The White Stone
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 9, 2014
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:41-56)
Saul Bellow writes this: “…it is hard to see how modern man can survive on what he gets from his conscious life – now that there is a kind of veto against impermissible thoughts, the most impermissible being the notion that man might have a spiritual life he is not conscious of which reaches out for transcendence.”
What had been the conscious life of the Woman with the issue of blood? She was conscious of having been placed in an invisible prison, shunned because of her disease, hemmed in by injustice. She was conscious of being separated from others, conditioned by society to believe in it so much so that her own mind had bought in to the lie. And then impermissible thoughts began to rise.
Something stirred in her, the desire for freedom and from suffering. She began to rebel against the idea that she was “unclean” and a willingness grew in her to leave behind that name. The past was losing its grip on and she became aware that the present need at all be defined by the past. Isn’t repentance in one sense freeing ourselves from the illusion of the past? She began to see that she was more than her past, more than a disease, more than a label.
So she sought out the Healer from Nazareth, the great iconoclast of false ideas and hero of the disenfranchised. Was he the way out? She would find out for herself.
I believe that her suffering, as it so often does, broke down her resistance to healing. Her suffering focused and purified her until she was ready to let go of everything that held her back. When she had had enough she struck out in search of transcendence. The terrible walls of her psychological prison crumbled with every step she took towards Jesus and then it happened.
She reached out secretly and touched the hem of his garment. Not wanting to be seen, or noticed, she would have been happy to have sunk back into the crowd with whatever the touch had done for her. But Jesus noticed. Not because he saw her or heard her approach, but because he felt something.
Power flowed from him to her. He was aware of what was occurring inside him. He was aware of his body. He turned and asked, “Who touched me? For I felt power flow from me.” Like lightening, suddenly, spontaneously this power flowed to her.
And I believe that power also flowed from her to him. For the image of God is powerful and energetic just as God is. The image in her was awakened. The eye of her soul was opened. The Spirit moved in the depths of her soul and she allowed it to guide her. Through the crowds, through her fears and shame and guilt, and with each step she shed something that she no longer needed until she became more herself than she had ever been.
She was progressing towards freedom and when she touched him the connection was complete, for God completes all that is lacking in us. The power that flowed from him united with the power that flowed from her and like gas thrown on a burning log the last vestiges of her bindings were burned away.
“It is for freedom,” writes St. Paul, “that Christ has set you free.” And here we see it in living color. God drew out of her the truth of her being and she returned to her original nature, free and whole.
“Out of the depths I have cried unto Thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice.” The deep was calling out to the deep. She had become mindful of him and he mindful of her. There is synergy in every healing for we cannot be set free unless we are aware that our hearts desire this freedom above all else. It took her twelve years to attune to the voice of her heart. How long does it take?
It depends on how tightly we try to hold on to the identities we have taken on. I have heard people fiercely proclaim, “This is who I am and I’m never going to change.” How sad. For it is often those things we hold on to so tightly that cause us the most pain. We must change or we cannot healed or saved. It is sad also because it is not true. It is most often our own misguided ideas of who we are and how we must be that contribute to our internal suffering. This is a disease of the disordered ego and further evidence of its hold on us is the extent to which we blame others for it.
It is interesting that the Woman seems to have left blame behind as she focused more and more on Christ and less and less on herself. Each step she took towards Christ was a step further and further away from herself. She was becoming empty of self and open to God. Paradoxically, her movement towards healing was a selfless movement. We must do the same and empty ourselves and allow God to do the defining. Only he knows who we really are. There is a deep and wonderful psychology at work here.
In the Book of Revelation John tells us that God will give to each one of the victorious a white stone and on that stone there will be a secret name. That name is our new true name. “Behold”, he says, “I make all things new.” We can only receive this name when we are ready to give up all the others. John writes:
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
And do you know what the word revelation means. It comes from the Latin word revelare that is, to unvcover or unveil. It is as Huston Smith writes, “the pulling back of the curtain that hides the infinite from the finite.” And that is what we see today. The infinite revealed to the finite and the union between them disclosed. Thus our “new” and true name is revealed, not the one given by our parents, our society or ourselves, not the ones we cling to, but the one first given when the thought of us first crossed the infinite mind of God. We see this unveiling in today’s reading. The Woman received her true name and was set free.
We too can be free and receive our new name. This is can happen to us.