As I was thinking and praying about the story of the healing of the blind man from the gospel this week, and our theme, “Praying for Healing”, I did a bit of reading on Florence Nightingale. We know her as a woman of strength and compassion- a wartime nurse, the founder of modern nursing, “The Lady with the Lamp” who made tireless rounds at night, a woman who was as fiercely committed to her ideals as she was kind to her patients. I was surprised, though, to learn that she was also a mystic and a woman of deep, if not always orthodox, faith.
When she was a young woman she wrote in her diary, “God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.” What a simple, remarkable way of expressing God’s call! Later, she studied at a Lutheran religious community in Germany, where watching the work of the pastor and the deaconesses in caring for the sick and aging further encouraged her to go in to nursing in the Crimean War, at a time when women were rare in hospitals, and even rarer on the battle field.
There was once a young dying woman in her care who had lived as a prostitute and was now concerned that she would go to hell. She told the nurse, “’Pray God, that you may never be in the despair I am in at this time’, to which Florence Nightingale reportedly replied, “Oh, my girl, are you not now more merciful than the God you think you are going to? Yet the real God is far more merciful than any human creature ever was or can ever imagine.” What a beautiful picture of God! What a vision of God’s mercy and love for all!
As a woman of healing and faith, she understood something that we often forget in our own times. Our physical bodies and what we sometimes call our souls are not entirely separable. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for our bodies to recover, to heal, to mend in the absence of love and care. Nightingale put a new emphasis on both hygiene and compassion. While she lived in an era that did not yet fully understand germs or the scientific method or modern medicine, she did understand that both medicine and concern for the person were necessary for true healing to happen.
I picked up a copy of a prayer book written in 1943 by another woman, Alice Hutchins Drake, who understood both science and faith in a used book store. She seems to have gone largely unremembered by history, except for this small edition called Little Prayers for Stressful Times”. Written right in the middle of WWII- stressful? I would say so! Inside there is a gem called, “Prayer Offered in an X-Ray Clinic”.
And God said,
“Let there be light…”
Light to reveal the way;
Light to stimulate growth;
Light to give healing to broken bodies;
Here, through this place of miracles,
Man the instrument,
God the Creator,
Light the bond,
Between Deity and His handiwork.
These are the elements of triumph
In this clinic.
For amazing courage,
For the skillful hand,
For the disciplined judgment,
For the knowledge of the light-beam,
For its deadly power that gives life,
Accept, O Lord, our thanks!
O God, hear the cry of our hearts.
We thank Thee, Lord. Amen.
As this poem beautifully illustrates, faith and science do have a mysterious and amazing way of going together, even if that is not always popularly understood in our culture. Each plays a role, both are God given. As I shared in the email newsletter, the introduction for the service for healing (ELW P. 276) lifts up our role as a religious community. It says,
“In its ministry of healing, the church does not replace the gifts of God that come through the scientific community, nor does it promise a cure. The church offers and celebrates gifts such as these: God’s presence with strength and comfort in time of suffering, God’s promise of wholeness and peace, and God’s love embodied in the community of faith.”
These are the true gifts of the church: strength, comfort, wholeness, peace, love, and community. We do not pray to pretend that we can control God or make miracles happen. As Luther says in the small catechism, “God’s good and gracious will comes about without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come about in and among us.”
That is the remarkable promise! God will care for us no matter what, without our intervention, but we continue pray that that it may come in us. Among us. Here.
Tonight, we come to God to ask for healing in whatever areas of life you feel God’s presence lacking. We pray for healing physically, yes, but also in our families, in and within ourselves for peace, in our community. We pray for healing, mind, body, and Spirit, and trust that God hears that prayer.
This evening you are invited to come forward for a blessing, for the laying on of hands in prayer, and to receive the sign of the cross that is placed upon our brow also in baptism. As we begin to sing, you are invited to come to the center aisle as you feel called to receive the blessing.
May the God who is far more merciful that any human creature ever was or ever can imagine be with you now and forever. Amen.