On Death and Dying: Healing is a Miracle
At various points throughout the synoptic gospels, Jesus of Nazareth is descended upon by a man struck with leprosy who falls before him and says, “If you so will, you may cleanse me.” Regardless of where encountered, having descended after delivering the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, his series of moral teachings central to the construction of Christian ethics), or after conscribing more disciples to follow him on his mission (Luke), the narrative of the leper stands out for the ways it brings into focus the Jesus’ social contexts.
Leprosy is a long-stigmatized affliction that contributed to the construction of human social space and culture. Lepers were horded into colonies, given restrictions in dress and manner, and accused of stirring curses or shaming God or the family. The healing of a leper represents the restoration of their social status, where in one moment those pushed to the furthest margins of society are giving a chance to re-incorporate themselves. With the cleansing of leprosy, this man is given the tools to begin again as a reconstituted subject, recontextualized by society back within the social mean.
The miraculous healing of the leper is part of Jesus’ demonstrations of the kingdom of God-on-earth, the disrupting force of miraculous intervention begun by the Christ-event and continued as his followers carry into the world the tools of education, service, and healing (1 John 2). To draw from Clement of Rome, the miraculous intercession of healing is how we are made stable, given the grounds by which we firmly grip the kingdom of heaven and wrestle it to earth. Just as the healing of a leper had implications that reach far beyond the restoration of the body, the miracle of healing itself reaches far outside biblical literature and into the trans-historical social world. Healing stands as a barometer by which we may measure the efficacy and sustainability of our society. Healing is a social process.
The Challenge of Julianna Barwick
Julianna Barwick’s 2020 album Healing is a Miracle moved me with a sense of urgency. Not just for the first album in almost four years from one of my favorite artists making music, but also through COVID-19’s ability to bring into sharp focus the most striking, cruel, and inhumane conditions of our contemporary moment. As hospital morgues continue to fill with the victims of contemporary capitalism’s failed response to an history-making health crisis while the wealthiest and most powerful members of our societies continue to reap ever-increasing profit, the miracle of healing outside the small victory of survival seems far out of reach.
Barwick’s record is born from personal conflict and tragedy, the expressions of a newly realized forward progress after the struggles of an unhappy marriage and unfitting environment—a place to breathe. And though Barwick’s music drifts dangerously into the discursive sphere of atomized self-help, I find most compelling the potential to utilize Healing is a Miracle as its own challenge, integrated into its broader social contexts.
The ambiguous futures of economic crisis within constricting, hyperventilated work and leisure environments has left us both without healing or a possible path away from disaster for many vulnerable people. And without the proper response to the deficiencies of liberal healing, a cycle of closed booms and busts that leave people poorer and sicker, a world struck by the cultural hegemonies and economic restrictions of capitalism will always cry to be healed of its ailments, ready to start again.
Now on a new road
Now not so far to go
This morning shines, it’s warm
The night’s not so dark now
Healing is a Miracle
Healing is a miracle because it is necessitated by the potential of that which reaches beyond our horizon of expectation. The Beginningof a larger, unimaginable healing is the restoration of the value and humanity from the furthest reaches of the periphery inward, the fundamental change in social trajectory for the lives of those society has attempted to bury, hide, and unincorporate. Healing is not an isolated phenomenon, but something that takes on various trajectories based on its contexts. Contemporary society is rife with cycles of sickness and healing that sit in fixed, tight circles—short fixes for deep systemic problems with only sweeping, systemic solutions.
The miracle of healing is the reclamation of our bodies from the commodified process of death and dying in our contemporary moment, the seizing of the means of restoration on the path toward the warm light of morning. Instead of that which could be made possible both in and outside us dying over and over in the degradation of late-capitalism, instead of our horizons of opportunity narrowing beyond the most intimate corners of our lives, the darkness of night ebbs as we begin our journey forward.
For Kierkegaard, the idea of faith is necessitated by our role as the hands and feet of Christ, the idea that faith is a practice that is constantly becoming, constituting, and reconstituting itself as a repeated avowal of its own existence. I am struck by a view of healing similarly reconstituted as a practice of faith, faith in the idea that humanity can indeed reconstitute itself as a healthier, more fully realized entity. That a series of individuations incorporated into a larger schema/process of healing may constitute a more just and humane way of living.
“[Death as peace for the weary, as slumber for the restless,] . . . such an explanation cannot be learned by rote, it cannot be learned by reading about it, it is only slowly acquired, and well acquired only by him who worked himself weary in the service of the good, who wandered himself tired on the right way, who bore anxiety in a righteous cause, who was misunderstood in a noble striving, and only thus well acquired, is it in its proper place, and a legitimate utterance in the mouth of a Right Reverend.” At the Side of the Grave
Somewhere within or around corporeal death exists a basin in which we may collect our spectral selves, projections of lost futures where after a long struggle we no longer itch, lurch, or long to be free. After this may we truly rest.
Healing is a miracle for us all.