Above my desk hangs a replica of this painting. Titled “Encounter”, by Daniel Cariola, it depicts today’s Gospel passage. I was part of a pilgrim group to the Holy Land. We were in the Encounter Chapel* where the original dominates the wall behind the altar. We sat on the stone bench and soon enough this painting lured us into a contemplative presence. Something stirred in that chapel. What? It is hard to describe. But many of us pilgrims came away sensing we had a powerful spiritual experience.
“Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. ‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint.” (Today’s Gospel)
‘*The Encounter Chapel, is dedicated to Jesus’ encounter with all of us, as illustrated by the large painting, titled “Encounter”, in the back of the chapel. The floor is that of the original first century marketplace of the Magdala port’. (Magdala, Holy Land)
As Christians, encounters are necessary for our faith life. Encounters add flesh to the words of knowledge, for ours is a living faith, a faith that is a lived experience. Yet, I find it a struggle to describe ‘encounter’, and to make another understand. But once we experience an ‘encounter’, our faith is lived in an added dimension. Central in this painting is a spark, lighted up by touch. And being ‘touched’ is central to ‘encounter’.
An encounter can only be felt. It is an experience that most times happen inside us. There is a gentle stirring within, that eventually get a grip on our emotions. It reaches the backs of our mind, the depths of our heart, the issues running in the background that affects us. It can be an intellectual question about life, or an emotional argument about our challenges. An encounter leads us into a conviction of our faith or an affirmation of being loved in our challenges. It is the Spirit moving us, touching us with reassurance that one day leads to healing.
Our faith tells us that Jesus is readily available, so encounters cannot be elusive. The encounter between the haemorrhaging woman and Jesus was likely to have taken place in a busy place like the market of a fishing port. There was a large crowd following and they were pressing on him. Jesus was on the move. So was the woman. It made that one touch difficult, elusive. And so, it is such with our daily life, our busy-ness, crowded focus and distractions. Our life is dynamic, full of moving parts, always on the move. In that Chapel, the pilgrims came to a silent stillness, the parts stopped moving and they experienced an encounter.
Silence and stillness reside deep in the depths of our heart. Here we store our disbeliefs, doubts and hurts. It is here where we are most vulnerable, here where the Spirit touches that will trigger our emotions. It is here where ‘encounters’ take place.
We do not need to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But we need to go on a journey from our head to our heart. And the door to this journey is opened by humility and vulnerability. Central in our heart, a spark will light up with a touch, an encounter.
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time