Mary Southard @ Bright Wings, Ministry of the Arts, used with permission
God’s Fellow Workers
By Greg Hoover
God invites us to work together as a team for the healing of our bodies, our souls, and our world.
I sat in the darkened room waiting to hear from my doctor. During my last visit, he had found a rip in the tissue of my eye. He had told me I would need to have eye surgery to correct it. My current visit was to re-scan to see how far the rip had progressed and determine when to have surgery. And so I waited as he analyzed my new eye scan. I tried to find joy in the waiting. I chose to be as peaceful as possible within this context. But it wasn’t easy.
As I waited, I practiced Christian meditation based on an ancient prayer from the New Testament. My prayer word, or “mantra,” was Maranatha, which means “Come, Lord” or “The Lord comes” (1 Cor 16:22). When practiced, we repeat each syllable separately, slowly, and silently: Ma-ra-na-tha. I repeated this form of deep prayer, following the natural rhythm of my breathing. After a few moments, a feeling of peace and well-being flowed over me. I knew that whatever the results of the test were, it would be OK. The words of St. Julian of Norwich came to mind: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
A sudden gasp from my doctor broke my deep sense of peace. I opened my eyes.
“Was that a good gasp or a bad gasp?” I asked.
“Look at this,” he said, smiling. “This is proof of the existence of God.”
I stood and walked back to where he was working. There were two enormous images of my eye. The image on the left was from my previous scan, and the image on the right was from the one we had just taken.
“See this?” said my doctor, pointing to the image on the left. “That is the tear in your eye tissue that we’re monitoring. If it had progressed any further from last time, you would need eye surgery right away.”
“Yes, I see it.”
“Now look at this,” he said, pointing to the image on the right. “This is amazing. Your tear has completely healed. What’s even more interesting is this.” My doctor expanded the image and drew my attention to the exact spot where the rip had been.
“What is it?”
“Look closely,” he said. He pointed to a small dot on the image of my eye. Surrounding the little dot were tiny circles. “It looks like a welder came and welded shut the rip.”
“Wow,” I said, staring at the image. “Thank you, doctor.”
“Don’t thank me.” He fixed his gaze on me. “Something within you healed you.”
And my doctor was right. Something within me healed me. But this wonderful and mysterious power within me didn’t do it alone. A dynamic partnership worked together to bring about my healing. God was the necessary cause—inviting, inspiring, and supporting a vast network of healing partners. This network included the doctor, my eye tissue, my own cooperation, and more. It was a team effort. In the words of the Bible, “For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor 3:9).
This wonderful experience inspired me to ask some challenging questions. Is there a difference between curing and healing? Can we be cured without being healed? Can we be healed without being cured? Does God need our cooperation to bring about healing?
There is no doubt medical science has eased the suffering of millions. It has been a tremendous blessing for humankind. Medical science has treated many serious ailments and injuries. Even so, there is something more to healing. It involves our partnering with God to bring about the healing of our bodies and our world. God is working at all times and in every way possible to bring about healing, personal growth, and spiritual transformation. And God calls us to work together with God to bring these things to pass.
God can and does act in powerful ways. God is always present and working for good in every situation. But in the words of Jesus, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). By definition, a spirit doesn’t have fingers to perform surgery, an extra kidney to donate to a loved one, or a mouth to tell us the cure for cancer. This teaches us that God needs our cooperation to stop suffering. God invites us to work together as a team for the healing of our bodies, our souls, and our world. Throughout this entire process, God suffers alongside us.
Before I became an Episcopal priest, I served as a hospital chaplain. When I made my rounds one morning, I met a woman we’ll call “Maggie.” Maggie was a woman in her early seventies. Because of complications, she was in the hospital for several weeks. Besides struggling to heal, Maggie was going through a profound spiritual crisis. She had lost her faith and her sense of meaning and purpose in life. She was dealing with difficult emotions, including anger, anxiety, and depression.
I knew her body was in excellent hands with the hospital staff. I turned my attention to the care of her soul. Rather than rush in and try to enact another cure—this one “spiritual”—I began instead by taking time to listen to her stories. I tried to honor her symptoms as an expression of her soul speaking to her. I would visit Maggie each day and simply be with her. I became a witness to her life and companion on her spiritual journey.
Knowing the soul craves beauty, I brought her a beautiful plant. I asked her to water it each day (caring for something or someone else is a good way of nurturing our own souls). I asked a visiting relative of hers to bring pictures of her family. In this way, Maggie’s soul could feel connected to the spiritual stream of her family. I also engaged in simple, soulful rituals with her, such as anointing her with blessed oils. I prayed with her (something that she “hadn’t done in years” and missed), and I entered spiritual conversations with her. All this helped her to realize her connection to something greater than herself. It empowered her to cooperate with God, the doctors, and her own body for healing.
Despite not trying to cure her, she started feeling better emotionally. Over time, she felt more optimistic about life again. With her doctor’s permission, I took Maggie outside for short walks in the sunshine. The bright sun and fresh air also had a healing effect. One day, Maggie surprised me. She told me she realized she was happy with her life. Despite its moments of difficulties, she appreciated she still had a full and rich life ahead of her. Soon, she could leave the hospital and return home.
The last day before the hospital discharged her, Maggie greeted me with a big smile. She thanked me for taking time with her each day. As I was leaving her room for the last time, she said goodbye. Then she added something I will never forget. “The doctors cured me,” Maggie said as she gathered up her plant and her pictures to take home, “But you healed me.”
But the truth is more complex. The healing process is cooperative. It is a partnership involving many actors, factors, and agents. Doctors, nurses, family, organs, and the patient are all involved. Even the bacteria in our microbiome and the mitochondria in our cells all play a part. God is the necessary cause of all healing, and God invites us to take part in the healing process. God inspires us to work as a team for the greater good. My part in Maggie’s healing was small, but necessary. I gave attention to her soul and listened to the voice of her symptoms. By caring for her spiritual side, I could support what God, the doctors, and Maggie were doing. All working together as a team, the patient was healed.
Throughout much of history, people would turn to their village priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leaders for healing. They would come seeking the wisdom of the ages. They sought knowledge gleaned from the sages who had gone before them. They would then try to apply the lessons learned to the problems of ordinary life. Before there was talk therapy, there was Confession. Before there was depth psychology, there was spiritual direction.
In the modern world, many will now turn to the medical profession when they are in emotional pain. There is a good reason for this. Medical science has done much to reduce suffering, and to give hope to people in pain. But we are remembering there are other factors at work in healing, too. Some of these factors are spiritual. A partnership between science and spirituality is essential for the healing of the whole person. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Throughout my work as a Christian priest, I have continued to notice how our partnership with God is essential. As we have seen in this essay, God is spirit (John 4:24). But it is also true that God is love (1 John 4:16). God’s love is always acting, but never coercive. And so, we are invited to partner with God to help bring about the healing of our bodies, our souls, and our world.
Question: What are some ways that you can actively partner with God for the healing of yourself and others?
Greg Hoover has worked as an actor, writer, behavior therapist, and Episcopal priest. He is the author of The Witching of the King (Black Rose Writing, 2021), a historical mystery novel that explores the themes of Open and Relational Theology. He and his wife have four children and live surrounded by nature in their country home. Greg loves the outdoors, hiking, traveling, and playing guitar.