“Wash, and be clean?”

NaamanSo Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”
But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.
But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
2 Kings 5:9-14

Did I ever tell you the story about Molly and the oily water at the new dog park? In the fall of 2004, City By the Sea opened a new dog park, on the site of a landfill. It’s a great fenced area with lots of fun places for dogs to play, but, seriously, it’s built on trash. This means that as the ground wears down, things rise to the surface. And the water that sits in the shadow of one of the hills, the marshy little watery place, is oily and unattractive.

Unless you are Molly, that is. When Molly gets hot, she will do whatever she needs to do to cool off. And although it was an autumn day, and not but just so warm in my opinion, her fur coat said otherwise. She broke through the plastic fencing intended to be a barrier and went into the water.

It wasn’t the first time. We had been through it before. Her white feet turn black, and she smells horrific.

But this time was different. Like Naaman the leper, Molly dunked herself repeatedly in the dirty water.

Naaman wasn’t thrilled about going into the Jordan. He preferred the rivers at home. Were they not better than all the waters of Israel?

Wouldn’t almost anything be nicer than the waters of the dog park?

But Naaman and Molly were both looking for a solution to their problems. Naaman followed the prophet’s advice, however reluctantly, and Molly plunged into the only cooling water available to her.

I imagine that to the idle passer-by, Naaman looked as odd as Molly looked to us. What was he about, this powerful man with his collection of followers, as he peeled off his regalia and walked into the river? Certainly he expected something different when he traveled to meet the prophet. He imagined a ceremony, the waving of arms, the intoning of special words and the celebration of his healing. He imagined the thankful gifts he would give to the king and the prophet.

Instead he got seven dips in a river he didn’t find as appealing as the ones at home.

It’s a story that has always bothered me, because I couldn’t get past the miraculous healing. I don’t like stories that suggest physical healing can come through following some magical formula. I especially resist it because Naaman’s trouble is with his skin. I’ve had eczema since I was a baby. It’s pretty well controlled now, but just a few years ago it was florid and miserable. I remember standing in doorways, rubbing my back against the door jamb. I remember waking up scratching my arms in the middle of the night. I remember wishing I could shed my skin like a snake and start all over again. I remember itching in places you can’t discuss on a PG (okay, maybe PG-13) blog.

For several years, I looked at changes in diet and wondered what childhood trauma I needed to identify and heal in order for my immune system to stop reacting all the time as if it were under threat. I imagined many reasons for my ailment and imagined many means of healing.

Then something changed. I got new insurance, and with it a new dermatologist, who proposed a different treatment plan. Medication calmed my overactive immune system, and UVB light therapy began the healing process. Within months, I felt like a person with a new skin.

But more important than the treatments, on an inner level, was the comment the doctor made when I first went to see her. I recited all my thoughts about what I might have done wrong to create my misery. She responded practically, saying, “Some people just have eczema. Let’s try something different since yours is so bad right now.”

Like Naaman, I had to let go of the idea that I knew what was best. We both needed to trust that we had been sent to the right place for help.

5 thoughts on ““Wash, and be clean?””

  1. Ack, Songbird! A post about my Haftorah portion for my bat mitzvah! Ack! Now I’ve got the chanting melody running through my head for the first time in more than 20 years…

  2. Wonderful. Did you preach this.
    I cringed a bit at this point “I don’t like stories that suggest physical healing can come through following some magical formula. ” with the word obedience ringing in me – and that’s precisely what your punch line was about , but in a much much more beautiful way than I could have done.
    I learn a lot from you dear friend. Just wished you lived round the corner – or within 2 hrs! (grin)

  3. Lorna, I’m working on a sermon for Sunday.
    The edge for me is hearing stories of people who have lost loved ones to cancer, then been criticized by pastors for not “praying enough.” These are not just Internet anecdotes, but the real stories of people who have poured them out to me.
    For many people, the logical conclusion of hearing assurances about prayer and healing is that those who don’t get healed have been rejected or condemned by God. How do we feel about that?

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