Practices

Healing

“Healing is an indispensable part of the coming wholeness that God intends for all creation.”

— John Koenig

Introduction

Thoughts and questions to help you consider this practice

The practice of healing is a central part of the reconciling activity of God in the world.

Healing events are daily signs of the divine mercy that is surging through the world and guiding it toward its final perfection. This is true whether they take place by the sharing of chicken soup, the performance of delicate surgery, or the laying on of hands in a service of worship.

The paradox of healing

Illness, injury, and psychological distress dog virtually our every step. Serious illness brings us to where life and death meet. What do we mean by "healing"? Is it the same thing as being cured? What is the difference between a cure and wholeness?

The Gospels are full of stories of healing (Mark 3:1, 5:25, and 7:25, for example). What do these stories tell us about Jesus' priority of health and wholeness? What role, if any, does suffering take in forming or testing a person's character?

For Christians, life and death meet at the cross. This mysterious paradox means that we may be hurting desperately, but we can simultaneously experience peace and strength. What testimonies have you heard in which illness brought someone closer to God and to loved ones, feeling more alive than ever before? When have you seen some new kind of health come even when physical illness continues or even ends in death?

Christian healing, then and now

The early church considered healing prayer and laying on of hands as part of its mission. Over the centuries, however, the Christian emphasis on healing has waxed and waned. In what dire circumstances might the church instead emphasize preparation for death? Is it the same as healing? Why or why not? What effect has thinking of spirit and body as separate from each other had on the ministry of healing?

How do you understand the relationship between "faith cures," faith, and modern medicine? How has this understanding changed over time, for you and in society at large?

Congregational ministries of healing

The media makes us all too aware of our vulnerability. What effect do daily reports on environmental hazards, violence, pathology, poverty, or genocide have on our hopes for healing? How might our Christian heritage of healing help us to live with hope in this context?

How have we let healing activities become separate from congregational life? What connection could they have? What new conceptions of healing can the church offer people who suffer from chronic illness? How might people who struggle together for healing become “priests” of faith and love to each other?

What shape might your congregation's healing ministry take? In what ways can people who aren't health care professionals be part of a healing ministry (Matthew 10:1; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1-2; Acts 3:1-10, 4:30, 9:32-43)?

Healers

How can the congregation support health care professionals in their midst — when they make mistakes, when they're too busy to attend to both body and spirit, when they forget to connect their faith and profession? How does our health care system drive wedges between those trained in healing arts and those who require their talents? What effect does the current climate of litigation and high health care costs have on the ministry of healing?

What kind of healing can liturgies offer — confession, anointing, laying on of hands, Eucharist? Jesus models for us how preaching, teaching, and healing combine to form a seamless garment. How can we make healing ministries of the church more integrated, more normal, more public?

  • Notice the many ways in which people of faith can fulfill their call to be healers: for example, as medical personnel or chaplains, by supporting organizations that promote wholeness and healing for the environment, by joining recovery programs that address their own need for healing or by making space and support for such programs available to others, by volunteering in hospices, by visiting one another in the hospital, by reclaiming the practice of therapeutic touch, by taking care of family members who have the flu, etc.
  • Invite health care professionals in your worshiping community to reflect on how they practice their faith in their daily work of healing.
  • Organize a workshop on relaxation techniques for your group or church.
  • Open your church facility to an exercise group, an addictions recovery group, or a support group for people with chronic illness.
  • Find out if your denominational worship book includes a service of prayer or anointing for the sick (e.g., "Ministration to the Sick" in the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer, 1979). If your own church does not have such a resource, borrow a book from one that does and consider the gestures and prayers of this service.
  • Make an inventory of the places in your community or life where healing takes place (medical facilities, your congregation, your home). Do some of these places offer wholeness more than physical cure?
  • Bring a meal to someone who is healing from physical or emotional injury, or organize a visitation or meal schedule.
Doctor speaking with patient and smiling

Links

  • Stephen Ministries: Stephen Ministries is a not-for-profit Christian education organization founded in 1975 that produces training and resources known for their excellence, practicality, psychological integrity, and theological depth. These resources cover topics such as caring ministry, assertive relating, spiritual gifts discovery, grief support, spiritual growth, and more.

Worship Materials

"Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits...They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them."

— Mark 6:7,13

Call and response litany

(based on the hymn "O Healing River")

One: O God, like a healing river,
send down your waters,

Response: Send down your waters
upon this land.

One: Wash the blood from off the sand.

Response: Wash the pain from out of our hands.

One: This land is parching.

Response: God, we are parching.

One: This land is thirsting.

Response: God, we are thirsting.

One: O healing river,
send down your waters,

Response: O healing river,
send your waters down.

One: Let the seed of healing awake and flourish,

Response: Let the deep roots nourish, let the tall stalks rise.

One: O healing river
send down your waters,

Response: O healing river, from out of the skies.

— Lani Wright, Cottage Grove, Oregon

Group of women praying together
Two women praying together

Hymns

Healer of Our Every Ill

"Healer of our every ill, Light of each tomorrow..."
Text and music: Marty Haugen
Text and music copyright (c) 1987 G.I.A. Publications

At Even, ere the Sun was Set

"At even, ere the sun was set, the sick, O Lord, around thee lay..."
Text: Henry Twells

There Is a Balm in Gilead

"There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole..."
Text and music: African-American spiritual

Books & Films

Read more about Heal Thyself: Spirituality, Medicine, and the Distortion of Christianity
Heal Thyself: Spirituality, Medicine, and the Distortion of Christianity
Joel James Schuman and Keith G. Meador

Heal Thyself argues that popular culture’s fascination with the health benefits of religion reflects not the renaissance of religious tradition but the powerful combination of consumer capitalism and self-interested individualism. A faith-for-health exchange misrepresents and devalues the true meaning of faith.

Read more about Healing in the Landscape of Prayer
Healing in the Landscape of Prayer
Avery Brooke

The ministry of healing prayer goes back to our deepest roots, to Jesus of Nazareth, who cared for those suffering in body and in spirit. As his followers, you are challenged — and empowered — to do the same.

Read more about Healing and Christianity
Healing and Christianity
Morton Kelsey

The classic history of healing in the Christian church from biblical times to the present.

Read more about Suffering Presence: Theological Reflections on Medicine, the Mentally Handicapped, and the Church
Suffering Presence: Theological Reflections on Medicine, the Mentally Handicapped, and the Church
Stanley Hauerwas

In Suffering Presence, ethicist Stanley Hauerwas delivers a well-formed theological perspective that illuminates the moral life, particularly medical care and the care of children and the handicapped.

Read more about Stretch Out Your Hand: Exploring Healing Prayer
Stretch Out Your Hand: Exploring Healing Prayer
Tilda Norberg and Robert D. Webber

Stretch Out Your Hand offers practical ways for us to consider the varieties of God’s healing love for individuals, institutions, and communities.

Read more about Awakenings
Awakenings

Based on the book by Dr. Oliver Sacks, Awakenings takes place in 1969 in a Bronx chronic-care hospital for those with the most profound neurological diseases. Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a gentle and shy neurologist, investigates why these patients — misdiagnosed as schizophrenics and hysterics — have been catatonic for years. Sayer develops a close relationship with Leonard Lowe, the first patient to receive experimental treatment and “awake” from dormancy.

Read more about Leading Causes of Life: Five Fundmentals to Change the Way You Live Your Life
Leading Causes of Life: Five Fundmentals to Change the Way You Live Your Life
Gary Gunderson and Larry M. Pray

What do you think about when you talk about life and death? This is the question that sent Gary Gunderson on a journey toward life, realizing that if death defines our efforts, then it will win every time.

Read more about Healing in the History of Christianity
Healing in the History of Christianity
Amanda Porterfield

In this book, Amanda Porterfield demonstrates that healing has played a major role in the historical development of Christianity as a world religion.

What Others Are Doing

Read more about Francis Collins: Science is ‘a glimpse of God’s mind’
iStock / Filo
Read more about What Paul teaches us about coping with trauma
"Saint Paul" by El Greco
Read more about John Swinton: Helping Christians with mental health issues starts with better language
iStock / AgsAndrew

Resources

read more about Do You Want to Be Made Well?

Do You Want to Be Made Well?

Lorraine Brugh

This sermon based on John 5:1-9 was preached at the Chapel of the Resurrection, Valparaiso University.

read more about Being Healed

Being Healed

Kimberly Clayton

This sermon based on Matthew 9:18-26 was preached at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina.

read more about To Make the Wounded Whole

To Make the Wounded Whole

Kenneth Carter

This sermon based on James 5:13-20 was preached at Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC on September 28, 2003.