Three weeks ago it was my privilege to preach on the story from Mark 5 of Jesus healing the woman with the flow of blood and Jairus’ daughter. It is a long-loved, deeply felt Biblical text for me. I have told the Luke 8 version of this story (which is virtually identical to the Mark passage) for over twenty five years in worship and workshops. It was the first biblical story I internalized and committed to memory when I began studying the art of Biblical storytelling with the Network of Biblical Storytellers. It’s images of desperate pleas for healing, of risky acts, of skeptical disciples and neighbors, of pressing crowds, of Jesus’ compassion and vulnerable women have been working on me for many years.
If you were with us in worship and heard the sermon at 10 a.m., or dialogued with me about the text at 6 p.m., you know that the image from the story that was driving my preaching that day was the image of telling the whole truth, telling the whole story of grief. The images of the hidden woman who came forward to tell the whole truth and the distinguished leader of the synagogue who bravely spills his whole truth at the feet of Jesus in front of a crowd are powerful. Telling their stories initiated and catalyzed healing, of self, of a loved one, of the community. Healing happens when we tell our stories. And if you were there you know that I briefly (and tearfully in the morning) shared part of my grief story and the healing journey I am on after the death of my son, Colin. (If you would like to read the sermon on our Plymouth website, click here.)
Thank you for the graceful, heartfelt reception of my vulnerability that day! You all stood by me as faithful companions on the journey and I was very moved by that. You are my faith community and while I will not wear my grief on my sleeve, lest it hinder my ability to be with you as one of your ministers, I also want to and need to be vulnerable with you where it is appropriate. Its important for the healing of us all. So I urge us all to be more vulnerable in telling our faith stories of grief, of joy, of struggle with one another in safe and appropriate situations.
And I want to make it clear that telling your story does not mean standing in front of a crowd! Crowds are not necessary. Tell your story to one trusted person. (Hal and Jake and I are available for story listening! We also have trained calling and caring visitors who are good listeners!) Tell your story in a small group, in a Christian formation class, at a fellowship event with a few trusted folks. Listen to your heart as well as your head and you will know when it is appropriate, when it is safe. Do not force yourself to share if you do not feel safe! With some stories confidentiality is very important. Share brief parts first and see how it goes for you if the thought of being vulnerable with your story is frightening. When you need to share more the opportunity will arise. It’s a learning process. God will lead you.
And don’t be afraid to cry. In telling the story or in simply sitting with it in worship, tears can come. Heidi Haverkamp, author and Episcopal priest, writes of an experience when she was allowed to sit in the pew rather than lead worship during a time of crisis and cry. “What else is church for, if you can’t sit there and cry?...At Christmas we call Jesus Emmanuel, or “God with us.” To sit in my pew, tears and all, was a chance to bring my whole self and whole life into church with me and to feel part of the “us of “God with us,” instead of just crying alone at my house. I wonder if this could be a blessing for others, too, at the holidays or on any Sunday of the year, to sit and cry in church when we need to , to be God’s people all together, with all the joys and sorrow, smiles and tears, of human life, before the one who love us so much.” (Click here to read Heidi’s entire article in Christian Century, “Church is the perfect place to cry.”)
What else is church for if it is not a community where we can safely be vulnerable? Where we can tell our stories to one another. Where we can shed tears of joy and sorrow. Let’s be church together.
Blessings on the journey,
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate, Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Learn more about Jane Ann here.