Bruce Epperly recently published a book called Healing Marks, (Energion, 2012), which explores the concept of healing in light of the Gospel of Mark's witness concerning Jesus' healing ministry. Bruce has written a number of books on healing, believing that prayer can lead to healing. With this essay, Bruce begins a new series of posts that will normally appear on Wednesdays. If you're interested in getting a copy of the book, just click on the book's cover picture below and you'll find a portal to Amazon.
I invite you to read, reflect, and contemplate on Jesus' healing ministry for today.
The Healings of Jesus
for Mainstream, Progressive, and Emerging Christians
A few years ago, I claimed the vocation of being a voice for the integration of theology, spirituality, and healing among mainstream, progressive, and emerging Christians. I had observed that all three streams of Christianity needed more robust and inspirational approaches to some of the most basic and universal questions of life, such as:
- What images of God, humankind, and the world inspire life-supporting approaches to personal, corporate, and planetary healing and wholeness?
- How can we more fully experience holiness in the quotidian adventures of life?
- How can we experience abundant life and pass this abundance on to others?
- Can I pray with integrity for ourselves, others, and the world?
- Do miracles still occur (if they ever did) and can we understand them naturalistically?
Mainstream and progressive Christianity has often focused more on deconstructive questions rather than tentative and life-transforming answers. While it is all well and good to “live the questions,” we need also to find answers and practices that are “good enough” to inspire us to be God’s partners in transforming the world. Life is mysterious, but we need more than questions to illuminate the path ahead for ourselves and the planet. We need to experience holiness and not just talk about it or deconstruct it!
While I appreciate the experiential robustness of emerging Christianity, I find its theology too “thin” and too much influenced by postmodern deconstructionism. It is important that we discover “how (not) to speak about God” (Peter Rollins), but it is more important to recognize that faith also involves bold speaking even when we recognize that we “see in a mirror dimly.” Pluralism and finitude need not paralyze us intellectually or spiritually. The ancient wisdom, “without a vision, the people perish” reminds us that imaginative visions and words about God can serve as flexible guideposts for our personal and corporate pilgrimages toward wholeness.
By training, I am a constructive theologian, influenced by the insights of process-relational theology. I believe that we can make tentative and lively affirmations about God as relational, dynamic, creative, immanent, and energetic. I believe that good theological reflection can help us can overcome the dualisms of God and the world, spirit and flesh, mind and body, and humankind and nature. I believe that we live in a lively interdependent, interactive, constantly emerging universe in which our prayers make a difference to cells as well as souls and persons as well as institutions. I believe that our calling is to claim our companionship with God in healing the world one moment, one person, one community, one species, and one nation at a time.
In the interdependence of life, our quest for healing must embrace the whole of life: what nurtures embodiment enhances spirituality; what enhances energy radiates through our spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical lives; what heals communities provides a supportive environment for healing persons; and what heals persons – body, mind, and spirit – contributes to the transformation of communities.
This brings me to the healings of Jesus, as recorded in scripture. I believe that these healing stories point to a holy energy that transforms bodies, minds, and spirits. There is no reason to disbelieve these stories, although we may justifiably expand upon them and suggest different language for the maladies involved. Research on the relationship of spirituality and health, the insights of energy (chi-related) medicine, and the practices of global and complementary healers provide a context for understanding Jesus’ dynamic ministry of physical, spiritual, and social transformation, and inclusion, In Jesus’ quest for abundant life, he opened himself to the fullness of divine energy, inspiration, and love. In so doing, Jesus became a lively channel of divine transformation, bringing wholeness of minds, bodies, spirits, vocations, and social standing. In fact, in an interdependent universe, none of these can be separated from the others.
I believe that Jesus both cured and healed people. He transformed their place in society and restored them to spiritual wholeness and connection with God by word, touch, and welcome. He also transformed persons’ cells, and restored them to physical well-being by awakening them to God’s energy flowing from him to them, emerging within them, and flowing through them to others. Jesus’ healing was synergistic, naturalistic, and energetic. Jesus healed and cured people by awakening them to the deeper manifestations of divine energy in nature and in themselves.
Jesus’ healings were not supernatural manifestations of divine power: supernaturalism implies arbitrariness, chaos, infrequency, and abrogation of the causal relationships that are the foundation of a trustworthy universe. Supernaturalism points to a God “out there” who only occasionally involves “himself” in the messiness of our world. Instead of supernaturalism, I suggest an energetic and transformative naturalism in which God moves through our lives from the inside out as well as the outside in, working with the possibilities inherent in us, our environment, and the regularity of causal relationships. The God who wishes us to have abundant life, works through our day to day lives and not around them or against them. Accordingly, as we read the healing stories, we can be inspired to become “healers” ourselves, living in partnership with God’s universal quest for healing and wholeness.
What does this mean practically? It means that we can pray for healing, wholeness, and even cures. We can’t guarantee a linear a one-to-one relationship between prayers and cures, but we can pray and know that our prayers make a difference to those for whom we pray, at the very least by creating a positive field of force around them and contributing positive energies to their environment that enable God to be more active in their lives. Our prayers don’t change divine intentionality, God wants us to have abundant life, but our prayers open the doors to greater manifestations of divine presence. Greater presence means greater possibility and hope for transformation.
In the weeks ahead, we will ponder a few healing stories from the gospels and their relevance to 21st century people. If you want to do a deeper study of God’s healing presence, I invite you to read my latest book, Healing Marks: Spirituality and Healing in Mark’s Gospel.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty three books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He recently served as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).