Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, a day which seeks to promote awareness of services that support people with mental illness and to reduce the stigma of mental ill health. This year the annual pack of information sent to me by The Department of Spiritual and Pastoral Care at the South West London and St Georges Mental Health Trust focused on depression. A quarter of people suffer from depression but it remains is a hidden phenomenon mainly because of the stigma that mental health problems can cause. There is hope many people including our local mental health Trust are working to reduce stigma and encourage people access services sooner so improving people’s quality of life.
I was struck by our Gospel reading in Church yesterday which was Luke 17:11-19a. It is an account of Jesus who was travelling with his disciples between Galilee and Samaria, a racially-mixed area, and there outside the village they meet a group of lepers. Although it is unclear what the bible means by Leprosy these men were stigmatised and excluded from their community and their place of worship.
So they stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. The healing of the man with leprosy talks to us of those which society excludes because of race or illness but it also talks to us of hope – hope of welcome hope, of acceptance and hope of healing and a kingdom of God in which all are welcomed and all are included. It challenges us to be a community which works to reduces stigma and to welcome all.
We often talk about Jesus sitting at the edges of acceptable society on the margins however; here Jesus shares in the social exclusion of those whom society had marginalized. Jesus shifts the margins and it is here that Jesus touches a world in pain and if we allow ourselves to be filled with compassion we may find that we are not just motivated to act but that find ourselves in the place of those excluded.
The question is whether we are willing to touch and stand with those in the margins of society?
Bearing by Jim cotter taken from ‘Healing-more or less’ cairns publications 1990
When we visit the sick,
Being there for the other
With the whole of ourselves,
We find that we are visiting Christ.
Christ is the one who is ill,
The one whom we tend,
The one who is vulnerable to our blundering.
I sit by your side.
I have nothing I can do.
I am anxious.
I am afraid.
But I stay.
You are the needy one.
You are in my power.
I can refuse to be with you.
I can reject you within myself.
Or I can be with you,
Gently touching you.
You challenge me to a choice.
You judge me.
Together we dance the dance of the crippled-
Crippled, because, however fit and handsome,
we are all far from being truly whole;
Nevertheless a dance
Because in the midst of suffering
We give each other courage and joy,
And with those wounds
we shall find that we have been made whole.