Healing lessons from Father Michael Lapsley

I greet you in the name of our Creator, our Healer and our Redeemer Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine being an outspoken anti-apartheid priest exiled and living in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1990, the dawn of a new era, two months after Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Imagine receiving an envelope in the post labeled religious magazines and opening it, setting off a massive explosion. Imagine your hands are blown off, you are severely cut and burned, an eye destroyed and your ear drums blown. It is a miracle you are alive. Over the next year you undergo many operations as you slowly, painfully recover. You receive visitors, prayers, get well messages and children’s drawings from all over the world. Once recovered, you don’t return to the land of your birth New Zealand – you go and live in South Africa, the country where the bomb originated, and you dedicate the rest of your life to healing others.

This is a very short story of Father Micheal Lapsley who, with his team of facilitators, conducted a life-changing Healing of Memories workshop at St Benedict’s Retreat House in Johannesburg 2-6 February 2014. More than 24 years after the hit squads of the apartheid government tried to kill him, Father Michael remains a holy and humble Anglican priest, sharing lessons of healing and forgiveness in South Africa and around the world.

As today is a healing service, I thought it was a perfect time to share some thoughts on healing, which is an important part of everyone’s life, especially Christians, because Jesus Christ is the ultimate healer.

claycrossMy clay symbol. which I dedicated to my children and the youth of South Africa. It began as a cross but transformed into a figure which symbolises Jesus Christ who lives in all of us. 

+ Healing means to be restored to health or to restore someone to health (Hanks: 706) physically, mentally and spiritually. So you can be healed but you can also heal others. Healing can also be about repairing a wound with a scar or restoring of friendly relations.

+ Healing starts with us first. Father Michael told us to put away thoughts of learning to help others and over the 3 days to focus on ourselves and our own journey. One cannot be effective healers without embarking on our own healing journey.

+ Healing is an important part of Christianity. “One-fifth or 20 percent of the Gospels deal with the healing ministry of Jesus.” (Hart 2003: 57) Remember the woman who could not stop bleeding, the blind man, the possessed child – the list goes on of the people Jesus healed. But it is not only Jesus who healed body and soul. The apostles including Peter and Paul were also given the gift of healing by God and millions of people after them until today.

+ Father Peter McCall who runs healing retreats in the USA “maintains that one of the biggest obstacles to healing consists in accepting suffering as God’s will.” (Ibid: 58) God did not cause you to suffer. Our God is a loving, caring God who is here to love and support us on your healing journey. What can we learn from the challenges we face? How can we transform a hard time into something positive?

claysymbols Workshop participants made clay symbols of our healing journey which we presented at our closing celebration ceremony. We could use additional items from the beautiful St Benedict’s Garden. 

+ Healing is a journey. Acknowledgement is the first step. As Dr Phil says, “You can’t change what you can’t acknowledge.” Father Michael made it very clear that the Healing of Memories workshop and the storytelling process is just one step in the healing journey. Drawing your life as one picture or a series of pictures and then talking about it in a safe space is an illuminating and emotional experience. It takes you back to your childhood and to events and phases for example becoming politically active, losing a loved one, marital bliss, the joy of having children, renewal of faith, the pain of divorce, victory in independence and so on. With no words allowed, you rely on symbols and colours that reflect your feelings.  Being in a small group with a trained facilitator allowed us to support each other through the laughter and many tears.

+ Healing takes time and hard work. The expression “Time heals all wounds” is too simple. Sometimes time gives you more perspective but if you don’t deal with the situation and get help when you need it, your wounds will not heal on their own.

Redeeming the Past book cover

+ Forgiveness is a massive part of healing. Father Michael is an incredibly inspiring example of someone who became “better and not bitter.” In his book Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer he relates the process of transforming the horrors of the bombing to the process of healing others and establishing the Healing of Memories Institute. He wrote: “So even then lying there broken as I was, I felt a sense of victory.” (Lapsley 2012: 4) He explains that to this day he does not know who sent him the letter bomb and if someone asked him for forgiveness he thinks he would forgive but one never really knows what you would do until you are in that situation. He said forgiveness is very hard work and is a “gift from God”. Since this workshop I have realized that I need to forgive but I also need to say sorry to a few people. This won’t be easy.

+ God can help us turn our pain into hope, our sorrows into joy. Despite our challenges in South Africa, we have much to be thankful for. Healing our land, our environment and our people is something real that can be achieved if we put our collective minds to it.

+ Healing is part of the life cycle – let’s start with all of us at our healing service today.

May God’s healing power be with you today and always.


For more information see the Healing of Memories website: http://www.healingofmemories.co.za where you can also purchase copies of Redeeming the Past and the DVD for R200 in total. 


With Father Michael Lapsley in St Benedict’s Garden at the end of the workshop. The stole he is wearing was given to him by close friend Judge Albie Sachs who lost his arm in a car bomb assassination attempt in 1988 in Maputo. Judge Albie received the stole in Chile – it is made by mothers of the disappeared as part of their healing journey. Father Michael wears this stole at all Healing of Memories ceremonies in South Africa and throughout the world. 


Hanks, P. 1986. Collins Dictionary of the English Language. Glasgow: Collins.

Hart, R. O.F.M. CAP. 2003. Preachers as Risk Takers. Minnesota: the Liturgical Press.

Lapsley, M. SSM. 2012. Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer. Cape Town: Struik International.

Healing of Memories Workshop attended 4-6 February 2014 St Benedict’s Retreat House, Johannesburg.