“Wounded Healers”
Rev’d. Tanya N. Stormo Rasmussen
The Congregational Church of Hollis
15 April, 2018
Easter 3B
Psalm 4
Luke 24:36b-48

            Susan Retik and Patti Quigley were both widowed on 9/11.[1]  Patti was eight months pregnant with her second child when her husband Patrick was killed while traveling on United Flight 175.  Susan was seven months pregnant with her third child when her husband David was killed on American Flight 11.

Adrift in grief and shock, Susan and Patti were profoundly moved by the support offered by friends, family, and strangers from around the world. Both women were cared for financially, logistically, and emotionally. This support had an enormous impact on their ability to navigate the strange and unexpected landscape of widowhood — and acclimate to becoming single mothers.

The two women, both residents of Boston-area suburbs, met for the first time several months after September 11th. Their unwitting sisterhood created a strong bond. It was a relief for each woman to have a friend who understood her experience, when no other friend or family member could fully comprehend the bittersweet emotion of giving birth to a baby who would never know her father.

As Susan came to terms with her new life and followed media coverage about Afghanistan, she felt a connection to the vast number of Afghan widows. But this kinship was complicated. Susan couldn’t help but observe that widows in Afghanistan had none of the support that she and Patti experienced as “9/11 widows.” Decades of conflict had ravaged Afghanistan, leaving hundreds of thousands of women without husbands — a cultural necessity for Afghans  — or basic resources. [Their 21st-century life and culture was similar, in that sense, to what life would have been like for women in biblical times.] In many cases, Afghan widows had no means to feed, clothe, or shelter their children. Their situation was desperate.

Susan felt that the generosity she had received brought with it a responsibility. She wanted to use her new voice and platform to do something tangible. If she could change the life of just one Afghan widow, she would encourage dialogue and friendship, and perhaps somehow begin to understand her own loss. Susan talked to Patti about her idea and within a matter of weeks the two began working to turn the shared vision into reality. In 2003, Beyond the 11th was officially founded.  Soon their efforts in Afghanistan reached well beyond a single widow — ultimately changing the lives of hundreds of women.

In 2006, Susan and Patti travelled to Afghanistan to meet their Afghan counterparts and see first-hand the work of Beyond the 11th. Their journey was documented in the award-winning film Beyond Belief.  In that movie, Jim Fleming (Patti’s brother) observes:

There’s a way in which each of us makes small choices every day. And after a period of time those choices develop into a pattern. Each moral and ethical choice forms our identity. It seems to me that the terrorists who flew planes into the buildings on September 11th, they started making choices a long time ago — choices that took them so far off center that flying a plane into a building seemed like the right thing to do. It’s like any one of us. We choose our way into being ourselves. And I think that’s what Patti and Susan do in little choices and in big choices. When given a choice between violence and love — they chose love. When given a choice between retribution and restoration of harmony — they chose restoring harmony. When given a choice between death and life — they’ve chosen life. That’s just who they are. It’s who they’ve come to be. It’s who they’ve chosen to be. And because of that, their children are learning to choose life as well.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Susan and Patti are resurrection people.  They did not allow their appalling experience or the force of death to diminish their life.  Rather than retreating from the “other” in fear, suspicion, or anger, or simply rejecting them as being unworthy of their thoughts or concern, Susan and Patti imagined what it might be like to be the wife and widow of the men whose unthinkable choices had robbed their own husbands—and the fathers of their children—from them.  That took a mind-set quite unlike the rest of this world.

“Answer me when I call, O God of my right!  You gave me room when I was in distress.  Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.”[2]  This was the anguished cry of the psalmist in our first scripture lesson this morning, written some 3,000 years ago.  And, while it’s audacious of me to presume, I can’t help but wonder whether Patti and Susan would have resonated with that lament, maybe with the whole psalm, especially in the days and months immediately following the 9/11 attacks.

The psalm, a somewhat disjointed combination of thoughts (much like our own thoughts in moments of distress), begins in a state of anguish but concludes in a state of peaceful confidence.  The author moves from a place of fearful woundedness, to a condition of peace-filled healer because he’s realized (or remembered?) where his only enduring strength and hope comes from in this life.  And it’s not from his status or possessions or worldly connections.

After the initial cry for attention, the psalm shifts, almost as though the psalmist is hearing God’s voice responding: “How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?”[3]  It really sounds like a weary observation from God’s point of view, of the typical human condition—our love for vain, self-absorbed words, our appetite or tolerance for lies, so long as they make us feel good.

But, after a selah (or pause: the word that comes at the end of various phrases in the Psalms, selah indicates that the reader or singer is meant to take a brief break, so the words can sink in), the psalmist continues with a prophetic tone of advice, reassuring himself and anyone else who’s listening: “But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.”[4]  The psalmist has been attentive enough to his relationship with God that he is confident that his voice is heard when he calls to the LORD.

The poet’s advice continues, almost as though he’s counselling a friend—or maybe reminding himself: “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.  Selah.[5]  Pause for a moment and let that sink in: How many people in the world today would benefit by taking heed of the advice to just sit quietly and ponder a situation, maybe even sleep on it and see whether our perspective doesn’t change or deepen with a little rest?  It’s certainly counter-cultural to the commonplace shoot-from-the-hip, often hostile, or belittling, ego-driven responses we see so often on social media, and hear even in our own homes or communities.  Some think it’s amusing, expressing freedom of speech—but there’s no denying its destructiveness, its impulse to destroy rather than heal.

But the women who found themselves drawn to find a way to bring healing to the world instead of more pain, whose devastation resulted in greater strength—especially in the lives of those related to the perpetrators of their own grievous injury!—by their own account, these women had quietly pondered their situation and found their lives resurrected in a response quite unlike the world’s status quo.  It’s as though Susan and Patti were responding to the psalmist’s advice: “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.”[6]

And then, as if he’s noticing the habit of those who are not closely attuned to God’s work in the world, the psalmist observes: “There are many who say, ‘O that we may see some good!  Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!’” and he continues immediately with a note of relief and gratitude to God: “You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.”[7]  His relationship with God allows him to recognize the goodness all around him, even in the midst of his distress.

He concludes, “I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, LORD, make me lie down in safety.”[8]  This author is clear that, despite what the world wants us to believe about security and safety, we will never experience the ultimate security—the complete freedom from fear—our anxious spirits crave until we realize that God alone provides it.  In response to threats and experiences of terror, or the demise of our world as we know it, the powers of this world tempt us to surround ourselves with all sorts of man-made tools and legal systems or practices by which to imagine ourselves safe or secure.  But even 3,000 years ago, in the Bronze Age—long before the development of so many modern technologies of mass destruction and methods of retribution—the Psalmist was clear: we will never find the peace our minds and spirits cast about for in so many ways until we find it in God alone.  Everything else is just a substitute.

That’s also what Jesus was still trying to teach his disciple in our second lesson.  He’d been “fleshing out” with his actions, words, and his living example the ways that a devoted, daily, deep relationship with God was the key to abiding peace—to freedom from fear and anxiety—but his closest friends and followers didn’t fully get it.  At least, not at first.

Peace be with you,” were his words of blessing as he came and stood among them.  Their reaction was to be startled and terrified when Jesus materialized just then.  It was when Jesus showed them his wounds that the healing from their Good Friday trauma began.

It’s a powerful lesson: whereas the world generally views vulnerability or woundedness as weakness or something to be hidden by people who are strong, the first thing Jesus did in order to reassure and empower his disciples was to reveal his own marks of pain and trauma.  But he didn’t allow those wounds to define or restrain him.  By the power of God in him and through him, what caused Jesus to suffer even unto death by human hands did not ultimately confine him to the grave.  By manifesting that truth, Jesus invited the disciples to move beyond where they were spiritually, emotionally, relationally.  He was revealing that neither death, nor the fear of it, shall have the final word for any of God’s people.  Jesus showed his followers the power of a wounded healer.

And, Luke tells us, the disciples’ minds were opened as they heard Jesus explain the scriptures to them in ways that suddenly made sense: they began to see how everything God had laid out through the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms, Jesus managed to make clear with his life, death, and resurrection.  They suddenly saw the world in completely new ways.  Because Jesus had conquered the ultimate threat—death itself—they were saved, delivered from their fear of everyone and everything else that alarmed them.  Liberated from fearful thoughts of what others might think about them.  No longer inhibited by their dread of pain, suffering, and death, they began to comprehend the emptiness and futility of trying to get ahead by the world’s accounting.  They realized that Jesus did not offer them security—at least, not the sort of worldly security that promises a sheltered existence, plenty of money, and a lack of discomfort or suffering in this life.  But what Jesus did give them was profound and abiding peace, which is a far greater gift than the illusion of security.

The hope of the resurrection is revealed in the response of those first followers: closed minds can be opened; fearful, anxious hearts can be made strong and courageous when they receive the peace of Christ.  Wounded people can become powerful agents of healing in a desperately hurting world.

Susan Retik and Patti Quigley are 21st-century examples of resurrection people, of wounded healers.  They model the gift of open minds and compassionate hearts—hearts that are liberated from the fear of “other-ness”, suspicion of the stranger that is so rampant in our world today.  Their work, reaching out to Muslim, Afghan women and communities demonstrates the ancient and biblical practice of hospitality toward the stranger that Jesus was so committed to in his own healing work.

There are others—countless other resurrection people alive today, many of them sitting in this meetinghouse this morning.  Your story may not seem as dramatic as Susan and Patti’s, but that doesn’t make it any less important to the individuals you’ve helped to heal.  Friends, life is hard and every one of us will weather varying degrees of pain and suffering.  Each one of us is called to use not only the gifts and talents that the world recognizes, but also the inevitable wounds of being human we each possess, to allow God to do resurrection work through us.  Because the Good News, the gospel truth, is that we aren’t left to do it on our own.  The One who has conquered death itself—the Original Wounded Healer—is with us, coming to us again and again, blessing us with his presence and with the words, “Peace be with you.”  Amen.

[1] The text of what follows comes from http://www.beyondthe11th.org/about-us/our-story. I’ve only minimally edited or adapted it, because I felt it was best to allow the women to tell their own story, as they’ve done on the Beyond the 11th website.

[2] Psalm 4:1

[3] Psalm 4:2

[4] Psalm 4:3

[5] Psalm 4:4

[6] Psalm 4:5

[7] Psalm 4:6-7

[8] Psalm 4:8

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