The Quest for Wholeness


Chapter 11

This account of the deeper implications of the healing process began with the ministry of three people with an outstanding, though quite individual, gift. It seems right to consider their end and what they bequeathed to others in the hope that we who follow on may continue their work which has ignited the divine flame within us. The Holy Spirit is unceasingly about his business of renewing all things by a creative act that transmutes the old order, establishing it in the light of a continuing revelation.

Constance Peters, whose ministry released me from an incapacitating nasal obstruction and led me in the direction of my own spiritual work, succeeded so well in her own endeavours that her Science of Life Fellowship, supported by an excellent Bible-based newsletter, was able to acquire more spacious quarters. She was therefore able to leave her rather cramped flat and move into a fine detached house in a decidedly more attractive part of London. However, the expansion brought its own problems along with it. There were disagreements among the committee which insidiously undermined the Fellowship, and the roar of aircraft overhead at peak hours of travel (the house, unbeknown to the committee at the time of purchase, lay in the direct route of aircraft flying to and from London's great international airport) disturbed the peace of the place. Nevertheless, Constance's work continued with a devoted group of friends, and the Sunday meditation-healing service was especially beautiful. In the midst of her work she was suddenly assailed by an agonizing pain in the chest, and she died a few hours later. Thus it was that a dedicated healing ministry of many years' duration was brought to an abrupt end by a severe heart attack.

Her death occurred twelve years after my own healing in the church at Brighton. Many of her past associates had moved far from her both in locality and in the sphere of their interests, but her funeral was very well attended by many who had been close to her in the past. One could, nevertheless, not fail to sense the loneliness of a woman - the essence of affability and fun as she was - who was greatly separated in spirit from those around her. Gifts isolate, no matter how generous one may be in their bestowal on others. The work of the Fellowship was continued for a time by an especially close friend from a base outside London, but after a few years it ceased in that form. Many still have cause to remember Constance with gratitude.

Mary Macaulay, the courageous voice of spiritual truth in psychological and social trends, was also to see her Iona Education Centre grind gradually to a halt. It was her defect in not being able to delegate her teaching work to her followers that brought about this decline, though it must be admitted that few of them could have assumed the full burden of her ministry or have spoken with her unique authority. The 1960s were times of extreme social, psychological and spiritual experimentation, and Mary's approach was too traditional for the radical element while far too adventurous for both professional educationalists in colleges and workers in religious institutions. She was often her own worst enemy in her inability to understand the qualms of intelligent critics. As the centre failed to attract visitors, so she lost heart and consoled herself by eating far too much when she was alone. This was, of course, a compensation for her terrible feeling of frustration as she witnessed her creation wither away through the sheer indifference of the outside world. She became increasingly overweight, her blood pressure rose to a dangerously high level, and in due course she suffered a massive stroke that left the right side of her body paralysed and her speech reduced to gibberish.

Mary spent nearly two years in a nursing home for incapacitated old people, where she was greatly loved. The erstwhile impatience, irritation and resentment that had so marred her happiness and peace of mind yielded to a mute acceptance of life around her. She flowed out in love to all who knew her, nurses and fellow-patients alike. Even holding her hand seemed to impart a blessing from her, and the other patients enjoyed visiting her. The unhappy, querulous old woman of the past had matured into a being of warmth and light, the very model of the fully actualized person she had envisaged in her only book called Understanding Ourselves. It has long been out of print, and in any case much of its message is now a part of social teaching and spiritual guidance - at least in the work of enlightened educationalists and ministers of religion. There were many points of contact between her views and those of well-known psychoanalysts, except that she was not afraid to stress the spiritual component of personality and its possible development in the life beyond death.

It is, however, one thing to write about spiritual and emotional maturity and another to practise it in the harsh environment of the dissonant, insensitive society around one. What she could not do when still active she put into practice with great poignancy in her childlike openness as she lay helpless in bed murmuring her strangely attractive, unintelligible, babbling language which was punctuated by words that could with difficulty be identified. I always recall "boysan girls" and "bisher-bosher", which succeeded the first words as she grew weaker. When she died there was a sense of mourning for her in the home. The nursing staff knew they had lost a source of love whose radiance illuminated so much of the heavy ritual of caring for patients with senile dementia and other degenerative conditions of the brain, to say nothing of the equally tragic diseases of the limbs and joints that so immobilize elderly patients. In those days, joint-replacement operations were very much in the experimental stage.

The centre closed soon after her death. It had been maintained by the devotion of Freda, who could not bear the thought of Mary recovering sufficiently to continue her work and finding nowhere to go. On one level this was pathetic sentimentality - as if the victim of a stroke of such severity could ever recover sufficiently to lead an independent existence! But it was in fact a measure of Freda's great love, incapacitated as she was by her poor vision and generally feeble condition. I often feel that Mary's mantle fell on my shoulders and that I am the true inheritor and propagator of her wisdom. To be sure, I have progressed in my own thinking and practice since those far-off days (she died in 1971), and yet the older I become, the more often do I find that my words are a development of her themes rather than a new trend of thought. But who can claim an absolute originality for any idea, since the Holy Spirit alone is the true source! She was an innovator in her own particular field, and the ultimate fruit of her largely disregarded labours will be seen in the lives of generations to come. We may hope that the experimental permissiveness of the 1960s and the somewhat intolerant conformist trends of the 1980s will eventually attain a balance, even a synthesis, through inspired spiritual instruction of the type that Mary pioneered from the period of the Second World War up to the time of her death some thirty years later. I am frequently aware of her spiritual presence encouraging me in my own solitary path as I proclaim the message in speech and writing.

Ronald Beesley, who initiated me decisively into the healing ministry, has remained the most shadowy of my three mentors. I lost contact with him several years after my two weeks' stay at his healing centre which he called the "College of Psychotherapeutics". I was less close to him, either emotionally or spiritually, than to Mary and Constance. His healing centre was some distance away from London, and his phenomenal psychic powers were peripheral to my particular way: a devotion to spiritual growth as expounded by the world's great mystical tradition, the perennial philosophy that we have already considered. I continued to hear about the fine work he was doing in healing and psychic counselling and also as a teacher of increasing stature. An impressive body of disciples followed him, and he took groups of them to centres of spiritual power in Europe and the Holy Land. I never felt any special inclination to follow him either in his healing practice or on his travels, much as I revered his expertise and rejoiced in his assistance to so many different types of people. And yet I was never far from his warm, healing presence, no matter how much our paths might have diverged. He died tragically in a road-traffic accident when he and a group of his followers were on tour in India. I have heard it said that he had had misgivings about this particular tour - one among so many in his active life - but in the end he decided to go. It is clear that the die was cast before the journey, and he went to his death with his usual courage and good humour. His work continues to be propagated by some of his closest associates. I am told that they are doing very good work both in teaching and healing. However, a psychic genius of Ronald's stature would be hard to emulate. Gifts come from God, but teaching can be perpetuated by human sources in contact with the master.

The life of Jesus illustrates this principle especially well, except that his teaching, transmitted by an oral tradition, is sometimes fragmented and also probably excessively biased against the Pharisees who, after all, were the bastions of the Jewish spirituality of that time, and whose views, especially concerning the life of the world to come, had features in common with that of the early Christian proclamation. On the one hand, the written law is more immediately authoritative than the oral tradition, but on the other it can be so revered in its own right that it is in danger of becoming a prison rather than a way of life. I personally do not regret that Jesus left us no authentic written records, for he too was a child of his particular time and place and therefore inevitably subject to its limitations. This is the meaning of incarnation and also its price. But the essence of his teachings is eternally true. "The written law condemns to death, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6).

When I meditate upon the lives of these three gifted people, I sense that their loneliness was profound even when they were surrounded by crowds of admirers. My thoughts go back also to Jesus' isolation even in the midst of his well-meaning but obtuse disciples. He said to one doctor of the law who offered to follow him wherever he went; "Foxes have holes, the birds their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Matthew 8:19-20). In the collateral account of Luke 9:57-58, it is a man on the road who makes this offer of discipleship. I do not believe that Jesus is stressing the frugality of his life so much as its unceasing labour. He is out so frequently on his mission, and therefore either living rough or in somebody else's house, that he has no permanent home of his own. Though extremely well-known, he is yet essentially a visitor, indeed a stranger. So, of course, are we all during our brief sojourn in this world, but the spiritual pioneer can no longer hide himself among the throng. He has to stand out from it, proclaim his mission, and wait for acclaim, misunderstanding, death and final resurrection in the path of the One who shows the way: Jesus Christ (and all those who preceded him in the work of faith, whose actions are celebrated so unforgettably in Hebrews 11).

I myself was led quite ineluctably in the way of service to the Church as the fulfilment of my own healing ministry. It was in 1966 - five years before I was received into the Church - that I saw Ronald Beesley for what chanced to be the last time. He was the speaker at a weekend conference held at the country healing centre (mentioned in a previous chapter) to which Freda had invited him. (Freda was also a friend of Constance Peters; we all seemed to circulate in an orbit of kindred interests even though some paths rarely crossed.) We three were discussing some trivial matter when Ronald suddenly turned to me and said, "Martin, don't get involved in religion". I was stunned at this remark, because religion had always been at the centre of my awareness, and furthermore Ronald was himself a most religious man. In the lovely little chapel of White Lodge, where he lived and did his work at his "College of Psychotherapeutics", he held a Friday evening healing service of a type similar to the one I have described which took place in the Brighton church when Constance Peters ministered so powerfully to me. We sang hymns from a mainstream Christian hymnbook (Congregational Praise). Then he went around laying his hands on the heads of all those present, signing them with the sign of the cross on their foreheads (this applied equally to non-Christians, whether by ignorance, acceptance, or indifference, I have never discovered) at the end of his ministry to them.

But Ronald was alluding to sectarian religious commitment, for he was, quite understandably in view of the repeated rebuffs he had suffered from various ignorant parsons in his younger days, profoundly anti-clerical. He loved Christ but had no time for the ministers of the Church that had sprung up in Christ's name. How often can one sympathize with this point of view until one remembers that without the Church the tradition would have withered away, its contents being lost in the sands of time and covered in the mists of oblivion! He, with his gift of precognition (perhaps it had been mediated by an angelic presence in the world beyond death), saw the trend of my future life, and was appalled at its prospect of a narrowing of my vision as I became increasingly restricted within the carapace of prejudice of an ecclesiastical structure.

To be quite frank, as I have previously stated, this too was my misgiving when the stern portals of the Church loomed ever nearer and I finally prepared myself for ordination. All the qualms I had at that time have, fortunately, been proved groundless. While there are some within the Church who look askance at the least mention of the word "psychic", the prejudice is gradually relaxing, except in fundamentalistic circles devoted to the literal word of Scripture without reference to the many social and intellectual advances that have been made since the Bible was compiled. However, in as broad a tradition as that of Anglicanism, various schools of thought rejoice in a freedom of expression and a privacy of judgement, so that each can learn to live and let live with ever-widening knowledge and deepening charity. The agonizing maturing process teaches us how much we still have to learn and how ephemeral is all theory that does not have love at its core. But until one has finally committed oneself to a definite stance, one is like an undecided traveller hoping vainly to arrive at some destination in due course. In fact, it is the commitment that determines the destination, but the traveller must be constantly aware of the need for changing course as greater knowledge comes to him.

Priesthood conferred on me a power of action and an authority of command that did not exist during the period of my service as a layman in the Church. Apart from the sacramental aspect of ordination, my total commitment enabled God to use me in an altogether more effective ministry. I look for the time when all believers will be priests, but this will happen only when the individual believer is as committed to the Faith as is the minister at the time of his or her own ordination. Then, indeed, God will be with us as an irrefutable inner and outer presence.

For the first seven years of my priesthood I functioned in a non-stipendiary capacity, but then in 1983 I was asked by my diocesan bishop to take charge of the church to which I had already been attached for five years. And so now I am priest-in-charge of a beautiful church behind the Albert Hall in London. The parish is small, comprising some colleges of higher education served by their own chaplains, an army barracks (again with its own chaplain), a small residential area, and much parkland. Nearly all my congregation comes from outside the parish boundaries, some travelling in from a considerable distance to join the worship on Sundays.

At the beginning of 1982, a year before I was made priest-in-charge, I together with my entire peer-group were prematurely retired (on account of stringent economizing) from the medical institute where we taught our various disciplines to postgraduate surgical students. It seems providential, from my point of view, that I was thus relieved of my medical work (though I still do a small amount of teaching in an honorary capacity, for pathology remains a deep love of mine), since I can now devote my efforts more fully to the ministry of healing, counselling, spiritual direction, and deliverance, as well as looking after the fine church that has been put in my charge and where I am supported by a body of devoted worshippers. When, however, I had to face imminent early retirement from my medical post, I felt as if fate had smartly slapped my face, and I was sorely tempted to accept professional employment elsewhere. This would have been highly advantageous financially, but the familiar inner voice (at variance with the advice proffered by "spiritual" friends) told me to devote my time in my own home to those who needed my special ministry: the medical work could be done by another pathologist, but my spiritual work was unique. I did not dare to dream at that time that soon a completely new responsibility was to be laid on my shoulders. My medical career has been, in fact, an essential apprenticeship for a healing ministry of a truly holistic character in which the scientific, psychic and sacramental elements can work side by side, to the greater glory of God.

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