Our Faith Is What Saves Us (Matt 8; Mark 2-4; Luke 7)

Sunday, February 26, 2023


Channing: [00:00]  Hi! I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists Podcast. 

Elise: [00:12] We focus on feminist interpretations of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me manual as a guide for study. We understand that scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain really compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with The Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred texts with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:41] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches, is our background, we follow our faith and our God on the path of spirituality over institution, and connection over condemnation.  We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling too faithful for some and not enough for others: Welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. 

[01:09] Hi friends. Welcome back to the podcast. In this week's episode, we'll be covering Matthew chapter 8, Mark chapters 2 through 4, and Luke chapter 7, and the topics that we'll be focusing on for this episode are miracles, faith, and prayer. So as we went through and read this week's chapters, we encountered so many miracles, like, countless miracles of people being healed and demons being cast out, and more people being healed, and people being brought back from the brink of death, and one person even being brought back from death. So, it's all very exciting. What I'm noticing is just that the story of Jesus just, it doesn't really have a climax of excitement, right, it just is continually amazing, and we are continually amazed at all of the strange things that are happening.

Elise: [02:01] This is the truth. And I think because the text is so full of miracles, like the majority of the time I read Jesus' miracles, I feel a lot of awe and wonder. But as I was reading the chapters this week for the podcast, I think I became more aware of the ways that I let these miracles place distance between Jesus and I. Like, if Jesus is doing all the miracles, then like, Phew, thank goodness I don't have anything to do because Jesus is taking care of that.

[02:29] And I think in our best effort to admire Jesus' holiness and power of godliness, the work he's doing becomes kind of like an abstraction. So raising the dead, healing the leper, calming the tempest, those are all magical things that Jesus needs to worry about, not me. And then I think in an attempt to kind of bridge that gap and take to heart what it means to be like Jesus, I wanted us to think creatively about the kind of miracle work that I and all humans are capable of, and that we're responsible for.

[03:03] So as Channing and I already noted, what is Jesus doing in these chapters? He's healing someone with leprosy. He is healing someone who is paralyzed. He's healing a woman who's sick with fever. He's casting out devils and he's calming this big storm. So in that way, what am I supposed to do then as a kind of modern day contemporary miracle worker? And when Jesus heals people, I think we can understand this to mean: we can care for those who are sick. And some of the things that I could do would be to continue to advocate for universal healthcare, which means that all people would have access to the full range of quality health services that they need when and where they need them without financial hardship. I could also inform myself on the Arizona State bills that restrict undocumented migrants from receiving access to public health services, especially undocumented migrant women. I could continue to wear a mask in public because Covid is still alive and we're still in a pandemic. And in more personal ways, I think that I could look out for my friends, my family, neighbors, and community members who are ill by preparing meals, maybe offering financial support, or visiting them in the hospital.

[04:15] And as a side note, I do think that the Relief Society does a really good job of trying to visit the sick and afflicted. 

Channing: [04:24] Yeah, I think that's definitely a strength of our community. It's something that we are accustomed to and is a big part of our culture -- is ensuring that people have meals and have what they need as far as daily sustenance and nutrition and help goes. And that is something that I feel like is a part of the LDS legacy that we can be proud of. And kind of going along these same lines thinking about casting out devils, like, surely I personally don't have the ability to do this, but I am familiar with the torment that comes from mental illness.

[05:04] And just to be clear, we're not saying that mental illness is devil possession. We would never, ever, ever say that. Mental illness and depression are real. They are devastating and they are tormenting, but they come from human anatomy and systemic causes, and it is not an otherworldly spiritual possession.

[05:24] Some things that we could do in the context of performing miracles for those who are struggling with mental illness might be acting as a support and a safe person for people who are struggling with depression and suicidal ideation. I keep seeing ads on my Instagram (and I actually really love that this is happening), I keep seeing ads on my Instagram that offer different things that you can say to someone who's struggling with suicidal ideation like, Hey, can I hold onto your pills for you until you feel safe? Can I hold onto your gun for you until you feel safe? And those are real actionable items that everyday people can say and can do for someone who they love who's really struggling with suicidal ideation.

[06:10] I can also continue to inform myself about the ways mental illness and lack of resources disproportionately affect marginalized groups, like black indigenous folks and people of color and trans folks. And I can also speak more openly about my own mental health concerns and advocate for doctor directed medication if that's what the person feels like is best.

[06:34] And like we said before, these are easy, actionable items that we can do to support our communities who are struggling with mental illness. They're not big, huge, fantastic, amazing miracles where somebody is miraculously healed of whatever it is that they're struggling with, but it is the everyday act of sitting with and partnering with and sharing time with that is a miracle in and of itself.

Elise: [07:01] Yeah, I like that reminder. Finally, one of the other miracles that Jesus does in this set of scripture is that when he's on the boat with the disciples, he's sleeping on his nice pillow down below deck, and a storm comes. And the disciples are really, really fearful and they don't know what they're supposed to do during this large tempest. And so they come to Jesus's bedroom door and they're kind of freaking out, saying, Carest thou not that we perish? Come and save us from this big storm! And Jesus says, Oh ye of little faith. And he calms the storm. 

[07:32]And so in this miracle, perhaps this is a reminder to me to help keep people safe in intense weather conditions and in changing climates, especially when that cry that the disciples say can be so easily translated as a cry from marginalized, under-resourced groups by saying, Do you not care that we're dying out here!? Do you not care that we're actually perishing? And I know that there are organized groups in Phoenix that coordinate mutual aid food and supplies for unsheltered folks, and I know that I could be more regularly donating and volunteering with these already existing organizations. I could also look through my unused winter clothes and gear like tent and sleeping bags, and I could donate them accordingly. I could also work to decriminalize homelessness by not calling the police, and instead restore my own humanity by building relationships with unsheltered folks in my town. 

[08:25] From here, since we're kind of already talking about this storm and Jesus calming the tempest, I want us to look a little bit more at this story because when the storm comes and Jesus is sleeping on the ship, the disciples are feeling really scared, and then because they're feeling scared, they assume that Jesus doesn't care that they are suffering and perishing. And of course, drawing from a sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber titled “Sermon on Fear, Self-Centeredness, and the Storm at Sea,” she reminds us that sometimes our feelings can get us in trouble. As if to say, If I feel close to God, then that must be true and God must be close to me. Or: If I feel abandoned by God, then that must mean that God is nowhere nearby. And when our faith in God is directly related to how we feel about our life, then that can make things pretty difficult to navigate. 

Channing: [09:17] Nadia Bolz-Weber writes, 

“Because we can so easily think God is indifferent because God isn’t doing what we think God should do if God really loved us and we totally miss that fact that at least God’s in the dang boat with us!  Jesus never left them, he just didn’t act the way they thought he should. And that made them feel bad. God caring about us doesn’t always end up looking like God doing for us what we think God should. Because sometimes the faithfulness of God actually looks like the fact that there is a better story than the way you want things to work out.”

Elise: [09:53] Yeah, and I think to be really clear: she's not suggesting that fear and crises and feelings are not real in a really visceral way, they absolutely are. But rather, when we demand God act in a particular way, in accordance to how our feelings and expectations demand that God should ask [act], we move into a kind of anxious relationship with God that asks for a small, predictable God when really God is far bigger and way more cryptic and mysterious than we could ever understand. And so I like thinking about the story of Jesus calming the sea in this way. And it also is a reminder for me to ask myself, When do I feel in peril or when do I feel really afraid? And what is it that I'm the most afraid of? Am I afraid that God has abandoned me? Or am I afraid that there's something else? Like what is it that I'm afraid of? And I think exploring that question could also help us understand what our faith and relationship with God looks like. 

Channing: [10:51] Yeah, I think those are really, really valuable questions to ask as we encounter the story in the text. You know what though, Elise, as I was reading this week, I came across a verse that really reminded me of you, and I bet you can guess which one it is.

Elise: [11:04] Tell me, tell me, maybe everyone else can guess [laughs].

Channing: [11:06] It's the one where Jesus is -- after he finishes preaching the sermon on the mount, he's like, I'm tired.

Elise: [11:16] [laughs] Yeah, I love this verse and maybe -- okay, the verse that I'm thinking that you're referring to comes in Matthew chapter 8, verses 18 through 20.

Channing: [11:23] Yep. That's the one. 

Elise: [11:24] And this is when -- okay, Jesus has had all of these chapters-worth of doing all these miracles, and everyone's following him and watching him and asking him to come heal this and that person. And if I were Jesus, I would feel way overwhelmed. And so these verses say, “Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.” Right like, there are so many people around me, I'm going to command you to leave me alone. Go away from me, go to the other side of this hill, or wherever they are. And the verse continues, “And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” I recognize this is my own personal interpretation showing up on top of these verses, but I really do love this verse because I read it as Jesus saying, Can you just leave me alone? I have nowhere to go and nowhere to rest my head that will get me away from you people.

Channing: [12:35] I know for someone who -- I think this is a point in our friendship where we differ. For me, I'm like, I want to constantly be surrounded by -- 

Elise: [12:48] [overlapping] -- surrounded -- have people looking at you and like -- 

Channing: [12:50] Yeah, yeah! And even if it's not strangers, I still like to be with people. I like being alone together, like doing my own thing in the same room. But I know that this is a point where you and I differ, where like for you time alone is really sacred. And it really fills you and helps you reconnect with yourself and reconnect with The Divine. And so that alone time is really, really necessary. And so I really enjoy actually hearing your personal interpretations of these verses because I think for someone like me that, “Oh my gosh please leave me alone,” can feel a little bit offensive. 

Elise: [13:27] [overlapping] You’re like, what does that mean? 

Channing: [13:30] Wait, do you not love me?  but I feel like in our friendship it's really shown me: No, I love you, but I also love myself and I need a nap. [laughs]

Elise: [13:39] Yeah, I need some place to go rest my head. Please. 

Channing: [13:41] If you want me to keep loving you, you're gonna let me have a nap.

Elise: [13:43] Yes. Yes. So I'm grateful that we were both able to recognize that funny bit about Jesus and I don't think I've ever really felt particularly akin to Jesus because he's so miraculous and so godly and is so radical and so selfless. But in these small moments when Jesus says, Can you go over there so I can be alone? I'm like, Okay, this is my in, this is my connection with Jesus, and I'm really, really happy about that. 

Channing: [14:15] Oh, that makes me so happy for you. 

Elise: [14:18] I think the last big story that we want to cover before we end the podcast is the story that comes up in Luke chapter 7, which is the story of the woman with the alabaster jar.

Channing: [14:28] Yeah. And for me, this felt like a really highly personal encounter in the text. And so a lot of what I'll be sharing is just my own lived experience and my own perspective, but I still hope that that will be valuable in the sense that if other people are or have ever struggled in the same or similar ways to what I'm going to share, then maybe you'll find a little bit of kinship and a little bit of hope with that.

[14:54] So in the text, there are a lot of themes that really center around faith. There are a lot of cases where faith has healed people, where faith has not healed, like, where a lack of faith has not healed people or a lack of faith is called out by Jesus. And I really feel like there are two really potent or poignant times that this happens in the text.

[15:15] The first is in Matthew chapter 8, verses 6 through 13, where a centurion approaches Jesus and asks him to heal a servant who is sick at home. And the centurion showed such great faith that Jesus was quote “marveled” and healed the servant as requested. And like we said before, there's lots of other miracles that are performed, but this story of the centurion and the story of the woman who breaks the alabaster jar, are the two stories that stick out to me as being directly attributed to their faith.

[15:50] And just to be clear, I do not want there to be a sense that I am comparing either one of these stories as better or worse than the other. I just am trying to say one spoke to me stronger and I really resonated with another one more deeply. And that one is the story of the woman with the alabaster jar.

Elise: [16:11] We can find this story in Luke chapter 7, verses 37 through 50, and it says,

“behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with ointment.” 

Channing: [16:35] Oh, that's such a powerful story and I've always loved it, right? This image of washing the feet of someone you love with your own tears and your own hair is really intimate, and at least for me, symbolizes devotion and humility. And reading this brought me back to a time before my faith journey began when I used to read the story of the woman with the alabaster jar or the alabaster box, however you prefer, as someone who recognized the divinity of Jesus before a lot of other people did. But as I read it now, six years into a deconstruction of what divinity really means, this story speaks to me differently. 

[17:15] When my faith journey began, I stopped praying. Some people might say that my pause in prayer is what caused my faith transition, but that's not how it happened for me.

I stopped praying because I wasn't sure who I was praying to any longer. When I recognized that so much of what I understood God to be was dictated by systems of domination and dehumanization, I lost faith in God. It wasn't so much that I couldn't find a God who was worthy of my prayers, but that I wasn't sure who to direct my prayers to or how to pray anymore.What should I call God? By which name are They known? What language should I use to address them? Do I fold my arms or my hands? Do I hold a rosary or light a candle? The way I had prayed for so long, at the side of my bed with my arms folded, felt fake. The words felt sour in my mouth. “Dear Heavenly Father” felt like a betrayal of my very soul. This God was not dear to me. I had suffered wounding in the name of this God and my asks that followed felt trite: Please help me sleep well tonight. Please bless this food that it may strengthen and nourish my body. Please bless my family. Please help me travel home safe tonight. And it didn't matter whose name I prayed these in because nothing felt real. Every Amen felt like licking an envelope.

[18:41] It's not that I haven't prayed for six years. I have. I've prayed the rosary, I've ripped up letters and released them to the midnight air with my breath. I've lit a candle in a Catholic church and I've cried to the Virgin mother. The only prayer on my lips a please, please, please. Not really knowing what to ask for specifically, but needing to know that someone was there. I've sang river songs, walked a spiral in the snow, pressed my forehead to a yoga mat, begging to be seen, begging to be held. I've prayed for six years, for longer, to gods I wasn't even sure existed, just for a taste of something bigger than me; asking, Please. Let there be something.

[19:27] The idea of a faith big enough to ask for a miracle to bring a beloved back from the brink of death is unfathomable to me. I do not have this faith and I don't know that I ever will. All I know how to say is, Please. Please don't let the truth be that I'm actually all alone in this huge world of hurting people.

[19:48] Friends, I don't know what prayer is, but I know that somewhere a woman showed up to a house where someone she hoped was God was eating bread and meat and then cried at his feet, and that's something that I can relate to. I can imagine myself there, praying, Please be real. Please let my tears fall and mean something. Please let me touch you. Let me touch you in your realness. I can imagine bringing everything I have to this devotion, symbolized by a small alabaster jar, and breaking it, giving it everything I've got saying, You don't even have to accept my offering. I only need you to see it, to witness it, to make it real with your acknowledgement that I'm here, I'm weeping at your feet. Are you real, God? 

[20:36] I still don't know who I'm talking to, and it's not like I came to the text this week and magically walked away with my faith restored. But lately I find myself wanting to pray. I resist still sometimes, those same fears of, Who do I talk to and what do I say? Is it real? still come up, panicked and strong in my mind, but I found myself for a few moments each day putting them aside. I light candles on my altar, sit cross-legged before it, and place my hands on my heart. I still direct my prayers to someone saying, This is my offering. It's just me. That's it. And this is my prayer over and over. This is my offering. It's just me. That's it. 

[21:20] And as I speak it over and over, swaying back and forth, the meaning of the words change, and I think I might hear someone talking back to me. It becomes less of a plea and more of a conversation. This is my offering. It's just me, I say, and from somewhere, I don't know from where, but for now, it sufficeth me to say that it's a loving presence from the other side of this conversation. I hear them simply reply. That's it. The acknowledgement and the acceptance echoed in my own voice. 

[21:53] As I came to the text this week, what Jesus said to this woman matters so much less to me than what she did. I refuse to take this woman's experience from her because I can't offer an interpretation that changes the meaning of the text in a more liberatory or loving way. I would like the story to stand as is for now. But for me personally, as simply a reader of the text for my own place and time and in my own faith way, I find myself clinging to the very last verse, verse 50, that says, “And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” 

[22:30] In many ways, I feel I am beyond needing saving. I don't want to be rescued; I want to be seen. I want to be adored, treasured, fully autonomous, and real. And the woman with the alabaster jar, she wasn't saved by Jesus. She saved herself. Jesus even says so: Your faith has saved you, he said. And in this way, it's not an external realness reaching back to you that makes faith real. What saves you is your own reaching, the six years of trying anyway. Jesus says, The peace is the struggle. The hope that someday the one you kiss will bless you back is the gift. Your broken alabaster jar is enough. Your tears and kisses are enough. Ruining people's perfectly good dinner with your heartfelt questions and needing is enough. Jesus never once called anyone who really meant it to the bishop's office for questioning. Never once needed more than the questions themselves to say, This. This is what makes you whole. This is what saves you. Go in peace and take your questions with you.

[23:43] My friend Alisa shared a picture with me last month of a poster that someone she loved had made and it read, “Don't leave your longings unattended.” And the woman with the alabaster jar is the epitome of that. She took her longings with her. Her longing is what saved her, over and over again. And for me, the longing for someone to reach back to me through the mist, that's my heart's deepest desire. That my hand may be met by someone, by anyone, is my soul's greatest longing, and my wish is: may it be so.

Elise: [24:24] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminists Podcast. We know your time and space is sacred, and we're grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you showed your support by sharing the podcast, leaving us a loving rating on iTunes, or connect with us on Instagram as The Faithful Feminists.

Channing: [24:43] We're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so, so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends.

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