Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 06, 1999
Healing through a union of science and religion
Healing Through Prayer: Health Practitioners Tell the Story., by Larry Dossey, Herbert Benson, John Polkinghorne, and others, Toronto, Anglican Book Centre, 1999. 167 pages, softcover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Signs of the convergence of science and religion are currently reappearing in the practice of healing. Traditionally, technique and spirituality were considered integral to the medical profession.
Then came secular humanism and modern empirical science. Battles erupted and major splits occurred as physicians viewed religious involvement in the healing process to be at best meddlesome and at worst archaic and superstitious.
"Faith healing" was marginalized by mainstream society and considered quirky and charlatan-ridden even by many practicing religious. The great misconception of the 20th century is that science and religion are mutually exclusive. Now, we see growing evidence, in more and more places, that the two are again joining forces.
Healing Through Prayer: Health Practioners Tell the Story is produced by a special Canadian Anglican group advocating the efficacy of healing prayer in the practice of mainstream medicine.
The book contains more than two dozen contributions and testimonies from medical and/or spiritual specialists. These persons provide broad experience in the field as well as in the creation of healing communities where prayer and medicine are linked.
The book offers perspectives from a rich variety of Christian and other faith traditions as well as a vision for initiating healing programs in local congregations.
"The focus of Western medicine based on curing needs the balance of prayer and healing," say the authors. We have tended to look upon medicine as something done to us. Prayer draws the patient into a much stronger role of responsibility for his or her own well-being in the healing process.
Many of the contributors attempt to point out distinctions here. While a cure for the patient is always desired, it is not always possible. Healing is concerned with acceptance - especially in cases of incurability. Healing implies love and caring on the part of those who pray.
Prayer attempts to guide patients to a place of peace, a coming to know and engaging the will of God as well as providing courage and initiative while cure remains a possibility. Healing means living in a holy state whatever the condition is.
The whole person is in need of healing, not just the body. Christian healing is the strength to live, to suffer, to die. When we pray for our own healing or that of another, nothing never happens.
For many presenters, acceptance of the reality of illness was the major step in that person's renewal in terms of faith and life. Sometimes, that acceptance led to a miraculous cure; sometimes to a vital perseverance under the shadow of continuing illness, and sometimes it meant dying with purpose and dignity.
Our churches and religious communities can be places of hope, healing and wholeness. The book provides examples of how individual congregations introduced healing ministries to their members through sermons, workshops and adaptations of liturgy. It gives guidelines for spiritual direction and the creation of healing terms.
One finding of this reviewer was that modern scientific research is beginning to prove that prayer "works." For the faithful believer, prayer has always "worked" - even as its role in the healing process continues to remain a mystery.
Life is full of mysteries. As science opens a veil with each new breakthrough one new curtain emerges to take its place.
Healing Through Prayer provides hopeful and helpful evidence that as medical science continues to amaze with its discoveries the power of faith remains a significant ally in the healing process.
(Dr. Wayne Holst is a lecturer at the University of Calgary.)