Reaching Out  by Altie Metcalf. Used with permission.

Reaching Out by Altie Metcalf. Used with permission.

Beyond Our Wounds:
Issue of Blood

Dr. Su Yon Pak,
guest preacher

October 28, 2018
Mark 5:21-43


Part I: The Wounds We Carry

Resmaa Menakem, a therapist, a practitioner of body-centered psychology, a cultural somatic healer of trauma, a teacher, and activist, begins his book, My Grandmother’s Hands with a story. He recalls, as a child, watching television with his grandmother. “She often felt pain in her hands,” he writes, “and she’d ask me to rub them in mine. When I did, her fingers would relax, and she’d smile, and sometimes hum melodically.” His grandmother was not a large woman, but her hands were “surprisingly stout, with broad fingers and thick pads below each thumb.” So, he asked her about her thick hands which looked very different from his bony and narrow hands. She told him that it was from picking cotton. She said, “They been that way since long before I was your age. I started working in the fields sharecroppin’ when I was four.” Then she went on to clarify. “The cotton plant has pointed burrs in it. When you reach your hand in, the burrs rip it up. When I first started picking, my hands were all torn and bloody. When I got older, they got thick and thicker, until I could reach in and pull out the cotton without them bleeding.”[1]

Menakem uses this story to ground his work on recognizing racialized trauma, and healing our hearts and bodies from this historic and present trauma. Racism, for him, is not only in the head, but profoundly in the body. For trauma is engraved in the body. Like his grandmother’s hands, history of race trauma is wounding of the body that holds the psychological, social and spiritual harm. Wounds heal but they leave scars. Scars may have practical function, like being able to pull out cotton without bleeding, but they still hurt. These scars are a reminder of the past harm.

In the Scripture reading today, we hear another story of harm and wounds. The Gospel of Mark tells a story of a woman who have been bleeding for twelve years. She had spent all the money and resources she had by going to many doctors, but instead of getting better, she got worse. So, she decides to take matters into her own hands for her own healing and touches Jesus’ cloak. Her bleeding stops.

I begin my reflection this morning with a powerful story of the grandmother’s hands to call out white supremacy that has been like “an intravenous drip in our consciousness for generations.”[2] I begin with this story to hold that space here and mark it, as it’s so pervasive that we are not always conscious to it. And very often, white supremacy undergirds a lot of the wounding that goes on, consciously and unconsciously. Just the events of this week-- from trans erasure, to pipe bomb threats, to killings of two African American grocery shoppers in Kentucky, to the horrific mass shooting of the faithful in prayer at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh—they are the woundings of hatred, fear and dehumanization of the Other.

At the same time, I was hesitant to begin with that story because it can be a distancing narrative for those of us who have the privilege to say, “I am not THAT wounded because I have not experienced racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobic, Christian hegemony… and any intersections there of.” This is not to create a simplistic dichotomy of the wounded people and the wounding people. Because in reality, it’s both, and.  Many of us know what it means to suffer from low self-esteem, or the imposter syndrome in our work place, or humiliation and shame from societal expectations you cannot meet, or our families of origin that cannot accept who we are or who we have become, or, not belonging anywhere or fitting in, or the myth of a perfect body type that gets imposed on us by which we are to measure ourselves every morning, or being the caretaker of an abusive elderly parent which erodes away any sense of self, or silently bearing intimate partner violence because of your children and at the same time acting out your rage onto your children. And you can name a lot more. These woundings also have contexts. They have their origins in this systemic geo-socio-political culture of violence we live, breathe and having our being in. So, it’s both, and.

Because in fact, all of us carry wounds. When we don’t heal our wound, we can wound others. You’ve heard this. It can even be a meme or a bumper sticker. But it’s more difficult to do than say. You see, our wounds can be a familiar friend. That familiar wrenching in your gut, or that familiar quickening of the heart, or the familiar startle reflex, means you are still alive, still here. It becomes who we are. We become identified by our wounds. We invest a lot of time nursing our wounds so they remain open and bleeding. Because when we let go of our wounds, there is a loss of the world we knew, the body we inhabited and the stories we made our homes in. And that loss hurts, a lot. According to Menakem, there are two kinds of pain: clean pain and dirty pain. “Clean pain is pain the mends and can build your capacity for growth. It’s the pain you feel when you know what to say or do; when you really, really don’t want to say or do it; and when you do it anyway, responding from the best parts of yourself. Dirty pain is the pain of avoidance, blame, or denial—when you respond from your most wounded parts.”[3] Yes, healing is painful. But my faith tells me that refusing to heal is always more painful, both to self and others. When we don’t heal, we transmit our wounds onto our next generation.

So this morning, we begin by identifying and naming that wound. I invite you, during this 4-week series entitled, “Beyond Our Wounds” to reflect, to name, and to commit both personally and communally, to heal, knowing that healing is a life-long process. Let me be clear. I am not your “drop in” guest preacher who will have all this neatly packaged and say, “go in peace. You are healed of your affliction” however tempting that may be. In fact, in the weeks and months and years to come, you will experience the vicissitudes of the healing process. You may wish that you have never begun this journey and even curse the day you were born. You may regret that you have committed to this process. I encourage you to be each other’s keepers during the high moments, the low moments and in-between moments when nothing seems to be happening. Pay attention to the spirit’s gentle urgings. Listen to your heart and your body as they sing a slightly different song, maybe in harmony, maybe in dissonance. Be open and be curious to explore, at the same time, be closed when you need to breathe for protection. Have wisdom to know when you need what. Have compassion for yourself. Have compassion for each other. A caveat. I am not a therapist, and this is not group therapy. I am here to explore with you, ways in which as a community of faith, as God’s beloved, how we might live together into a more whole, healthy community of a people, especially during this cultural climate that we are swimming in. I encourage you to access healing resources like therapy, support groups, spiritual direction, pastoral care team, body work, and lots of prayers.   

Shall we begin?

I invite you to take this time to reflect. Make notes, if that helps. Jot down your thoughts.  

What wounds do you carry? What wound(s) do you wish to work on healing from in these coming weeks and months? What are you bleeding from? What have you been bleeding from for twelve years?

[Meditation] [writing, journaling]

Part II: Healing Journey

As we begin our healing journey, I invite you to consider a metaphor of physical healing and phases of healing. Those of you who know me, I am big on metaphors. They guide and take us to meanings and insights not readily glean on the surface. So, let’s do some work with the phases of healing from a physical wound. There are four distinct and overlapping phases of wound healing in the skin. The first is the hemostasis phase (blood clotting). The second is the inflammatory phase where the body works hard to rid itself of any bacteria, damaged tissue and debris. The third phase is the proliferation phase. New cells are generated and new structures are formed covering the wound. And the fourth phase is the remodeling phase. Any excess materials that were generated are removed. Structures are aligned and strengthened. A scar is formed.

This healing process is also susceptible to interruptions. Some wounds don’t heal neatly in these four phases. Factors like diabetes, heart disease, infection and metabolic deficiencies can prevent healing. 

Do you see where I am going with this metaphor?

Let’s explore this metaphor with the Mark’s Gospel we read this morning.  

25 There was a woman who for twelve years had suffered from a flow of blood. 26 She had undergone much at the hands of many doctors, spending all she had without obtaining any relief but, on the contrary, growing worse. 27 Having heard about Jesus, she came behind in the crowd and touched his clothes, 28 for she said, “If I can only touch his clothes, I will get well!” 29 At once the source of her flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30 Jesus knew in himself that the power had gone out from him, and turning back to the crowd, he said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 His followers said to him, “You see the people pressing around you, and you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 But Jesus looked around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, in fear and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and threw herself down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your confidence has delivered you. Go in peace and be healed from your affliction.”

This story is a familiar one to many of us. A woman with vaginal flow of blood for 12 years. And having lost all that she had, she uses her agency to “steal” the healing power from Jesus by secretly touching his cloak. He feels the loss of his power. Turns around and asks who stole his power. And the story continues.

12 years of vaginal bleeding is not just a physical condition but also a social condition. Continuous vaginal bleeding is like social death in that society. (Leviticus 15:25-30). Like the walking dead, not only has she been deemed unclean, but everything and everyone she touches are rendered unclean. Like a leper, she is cut off from any social contact. As an outsider, she bore this isolation for twelve years.

But this unnamed woman, only known by her condition, by her wounds, (how would you like to go down the history of Christianity as the “bleeding woman”?), she decides to step into her own healing by moving into the crowd to touch Jesus’ cloak. Her blood dries up. (Hemostasis--phase one.) Now we like to think that she was healed of her affliction because her bleeding stopped. But her affliction is also emotional, social and spiritual. Why did Jesus insist on what seems to be a public humiliation of this woman? If people did not know of her bleeding condition, they certainly knew it then. Why couldn’t he just let her go quietly knowing that her bleeding had stopped? Jesus publicly attests to the crowd that her bleeding has stopped so that her healing can truly begin.  Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your confidence has delivered you. Go in peace and be healed from your affliction.” Friends, there are three more phases of healing to come. When he says, “be healed from your affliction” he is not pronouncing a completed event. Be healed. Continue to be healed. Now other phases of healing must begin. Inflammation, proliferation and remodeling phases are yet to come. You much rejoin the social fabric of your community that you have been outcast from. You must begin to regenerate relationships. Yes, your scars will contain memories these painful and broken relationships. It will continue to hurt, like the grandmother’s hands. But you are no longer bleeding. So, begin your healing.

Let’s turn to us and our healing process.

Consider this metaphor of the four phases of healing. These phases are not meant to be prescriptive but to guide us in our movements toward healing. Where are you in your healing? Is it still bleeding? Is your pain oozing out on your relationships, lashing out anger on those around you and inward toward yourself? Are you in the inflammatory phase of healing where you are working on getting rid of toxic elements that poison the body; putting boundaries on destructive relationships and habits? Are you in a proliferation phase working on building up strength and resources for repair; learning to show compassion for yourself; finding support circles who can both hold you in your healing and keep you accountable? Recognizing our own harm and harm we have done to others, are you asking for forgiveness where that is needed? Are you remodeling phase of rebuilding and reclaiming meaning and life as you integrate this scar into a new vision of your life? Is gratitude a part of your everyday practice? And even through all this pain, can your heart be open to giving, and receiving love?

As I mentioned before, this healing process is also susceptible to interruptions. Some wounds don’t neatly in these four phases. Factors like diabetes, heart disease, infection and metabolic deficiencies can prevent healing. 

So what might infections, diabetes, and heart disease look like in our society? Blood has not stopped flowing for our African American brothers and sisters and trans people of color. They continue to bleed out on the streets.

Hatred and fear infect the wounds of our society and motivate these horrific killings in Charleston South Carolina Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, and yesterday, in the Tree of Life Temple in Pittsburgh. Sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and gun violence in our schools, is the insulin-resistant diabetes or I should say, shock-resistant diabetes of our society. We are no longer shocked.

Poverty which eats away at the moral heart of our society is the heart disease of our day. As the prophet, Rev. William Barber said, “We need to revive the heart of our democracy. We need to be the moral force to shock and resuscitate the heart of the nation. For we are being called …to be the moral defibrillators of our time.”[4]

Yes, healing is difficult work. It’s especially difficult in the current socio-political climate. And we need a protective community to do this work. It is my prayer that this place and community called the Church of the Village can hold a sacred space to do the work of healing personal and communal wounds. Because healing starts here, with us.

As we reflect on our own phases of healing, I invite you to come to one of the “tree lights” and light a tea candle. This is an ancient middle eastern gesture for “receiving the light” splashing one’s face with light as if with water.  

Part III Healing Wisdom from the Gospel of Mark.

I want to turn now to our scriptural tradition as a resource for our healing. How can the Markan text we read today be our companion in our healing journey? I am indebted to the work of Hal Taussig and Maia Kotrosits in Re-reading the Gospel of Mark Amidst Loss and Trauma in this section.  

The gospel of Mark is my “go to” gospel because of its portrayal of life as complex, shocking, subtle and confounding. It speaks to the context of our day. In this Gospel, we don’t see a triumphant Jesus. Jesus’ power and authority are not supernaturalized nor emphasized. In many of the healing scenes, Jesus proclaims that it is the confidence or the trust of the sick person that make them well. And Jesus instructs them not to tell anyone. You see that in our reading today. Jesus encounters, the sick, the hungry and the demon-possessed, who are literally and metaphorically haunted by their pain. Jesus does not make everything better with his powers. They are not “saccharine stories of victimhood turned triumph.”[5]

Instead, “Jesus is grabbed unexpectedly by a bleeding woman in Mark 5:27, corrected by a desperate mother, (the Syrophoenician woman where he calls her a dog, or more accurately a female dog), in 7:24-30, and fiercely interrupted by a blind, homeless man in 10:46-52. And in 8:22-26, when Jesus attempts to heal a blind man by spitting in his eyes, he does not quite get it right the first time and has to try again.” Rather than the triumphant savior with authority of heaven and earth, Jesus is portrayed as “bumbling, cranky and even hostile,” while the suffering people who encounter him, by contrast are depicted with a strong sense of empathy. Pain and healing are difficult to separate in Mark’s stories. These relationships contain complex mixes of both.[6]

Written around 70 CE in and around the Jewish-Roman war which ended with the destruction of the temple, this book can be read as an account of social trauma of Jewish people. As if the brutalizing killings were not enough which included hundreds of daily crucifixions, the war wiped out Israel’s leadership. The looting and the burning of the sacred temple were both symbolic and economic destruction for Israel. Temple, which was at the heart of Jewish self-understanding, Jewish people struggled to reformulate what it means to be Jewish in its absence.  At the same time, even in the midst of this unfathomable destruction, trauma and loss, the Gospel of Mark is also a story of survival, trying to make sense of loss and to live with loss. “It creates a space for mourning. It offers moments of relief, possibility, and beauty amidst ruin.”[7] It offers a container for process of healing and reconstruction, recognizing that it can never go back to the way it was. 

In other words, Mark’s Gospel is a story of brokenness and repair. When we repair, unlike building something new, we use old broken pieces with new materials. Repair is not meant to be final or perfect. There is tentative temporality about it. And it always contains some of the brokenness, broken pieces inside it.[8] It’s like a bricolage. Taussig and Kotrosits likens this Gospel as a bricolage where the artist "shapes the beautiful and useful out of the dump heap of human life."[9] Through this bricolage, the Gospel of Mark invites us to consider our own brokenness and repair. Our wounds and our healings. And our scars that contain pieces of brokenness in them. With this, let’s return back to the reading of the day.

The healing story of the bleeding woman is sandwiched between another healing story of Jairus’ daughter. Jesus is on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter when he is intercepted and interrupted by this woman. And while he is distracted by this interruption, Jairus’ daughter dies. And the story ends with Jesus raising her from the dead when he finally gets there. Bible scholars call this an “intercalation,” a pair of stories related to each other. It’s a “literary device that begins one story and interrupts it with another complete story before completing the first story.”[10] It signals to the reader that the two stories are somehow connected and that we need to interpret one story in the context of the other.  One connected theme that surface from these intercalated stories is about blood and bleeding. You will recall, that we are told that Jairus’ dying daughter (another nameless female). The woman has been bleeding for twelve years. What connections are the readers to make of this detail in the story? Did this woman start to bleed after giving birth to a daughter twelve years ago? Is Jairus’ daughter, her daughter? We don’t know. Mark does not say. Twelve years old is usually when a girl’s menstruation begins. What is the connection between the ending of this woman’s bleeding and beginning the daughter’s bleeding? Is the writer implying that they are blood-related? Or is Jesus creating an alternate “blood-relations” as he does in Mark 3:31-35 in response to his mother and his brothers asking him to come to them. He says, “Who is my mother? And my brother?” Then he looked around on the people sitting in a circle around him, and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus recreates family and alternate blood-relations. Seemingly unrelated people are connected through threads unseen. The writer invites us into exploration of those connections.

 Another connection we can make in the intercalated stories is about competing wounds. This woman was the walking dead. Jairus’ daughter is physically dead. If the bleeding woman did not stop Jesus on his way to Jairus’ daughter, would he have been there in time before she died? Did her healing cause her death? How does one person’s wound and desire to heal from that wound, cause another person harm?

 Our lives are intercalations. Despite the ruling myth of rugged individualism, our stories are sandwiched between each other’s stories. We are connected to each other, and with this fragile earth more than we can know. Our healing and desire to heal from our wounds can indeed, cause harm to those around us. How is my search for healing impacting others’ ability to heal? If the Gospel of the Church of the Village was to be told, how would the narrators tell your story and your community’s story ? What intercalations would she, he, they, find? What stories are intertwined, interpolated and intercalated? How might that help or hinder your own healing? Healing of the other? It is my hope that the church will take this up in the next several weeks, months and years to come.

 This morning, you received new members into the family of the Church of the Village. In the shadow of the tragedies that happened yesterday and last week, you took a vow to commit yourselves to this “community of love, community of justice, and community of healing.” You welcomed new members “not into a perfect community, but into one that is growing, healing, and seeking to live into the beautiful vision of the kin-dom of God.”[11] It’s a bricolage of shards and fragments of brokenness and hope. It is a community in repair of brokenness. It is a community striving to put broken pieces with new materials. And it’s a community of grace that provides space for journeying together in healing. May God bless this continuous journey toward wholeness and beauty.

[1] Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, 4.

[2] Ruth King, Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside out, 214.

[3] Menakem, 26

[4] Rev. Dr. William Barber at the Democratic National Convention 2016,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFERX2FExNY

[5] Maia Kotrosits and Hal Taussig, Re-Reading the Gospel of Mark Amidst Loss and Trauma, 47

[6] Re-Reading the Gospel of Mark, 46-47

[7] Re-Reading the Gospel of Mark, 27

[8] Re-Reading the Gospel of Mark, 37

[9] From Claude Levi-Strauss: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bricolage

[10] Re-reading the Gospel of Mark, 177

[11] From Church of the Village liturgy of receiving and celebrating new members.

Copyright © 2018 by Su Yon Pak
All rights reserved.