June 19 2016 sermon
Wholeness through Silence and Peace
In the culture where I grew up, we believe in the connection between the body, mind, and soul. As much as our physical health affects us mentally and emotionally, our mental and emotional state affects our physical health too. There was a Japanese medical doctor who wrote a bestselling book on how brain chemicals affect our physical health. His medical practice combines both Asian medicine and Western medicine, in which areas he was trained. His book teaches us how to improve our health without medicine by inducing good brain chemicals through positive thinking, meditation, and a certain types of exercise. You may not be familiar with this concept, but positive emotions and thoughts induce good brain chemicals and negative ones induce harmful brain chemicals. When we’re happy, people say we glow, don’t they? And of course when we are sad, traumatized, or full of other kinds of negativity, we tend to get sick. It’s because body and mind are connected, and the scientific explanation for my ancestors’ wisdom is the brain chemicals proven by this Japanese doctor. Nowadays, even the Western world caught up with this idea of holistic health, an idea my ancestors have believed in for a long time. We have a good word to describe this wholeness or holistic health in the English language; well-being.
Let’s talk about wholeness and some ways in which we can achieve it. In the holistic health trend, how do we achieve wholeness? The most popular way might be yoga and meditation. Yoga is designed to restore balance of the body and mind unit, and to become one with the energy of the universe (what Indians call chakra, Chinese call chi, and Koreans call ki). Conservative Christians vilify yoga because it is based on an Asian philosophy and religious belief. But you see, just because something is based on the philosophy of another religion, that doesn’t mean it is from Satan, although I believe we should be aware of the philosophy behind our holistic practices such as yoga or coloring mandala patterns, which is a big fad right now. I do mandala coloring as a relaxing activity too because those perfectly symmetrical patterns oddly satisfy my OCD. Anyway, the point is, relaxing and happy things make us physically healthier.
Now let’s think of the three scripture readings we did today. In 1 Kings, Elijah met God in silence. Our Psalm today expressed the yearning for God. In our gospel text, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man and liberated him from the power of evil. Silence, yearning, and healing all lead us to wholeness. The road to wholeness provides recovery from our brokenness.
First, silence. This is not the first time, but I’m going to repeat the topic of meeting God through silence. This is called silent prayer. If you remember this, silent prayer is not about praying quietly, as in “without opening our mouth”; it’s about blocking out all the thoughts and bodily sensations to be immersed in the presence of God. This practice brings emotional healing and inner peace, among other things. Usually we are so busy talking to God and asking for stuff, or even, saying “thank you” and “forgive me”. Through silencing our mind as well as our usually big mouth, we are able to focus on God and hear God’s voice (for a change). We can meet God and listen to God’s voice in silence; both through literally the lack of noise, and metaphorically the silencing our noisy mind.
Today, the psalmist spoke of his longing for God. What kind of longing and yearning would lead us to holistic well-being? We are talking about yearning to become closer to our creator, nature, or Mother Earth. Since we are created to live with other creatures in harmony, yearning to be closer to Mother Nature and God’s creations leads to physical and emotional well-being. Sometimes I feel the yearning for Mother Earth, and through Mother Earth, our creator God. I am not used to living among so many trees so I used to long to hug trees. Yes. Hello, my name is Sunny and I am a tree hugger. The yearning was much greater when I didn’t have access to a lot of trees. Yearning to be closer to God and God’s creations is a healthy yearning that leads us to wholeness because we are created interdependently, humans, animals, and plants alike.
Now finally, today’s gospel story. This story reveals something important about achieving wholeness and well-being. This is definitely a story about a man achieving wholeness, and also about silence and peace. Silence and peace go hand in hand; they cannot be separated. We find peace in silence, and peace is a form of silence. The demon-possessed man achieved silence and peace through Jesus’ exorcism, his healing activity. So far I have only spoke of peace and well-being as a personal experience; now with this story of exorcism, it becomes communal. Here’s how; this healing story is about liberation from the power of evil, and the thing about the power of evil is that it affects not only individuals but also communities and societies. When we talk about evil, the most apparent form of evil is the social evil or hate and discrimination. Throughout his public ministry, Jesus healed a lot of people and expelled demons possessing people. It is not a coincidence that none of those who were healed by Jesus in the gospels is from an upper ruling class. The message is clear in the healing stories; Jesus is liberating the marginalized and oppressed people from the power of evil. This “evil” includes both individual evil and the social evil of injustice. Why do you think this teacher and healer was executed by the Roman government? Liberating the oppressed is a threat to the oppressors, that’s why.
Oppressed people need both personal and communal healing. We achieve peace through silence; but it doesn’t mean the oppressed should be silent about their oppression. Silence is needed in the personal healing process because that’s how we meet God, receive comfort, peace, and encouragement. Think of Psalm 46; “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea”. Powerful stuff, feeling this level of peace in the midst of turmoil. But as I once mentioned, there cannot be true peace without justice. Oppressed people cannot be truly healed unless they gain justice.
Speaking of social justice and true peace, we are saddened by the mass shooting that happened in a gay club in Orlando. 50 people are dead and more are injured. It was a hate crime against the LGBT community. In the face of continuous attacks and discrimination, how can we talk about healing for the LGBT community without fighting against the evil of homophobia? I am sick of this routine where hate crimes happen, we are called to send the victims our thoughts and prayers, and then letting the same things happen again and again. Silence can help us recover from our brokenness on a personal level, but then when we are dealing with systemic oppression and injustice, Silence and peace do not come from, well, remaining silent.
As we pursue personal healing and holistic well-being through silence and peace, Let us remember that we are called to participate in the healing of our world by bringing God’s reign on earth. Let us remember the victims of the Orlando shooting, and of other hate crimes against women, racial minorities, people of other cultures and religions. Let us listen to God’s call in our silence to be God’s hands and feet to bring justice, and true peace that comes with it, to our world. Since we are created interdependently, we cannot truly be whole and peaceful while our neighbors and other creations of God’s suffer. May God bring us all together as a family.
Rev. Sunny Kim