Picture yourself in the shoes of this refugee advocate sitting 30cm from the haunted eyes, furrowed brow and prematurely aged human who is younger than the advocate’s youngest child. When face to face with an emotionless young adult, mentally becalmed by a cocktail of sedative pills and physically scarred from repetitive self-harming as a consequence of 6 years of indefinite detention, how does one respond to repeated questions about life’s purpose and meaning? Honestly, what would you say? All well and good to inform senior Religious Education students about the veracity of Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl’s theory of meaning through finding a purpose in life. But face to face with existential indefinite suffering, how would you explain to this young man the rationale for his sacrifice on the altar of Australia’s Border Protection Policy?
For me it is Jesus who is the exemplar of what to do when one is attending the sick. Physical contact usually preceded His healing miracles. When curing Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus ‘went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her…’Mk 1:30-31. When healing the Leper, ‘He reached out his hand and touched the man… “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him…’ Mk1:40. Hence it is now my practice to hold the asylum seekers arm, look him in the eyes, reinforce my presence to him while promising to continue my support.
The compassion of ‘Jesus before Christianity’ which Albert Nolan posits was central to his ministry, is a feeling of empathy arising from the bowels, formerly thought to be ‘the seat of love and pity.’ According to Mark Link SJ, Jesus’ miracles were invitations to open people’s hearts to him and his preaching. Of course, the relationship between faith and healing is complex. Nevertheless, a combination of compassion, touch and changed conditions were reflected in the asylum seekers subsequent improved demeanour. What has been your response to compassionate touching when you have been unwell?
(picture from Pixabay by Cocoparisiene)