Healing as Sacrament

The Resurrection of the Body

Chapter 11

There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies; and the splendour of the heavenly bodies is one thing, the splendour of the earthly another. The sun has a splendour of its own, the moon another splendour and the stars another, for star differs from star in brightness. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown in the earth as a perishable thing is raised imperishable. Sown in humiliation, it is raised in glory; sown in weakness, it is raised in power; sown as an animal body, it is raised as a spiritual body. (1 Cor. 15:40-4)

The end of human existence is to make real the divine spark within so that man may transcend his animal limitations and come to share in the very being of God, to quote 2 Peter 1:4 once more. This does not imply a negative view of our animal inheritance, that it is bad and has to be expunged; it affirms the holiness of all matter as a sacrament to be handled with love and reverence. But whereas the animal creation is mutable and destined to deterioration and death, the spiritual promise is one of growth beyond the limitation of our animal nature so that we may know and experience the life of eternity.

The spiritual body of which St Paul speaks is not to be seen merely as a vestment for the soul separated from the physical body at the time of death, suddenly taking the place of that perishable thing. It is rather to be envisaged as something we are building up even now while we are actively engaged in the life of the world. Its bricks and mortar are the thoughts we discharge into the psychic atmosphere, the attitudes we bring with us in our daily work, and above all the depth and veracity of relationship we create with those around us. According to the outgiving service and love we bestow on others - indeed on life itself - so is the spiritual body fashioned and refined. The more enclosed and selfish our ideals and attitudes and the more predatory our relationships with others, the more imperfect and threadbare is the spiritual body we are forming unobtrusively day by day, until the time that night comes when we can do no further work.

The purpose of spiritual healing is to open the portals of the personality to the full impact of the Holy Spirit so that what was once shuttered and isolated can now be brought to face the spiritual light of God. In one instance this opening of the personality to reality may be effected by a remarkable physical healing, such as the many wrought by Jesus during his ministry among us. On other occasions a dramatic mental healing may be the precursor of a complete change in outlook on life. The miracles of deliverance reported in the Gospel come into this category of mental renewal, remembering that possession is at most an added focus of disturbance in an already deranged personality. The prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-2 is the quintessence of all healing: bringing good news to the humble, binding up the broken-hearted, proclaiming liberty to captives, releasing the prisoners, proclaiming a year of the Lord's favour and comforting the mourner.

These manifold works that are the heart of true healing are performed by proclaiming the word of God, which is given to us when we are in attentive contemplation by the Holy Spirit, and then living that Word in our own lives. We remember that the name of the Word, when it became flesh and dwelt among us, was Jesus. The Christ life in us brings us close to the Holy Spirit, who transfigures in turn all who are disordered and stultified, so that they too come to be manifest sons of God, in something of the likeness of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The good news for the humble is that the kingdom of God is here, so that the hearts of all who are available to give themselves to Him are filled with His Spirit. The broken-hearted are restored by the ever-present love of God and inspired by the vision of a completeness of love that embraces all people; in this way their immediate, scarcely bearable tragedy is illuminated by a universal fellowship of all people living the life of Christ. The captives are liberated from the prison of their own minds, the walls of which are the unconscious elements of previous experiences as yet submerged and unassimilated. The radiant light of God's compassion enlightens these dark places of the soul, exposing invidious complexes to the blaze of full understanding, and then healing them. The Lord's favour is proclaimed by the healing powers that emanate from his ministers, so that the healing energies dormant in all people may be activated and blessed through the intercession of those who serve God in this great ministry. The mourner is comforted by the intimate communion he is granted with the beloved on the other side of death. This is a spontaneous, completely unpremeditated awareness of the unity of all life that is conveyed by the beloved in his new understanding acquired in the life beyond death. In this unity of life we are all, potentially at least, members of the Communion of Saints, and death is put in its proper perspective as an experience of transition from a limited, ego-centred type of consciousness to a more embracing fellowship with many people in a soul-centred consciousness. Here love is the centre and end of existence.

All life is punctuated by little deaths, in which the certainties of the past are rudely and irreversibly disrupted by a new event of the present. In adapting ourselves to the demands of the moment at hand, we learn with great alacrity to jettison old ways of thinking and to enter into a new mode of existence. By the time we come to spiritual maturity, at least in this world, we grasp the essential truth that we own nothing here at all. Our possessions are here to help us grow into more caring, responsible people - whether these possessions be material, intellectual or even relationships with other people whom we sincerely believe we love - but at the final death of this earthly life we have only ourselves with the spiritual body which has been assiduously constructed on the experiences of that life. As we are at the end, so we shall start in the new life ahead of us, but without a physical body under which our baser emotions and more shady intentions can be hidden. "We brought nothing into the world; for that matter we cannot take anything with us when we leave, but if we have food and covering we may rest content" (1 Tim. 6:7-8). The food of life is to work to God's honour and glory and the benefit of those around us; the covering is the spiritual body which will outlast all the vicissitudes of this life and be with us in the life beyond death.

There comes a time in the healing process when the person can be prepared to make the final renunciation. "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14:36). These great words of Christ heralded his supreme healing work for humankind, the assumption of all human dread and humiliation, so that the full burden could be resurrected into the light of a greater forgiveness and understanding. While it is right that we should strive for healing of the physical body and mind in this world so long as it is yet day, there comes the night when work is finished and we have to submit in patient trust to the processes of transition to a greater life than we can as yet grasp. This applies not only to those who are terminally ill after having engaged in a prolonged, heroic fight against mounting adversity, but also those whose lives have been thwarted from birth because of irremediable physical or mental handicap. In the mute waiting that attends these tragic episodes the soul grows into a nobility of compassion that is often denied the activist in all his social concern. This growth of the soul into ultimate compassion applies not only to the afflicted one but also to those who attend him and watch with pained impotence his decline and death. We have to learn that healing is completed only when we can give of ourselves unconditionally to God's service, whose nature is constructive and whose end is a loving restoration of all things in the divine image, an image revealed definitively in Christ.

In the glorious resurrection of Jesus it would appear that even his tortured physical body was miraculously changed, so that it too contributed its quota to the spiritual body in which he revealed himself subsequently to the disciples. To the modern mind such a transmutation of coarse, perishable material elements to spiritual radiance seems beyond belief; and indeed is outside the scope of such scientific understanding as we can at present muster. But the tradition, recorded faithfully in all four gospels, stands, and we would be wise to respect it even if we cannot fathom its mechanism in the current state of our knowledge. The phenomenon of spiritual healing, in which a dramatic physical change may follow closely on prayer or the laying-on of hands, does point to a mutability of the outer body that is not generally conceded in the obtuse mental climate of everyday life. The body, closely connected as it is with the mind and emotions, is in all probability less solid and more subject to subtle changes than is generally assumed. Studies in psychosomatic medicine and psychical phenomena are shedding increasing light on the plastic nature of matter generally and of the physical body in particular. If nuclear power is the result of a destructive conversion of matter to energy, it may transpire that spiritual healing is the result of a constructive effect of energy on living matter which is raised to a heightened potentiality of function and response. This energy is essentially psychic in nature, emanating from the living vibrancy of the soul. In St Paul's great mystical vision of Romans 8:21, the entire universe is to be freed from the shackles of mortality to enter upon the liberty and splendour of the children of God.

These thoughts must necessarily remain tentative in our present state of knowledge, but the well-attested phenomena of paranormal healing make them at least worthy of serious consideration. The material universe is indeed a sacrament of God's unceasing providence to His creatures, and it too has an eternal place in the divine economy. Quoting St Paul once more, this time in the context of the passage that prefixed this chapter, when death is swallowed up in victory, the perishable thing will be raised up imperishable, not only on a personal level, but also on a cosmic scale. Such, at any rate, is the promise of universal redemption in Christ. Admittedly our own physical bodies are to return to the dust of the earth from whose elements they were initially fashioned. But at the time of the Lord's second coming, to which all the great religious traditions, in their own way, look forward, it may well be that the dust of the earth will itself be fully spiritualized in the way indicated by the change in Christ's own physical body. It is certain that flesh and blood can never possess the kingdom of God, and the perishable cannot possess immortality (1 Cor. 15:50). St Paul at this point expounds a "mystery" of sudden transmutation, which is in fact a common factor in all mystical experience. At once the mortal life opens up into eternity, which is not a never-ending time sequence but rather a state of being beyond the confines of space and time in which all creatures are in union with God and with each other. At last they realize their unique nature when they have relinquished themselves entirely to life in the power of love. They are now authentically parts of the one body, whose nature is Christ himself (1 Cor. 12:27). It is then that the end comes, when Christ delivers up the kingdom to God the Father, after abolishing every kind of domination, authority and power (1 Cor. 15:24). On one level this can easily be dismissed as mere ecstatic exuberance, but on a deeper note it is the end to which the whole created universe moves, as is glimpsed in supreme mystical illumination.

These enriching thoughts furthermore serve to remind us that a full bodily resurrection is not merely an individual event; it is above all communal and finally universal. It involves a renewal of human society, the whole living world, which we use so carelessly and treat so shabbily, and ultimately the entire cosmos. Therefore the ministry of healing cannot exclude aesthetics, remembering the powerful effect for good or ill that music, the plastic arts and literature have on the human psyche. Nor is the healing of the world oblivious of economics, politics and the conservation of the earth's resources. This does not imply that any particular economic theory or political party is the right one, but the Spirit of God must infuse and transfigure all theories and parties so that they may radiate love and reconciliation where at present there is intransigence, intolerance and hatred. We have to learn the supreme lesson of Christ of loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors (Mat. 5:44). This is neither easy nor can it be contrived mechanically, like the ritual worship devoid of a living relationship with God and one's fellows that was so vehemently denounced by the prophets of Israel; especially Amos and Isaiah. It requires nothing less than a self-giving unto death, if need be, for the sake of truth and righteousness, with the promise of resurrection granted by God himself - for there is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). In this respect that which is evil serves to diminish the human personality; enslaving it to the predatory will of a power-hungry individual often hiding beneath a plausible ideology. By contrast, the good inspires the human personality with the vision of God in whose service alone there is perfect freedom, because in that service the personality is transfigured from splendour to splendour into his likeness; this is the influence of the Lord who is Spirit, to quote for the last time from 2 Corinthians 3:18.

Love combats evil with the intention of saving those under its thraldom and ultimately transfiguring its energies so that they may be harnessed for constructive healing activity. When we give up our life for our friends, we remember, in accordance with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), that our friend is our immediate neighbour on the road of life, the stranger whom we encounter on our own road to Emmaus. Therefore Christ is in our neighbour, and is our neighbour also. He is our never-failing friend. Humanity is closer to ourself than our own superficial identity, and in Christ our humanity leads us to a knowledge of God himself. In Christ our humanity touches all life, indeed all creation. It is in dying for humanity in self-giving love that we raise all people to eternal life; and the risen human being starts the raising of all the creatures of the earth. "In truth, in very truth I tell you, a grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls into the ground and dies; but if it dies, it bears a rich harvest" (John 12:24). This is the essence of an understanding of healing at its highest.

It follows that a true resurrection of the body finds its realization in the new man full of the Holy Spirit. There is a spiritualization of the rational mind, the emotions and the entire psychic life of the person. The healings of Jesus were something more than a restoration of a diseased part or organ to proper function so that the person could start to lead a normal life once more; they were also a sign that the kingdom of God was very near to the sufferer, and that the end of his travail, now so miraculously relieved, was that he. should live the risen life, even the life of Christ: the life I now live is not my life, but the life which Christ lives in me, to quote Galatians 2:20 for the last time, as in the concluding bars of a great piece of music, the very symphony of life itself.

As Christ himself is a symbol of the common man in his glory and his agony, with the miraculous resurrection as the climactic culmination of the whole of human life, so the healings wrought by Jesus are true sacraments: outer and visible signs of an inner and spiritual grace. The end of the process is spiritual transfiguration, whereby the purely human now assumes something of the divinity in which it was originally conceived. The kingdom of God in everyday life is one of harmonious interaction between many different types of people, now restored to health and with a vision of reality that transcends mere selfish clinging and desire. Thus the outer manifestation of physical and mental healing presages the complete transformation of the human personality into something of the nature of God.

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