So I resist the obvious Reiki route and decide that since I am a Christian I really should stick with the Christians and join in with their healing thing. The only problem being, in your ‘bog-standard’ (is that irreverent?) church you don’t see much healing going on. You have to go to one of these MEGA-churches like you see on the tele (or You Tube).
Now it just so happened that we lived within walking distance of one of these free independent churches that was well-attended and ‘alive’. I also found out that this church had followed the US model of having associated Healing Rooms that people could attend mid-week. So clearly this church prioritised healing as a central part of its ministry.
I went along to Sunday worship. I rather liked the band – the electric guitars and drums, played by very talented musicians skilled at enhancing the mood; rousing and euphoric one minute and with a soothing and gentle sensitivity the next. I seem to remember being rather mesmerised by the bass player who must have only been about 15. These guys are clearly dedicated and put the hours of practise in.
The people were very loving, very joyful, glowing in fact. Their love of God, their sincere worship created a sacred space. Tangibly so. The air became thick with the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Shekinah. I recognised it. Years earlier I had followed a calling into the ministry. I was familiar with the Holy Spirit, and the intensity of experience that could be witnessed at such collective gatherings.
We sang. And sang. And sang some more.
People were standing, arms in the air, eyes closed, swaying gently, and their was a sense of collective hypnosis that seemed to take effect and swell in magnitude. Only I was on the outside. I didn’t feel comfortable putting my hands up in the air. Bit self-conscious maybe, but that’s just me. So after the sixteenth repeat of “I will sing of your love forever,” (not being facetious btw – the chorus is that same line four times, so after four repeats of the chorus it adds up), I sat down and just bathed in the presence. By now I was starting to get hungry. I know it’s wrong, but I’m not used to these two hour services. I glance at the lady across the aisle who’s gone a bit When Harry Met Sally – her face is creased up, I think in ecstasy rather than agony, but it could be either. Yet I’m not feeling it. My stomach’s rumbling and I can’t help thinking about roast potatoes and gravy…
I slip out before the end because it’s OK to move about here – all very relaxed and informal. As I walk home I feel different. I can tell my consciousness has been altered. It’s how I imagine being on drugs to be like. A gentle sedation that softens everything along with a wonderful feeling of pleasure and deep peace. This altered state temporarily cushions me from the harsh reality of living in the world, this town that could be grubby and hostile. The pavement seems more vivid, I notice. And the litter…. And the blaring sirens of a police car racing past… I don’t want my bubble to burst. I’m enjoying this cocoon. The contrast is striking and the wonderful inner feeling stays with me all day.
I decide to visit the Healing Rooms the following Wednesday. Having had corneal surgery on both eyes, I am left with compromised visual acuity. I give some details, fill out a form and three volunteers are assigned to me. We go into a quiet back room. I sit on a chair and after listening to me, the three of them surround the chair, placing a hand on my shoulder, arm, back. They are so gentle, warm, loving. I feel the air in the room thicken with grace one again. As they lay hands on me and take turns to pray I feel deeply blessed. Beryl tells me she feels my healing will be gradual and I must just trust and know it will happen.
I make a return visit a few weeks later. This time a different lady leads. Before we go into the room she tells me she had a ‘word’ about eyes this morning, and that she feels sure a miracle is going to happen. Irene (not her real name) asks me to stand. She places her hands over my eyes, but that doesn’t seem to be enough. She places her index and middle finger together and presses them against my eyelids while she’talks’ to the cornea, commanding it in the name of Jesus. I am then asked to sit down. She begins questioning me about my past, my relationship with my first husband. I answer truthfully, but am beginning to find it all a bit personal and, well invasive to be honest. My husband didn’t treat me right. Did I ever wish he was dead? I am astonished. The others seem a bit awkward too. It’s important, she tells me. I need to repent of sin that may be blocking and preventing a healing. I am asked to repeat certain phrases after her. Not in my head, out loud. It has to be out loud, witnessed by others. I do as I’m told, but inside I’m squirming. It’s embarrassing as much as anything. I know all about using spiritual authority, but this is a type of aggression. “I cast out this spirit of infirmity and disease in the name of JEEEESUS!” she almost shouts, pushing back my forehead. I think this lady has been watching too many You Tube videos. She is styling herself on the evangelical celebrity pastors with their theatrical stage tactics that I find such uncomfortable viewing. The others are muttering “Thank you, Jesus” and “Yes, Lord” while she’s doing this, but all I can think is let me out of here, and I know I won’t be coming back for more of this – there won’t be a next time. I found the experience unpleasant and humiliating. It was so very different from my first visit to the Healing Rooms.
So what do I learn from this? That Christian healing doesn’t work? That it’s all hype and hot air? No. I believe that Jesus can and does heal through this followers today. But more significantly I learn that there is a lot about the style, presentation and delivery of healing within the evangelical church that I do not feel comfortable with. The emphasis on proclamations and declarations I believe to be unnecessary and fear-based, reducing a living faith to ritualistic superstition. Why was it so important I had to say certain words out loud? Who makes these rules?
I also know I cannot be certain what kind of experience I’m going to have when I ask for Christian healing. Some will say, that’s because the Holy Spirit will do what he will, and we can’t predict or control what that will look like. But I’m not talking about this. I’m talking about the things we can control. Making sure the encounter is user-friendly. That a person would know pretty much what to expect when they made a visit, and there wouldn’t be any curveballs. This doesn’t seem to be the case because the priesthood of all believers encompasses a diversity of personality types each with their own way of doing things. And if someone says the Spirit led them to do it like this, who can argue with that?
So I choose Anglicanism. The uniformity of the liturgy and communion service gives me the ‘quality control’ and assurance against vigilante charismatics I need. Every second Sunday of the month, the Communion service incorporates an invitation to healing prayer. As the organ plays you can go forward, kneel at the rail, and the vicar will place his hand on your head and voice a personal prayer customised to your concern. No casting out spirits, no raised voices, no undignified falling backwards on the floor.
But does it work? I commented to a friend who happened to be on the church council, that we never seemed to hear much about healing in the Anglican church (surprising considering healing was such a central part of Jesus’ earthly ministry). She told me something that made my mind up once and for all.
She told me of a lady (without disclosing the name), who had gone forward to the rail to receive healing prayer. And had indeed received a miraculous cure. I was fascinated. Was this something that might have got better by itself, or could it really be classed as a ‘miracle’? She confirmed the latter. BUT the details of this unexplained improvement in symptoms was told in strictest confidence, and my friend had to promise never to disclose this information to anyone.
This lady’s healing was clearly a source of embarrassment to her.
No testimony. No glorifying God for the sake of expanding the Kingdom and bringing others to faith. Secrecy for the sake of respectability at all costs.
I feel disappointed. Disillusioned. Saddened more than anything. I realise that the stigma attached to healing has become a cause of real division within the church, an inconvenient political fly in the ointment.
And yet I know more than anything That I want yo be involved in healing. I want to help people overcome illness and suffering because I don’t believe this s part of the Father’s design for us. And I believe it s possible to heal through the same transformative power that was demonstrated in Jesus, and that he promised would be available to us.
I love Jesus. Passionately. Deeply. And I know that my soul is eternally ‘in Christ’.
But what I don’t know, what I’m unsure of is whether I will find an avenue of service within the church.
Where do I go from here?