Thomas Keating, C. S. Lewis, Russell M. Nelson on Christian Healing

This post is not about the practice of healing people from illness; it’s about the personal healing experienced in Christian life. In Isaiah’s theophany in chapter 6, the Lord makes an extraordinary statement that has puzzled scholars and scripturists for ages:

And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.

Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

Isaiah 6:9-10, KJV

Here the Lord seems to be telling Isaiah to obfuscate in his communications; to frame his prophetic message in a way that it will not be understood, because the people are not in a place mentally and emotionally to process it in a healthy way. God’s message of healing, if processed in the wrong way, could be warped into a message of triumphalism, nationalism, and other soul-destroying idolatries. We can engage with the gospel with intention of seeking a healing communion with God, or we can use that same gospel to validate our obsessions with enemies, to fashion a god-idol that hates all the people we hate, protects us from discomfort, validates our grievance identity, and so forth. In the contemplative tradition, we would say that we can use religion to fortify and defend our false self.

So what does Christian healing look like? It’s an ongoing process of healing our soul, which then facilitates healing in all our relationships backwards in time and also forward into the future. When communities are oriented around intersectional notions of identity, the lifeblood of those communities is witness testimony of unhealed hurt. In Christian communities that are actually infused with the influence of Christ, the lifelood of those communities is witness testimony of healing.

I was recently listening to a lecture by Thomas Keating, and I had to transcribe a segment because it so perfectly described my own experience of Christian healing:

…and as we read the scriptures now, the light is reflecting back on us our own personal experience of the presence and action of Christ in our lives from the moment we were conceived. Now, everything in our life, no matter what happened to us, no matter what other people did to us, we see the secret hand of God ready to bring good out of that situation, healing our emotional wounds…

…you can’t give away love from a vulnerability that is hurting. That has to be healed first, and that is why the spiritual journey heals every wound in life. It is vastly more powerful as therapy than any psychotherapy. And although therapy is very helpful in identifying the false self system, when one moves into the allegorical level, the spirit reaches so much deeper into our wounds, so much deeper into the psyche, and into our spirit and into our inmost being- no therapy can go to that place.

In the night of spirit – the purification that leads immediately into the unitive life – therapy is of no use at all. Not because it isn’t useful, but its capacity for healing is limited to the faculties and the psychological unconscious, and the allegorical level introduces us into the ontological unconscious. By the psychological unconscious I mean every thing that happened to us in our entire life is thoroughly computerized in the memory bank in the brain, with the trillions of cells that act as chips, and collect all the data of a lifetime, and which relate with the other parts of the brain and parts of the body in that extraordinary networking system which is the brain and nervous system.

Now, that wonderful instrument of receptivity – the brain and nervous system – gets filled with various kinds of tension and stress due to emotional experiences in early childhood that we couldn’t handle well because we didn’t have the reason or it was too traumatic or we felt rejected, not wanted, imposed upon, or whatever. And anger then results from that, and begins to get established in the nervous system and it takes an enormous amount of grace to heal that. That’s what is happening in the allegorical. Because besides this grace of seeing the scriptures as our own life laid out before us, we also perceive the dark side of our personality and the wounds of our lifetime, and believe me, this is what happens: God works backwards from where you are now, what is closest to the surface of your unconscious emerges first; when that’s cleaned out, we go the next shelf, maybe early childhood…

Some forms of Christian healing probably get back to the day of birth, maybe even farther, at least they claim that it does. But certainly, the spirit of God “who searches all things” and is present in our inmost being, begins to anoint these wounds and to heal them with its balm, but at first, it’s painful. So the more primitive emotions you experience, the more progress you are making, because you’re getting back to the real stuff that has cluttered up or ruined or put your life into a straightjacket of your emotions, through no fault of your own because all of that takes place before you can make a rational judgment for which you are morally responsible.

So the human condition is fundamentally the tragedy of being brought up in a world where people are functioning – including our parents – largely out of the false self system. Hence we pass on, from generation to generation, the damage that our own parents did to us. They did a lot of good to us, but because of the vulnerability of human nature and not having taken the spiritual journey to its full conclusion, they are under either the conscious or unconscious programming of selfishness…

When the interior damage of a lifetime is finally emptied out, and we’ve put up with the healing process, and the sense of getting worse and worse as far as we can see (which really getting better and better), this humility is the fundamental virtue that God asks of us, to accept the truth. Then, when it’s all cleaned out, you’re in a unitive state because the unitive state is already there by virtue of baptism- it’s waiting to be awakened and activated…once we remove the obstacles to it, it expands.

In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis famously puts this statement in the mouth of George McDonald:

‘Son,’ he said, ‘ye cannot in your present state understand eternity: when Anodos looked through the door of the Timeless he brought no message back. But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me but have this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven”, and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.’

This Christian healing depends first and foremost on, in the words of Isaiah, what we “see with our eyes, and hear with our ears, and understand with our heart,” in other words, our perception of the world. This is a function of the identity we choose: an identity based on our mortal experiences and grievances, or in our perception that we are children of Heavenly Parents, with Christ as our savior and good shepherd. This is part of why President Nelson has prophetically directed us to transition away from the identity of “Mormon,” which so often became yet another grievance identity, and adopt our true healing and unifying identity as a people.

So how do we know whether or not we are healing? Keating refers to scripture study as an important element of this process. Alma 5 is a powerful exercise in Christian introspection. 1 Corinthians 13 is another one. And here are some other scriptural indicators:

1 John 2:3-4 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.

1 John 2: 9-11 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.

1 John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

1 John 4:18-21 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

1 John 5:2-3 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

2 Peter 1: 4-9 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

postscript: if you want to see how a soul-healed Christian thinks and acts and behaves toward others, read about Spencer W. Kimball.

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