“Healing Prayer: Fact or Fantasy?” with Rev. Chris Kell
What is healing prayer? Does it really work? Is there a difference between sacred healing and spiritual healing? Let’s find some answers to these questions and more.
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When available, a revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Prayers, readings, and songs from this week’s service are also provided below.
Community Circles – Are you left with questions after a talk, or did an idea so resonate with you that you want to explore it further? In our Community Circles, we build relationships with others, share ideas and insights, and support each other as we apply these principles in our daily lives.
Wednesday July 21, 7:00 – 8:30 pm EDT. Community Circle Zoom Meeting/Discussion: Our discussion this evening continues our focus on connecting with the sacred as we share our thoughts and experiences around healing prayer, or prayer in general. We all have preconceptions of what prayer is and looks like (talking to God? Listening for God? Both or neither?) Let’s share our insights, as well as the wisdom of other wise men and women who not only have pondered this question but have lived their own answers. I look forward to a rich discussion!
Please join us on the Zoom link below. I look forward to seeing you!
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See you at 7!
Every war and every conflict between human beings has happened because of some disagreement about names.
It is such an unnecessary foolishness, because just beyond the arguing there is a long table of companionship set and waiting for us to sit down.
What is praised is one, so the praise is one too, many jugs being poured into a huge basin.
All religions, all this singing, one song. The differences are just illusion and vanity. Sunlight looks a little different on this wall than it does on that wall and a lot different on this other one, but it is still the same light.
We have borrowed these clothes, these time-and-space personalities, from a light, and when we praise, we are pouring them back in.
Prayer Time (a poem)
There is joy in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed, that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle that heats my coffee each morning,
in the spoon and the chair that cry “hello there, Anne” each morning,
in the godhead of the table that I set my silver, plate, cup upon each morning.
All this is God, right here in my pea-green house each morning;
and I mean, though often forget, to give thanks, to faint down by the kitchen table in a prayer of rejoicing as the holy birds at the kitchen window peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it, let me paint a thank-you on my palm for this God, this laughter of the morning, lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard, dies young.
~ Anne Sexton, from The Awful Rowing Toward God, 1975
Healing Prayer: Fact or Fantasy?
Good morning. Our theme this month is prayer, and my topic today is “Healing Prayer: Fact or Fantasy?” The subject of prayer is huge, and as with any idea, philosophy, or concept concerning spirituality and/or religion, it can involve hours of discourse in order to reach even a simple understanding of any one aspect of this theme. And as you all know, I am quite capable of going on at some length about a subject I like, and healing prayer, or spiritual healing, is no exception–– but I promise to try to keep myself under control.
I’d like to start by talking just a bit about prayer in general, at least as I understand it, and then present some ideas about healing prayer specifically. And for purposes of today’s talk, when speaking of the Divine I will most often use the word God as my personal identifier, although as we all know, there are many other names we could choose, such as the Universal Mind, Supreme Being, Goddess, Absolute, Allah, the Tao, Brahma, or a myriad of other words. Also, prayer as I will be talking about it comes out of my Western Christian background, as that is what I am most familiar with. My apologies for leaving out other traditions, but this is not because of denial of the validity and sacredness of those traditions, but simply for time’s sake and my own lack of knowledge. I do believe, however, that that the same basic ideas about prayer as a way of communicating with the Divine apply to the majority of traditions.
. . . Prayer is a way of being.
Rev. Alastair McCollum of St. John the Divine Anglican Church tells us that in the Christian faith, and in many other spiritual traditions, prayer is a way of being: being in the moment, being present, being open. Prayer is a recognition of being alive and being human found in all traditions throughout time.
It is one of the most ancient expressions of belief in a power greater than ourselves. From its primitive beginnings to contemporary expression, prayer conveys a human desire to enter into personal dialogue with the sacred. Anyone is capable of communicating with the Divine.
What is prayer?
So then, other than a conversation with God, what is prayer? How do we talk to God, this ineffable being who is at once here with us and yet beyond our imagination and description? For some, prayer will mean specific sacred words; for others, it may be a more informal talking or listening to a higher power. Spanish mystic St. Teresa of Avila describes it as an intimate friendship, a frequent conversation held alone with the Beloved.
The act of praying takes a variety of forms. Prayers may be formal or spontaneous. They can be in the form of poems, hymns, benedictions, litanies, blessings, or rituals. They can be silent, said aloud alone or with a group, or physical in nature, such as through songs, dance, and other performance art forms.
Some common types of prayer include:
Intercessory prayer – praying for someone else;
Petitionary prayer – asking God or a higher power for something;
Prayers of Contrition and Repentance – sincere regret or remorse for wrongdoing;
Prayers of Praise – a celebration God for himself, his greatness, and his mystery;
Prayers of Thanksgiving – for the gifts, blessings, and abundance of the created world; and
Prayers of Adoration – the response to an encounter with the sacred.
Healing prayer is a form of intercessory prayer . . .
Healing prayer is a form of intercessory prayer in which we ask the divine for relief of illness, injury, or some dis-ease of the body or mind, usually based on some type of religious belief system held by the sick person and/or by the person praying. Spiritual healing is a direct interaction between the healer or pray-er, and a second individual, the person being prayed over, with the intention of bringing about an improvement in the second person’s condition.
According to encyclopedia.com, the use of prayer to improve health dates back thousands of years and is a vital principle of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Even in a non-theistic religion such as Buddhism, prayer is important in healing.
Spiritual healing in the West is based in Biblical times, when some of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus used the power of prayer to heal the sick and injured. In the Jewish and Christian religions, praying for healing and medical miracles has been common for 3,000 years.
Modern Medicine . . .
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, believed that the mind and body were separate. This point of view was reinforced by René Descartes and is the foundation of modern Western medicine with its almost exclusive concentration on the physical aspects of disease. The contribution of emotions, thoughts, relationships, and spirituality, to disease and health were either ignored or discounted. Consequently, despite the scientific evidence pointing to the effectiveness of prayer, it is not generally accepted as a treatment method by the Western medical community.
Since the 1960’s there has been an increase in interest about the effectiveness of prayer, meditation, and other mind-body approaches to health and healing. However, many physicians and other medical professionals continue in their skepticism and some refuse to even consider the effectiveness of healing prayer, claiming there is no scientific proof of the efficacy of prayer in the healing process, nor scientific rationale for the concepts underlying spiritual healing. Moreover, the critics maintain that even if such healing existed, it is unclear how nonspecific “energy” can enhance specific self-healing processes within the body. Their conclusion has been that testing is inconclusive at best and that clinical evidence does not indicate spiritual healing is an effective means of symptom management.
. . . Prayer brings about significant changes in a variety of living beings.
Yet, according to research conducted by leading spiritual healthcare expert, medical doctor, and author Larry Dossey, there is an enormous body of evidence pointing to the effectiveness of prayer in the healing process. He found over one hundred experiments exhibiting the criteria of “good science,” many conducted under stringent laboratory conditions, over half of which showed that prayer brings about significant changes in a variety of living beings.
Dr. Dossey writes:
These studies showed clearly that prayer can take many forms. Results occurred not only when people prayed for explicit outcomes, but also when they prayed for nothing specific. Some studies, in fact, showed that a simple ‘Thy will be done’ approach was quantitatively more powerful than when specific desired results were held in the mind. In many experiments, a simple attitude of prayerfulness––an all-pervading sense of holiness and a feeling of empathy, caring, and compassion for the entity in need––seemed to set the stage for healing.
Dr. Dossey was so convinced of the power of healing prayer he incorporated it in his own practice.
Other studies have shown prayer can prevent people from getting sick—and when they do get sick, prayer can help them get better faster.
Prayer is the most frequently used form of alternative medicine.
In the United States, prayer is the most frequently used form of alternative medicine. According to integrative health expert Dr. Wayne Jonas, Surveys indicate that nearly 90% of patients with serious illness will engage in prayer for the alleviation of their suffering or disease. And in research conducted by Dr. Christina Puchalski, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, she found that after oral pain medication prayer is the second most common method of pain management, and the most common non-drug method of pain management.
So, obviously, the purpose of healing prayer is for the person being prayed for to get well. And what does that mean? Well, physical healing of course, the return of the body to good health and well-being. But are there other types of healing involved? The answer is yes.
Healing encompasses a broad range of positive outcomes.
Healing encompasses a broad range of positive outcomes, including a person’s emotional, spiritual, and psychological outlook as well as the health of the physical body. It has been shown that healing prayers help with stress management, lifting the person prayed over from despair. She or he knows they are not isolated and alone, thus sheltering them from needless mental and emotional suffering, promoting peace of mind, and conveying a sense of being in community. Prayer offers new meaning, purpose, hope, and a sense of guidance or control. These perceptions may help instill a fighting spirit, which has been reported to be an important factor in healing. Prayer can enrich the quality of one’s life and also bring a feeling of peace and acceptance at the time of death.
One word for ‘health’ in Hebrew, ‘shalom,’ also means wholeness, safety, or peace. In Christian contexts healing generally included forgiveness, just as Jesus often forgave sins and healed bodies at the same time.
Health is a gift but is subordinate to the higher gift of salvation.
Pope Benedict XVI teaches us that health is a gift but is subordinate to the higher gift of salvation. He explained it this way in a Sunday address:
This Sunday’s Gospel presents Jesus healing ten lepers, of whom only one, a Samaritan and therefore a foreigner, returned to thank him (see Lk 17:11–19). The Lord said to him: ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well’ (Lk 17:19). This Gospel passage invites us to a twofold reflection. It first evokes two levels of healing: one, more superficial, concerns the body. The other deeper level touches the innermost depths of the person, what the Bible calls “the heart”, and from there spreads to the whole of a person’s life.
The Pope clarified this idea, stating that:
Complete and radical healing is “salvation.” By making a distinction between “health” and “salvation”, even ordinary language helps us to understand that salvation is far more than health: indeed, it is new, full and definitive life. Furthermore, Jesus here, as in other circumstances, says the words: ‘Your faith has made you whole.’ It is faith that saves human beings, re-establishing them in their profound relationship with God, themselves, and others; . . . (Benedict XVI 2007)
Pope Benedict tells us both how and why healing prayer works with the statement: It is faith that saves human beings. At its core, prayer is about faith. Both the one praying and the one being prayed about must believe and trust that prayer works, that prayer is answered.
Jesus’ emphasis was always on faith and forgiveness.
When healing, Jesus’ emphasis was always on faith and forgiveness rather than the healing itself.
When Jesus healed the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you…” (Mark 5:34).
When Jesus healed two blind men, He said, “. . . According to your faith will it be done to you” (Matthew 9:29).
When Jairus requested healing for his daughter, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, just believe, and she will be healed” (Luke 8:50).
And in Acts we read, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong” (Acts 3:16).
Faith is the foundation for healing prayer. And, as spiritual teacher Marcelle Martin in her blog A Whole Heart tells us:
Opening ourselves to be channels of divine healing requires humility. Although we may have strong ideas about what we want to happen, and these ideas may be good, we must let the mysterious power of God come through us without being able to know or control exactly what form healing might take. Even though so much about healing prayer is out of our control, the power is real. We are all invited to be channels of divine healing for others and for the world. If we open up to do so, much healing can happen . . . especially when we unite in doing this collectively. Society itself and human culture can undergo profound transformation and healing as more people join together in praying for collective wholeness and well-being, not only for ourselves but for the planet.
In the Catholic Church, prayers for intercession are part of every Mass and those attending often ask the congregation to pray for the health of someone who is sick or hospitalized. In Judaism, a prayer for the sick is a regular part of services, and members of the synagogue may either call out the names of individuals who are ill or ask the rabbi to announce them. In the Muslim faith, members of the congregation may ask the imam to say a special prayer for a person who is sick, with the congregation affirming the prayer. And here at One World healing prayer is a regular part of our weekly gathering.
Physical healing should lead to spiritual healing.
Physical healing should lead to spiritual healing, and it will if we have the faith that God still heals people as he did two thousand years ago.
Healing is a spiritual gift that presupposes an unshakeable trust in God. Yet, even the most heartfelt and fervent prayer is not a guarantee of a return to perfect health, and when healing doesn’t happen, it is faith that sustains us. As we learn in the Book of Romans, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us––they help us learn to endure” (NLT, Romans 5:3).
Good health can be desired and asked for, but if we remain sick, despite doing our part and following the medical advice, we should surrender to circumstances with the faith and trust advised by St. Teresa:
For though I bore my illness most joyfully, I still wanted to get well. But sometimes I reflected that I might regain my health and yet be lost, and that it would be better to stay as I was. But I always thought that I should serve God much better if I recovered. This is our mistake, never to resign ourselves absolutely to what the Lord does, though He knows best what suits us.
Healing prayer does not replace the care that comes through the scientific community, nor does it promise a cure. Regardless of the outcome, turning to the Divine in prayer will soothe the spirit and bring peace.
Healing prayer, spiritual healing, energy healers.
So far, I’ve been talking about healing prayer, or spiritual healing. But I want to take a moment to mention energy healing.
Generally speaking, energy healers are concerned with the sick person’s body and the physical symptoms of the disease. These healers direct their energy outward and concentrate on replenishing or changing the energy flow of the patient, although many energy healers also use prayer in their practice as a form of energy healing. Examples of energy healing include reiki, therapeutic touch, qigong, and pranic healing. Psychic healers are also able to relieve symptoms, often from a distance with their minds.
A spiritual healer is primarily concerned with a way of being and allows divine consciousness to express itself through the healer to the inner levels of the person being prayed for. Spiritual healers channel energy through themselves, directing it to the body, mind, and spirit and re-energizing patients to start the healing process at a level deep inside.
But where does this energy come from, and who is actually doing the healing?
But where does this energy come from, and who is actually doing the healing? The spiritual gift of healing is one of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, originally given to the Apostles to help them fulfill their mission. This charism, or gift of healing, has been passed on, and can bring all types of healing to those in need, including physical, emotional, psychological, and relationship needs. Those who have this gift are compassionate toward the sick and pray over them regularly. They have great faith and trust that God can and will heal some, and are not deterred when others are not completely healed. Their ultimate concern is the spiritual well-being of those being healed and their relationship with the Divine. Spiritual healers try every method of healing God gives them, but the actual healing always comes from God at His discretion.
However, there are conditions for receiving and persevering in the charismatic life of a spiritual healer: faith and trust in the divine; purity of heart; diligence in meditation for guidance from the Divine; a life of prayer; a desire to serve with unconditional love; study with other experienced healers, and openness to being a conduit of Spirit. The gift of healing must be strengthened through constant personal prayer and the practice of praying for the sick. The more this gift is practiced, the stronger it manifests.
Although some healers go through a training process, many develop their healing gifts on their own. Whether or not you have the charismatic gift of healing, you can still offer meaningful and expectant healing prayers through your relationship with the Divine and the authority that gives you. Any caring person can develop a certain amount of healing ability through meditation, prayer, and practice.
Thy will be done.
Most ministers of healing suggest that we be specific in our prayer, that we visualize as clearly as possible what we are asking God to heal. Such a specific request can enliven our own faith. It may also stimulate the faith of the sick person as she or he listens and pictures in their own mind what we are asking God to do, helping that person become more actively involved in the prayer. Ending every prayer with gratitude and the words “Thy will be done” also helps the person being prayed over to understand and accept that healing is not granted to everyone, and that not being healed is not a tragedy or a reflection on who we are.
Healing is a sacred art, a divine process in which healing the body first requires healing the spirit. And to heal both requires faith, faith in the Divine as well as faith in the scientific and medical community.
And that is not fantasy; that’s fact.
And so it is.
About Rev. Christine Kell
Rev. Chris Kell is an Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister, an ordained graduate of One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, a graduate of the Priestess Emergence Process, and a Certified Life Success Consultant. She has a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, with concentrations in Women’s Studies and Small Group Communication, and post-graduate studies in Feminine Spirituality. Rev. Chris has a deep appreciation for the aspirations of the human spirit. She has been fortunate in discovering how nurturing and supportive a positive environment can be, how it encourages spiritual strength and expands the possibilities for living a good life. Her goal is to be a catalyst for others in envisioning and discovering for themselves a spiritually enriched life. She can be reached at Rev.ChristineKell@gmail.com.
Today’s reading comes from Sacred Healing: The Curing Power of Energy and Spirituality by C. Norman Shealy, M.D.
What is sacred healing? You have heard of spiritual healing, but sacred? What’s the difference?
Spiritual is “of, relating to, or concerned with the soul or spirit” according to Webster’s New Lexicon Dictionary . . . “The animating or vital principle” of life.
Sacred means “holy,” “consecrated,” or related to “worship of God.” The spirit is part of that which is created by God, but sacred implies a reverence for God itself. And if you are one who believes in God . . . then sacred implies a reverence for all things created by God. Thus, sacred includes a reverence for life itself, for the principles of life, and for all that sustains life. In this sense, all healing is sacred, and all therapies intended for healing are sacred.
Our state of consciousness, our choice of relation to the divine and the sacred, is under our control. It is ultimately consciousness and our attunement to the divine that determine health, nurturing, love, a desire to do good. A positive, cheerful, optimistic attitude and self-motivation are as important as diet and exercise – and, yes, all aspects of modern medicine – in determining health and healing.
“Spirit, Give Me Faith” written by Asha Lightbearer
“Help Is on Its Way” written by Glenn Barrie Shorrock
This service aired on July 18, 2021