Almighty God, you called Luke the physician, whose
praise is in the gospel, to be an evangelist and physician of the
soul: by the grace of the Spirit and through the wholesome medicine
of the gospel, give your Church the same love and power to heal;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns
with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for
Collect for St Luke the Evangelist
AS WE look ahead to St Luke's Day, a week tomorrow, this collect
reminds us of the connection between words and healing. It refers
to St Luke as "an evangelist and physician of the soul", and to
"the wholesome medicine of the gospel."
From early days, the Church has associated the author of the
Gospel that bears the name of Luke with the doctor mentioned: for
example, in St Paul's letter to the Colossians, "Luke, the beloved
physician". Whatever the hard historical evidence or otherwise for
this, it does not detract from the implication that words have the
power to heal - and to wound.
When we speak of "the gospel", it is, of course, not only a
matter of words. St John's Gospel speaks of the word made flesh,
suggesting an embodied, lived, and living expression of God's very
being in action. Perhaps this is why the words often attributed to
St Francis of Assisi - with little evidence - can still bring us up
short: "Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words."
And yet the conclusion can scarcely be drawn that how we use
words has little bearing on how we communicate the gospel by the
way we live. It is, after all, a matter of integrity. Not
"practising what we preach" robs the gospel of its power, with
Proverbs 18.21 warns that "death and life are in the power of
the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits," a sentiment
taken up in the New Testament, where we are warned that "a forest
is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. . . . With
it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are
made in the likeness of God" (James 3.5b, 9).
What we say, and how we say it, affects our own well-being as
well as that of others. A harsh word can wound people for life in
some cases, whereas words of encouragement, thanks, or appreciation
can make all the difference. I remember noticing once in a school,
prominently displayed, the words "Yes, you can!" to inspire
confidence. I have also come across numerous people who were told
as children that they were "tone-deaf", with the result that they
have never sung since.
Authentic words originate in that deep interior silence - beyond
and before words - where we are open to the presence of God. One of
the aims of Christian contemplative and Eastern spiritual practices
alike is that they enable us to experience this silence.
Paradoxically, tasting it makes us even more alert to the power of
Thus the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism, for example, affirms
that Right Speech is a key component of spiritual practice. Like
Christians, Buddhists are encouraged to see that speaking falsely
or abusively or gossiping generally has negative consequences, but
being careful in the choice of words promotes harmony.
When words emerge from that unfathomable silence within, they
have the power to heal, and are thereby part of the "wholesome
medicine of the gospel".
The Revd Dr Christopher Collingwood is Canon Chancellor of