“Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” – Mark 10:49
This coming Sunday’s lectionary texts contain the story of Bartimaeus, one which has taken on a particularly important meaning for me as I have learned to live with the invisible disability of bipolar disorder. On the surface, this is a standard “healing miracle” story. Bartimaeus asks Jesus to help him, Jesus heals him of blindness, Bartimaeus gets up and follows Jesus. But what has stayed with me ever since I read this story in a hospital psychiatric unit is the use of the word “call.” The word is used three times in rapid succession to describe how Jesus interacts with Bartimaeus. Jesus calls Bartimaeus. Calls him to do what? Simply to be healed. The call to be healed is both a moment in the story and the beginning of a journey. At the end of the story, Bartimaeus gets up and follows Jesus, but, importantly, that is not the original call on his life. His call, at first, is simply to be healed.
The story traveled without me throughout my time on the various psych units, and beyond. Called to be healed: here was a new understanding of vocation for me, one not based on what I could do or achieve, but based in a deeper call on my life, a call to wholeness. As I began to tell the story of my time on the psych ward, and to apprehend this storytelling itself as part of my calling, I was reminded again and again of this simple insight—an understanding I would not have if it were not for my experience of mental illness. My vocation is not primarily a matter of accomplishment. It is, rather, an opening downward to a deeper wholeness. I am—you are—we are called, simply, to health.
There is, of course, a danger in this story, particularly for people with disabilities. Stories such as this one are all too easily used to insinuate (or overtly preach) that disabilities indicate a lack of faith or of wholeness rather than an aspect of the diversity of the divine image in which humans are created. And the miraculous, instantaneous nature of Bartimaeus’s healing is not how I have experienced healing in my journey with bipolar disorder. Rather, what I have experienced is a call, an invitation into a deeper level of wholeness and health. And it is that call which resonates for me in this story from Mark’s gospel. Our own journey of healing may look very little like Bartimaeus. There may be nothing instantaneous about it. It might involve understanding our disabilities not as obstacles to, but as aspects of, that very wholeness which we are called into. Yet I suspect that our journeys will begin with a response to a calling, a vocation. The story of Bartimaeus reminds us that our calling starts with a calling to health, to wholeness, to well-being. At their beginnings and ends, our vocations are not jobs or careers achievements, but rather the divine voice calling us into a place of healing – into a more integrated way of being human.
Prayer: God of Healing, help us today to receive your call on our lives into deeper health and wholeness. Enable us to live into our vocation, to experience healing so as to offer healing to others, and to set out anew on our journey into life. Amen.
David Finnegan-Hosey is the author of Christ on the Psych Ward and Grace is a Pre-Existing Condition: Faith, Systems, and Mental Healthcare. He serves as College Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministries at Barton College. He holds an M.Div from Wesley Theological Seminary and a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education from the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. He is certified by Mental Health First Aid USA to provide initial help to people experiencing depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance use disorders. In 2011, David was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a series of psychiatric hospitalizations. He now speaks and writes about the intersections among mental illness, mental health, and faith. David lives in Wilson, NC with his wife Leigh, their daughter Laila, and their dog Penny Lane.