Healing and Wholeness

Beatrice Brandon replies that it offers more than physical or mental health. It offers spiritual health - something which is 'for more than a lifetime - it is for eternity'.

This the full text of the Sermon preached by Beatrice Brandon at the 2005 Guild Festival Service, held in Lancaster Priory on 1st October 2005

Beatrice Brandon was one of the co-editors of the 2000 General Synod report 'A Time to Heal' , and it was her question about the healing ministry at the Synod in February 1998 which started the whole process. The report marked a major stage in the development of the healing ministry, and since then she has worked tirelessly to promote its recommendations. A major change comes into her life on February 26th 2006, when she is to be ordained deacon, to serve as an N.S.M. in a nearby parish in Peterborough Diocese. This will give a new dimension to her continued work for the healing ministry.

© Guild of St Raphael

Healing and Wholeness in the
context of Eternity

ĎYour first responsibility - is your own soul.í - is the advice given by Eastern Orthodox spiritual directors to their directees.

To think in terms of physical and mental health is human nature - but spiritual health is for more than a lifetime - it is for eternity.

So itís remarkable that many people are so preoccupied with physical and mental well-being, that they lose sight of what matters most of all: their spiritual well-being. Few people think seriously about their spiritual origins, or about their ultimate destiny - what it means to live in hope of the actual experience of resurrection and eternal life. Our society is obsessed with health and healing, beauty and fitness, serenity and self-actualization - what we could call the worldly agenda, rather than the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

In contrast, the crisis, the prompt and the point of contact with the Church, are often the individualís suffering and dis-ease, with self, with God and with others. This personal inner dissonance is rooted in the unavoidable knowledge that all is not well, all is not reconciled and peaceful, that none of us is entirely healthy, physically, mentally nor spiritually, and none of us is an entirely healthy influence on the people around us or on our environment.

Many people outside the Church are overwhelmed by countless options offering to meet their needs for well-being. To them, weíre just another organization presenting an esoteric approach to healing and lifestyle. We have to compete for their attention against an ever increasing diversity of approaches to health and fulfilment. Often they turn to the Church after having tried many other options. And they ask:
The Big Question is: ĎWhatí s unique about the Christian healing ministry ?í

The Simple Answer is: ĎThe ministry of healing is a visionary, prophetic and dynamic expression of the healing dimension of the Gospel.í

What we have to offer - is hope!

The healing ministry is visionary . . . because it beckons us towards the future and a glimpse of Godís kingdom, the hope of creation renewed in perfect health and wholeness. Itís prophetic . . . because it calls us to reconsider our relationships with God, each other and the world and to seek forgiveness and a new start in our lives. And itís dynamic . . . because Jesus Christ is with us to the end of time. When we pray for his help, he comforts, strengthens and heals us, responding to our deepest needs.

No other spiritual or secular approach to health and well-being offers healing, reconciliation and wholeness as expressed through the Gospel message of salvation. Through this ministry weíre offered:
These are reasons why the healing ministry is unique, and why the healing ministry belongs at the heart of the Churchís mission and ministry. Itís the living out by the Church as His Body in this world, of Jesusí personal response to our human condition.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, hinted at this momentous vision when he said: 'Time is to be sanctified like everything else, by the presence and the action of Christ. The redemption is . . . an ever present reality, living and efficacious, penetrating the inmost depths of our being, by the word of salvation and by the mystery of faith . . . To say that the redemption is an ever present spiritual reality is to say that Christ has laid hold upon time and sanctified it, giving it a sacramental character, making it an efficacious sign of our union with God in him.í

So what does this mean for the ministry of healing? It is a gracing encounter with Jesus Christ; it is a sacramental ministry. There is no equivalent ministry in any complementary or alternative therapeutic approach or esoteric technique. The Christian sacraments of healing and reconciliation are unique experiences with a particular focus on the ritual moment. They are sacred signs involving three things: the ultimate meaning of human experience, divine saving presence and transformation of human beings, individually and communally.

I believe that ensuring access to sacramental ministry will be one of the greatest challenges to the ministries of healing and reconciliation for many years to come. In principle, every square metre in this country has provision of ordained ministry because the Church of England is committed to the parochial system. Which means that, in principle, sacramental expressions of the healing ministry are available everywhere. But research shows that many parishes still only have occasional services where people can receive the laying-on of hands, sacramental anointing, the listening ministry, the ministry of reconciliation and spiritual direction. Many parish churches still donít offer publicly these ministries at all.

Whether the healing ministry has a visible profile in a parish, or not, depends more upon the interest in and commitment to this ministry by the priest than upon any other factor. In response to declining clergy numbers thereís some very optimistic speculation about greater lay participation: for example, lay leadership of non-Eucharistic worship, but only priests and bishops can anoint the sick, absolve and bless - and preside at the Eucharist. These are four essential and irreplaceable sacramental expressions of the healing ministry.

The most important sacramental expression of the healing ministry is the Eucharist. All things being equal, it is in the Eucharist that Christians are meant to become most aware of the saving presence of the risen Lord and the transforming, grace-giving activity of the Holy Spirit.

The Eucharist is the ultimate expression of reconciliation and healing of the relationship between us and God our Father. Although many lay people are barely conscious of these dimensions, when these are clearly explained, people engage in the Eucharist with new openness, insights and expectancy. Yet when asked in surveys, only approximately 25% of parish priests consider that they have a regular healing service - which suggests that the other 75% donít think of the Eucharist in this way, unless it incorporates the laying-on of hands and anointing.

This situation is fascinating, because it indicates how much significance we place upon human touch. The laying-on of hands and the anointing of the sick are two rare occasions when the Church officially uses human touch - to remind us of our bodiliness. Through the sacrament of anointing, for example, human suffering is put into context, given meaning it could not have apart from the Incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ - and it is made more bearable through the Christian communityís tangible support, towards which the liturgy of the anointing of the sick points.

The sacraments of baptism, confirmation and ordination and the exchange of the Peace are other significant occasions involving touch. If you learn about people from their reactions, quietly observe how people behave when they exchange the Peace, because it is the moment in the Eucharist where we remind each other of our bodiliness. It expresses a paradigm shift. Many people think that itís their peace which they are exchanging - or not exchanging in some cases - whereas they are really exchanging Christís peace . . . Christís 'shalom': his desire for our total well-being - a profoundly beautiful moment of healing goodwill, which should a momentous point in any service for healing and reconciliation.

This sharing of Christís shalom reminds us of the unique prophetic and reconciliatory dimensions of the healing ministry. It calls us back into right relationship with God, ourselves and each other. Which is why the spiritual dimension of health is crucial. Spiritual health could be defined as: Ď. . . being in right relationship with God the Holy Trinity, with self and with others. Spiritual health embodies the two great commandments - to love God with our whole being and to love others as we love ourselves.í

The most important relationship that endures and accompanies us through life, death and resurrection is our relationship with God the Holy Trinity. Access to God the Father is only through our Lord Jesus Christ: no other approach to health offers reconciliation and healing in this way - of our relationship with our heavenly Father. For this reason, it is my view that the prime emphasis in teaching and preaching about the Christian healing ministry should be on the spiritual dimension of health and well-being.

I wholeheartedly endorse prayer for healing of body and mind, and collaborative ministry with professional healthcare, but the Church has a special role to fulfil for God in our society, which is the care of souls. It is an eternal trust placed upon us, in response to our human condition. Just consider this dilemma please: lack of expert spiritual care to support and comfort people enduring suffering and sickness - and to assist their healing - is as serious an issue as lack of expert medical attention.

So we need interrelated models of pastoral care and spiritual direction which support and nurture people during acute suffering. We need to foster wider appreciation of the interaction between treatment, medication and religious experience. We should encourage specialized development of prayer and study resources for people who are experiencing disabilities and chronic limitation. And we need to support deeper appreciation of the creative synergy between stages of spiritual journeying and stages of physiological and mental conditions.

Another unusual feature of the healing ministry is that it involves mutually therapeutic relationships: it requires us to acknowledge our own brokenness and need for healing, whether we are giving or receiving ministry. Through developing awareness of health which transcends our personal context, our own needs are put in better perspective and weíre drawn into a new relationship with the world around us.

A definition of health which relates well to the healing ministry comes from the World Council of Churches, which described health as:

Ď. . . a dynamic state of well-being of the individual and society, of physical, mental, spiritual, economic, political and social well-being - of being in harmony with each other, with the material environment and with Godí.

Only the ministry of healing has such breadth of vision - only this ministry is truly holistic on such a vast scale: other definitions of health and healing are very good - but they are focussed upon the individual - the relational and contextual dimensions are rarely given the attention or weighting they deserve.

One of the great joys of this ministry is that it is totally inclusive - everyone is invited . . . and everyone is welcome. Furthermore, every form of suffering in this world can be helped in some way through this ministry. Its potential is awesome. Through this ministry we are glimpses of the Kingdom - moments when we become aware of the ways in which Godís creation is growing towards its full potential. By being involved in this ministry we are actively working with God towards this end.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ entrusted his healing ministry to the Church, in his great commission - to teach and preach about the coming of the kingdom and to heal the sick. At the end of his brief earthly ministry , he promised to be with us to the end of time. He has kept that promise - and continues to heal us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, meeting us at our point of need - through each other. Truly - one of the greatest privileges of the Christian life is to personify the constant love of Jesus Christ to someone experiencing sickness and suffering. The prayer of St Teresa of Avila expresses this beautifully...

Christ has no body now but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ's compassion must look out on this world.
Yours are the feet with which
He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which
He is to bless us now.

© Guild of St Raphael