Seoul, Korea, is one of the most visited cities on the planet, and by all accounts a great place to live. It is a modernized metropolis with a wonderful public transportation system, great parks, amazing food, and fantastic weather—in the spring and fall.
The weather in the summer, however, is less than desirable. It rains nearly as many days as it doesn’t. Then there is monsoon season. Monsoon season is dismal. Weeks of clouds and rain cover the vibrant and colorful city of Seoul and its people with drab, dreary grays that weigh heavily upon one’s soul.
We may have never lived through weeks of solid rain, but we know how long days of bad weather— snows in the winter that morph into cold dreary rains in the spring— can affect our moods.
In recent years, medical professionals have begun to recognize that a lack of sunshine and the inability to enjoy the outdoors can affect some of us severely with a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
But what if there was a way to bring color and joy into our lives in the midst of the gray pall of clouds and rain? Designers from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago wondered the same thing. And so they traveled to Seoul, Korea, with a novel idea to bring some color to monsoon season.
On sidewalks, streets, crosswalks and alleyways the designers and artists painted colorful murals. On one busy sidewalk, they painted a giant pink whale surrounded by fish of many shapes, sizes and brilliant colors. They all appear to be swimming down the street together with the pedestrians. On an alley walkway, the artists painted a team of colorful tortoises swimming alongside some smaller creatures. Elsewhere, a colorful group of fish look like they are feeding near a curb.
These amazingly bright and beautiful murals make it appear as though one is walking over a surreal aquarium, or a glass-topped river. They incorporate brilliant blues, pinks, yellows, reds, purples and greens that are in stark contrast to a gray sky.
But here’s the amazing part— Most of the time the murals are invisible because they were painted with hydro-chromatic paint, a specially designed paint that only becomes visible when activated by water. Meaning, these beautiful works of art are only visible when drenched in water. They are only visible when it rains.
Days without the sun can cast dimness over our general disposition. Sometimes we even find ourselves in the midst of a monsoon season of the soul—Ailing bodies, broken relationships, tight finances, boring jobs and general feelings of dissatisfaction with our day-to-day existence—they can feel like rain clouds that will not dissipate, leaving us longing for the day it all finally stops.
Naaman’s story from our text for today, can certainly relate to such a season of life—his storm begins with an illness—and he, like us, wants relief and healing—and so he goes in search of it, and finds it. He finds it, however, in an unlikely and unexpected place. And it’s the same place we can find the relief and healing we need.
Naaman is a man who appears to have everything going for him. He is a high-ranking general in a powerful nation, a mighty warrior, well-regarded by his king and the people. But Naaman has a skin disease—which was a huge problem for any person in this time, but especially someone like him. All of his power, reputation and skill in battle are useless against the illness, and the stigma, and he’s desperate for healing.
On the advice of an unnamed servant girl, one who has none of his power, reputation or freedom, Naaman journeys to Israel to see Elisha for healing. Naaman travels with an entourage, a motorcade, and plenty of cash—which is perhaps the only way he can feel like he has some power, some control, over his illness. He can pay for the best medical treatment of his day, whether in or out of network.
When he arrives in Israel, though, Naaman isn’t treated with the respect he feels he deserves. While at the royal palace, meeting with Israel’s king, he is met with fear and confusion before being given the address of, not a doctor, not a state-of-the-art dermatology clinic, but the simple house of a prophet, who he reluctanly goes to, but you can almost feel how his heart sinks when his motorcade pulled up in front of Elisha’s house.
And to make matters worse, he is again not greeted and treated in a way that is worthy of the magnitude of his position and wealth. There is no examination, no tests, no sympathy or bedside manner—he doesn’t even see the prophet himself. Instead, a messenger meets him at the curb with instructions to go wash in the Jordan River seven times.
Can you imagine receiving such treatment from your doctor? To put it politely Naaman is irritated and insulted. He’s been treated disrespectfully, and his hope for a cure is dashed. His servants though, who, like the girl in Aram are also unnamed in the story, eventually convince him to at least try what the prophet said. Reluctantly, Naaman agrees, and wades into the Jordan and to everyone’s surprise, he’s healed. In an unexpected and unlikely manner, Naaman finds everything he needed and had hoped for—healing.
In the climactic scene of the story, when Naaman is at the height of his frustration, he talks about the water. He angrily questions what Elisha thinks is so special about the Jordan River. He goes so far as to say that the water of the rivers at home in the powerful nation of Aram must be superior to that of a river in the conquered land of Israel. He overstates his case here, but in some sense, he’s right. Water is water.
The water he has been bathing in at home is exactly the same as the water in the Jordan—two parts hydrogen one part oxygen. The recipe is the same in Aram, Israel, or anywhere else in the universe. Water is water.
What Naaman doesn’t know is that the healing powers are not in the water. The healing powers are in God—who is already alive in the life of Naaman.
The author of II Kings tells us something about Naaman that even he didn’t know about himself. We read that the Lord had given Aram victory through Naaman. This is a profound theological statement. What the author is saying is that before Naaman was aware of it, God had been at work in and through him. This correlates to Naaman’s healing which does not come from the water. The seven times he immerses himself in the Jordan is simply Naaman finally taking a step to realize what he, nor we, had seen previously. Naaman’s healing is hydrochromatic.
Like the rain on the streets of Seoul activating the paint, the water of the Jordan makes visible what had previously gone unnoticed, but had been there all along. Colors burst through the gray. Joy peeks through the sadness. Wonder and awe break through feelings of brokenness and weakness. The power of God was made visible by Naaman’s bathing in the Jordan River when he responded to the invitation and instruction of God’s word and call—in this case given by God through Elisha.
God gave Naaman hydrochromatic healing—healing that was already present because God was already in him. Naaman thought he couldn’t be happy until this problem was removed from his life, but God gave him strength sufficient for his needs, not happiness sufficient for his wants.
God said, “I’m going to help you, not by taking you out of the problem or the problem out of you, but by giving you strength right in the middle of it!” Suddenly, failure and suffering were seen in a new light. While Naaman never expected to fail, he understood that in his weakness, a superior kind of strength could shine through that would otherwise be hidden from view.
The beauty of the diamond is exposed by the cutting, chipping and polishing of the stone. The brilliance of the pearl is revealed after the prying apart of the shell of the oyster. The block of marble becomes David only after bearing the brunt of Michelangelo’s chisel and hammer. All of it reveals a difficult paradox about God’s healing— your weakest moment is also the moment of your greatest strength! Imagine such a thing. It was true for Naaman, and it can be true for us, when we are true to God’s invitation to seek out the healing we need.
When the sun shines down on the people of Seoul, and there is plenty of color in their lives, the murals I told you about are invisible. The painted streets and alleys look like every other walkway.
When it rains though… the water activates the hydro-chromatic paint and color bursts through the gray. Joy peeks through the sadness. Those walking with their heads and hearts down are greeted not with more dejection, but with wonder and playfulness. A gloomy walk to work or the market becomes a fun-filled adventure of discovery. This happens not in spite of the rain, but because of it. The water from the dreaded storm causes the murals to appear and bring a semblance of healing to the brokenness caused by the dreary weather.
It all makes me wonder… might there be a person or two in Seoul, Korea who now look forward to the rains so the turtles can make an appearance? Might there be a person or two who see the forecast for a monsoon, and don’t become filled with dread? All because, right there in the midst of the storm, they find the very thing they need for healing.
In the dim seasons of your soul may the waters of adversity reveal to you the presence of God our Creator and Christ our Savior already alive in you. And may you find the color filled, wonder filled, unlikely and unexpected healing you need. Amen.
Loving God, you are our healer. You make us whole, you mend relationships, and you put back together our shattered hearts.
This healing happens through doctors and loving friends, through offerings of grace and forgiveness and love, and through the whisperings of the Holy Spirit.
Today we lift up those who have had too much rain, too many storms in their lives, and we ask that they have revealed to them the divine breath that is within them. May they become aware of it, and you, within them, so that the healing they need will begin, within their very beings.
We ask that you continue to heal us where we are broken, for we know you see those places, Lord, even though we don’t see them.
We ask that you heal our anxieties, our sorrows, and our brokenness.
We ask that you heal our minds, our bodies, our spirits in ways that will make us aware that today we are here, and today we have the chance to embrace life.
We ask such because we know you have created us and saved us to be whole people. Make us whole then, and then send us forth as those who have been made whole by you, so that others can witness your power of restoration.
Healer God, we cannot possibly name all of those who need to be prayed for.
We pray for the thousands who died this week because they did not have access to food, drinkable water, clothing, shelter, and medicine.
We pray for those who were injured or died in accidents, and those who were injured or died at the hands of others.
We pray for those who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect others.
All of such reminds us that we won’t find full healing in this life. So make it that we know to look forward to the time when we shall be with you face to face—and we will be perfect and whole and healed.
But until that time, bless us with your healing here, and then craft us into people who strive to bring healing to others.
We ask that you would hear now the prayers of our hearts as we offer them in this time of Holy Silence.
All this we pray in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”