I first heard Becca Stevens speak several years ago at the ELCA's Youth Ministry Extravaganza. That year, she also spoke at the ELCA's triennial Youth Gathering. I was intrigued by her work. She's an Episcopal priest who founded a non-profit, Thistle Farms, dedicated to giving women a second chance. At Thistle Farms, women, many of whom have been on the streets, use thistles – a plant typically despised by farmers – to create beautiful hand lotions and soaps. They redeem the thistles and in the process, their work and community redeems them, bringing them healing and giving them dignity and value, often for the first time in their lives.
Since I was a little familiar with Becca's work, I was excited to read her book, Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth Telling. Snake Oil blends Becca's own story with the story of Thistle Farms.
Among other things, Snake Oil explains Becca's understanding of healing. According to her, “Healing is grounded in four of love's basic axioms: love is eternal, love is sufficient, love is God unfolding in our lives, and love is not concerned with dogma so much as it is a dogged determination to bloom and speak... The axioms of love are written into the fabric of creation, so it is right that in the fabric we find the gifts we need to heal one another.” The last part of that quote demonstrates one of the many things I love and respect about Becca's work: She deeply values all of creation, even the thistle.
For Becca, there's a deep link between healing and faith. In her words, “The suffering of the innocent in the world is not a question to be answered but a space of deep relationship, where God comes out of the whirlwind and you are with God, addressing the deepest issues of life itself... While there may never be an adequate answer to the question of why there's suffering in the world, faith asks us to engage the question deeply and with our whole hearts.”
Even so, it can be tempting to devalue our own suffering in comparison to that of others. To that end, Becca says, “I used to wonder if I could ever complain about the suffering I have known in my own life given that it pales in comparison to others' suffering... Now I try to honor the suffering I have known and respect the suffering of others. I try to remember that when I encounter the suffering of others, I am encountering God.”
Lest you think that Becca's form of healing is all spiritual, she's also clear that “Healing isn't just physical, emotional, and spiritual, but also economic.” To this end, her description of her ministry at Thistle Farms is fascinating, as she shares countless stories of helping the women there to “find jobs and develop marketable skills.”
Though Becca's book isn't a practical how-to guide, she's clear that healing isn't limited to the work she does as a priest nor is it limited to the work non-profits do. Instead, we're all meant to participate in healing rituals. As Becca reminds us, casseroles are “sacraments and tools of healing – an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of friendship” and “bonds deepen whenever people share stories with one another.”
Without a doubt, Snake Oil is a beautiful read. It's a story of healing, hope, and love that will inspire you to seek healing in your own life and find ways to participate in healing the world around you.