It didn't happen every day, but was frequent enough that I clearly remember it. I would be sitting with my grandparents, in their house, around their kitchen table. We would be finishing a meal or even just a simple snack, and the conversation would come to a lull….
"Uuh' ," my grandfather would look at me and say.
In our Navajo Culture when he said this, I knew it meant the interaction was not yet over. We might have finished the topic we were discussing, but according to my grandfather, the conversation was not yet complete.
"Uuh' ,“ meant you had to tell a story because there was more to talk about.
Sometimes the story would be about your day, sometimes it would be about something going on in the community, and sometimes it would be a story about the past.
My grandfather loved to tell stories, and he loved to hear the stories of others. So "uuh" became almost like a game we would play, volleying our stories back and forth until finally someone would concede and say, "No more uuh' ."
Because of this, it was very difficult to have a short interaction with my grandparents.
I imagine that is how it would feel to talk with Jesus. He rarely seemed rushed, and he always seemed ready to hear someone's story. I am reminded of the bleeding woman he healed in Mark 5. Jesus was on his way to heal the daughter of an important leader in the community named Jairus. This was a very urgent and time sensitive request from an important man, and Jesus responded by heading right over to his house.
But, on the way, he passed a woman who had been subjected to bleeding for 12 years.
In that culture, at that time, this bleeding would have made her 'unclean' and therefore an outcast of that community. She would have been forced to live on the margins of society and either fight to keep her condition secret, or avoid contact with anyone who knew she was sick. Either way, it meant she was marginalized and unknown. We are also told she had spent all that she had going from doctor to doctor, but instead of getting better she only grew worse.
Then, one day, she heard Jesus was passing through town. Jesus was known to be a healer; he was a powerful man of God who could work miracles. So powerful in fact, she concluded that she didn't even need to talk with him or bother him. If she could just touch his cloak as he passed by, she was sure that she would be healed.
And so she staked out her spot. We are not told exactly where she hid, but I suspect that she tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, probably staying low to the ground and blending into the crowd as best as she could. As Jesus walked by, she didn't even speak to him, for that would have given her away. Instead she just reached out and touched his garment.
And it worked! She was healed!
Immediately in her body she sensed something was different. I would imagine she wanted to jump up and down, screaming, dancing, rejoicing, laughing and crying; all at the same time. But she didn't. She remained concealed, hidden and unknown.
But to her horror, Jesus stopped. He looked around. "Who touched me?" he asked his disciples. They thought he was crazy. For Jesus was being followed by a large crowd and there were people all around him. Asking "Who touched me?" was ridiculous. Everyone was touching him.
"No!" Jesus said. "I felt power go out. Someone touched me!" And he continued looking throughout the crowd.
Her gig was up. This powerful man of God knew. She had tried to steal his blessing and had been discovered. So she came forward; scared, embarrassed, humiliated and yet curious. What was going to happen next? How was this 'Jesus' going to respond?
She probably had not heard that in over 12 years! Could it possibly be? Did he really want to hear her story?
Once the dam broke, everything came rushing out. All of it. The frustration, the humiliation, the shame, the anger, the loneliness. Everything. Until at last, her response to his look and to his concern was complete. "No more uuh’,“ she said. That was the whole story.
But she had gone on for so long that some people came from the leader’s house and told Jesus to not even bother coming anymore. The window of opportunity had passed for the girl to be healed. She was dead.
But Jesus waved them off and told them not to worry.
He then turned and finished his conversation with the woman and made her healing complete.
"Daughter," Jesus told her, "your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."
No doctor could have done this. The healing Jesus was referring to was so much deeper than just her bleeding. His healing started by ending her flow of blood, but it was not complete until she was known, accepted and loved.
In December of 2004, after the earthquake and resulting tsunami off the coast of Indonesia, there was widespread destruction, death and chaos. It was a situation very similar to the earthquake that just occurred in Haiti. Powerful, destructive and completely overwhelming. I was living on our Navajo Reservation at the time and attending a small church there. It amazed me how little the tsunami was discussed in our community. On our reservation there is widespread unemployment and many broken families, alcoholism is rampant and many of our people are just trying to survive. And those who are not still feel extremely limited and even impotent when it comes to helping and reaching out to others around the country and the world. For nearly two centuries the message given to our community by both the government and the church was that we had very little of anything of value to offer and we were only able to receive.
However I knew this was a lie. I knew that God had given our people a culture, a language and a world view that was unique and beneficial to the rest of the world.
So I decided to travel personally to the country of Sri Lanka. I wanted to hand deliver the small financial gift that our community was able to put together and to begin to build a relationship with the communities that had been so devastated in this tragedy. In the large scheme of things, our gift was only a drop in the bucket, a little over a hundred dollars, but I was hoping that some other benefit would come from this trip.
While in Sri Lanka, I was taken one day to a refugee camp that was housing people who lost their homes, their fields, their villages and their livelihoods to the floods. They had nothing, and we were distributing tools and seeds to help them rebuild their lives. During this trip, I continually heard story after story about the millions of dollars that were being donated and how these villages, communities and schools were going to be rebuilt even better than they were before. But I also remember walking through the refugee camp and seeing the displaced families sitting quietly under their tents, just looking out, into nothing. I asked my host whether or not anyone ever came to speak with these people. To sit under their tents with them and ask them their story. The answer astounded me. "No. No one ever comes to do that. Everyone wants to donate something or build something. But hardly anyone just comes to listen and get to know the people.”
In that moment I remembered my Navajo people, our community and even my grandfather, and I knew that I had found something that we could offer in the aftermath of this horrible crisis.
On our reservation we may not have much in the way of wealth or material resources, but we do know how to slowly approach our neighbor. We know how to sit on the dirt floor of their hogan. We know how to make conversation and really speak with them. And we know that when the discussion comes to a lull, it doesn't necessarily mean the interaction is over. Because we know how to sit for a moment in the awkward silence and then patiently and quietly say…
And to let a whole other level of healing begin.
By Mark Charles
This article was first published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship