Killing The Spirit
In a delightful parable, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”, in Aspiring to Greatness, Robert Fulghum tells the story of a curious custom and the lesson he learned from it.
In the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific some villagers practise a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an axe, the natives cut it down by yelling at it. Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.
Fulghum observes that the villagers are naive and innocent, as to believe in such quaintly charming habits of the jungle. Screaming at trees! How primitive! Things would be different if they had the advantages of modern technology and the scientific mind.
“Me?” he claims, “I yell at my wife. And yell at the telephone and the lawn mower. And yell at the TV and the newspaper and my children. I’ve been known to shake my fist and yell at the sky at times. Man next door yell at his car a lot. And this summer I heard him yell at a stepladder for most of an afternoon.”
Modern, urban, educated folk yell at traffic and umpires and bills and banks and machines – especially machines. Machines and relatives get most of the yelling. One wonders whether it does any good at all. Machines and things just sit there. Even kicking doesn’t always help. As for people, well, the Solomon Islanders may have a point. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts!
– What thoughts, feelings, occurred to you while you went through the story?
– What do you think is the ‘moral’ of the story?
– taken from “Persons Are Gifts”, by Hedwig Lewis, SJ
Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult,
let the wasteland rejoice and bloom,
let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil,
let it rejoice and sing for joy.
The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it,
the splendour of Carmel and Sharon;
they shall see the glory of the Lord,
the splendour of our God.
Strengthen all weary hands,
steady all trembling knees
and say to all faint hearts,
“Courage! Do not be afraid.
“Look, your God is coming,
vengeance is coming,
the retribution of God;
he is coming to save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unsealed,
then the lame shall leap like a deer
and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy;
for water gushes in the desert,
streams in the wasteland,
the scorched earth becomes a lake,
the parched land springs of water.
The lairs where the jackals used to live
become thickets of reed and papyrus.
And through it will run a highway undefiled
which shall be called the Sacred Way;
the unclean may not travel by it,
nor fools stray along it.
No lion will be there
nor any fierce beast roam about it,
but the redeemed will walk there,
for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.
They will come to Zion shouting for joy,
everlasting joy on their faces;
joy and gladness will go with them
and sorrow and lament be ended.
Jesus was teaching one day, and among the audience there were Pharisees and doctors of the Law who had come from every village in Galilee, from Judaea and from Jerusalem. And the Power of the Lord was behind his works of healing. Then some men appeared, carrying on a bed a paralysed man whom they were trying to bring in and lay down in front of him. But as the crowd made it impossible to find a way of getting him in, they went up on to the flat roof and lowered him and his stretcher down through the tiles into the middle of the gathering, in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith he said, “My friend, your sins are forgiven you.” The scribes and the Pharisees began to think this over. “Who is this man talking blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But Jesus, aware of their thoughts, made them this reply, “What are these thoughts you have in your hearts? Which of these is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you’ or to say ‘Get up and walk’? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”, – he said to the paralysed man – “I order you: get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.” And immediately before their very eyes he got up, picked up what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
They were all astounded and praised God, and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.”
Here is an interesting question: Is smoking a sin? Knowing the irrefutable evidence that all smoking does to the human body is harm, there is little question that a smoker who knows this and continues to smoke, is harming his own body. Yet he continues, and what happens? He ends up unhealthy… not just himself, but all who breathe in his smoke as well.
In today’s gospel reading, we see that Jesus heals two kinds of ailments that the paralysed man has – the spiritual ailment first, and then the physical ailment. A smoker who continues to harm himself first needs to be healed of his spiritual ailment – he does not love himself sufficiently to want to preserve his health. And then he needs to be healed of his physical ailment – his chemical dependency on tobacco. Which of these is easier to heal?
The physical ailment is, of course, easier to heal. There are methods by which a smoker can be healed of his chemical dependency, but if the spiritual ailment is not first addressed, the smoker may stop depending on tobacco as a substance of abuse, but may direct dependency somewhere else and continue to harm himself.
This is the effect that sin has on our lives. Sin ruptures the relationship that we have with God the Father. When we are not able to look at our Heavenly Father and see who He is, we will not be able to related to Him as Father. When we are not able to relate to Him as Father, we will not be able to see ourselves for who we really are – children of God. And if we are not able to see ourselves for who we really are, we will not be able to love ourselves. All sin has this effect on us.
There is a third kind of ailment that Jesus speaks about in today’s gospel reading – the mental ailment. He speaks about this to the Pharisees when he asks them, “What are these thoughts you have in your hearts?” Some of us are plagued with mental ailments as well. Mental ailments may cause us to be paranoid, to think that everyone is out to get us. Mental ailments may make us overly wary of other people, or may make us too quick to judge other people and their perceived actions and words. This kind of mental ailments can be quite devastating to us, because as humans, we are all connected – our body, mind, and spirit.
When we are sick physically, it can affect us mentally and spiritually. An example is that of the paralysed man, who because of his paralysis may have ended up thinking that he is useless, and not loving himself as a child of God. When we are sick mentally, it can affect us physically and spiritually. One example is that of us having a negative attitude towards life, and that can lead us to becoming clinically depressed, and spiritually desolate.
Likewise, when we are sick spiritually, it can affect us physically and mentally. The examples of not loving ourselves which leads us to the dependency on smoking, or unhealthy lifestyles and eating habits, show us that sin, which is usually seen as a spiritual thing, can and does have adverse effects on our physical and mental well-being.
But Jesus, our saviour, is here to rescue us. Not just from spiritual ailments, but from physical and mental ones as well. Jesus the healer knows the root of our problems, which is why that is what he chooses to first heal. This is why not every cancer patient seeking a cure from God will receive it, because sometimes the ailment does not lie with her cancer, but with some other area of her life.
Jesus knows best the areas of our lives that most need healing. Let us offer ourselves in surrender to His healing touch, asking him to help us to become aware of the areas of our lives that most need healing.
Dear Jesus, we open ourselves to you and ask you to let your Holy Spirit move within us and heal the areas of our lives that most need healing. Help us to become aware of our ailments and their root causes and, with the help of your grace, start taking the appropriate steps to free ourselves from sinful lifestyles which make us unhealthy physically, mentally, and spiritually. Amen.
Give Thanks to the Lord for: A healthy body, a healthy mind, and a healthy spirit.
Tue, 11 Dec – Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 18:12-14; Memorial for St. Damasus I, pope
Wed, 12 Dec – Isaiah 40:25-31; Matthew 11:28-30; Memorial for Our Lady of Guadalupe
Thu, 13 Dec – Isaiah 41:13-20; Matthew 11:11-15; Memorial for St. Lucy, virgin, martyr
Fri, 14 Dec – Isaiah 48:17-19; Matthew 11:16-19; Memorial for St. John of the Cross, presbyter, doctor
Sat, 15 Dec – Sirach 48:17-19; Matthew 17:10-13
Sun, 16 Dec – Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11; Third Sunday of Advent
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