I was invited by Englewood Review of Books to write a review of Amy Julia Becker’s new book, “To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope.” You can read my review below, or find it on their website here: To Be Made Well by Amy Julia Becker.
To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope
Amy Julia Becker
Reviewed by James E. Laurence
It is clear from the gospels that Jesus came to bring healing and wholeness to this broken world, but what does that look like today? And how can we continue to receive and share the healing that he offers, to individuals and to our communities? We who follow Jesus can see how timely and important this topic is, but we often struggle to articulate what we believe about it. The next time I have a church member or friend ask me about this, I will suggest that they read this book, To Be Made Well by Amy Julia Becker. And then, I will look forward to a conversation with them guided by Becker’s reflections on what it means to be made well by Jesus. This is, simply put, a really good book. It is extremely well-written, theologically astute, timely, and disarmingly honest. It is filled with Becker’s hard-fought wisdom, the fruit of her wrestling with what healing has looked like, in her life and in her community.
Becker’s biblical inspiration and the framework for this book is the “Markan sandwich” recorded in Mark 5:21-43– the interwoven healing stories of Jairus’s daughter and the bleeding woman. Becker looks at these stories as though through a prism, showing us the many different ways in which Jesus heals. Jesus is our savior, but he is also our healer. (Both share the same root word, as Becker reminds us). And just as Jesus healed many people in the gospels, he continues to offer healing today, but not always in the way we expect or imagine. Becker shows us time and again that true healing involves more than simply a cure for whatever physically ails us, “As much as modern medicine can play a crucial role in our lives, it is nevertheless not enough to restore us – individually or collectively – to health. We need a broader and deeper understanding of healing in order to be made well.”
There is almost no area of healing that Becker does not cover in this book, and that she has not wrestled with in her own life. For me, one of the more helpful sections was her discussion of healing as it relates to disability. She recounts a story of two men in her church who wanted to pray for Becker’s daughter, Penny.
“We huddled in the corner of a bustling coffee hour, and my stomach constricted as I heard one of them say, ‘God, we pray you would heal this child of Down’s syndrome.’ I swallowed hard, muttered amen, and said thank you. Then I looked at our daughter, with the distinctive features of Down syndrome written into her body. Her eyes – intriguing and different with their resemblance to cut glass, holding an additional fold of skin. Her hands – small and soft and bearing an unusual line that spanned one side to the other of her palm. The flat bridge of her nose. The tiny ears. I looked at her and saw all the characteristics of a child with Down’s syndrome. I also saw someone who, as the psalmist wrote, had been fearfully and wonderfully made. Someone who had been created in love and for love. Someone who had been made well.”
This story is the beginning of Becker’s moving reflection on disability and healing– one that is filled with wisdom and guided by love.
After exploring the nature of healing in general terms, Becker proceeds to look at barriers to our healing, such as distraction, shame, anxiety, and status, always guided by scripture and her life experiences. Each chapter has fresh wisdom from the stories of Jairus and the bleeding woman, showing us how they are interrelated and what that means for us. This section concludes by helping us to see how individual barriers to healing “are compounded by the communal barriers to healing– the social hierarchies that lead to exclusion, isolation, and injustice.”
This insight leads into the final section of her book, where Becker considers the nature of our participation in healing: bodily healing, spiritual healing, communal healing, and social healing. The chapter on social healing was particularly helpful for me, and timely, as I struggle with what social healing might look like in our world today. Becker gave me permission to keep “bumbling my way” into working toward justice in our world through passages like this one,
“I don’t pretend to have cracked the code on overcoming systemic injustice or creating equity in schools or the legal system or hiring practices. I do know that God invites me to bumble my way into participation in social healing in the same way that God invites me to bumble my way into practices of personal healing. Jesus sends both the healed woman and Jairus into their respective communities with instructions for participation in a wider work of healing. He invites us to do the same.”
For Becker (and, she argues, for Jesus), our personal healing is always connected to our participation in social healing. Just as there is no peace without justice, there is no personal healing without our participation in healing the brokenness in our world.
On a yoga mat seven years ago, Becker received an unexpected and sudden healing from her lower back pain, which is part of what led her to write this book that no one else could have written,
“That moment opened up a pathway toward a deeper healing that led first to a new awareness of my own woundedness, my own shame and hurt and anger and grief. And then that moment opened up a pathway to my own belovedness. And then to the healing love available to each of us and to all of us and the invitation for me to participate in it.”
We all have our own journey toward healing and wholeness, to be sure, but Becker’s unique journey led her to share her story in a way that connected with me deeply, and helped me to open my heart a little wider to Jesus’s gift of healing. I look forward to sharing this book and reading it with others, as we all journey together toward the healing and wholeness that Jesus offers. “Healing,” Becker concludes, “is a gift of grace. A gift of love for each of us and for all of us. And there is so much love.” Amen.