so much respect would inspire only the most profound pity.

And then General Naaman would die.

The old soldier was, literally, falling apart. Had he the power, he would have court-martialed his own body for insubordination. Yet his body refused to salute.

Naaman’s cavalry arrives (so to speak) in the form of nameless servants, people with no rank or power. First is a servant girl, a young teenager kidnapped from the land of Israel who still could have mercy on her enemies. “If only master Naaman could visit the prophet in Israel,” she tells her mistress.

In his utter desperation, Naaman grabs hold of the servant girl’s comment the way the parents of a desperately ill child might try anything – anywhere – that could save their little one, no matter how unlikely the cure. Severe sickness is the great simplifier. Only one thing matters: being well again.

Soon General Naaman is on the move with a wagon train as long as a winding river, and with more silver and gold than Fort Knox. (Apparently doctors’ bills were just as expensive in Ancient Israel as they are today.) On this visit, however, Naaman comes not as conqueror, but as one conquered. He finds himself standing outside the home of Elisha the prophet as a supplicant, a patient in the waiting room.

Elisha adds insult to illness by refusing even to come out of his abode to meet the powerful Syrian general. Instead, another nameless servant bears the prophet’s prescription: “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”


General Naaman is outraged. Has he really traveled hundreds of miles just so some foreign prophet could say what sounds a lot like, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning?”

Does this prophet know WHO NAAMAN IS? Naaman had expected Elisha to offer some obscure herbal cure, to introduce him to the latest experimental treatment, to perform an elaborate ritual of healing. Instead, Elisha says, “Go wash.”

Can the salve really be that simple?

I get sick again. I want a wonder drug or prophet/physician to fix me so that I can get back to work. My doctor tells me: “Try to eat right. Try to get some exercise. Try to rest. Then maybe you won’t get sick at all.”

Can the salve really be that simple?

8474829966_4df2cd7b13The United Methodist Book of Worship encourages us to supplement our medical care by sharing in services of healing. I am struck, not by the elaborate ritual of these services, but by their simplicity. The church remembers the promises of Scripture. The church lays hands on the sick person and expresses its love. The church prays for the sick and anoints them with oil as a symbol of God’s care. That’s it: no miracle potions or religious amulets or incantations, just basic Christian practices.

Can the salve really be that simple?

The nameless servants say to Naaman: “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said was a simple thing, ‘Wash and be clean?’”

The severity of his sickness strips Naaman of the last vestige of his pride. Willing now to take orders from a foreign prophet and a nameless servant, Naaman removes the epaulets, the ribbons, and even the aura of command. Naked, humbled, he washes himself in the muddy waters of his enemies. Suddenly, his scaly sackcloth skin is made as soft at the skin on a newborn baby’s cheek. The leprous leader laughs. He is clean.

The salve really was that simple.

Scripture doesn’t tell us General Naaman’s story to encourage us to visit healing springs or bathe in muddy rivers. Sometimes, however, the salves for our sicknesses are surprisingly simple. Sometimes God sends servants to us whose words point us in the direction of health, if only we would listen. And sometimes a sickness of the body can heal the spirit by stripping away our illusions of command and control. 

074710_troxler_jeremy_hirezJeremy Troxler is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. Since 2007 he has served as the director of the Thriving Rural Communities initiative at Duke Divinity School. He begins a new appointment at Spruce Pine UMC, in Spruce Pine, NC, in July 2013.


Top photo by flickr user Tony Frates, lower image by flickr user John, both used with permission via Creative Commons.

 These reflections first appeared in the collection, “Connecting the Mind, Body and Spirit: Reflections on Health,” produced by the Duke Clergy Health Initiative in summer 2010.

“Nothing is lost, Jesus says”


The spiritual discipline of Lectio Divina ( is a practice that was part of the winter workshops held for our final cohort of Spirited Life pastors. Kept alive by the Benedictine monastics, Lectio Divina’s four traditional steps are read, meditate, pray and contemplate. In the slow, deliberate reading of a selected passage, Lectio Divina is not used to gain scriptural information but “as an aide to contact the living God”.

DSC_0114The passage used at the workshops was John 6:1-14, the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Since we were in a corporate space, we dimmed the lights and invited the pastors to listen as the scripture was read slowly and thoughtfully. After each reading of the passage, the pastors were invited to speak a world thought or phrase that resonated with them. The full exercise was concluded with prayer and a moment of silence.

Rev. Dr. Tom Steagald, a Cohort 3 Spirited Life pastor, wrote a blog entry about his personal experience with Lectio Divina while attending his Spirited Life winter workshop. Through his experience, Rev. Steagald invites us to consider this passage in an interesting way. Instead of considering this story through the lens of Jesus or the boy that provided the fish and loaves of bread, Steagald invites us to consider that perhaps we are “the leftovers” collected after Jesus had fed everyone. He poses the question this way:

“But what if, on the other side of that, I am the “leftovers”: one of the scraps cast aside when the crowd is sated? A piece of what I used to be, just a crust? The best part of me, after all these years, just eaten up by the crowds; there is nothing much left to be done with me but to be cast aside, on the ground, away?”


Here is the link to his full blog entry entitled, “Nothing is lost, Jesus says” and read just how Pastor Tom’s experience with Lectio Divina revealed a different perspective for him.

-Angela M. MacDonald

(Top image by Donn Young for the Clergy Health Initiative, lower image by flickr user hoyasmeg via creative commons)


In the Brilliance of Spring, Remembering the Darkness of Advent


Keeping the liturgical year may be conducive to better health.

Allow me to explain.

We’ve known for some time that SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – causes lots of people to experience mild depression during the winter months, when days are shorter and the weather cold and grey. Just as it is no accident that people feel a “spring” in their step this time of year, with the abundance of sunshine and blooming flowers, so too in the darkening days of fall do many people experience a dimming of their mood.  Recent research takes the relationship between the seasons and mental health farther, suggesting that waning sunlight and advancing darkness can have more serious mental health implications than previously thought.  Seasoned pastors – pun confessed – understand this and are prepared to deal with parishioners’ angst come November.

8201390638_69580c35ab_bBut what about pastors’ own vulnerability to the grey days, with their attendant increase in demands that time and creativity be spent planning for Thanksgiving, Advent and Epiphany? Have you ever felt your energy begin to dissipate at the mere thought of trying to explain to your congregation why Gospel lections for Advent begin apocalyptically? The Gospel for December 1, 2013, is Matthew 24, “one taken, one left.” Get ready.

Perhaps it’s time that pastors thought of keeping the liturgical year as a means of self-care, especially during the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle. Some years ago I wrote a liturgy for Longest Night (always either December 21 or 22) in which I confessed my own discomfort with the “tidings of comfort and joy” that cultural Christmas demands we feel, and unleashed upon the congregation the fruits of my historical-critical research by noting that Bethlehem doubtless stank when Jesus was born.  They loved it; some wept; I could scarcely make it through the Great Thanksgiving; the Holy Spirit triumphed.

And I was healed. By confessing the power of the darkness, owning that Luke’s birth narrative is scarcely so sanitized as we prefer to think, announcing that Incarnation made Mary scream in pain, and grasping that all of this is what Emmanuel – God with us – means, I was changed. Writing the liturgy displaced the darkness for me. It was unanticipated self-care, prevenient grace for us Wesleyans.

448485266_4af81d7b3b_bIn this joyful season of Eastertide, when new life is erupting all around us, take advantage of the long days and fresh energy to think ahead to the long nights of Advent and Epiphany.  It is not selfish, pastor, to ask yourself what you need in a particular liturgical season, in order first to receive the grace you have been called to sign and proclaim to the congregation. It is not selfish; it is responsible stewardship. Design those liturgies for yourself, too, and let the Spirit take care of the rest. She will.

–Ed Moore

Top image by flickr user Herr Olsen.  Lower image by flickr user Jeff Kubina.  Both used with permission via Creative Commons.

My Shepherd will supply my need


3572328047_c6a43d6cdb_b (1)-001I found myself so moved and comforted by the lectionary readings at church yesterday. What beautiful reminders of God’s sheltering love for us! After a week of feeling so vulnerable, I needed the reminder that God prepares a table for me, right in the presence of my enemies. God doesn’t wait for the world to be perfect to show me hospitality, care, and provision. At my church we sang the hymn, “My Shepherd will supply my need,” which really brought the truth of this home. I hope you enjoy the lyrics, written by Isaac Watts, and the lovely rendition below by the Baylor A Cappella Choir, this time (ironically!) with beautiful accompaniment including an oboe (one of my favorites!)

my shepherd

Caren Swanson

Image from flickr user harold.lloyd via Creative Commons, with text added by Caren Swanson


Music for the soul


2290444953-1Like the needle on my record player (yes, I still listen to records — I inherited a great collection of 60’s and 70’s LPs from my parents!) sometimes I get stuck in a groove, and I need a little nudge to get me going again.

This morning I had just such a nudge.

My music-savvy brother-in-law alerted me to the fact that the music of Josh Garrels, one of his favorite artists, is being given away for free on the website Noisetrade.  I’m unfamiliar with his music, but people have compared him to other artists I enjoy, like Iron & Wine and Ray LaMontagne, and I’ve heard that he brings a refreshingly Christian perspective to his songwriting that adds depth and substance to his funky tunes. A reviewer for Christianity Today (who gave his newest album 5 stars) called him a “freak-folk singer-songwriter.” I have no idea what that means, but it sounds awesome!

I figure you can’t go wrong with free music, though you can make a donation for it if you’d like. All of the donations he collects this week  benefit the work of World Relief in Congo. Here’s a note from the website:

From March 14 to March 28, all 5 of Josh Garrels’ most current albums will be available for free, exclusively on Noisetrade. This free catalog of music is given as a gift, but 100% of the tips received for any and all of the 5 albums will be given to World Relief and their courageous work in Congo. Congo is currently the most unstable, violent, and impoverished country in the world, with thousands displaced due to warring factions and a majority of the women suffering from gender based violence. Please consider leaving a tip, and in so doing, becoming a partner in the work for restoration in Congo. Thanks.

To learn more about the crisis in Congo visit the World Relief website.

This felt like such a gift to me on this rainy and gray Durham morning — sometimes music is the perfect balm for a weary soul.  If you are moved by music, check out this great opportunity to nourish your soul and to contribute to good work being done in the world at the same time.

–Caren Swanson

Jesus calls us


Lovely words and sounds for a Monday:

“Jesus Calls Us” by Cecil Alexander

(Listen here)

Jesus calls us over the tumult
Of our life’s wild, restless sea;
Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”

As of old the apostles heard it
By the Galilean lake,
Turned from home and toil and kindred,
Leaving all for Jesus’ sake.

Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s golden store,
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”

In our joys and in our sorrows,
Days of toil and hours of ease,
Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love Me more than these!”

Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
Savior may we hear Thy call,
Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
Serve and love Thee best of all.

-Ellie Poole

image by flickr user christoph.schrey via creative commons

To keep a true Lent


I eagerly await the slender crocus and bright daffodil creeping cream to green, bringing with them the promise of spring.  Anticipation is a beautiful thing.  Having something to look forward to, no matter what the circumstances, brings a certain joy well before the event actually takes place.  In fact, sometimes the happiness in anticipation is greater than the happiness actually experienced in the moment – that’s known as “rosy prospection.”

As a Christian, springtime means something more than bright greens and growing bulbs. Lent (literally “springtime”) is a time of anticipation and even more importantly, of preparation. It is our time to return to the desert where Jesus spent forty days readying for his ministry. As his followers, we are called to do the same.  I want to challenge us though, as Robert Herrick, a 17th century poet, challenges us in his poem, “ To Keep a True Lent”:

To Keep a True Lent

Is this Fast to keep
The larder lean?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour
Or ragg’d to go
Or show
A down-case look and sour?

No: ‘tis a Fast to dole
They sheaf of wheat
And meat
With the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife
And old debate
And hate
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent
To starve thy sin,
Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Lent is not a time to morosely give up the foods we love the most, but a time for honest reflection on ourselves; a giving up of our sin and a giving in to Christ’s love for us. It is an opportunity to become a group of people who embodies springtime. Lent is springtime; a time of joy as we emerge out of winter’s sin and brightly claim a new season, the resurrection of Christ.

–Kelli Sittser

(Image by flickr user lilli2de via creative commons)

Entering into Advent


We find ourselves in the middle of an unusual week, hovering between Thanksgiving and the start of Advent.  In this time of transition, let us pause in the glow of gratitude as we look forward to welcoming the Savior’s birth. Let us allow ourselves to carry our thanksgivings into the season of Christ’s birth with praises and joy.  Let us “joice” and rejoice throughout the Advent season.

On her blog, The Advent Door, Rev. Jan Richardson invites us to enter the Advent season with a blessing.

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
—Luke 21.28  Reading from the Gospels, Advent 1, Year C

Drawing Near
A Blessing to Begin Advent

by Jan Richardson

It is difficult to see it from here,
I know,
but trust me when I say
this blessing is inscribed
on the horizon.
Is written on
that far point
you can hardly see.
Is etched into
a landscape
whose contours you cannot know
from here.
All you know
is that it calls you,
draws you,
pulls you toward
what you have perceived
only in pieces,
in fragments that came to you
in dreaming
or in prayer.

I cannot account for how,
as you draw near,
the blessing embedded in the horizon
begins to blossom
upon the soles of your feet,
shimmers in your two hands.
It is one of the mysteries
of the road,
how the blessing
you have traveled toward,
waited for,
ached for
suddenly appears
as if it had been with you
all this time,
as if it simply
needed to know
how far you were willing
to walk
to find the lines
that were traced upon you
before the day
that you were born.

-Kelli Christianson

Image by Flickr user Paul Simpson (Creative Commons)

You will come at last to love


Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it.

Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light.

Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.

If you love everything, you will perceive the Divine Mystery in things.

Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day.

And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

–image by Caren Swanson