I am not a healer. I have seen three healers work: as they began, the engine in each of them went into high rpm, their energies whirring with activation; they used spiritual power, and the changes produced were immediate and palpable.
Although I believe that we each have some degree of capacity for healing and should develop what we have, I am especially interested in healing in the loose, vague, contemporary sense of trying to help someone feel better. I am interested in the combination of scientific-medical and mind-and-spirit factors.
Sometimes we pray for people to feel better; and of course prayer has many varieties. The simplest prayer is to hold in mind the person for whom we pray as we look to the One who answers prayer. The soul needs no words.
A kind of prayer that I am interested in is a response to the fact that many people who are sick can use a faith boost. If we can bring that encouragement, they will feel better, and they may heal sooner. This kind of prayer focuses on the mind of the person who is suffering.
The idea is that there is life in the spirit and life in the cells of the body, and that the mind comes between those two, with the neurons below and the spirit above. I do not believe this spatial metaphor is literally correct, but it suggests an approach. If the mind is filled with faith, then the life in the spirit has the best chance to permeate the whole person and touch the life in the cells.
God doesn’t just create our minds and then send us out to sink or swim. He ministers to our minds. And we can pray for that ministry, praying for faith to fill every area of functioning in our mind. I find this kind of prayer worthwhile.
Modern lists of functions of mind differ from what we find in the ancient world, but I find this list interesting from Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible.
The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.
This passage needs a comment. Although a glimpse of the sovereign power and justice of God may strike fear into the mortal heart, our relation to God should not be one of fear. I would like to apply an observation made by Claudia V. Camp:
“Fear of the Lord” refers to more than simple fear; it is the awe, obedience, and proper relationship to God that necessarily undergirds all attempts a gathering knowledge or living wisely.
While there are over a thousand studies that indicate a positive correlation between religion and health, one of the leading authorities in that field, Harold Koenig, adds a qualification.
The discussions of negative effects of religion on health are of interest, since they imply a need to correct unhelpful religious beliefs and practices or to at least to buffer them adequately with positive beliefs and practices. Koenig writes frankly about the kinds of case in which religion is harmful. “Patients who feel deserted or punished by God, or who question God’s power or love, have an increased likelihood of dying sooner than patients without such feelings.” Religious belief sometimes holds that disease is a punishment from God, that one should just wait for God to take care of it rather than accept standard medical care, or that disease is a demonic affliction. And sometimes people pray for direct intercession and are let down when God does not seem to answer their prayers. In these cases, too, a patient’s religion can be an obstacle to healing.
Now let’s restore a balanced perspective. Religion—good religion—contributes to health. The 700-page Handbook of Religion and Health by Harold Koenig, Michael E. McCullough, and David B. Larson details the positive and negative effects of religion on health and evaluates the research design, statistical analysis, and interpretation of results of 1200 studies. The foreword by Jeff Levin states, “The body-mind revolution in biomedical science several decades ago radically transformed the clinical practice of medicine and changed the direction of medical education and research. The Handbook of Religion and Health heralds the arrival of a newer and broader body-mind-spirit perspective that promises to transform medicine and medical research just as radically.” Most of the studies showed better health associated with religious involvement, variously defined, but often including participation in religious services, personal devotional activities, or valuing religion as important in one’s life. The effects on health include psychological benefits (marital happiness and less depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and suicide) and physiological benefits (reduced incidence of hypertension, heart disease, cancer, immune system troubles, and mortality). What are the causes? There are many intervening variables, such as social psychological support derived from participation in religious activities, and tendencies of religious persons to smoke less, abuse alcohol less, eat better, and exercise more.
Ethan Lea’s 2004 study of these studies found that problems in many studies arise from either pro-religious or anti-religious bias, as researchers downplay unwelcome evidence and emphasize what fits their hypothesis. However, one of the rare, methodologically sound studies gave interesting results. “Cardiologist Randolph Byrd (1988) conducted a double-blind study in the coronary care unit of San Francisco General Hospital. Knowing only that they were participating in a study of coronary recuperation, 393 patients were assigned to either a prayer group (192) or a control group (201). Neither they nor their physicians were aware of the group to which the patient belonged.” Intercessory prayer was offered on behalf of patients in the first group by members of a Pentecostal church who had no contact with the individuals for whom they prayed. “The intercessory prayer group experienced lower occurrence of congestive heart failure (8 vs. 20), less frequent need for diuretics (5 vs. 15), fewer cardiac arrests (3 vs. 14), fewer pneumonia onsets (3 vs. 13), and lower need for antibiotics (3 vs. 17),” results that “cannot be explained by any known psychosocial or physiological mechanism.” Clearly, it is a fascinating research frontier. Although modern medicine is the fruit of the search for physical causes to explain physical effects, the body has life as well as matter, the mind’s influence on health is increasingly acknowledged, and 80 out of 126 medical schools in the U.S. include courses on spirituality and health.
We do not expect medical researchers to test the hypothesis that a mind full of faith enables the life in the spirit to nourish the life in the cells of the nervous system; but being even somewhat aware of the research enriches one’s experience of living as an organism.
Happy healthy living, happy faith, happy healing!
Quotations are from Isaiah 11:2 (New King James version) and from Harold G. Koenig, M.D., Spirituality in Patient Care: Why, How, When, and What (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2002), p. 85; Harold Koenig with Gregg Lewis, The Healing Connection: The Story of a Physician’s Search for the Link between Faith and Science (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2004), pp. 148-55; Harold Koenig, Michael E. McCullough, and David B. Larson Handbook of Religion and Health, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2001), p. viii; and Ethan S. Lea, A Review of Studies Correlating Religion and Health and an Inquiry into Possible Explanations. Kent State University Honors College Honors Thesis, 2004), pp. 106-07.
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