A Pool of Mercy

“For he will charge his angels to guard you wherever you go, to lift you on their hands for fear you strike your foot against a stone.” – Psalm 91:11

“The Cross will not crush you; if its weight makes you stagger, its power will also sustain you.” – Padre Pio, Spiritual Maxims

The healing of the paralyzed man, as described in the Gospel of John (5:1-18) and which  was the subject of our last post, could easily have a whole book devoted to it, so relevant is it for our time. Having considered in the previous post in connection with this healing miracle Edward Bach’s fundamental insight regarding the origin of all illness – that “there is one primary error which man can make and that is action against unity” – we can now consider two aspects of this illness which, if addressed, would lead to the healing of this illness, i.e., which would give us guidance for recovering that lost unity and so put the ailing soul back on the road to good health. In Christ and Sophia: Anthroposophic Meditations by Valentin Tomberg (SteinerBooks, 2006, pp. 249-250), we read the following:

A healing spring is at the center of a five-rayed star, formed by the five approaches of the “house of mercy”, into which an angel descends from time to time. Those who seize the moment and immediately step into the pool are healed. But those who have been lying for thirty-eight years and cannot do it for themselves are so alone in the world that they have no one to help; at the moment of healing, therefore, someone always steps into the pool ahead of them. Then comes Jesus Christ and asks if one wishes to become whole. Having been answered in the affirmative, Jesus Christ heals that one. This happens on the Sabbath day, when human activity must rest.  The series of pictures provides unequivocal clarity about the nature of that individual’s karma. With this “human being” (the term always used in the Greek original, never “man”, specifically, or another title) it is a matter of karmic consequence whose causes were the opposite of those that led to the [nobleman’s] son’s sickness. With the nobleman, it was a question of weak personality; here, however, the sickness was the result of an excess of this in a previous life. This was a person whose every movement welled forth from him alone, and whose motives were based entirely on self-consideration. As a karmic consequence of this, he became paralyzed and depended completely on awaiting the “mercy” of a spring that operated outside. One who was accustomed to prompt, self-centered action now had to lie and wait, hoping that someone would show up and help just when prompt action was necessary. But he lay there alone, because his earlier egoism had condemned him to loneliness. Since he had never cultivated any interest in others, others now passed him by without interest. In his former life, he had always refused to plan or act in conformity with his angel; now he had lain for thirty-eight years, yearning for contact with the angel who occasionally descended into the pool of mercy at the center of the building in the shape of a pentagram, the symbol of personality. He had despised them both in a former life, but now he needed both an angel and another person.

                                                                                                                                                             Is the human being merely “an intelligence in servitude to his organs,” as Aldous Huxley has claimed he is? Brave New World, which dystopia seems in large part to have been realized in our time, is a literary exposition of this hypothesis. In the paralyzed man of this gospel account, the truth of this observation would seem to have been clearly confirmed. Having never in a previous life cultivated any interest in others, having refused to plan or act in conformity with his angel, the man lying there thirty-eight years at the healing spring is now fully in earthly bondage, this bondage being manifestly the closed-off life of mere personality.  With what “tireless resourcefulness and the most stubborn cunning”, as Huxley expresses it, will the personal self fight for this bondage! Witnessing this man’s plight in the mind’s eye, how honest do I dare be with myself? Do I dare claim to see nothing of myself in him? Do I dare claim myself free of inward paralysis? “Most of one’s life is one prolonged effort to prevent oneself from thinking,” says a character in Huxley’s novel. How much of my thinking – when I have thought – has been directed “to prompt, self-centered action”? How much of the thinking I claim as my own has refused to plan in conformity with my angel? How much of that thinking – as a movement welling forth from myself alone – has led to action whose motives have been for me alone, never mind all the self-flattery about being a noble idealist?

Jesus Christ approached the sick man and asked, “Wilt thou be made whole?” These words contain much more than one initially expects of such a simple sentence. The sick man understands the question very well and answers that he has no one to help him submit to angelic power. This is what his answer means; the important point was not his desire be made whole (it stands to reason that if a sick man has come to a healing spring, he wishes to be cured); he was actually being asked whether he wished to be cured by the power of the angel – whether, despite thirty-eight years of waiting, he was discouraged or still had enough strength and humility to wait. And the answer was a real answer to the real question of Jesus Christ as it arises from the depth of those words: “Wilt thou be made whole?” In this question, the sick man heard much more than the words. They asked, “You have been lying here for thirty-eight years; do you still wish for healing from the pool of mercy? So you, nonetheless, still believe that the mercy can come to you? Do you perhaps wish to appeal to some other possibility of healing – to some spring other than this pool of mercy, where the angelic power is manifested? Do you still hold the belief that someone will show up and bring you into contact with the healing angel: Haven’t you lost faith in human beings by preserving your faith in the mercy of an angel?

Would I indeed be made whole? Would I indeed submit to angelic power? Will I allow – do I even know how to allow – the healing angel, my guardian angel, to wash my feet? Is there at least a human being who will bring me into contact with my angel? Lying at the pool of mercy, do I really believe this mercy can come to me? So much I have done is so much I would undo; so much I would do is all the good I leave undone. What health remains in me seems entirely the healthy seeing of my own lying soul’s sickness!

The answer of the paralyzed individual showed that he would not forsake his faith, whether in the spirit or in human beings, despite the many years of waiting. Then he was healed by one who represents both the world of angels and the world of human beings. At the moment of healing, Jesus Christ acted both as the long-awaited man and as the healing angel through whom the healing might come. The words “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” hold a collaboration of the two spheres of consciousness. “Rise” expresses the uplifting influence of the world of the hierarchies; “take up thy bed” expresses the horizontal orientation of the negative human past; but the command to “walk” combines the two cosmic directions, the vertical and horizontal, in the cross of the human being walking – the one who stands erect while bearing the burden of the past. Thus the picture of the healed paralytic carrying his bed is a deep expression of human destiny: a walking cross, formed by the vertical of spiritual liberation and the horizontal of earthly bondage.

Rise – “So if we detect an angel by the effect he is producing,” writes Saint John Climacus in the Ladder of Divine Ascent, “let us hasten to pray since our heavenly guardian has come to join us.”

Take up thy bed – “If we are truly humble,” writes Saint Francis de Sales in The Devout Life, “we shall grieve bitterly over our sin because it offends God, but we shall find sweetness in accusing ourselves, because in so doing we honor him; and we shall find relief in fully revealing our complaints to our physician.”

And walk – “If Christians knew the value of the cross,” writes Saint Louis de Montfort in one of his letters, “they would walk a hundred miles to obtain it, because enclosed in the beloved cross is the true wisdom and that is what I am looking for night and day more eagerly than ever.”

Yes, the true wisdom, the wisdom of the Cross, the wisdom of love and the power of love radiating from the Crucified One right there in Mary’s heart. Open the doors and see: see in the heart of the Holy Virgin, in the heart of Holy Mary Sophia, a sword piercing her soul.  See the one who knows the thoughts of many and hear the voice of the One who speaks, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” Then it will be even as Hildegard of Bingen in her Book of Divine Works says it is for all the saints: “Just as a bee forms honey in its comb, so do we our work as if it were honey.”

Pax et Bonum,
Randall Scott


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