I have just returned tonight from a healing service held at my local church. It used Common Worship‘s laying on of hands and anointing service. You can read the service on the Church of England website.
The website also includes an interesting theological note about healing which is well worth reading, and which includes this quote:
Such prayer [for healing] needs to be sensitive to a number of simplifications or misunderstandings. It should not imply a simple link between sickness and sin; Jesus himself warned against the direct association of disability and sin (John 9.3). The receiving of forgiveness and the act of forgiving others may open the way to healing and wholeness. Prayer for healing and strengthening should not involve the rejection of the skills and activity of medicine which are also part of God’s faithfulness to creation (cf Ecclesiasticus 38.9-12; Psalm 147.3). Prayer for healing needs to take seriously the way in which individual sickness and vulnerability are often the result of injustice and social oppression. Equally importantly such prayer should not imply that the restoration of physical wholeness is the only way in which Christ meets human need. Healing has always to be seen against the background of the continuing anguish of an alienated world and the hidden work of the Holy Spirit bringing God’s new order to birth. It is a way of partaking in God’s new life that will not be complete until it includes the whole creation and the destruction of death itself.
It was an interesting service, and which I enjoyed going to. I liked the hymns we had (some may be appearing on the blog in the not too distant future) and I really liked parts of the liturgy. What I liked was that there was an acknowledgement of mental illness and not just physical pain – for example in the litany:
Grant to all who are lonely, anxious or depressed
a knowledge of your will and an awareness of your presence.
All :Hear us, Lord of life.
Mend broken relationships, and restore to those in distress
soundness of mind and serenity of spirit.
All : Hear us, Lord of life.
After the readings, sermon, and some hymns, there was an invitation for all who wished to come to the altar rail and have hands laid upon them, a prayer said, and then to be anointed with oil. I have to say that I didn’t go up – mostly I have to say because I personally am well at the moment and partly because I had my dad with me, who loudly enquired whether I was going up there for my friend and I was hit with a sudden fit of worry/anxiety and therefore muttered “no!” and sat down. A shame, I think, because I do have a friend who is unwell, and also because there are things in me that still need healing even though I am well at the moment.
I was thinking about this last night. I am in remission from the bipolar at the moment, and, bar a few little blips, have been quite well for the past two years. That said, I am hyper-aware of my own tendencies to illness, and one of the things I am aware of is that my levels of anxiety are not those of a “normal” person and that I worry about things that no one else is bothered about. I worry, for example, about everything from accidentally swearing in church (has never happened) or forgetting to wear clothes (don’t ask me – I’ve never done this either) to being a bad person, a lazy person, someone who is not a good Christian and an embarrassment to Christ. Every action I take seems accompanied by worry. When I am well, this is just a mild worry, and not the stomach-churning awfulness it can become. I see in myself a definite need for “serenity of spirit!
I wonder how many of us with mental health problems are afflicted with anxiety, too. I have a feeling that anxiety problems – whether classed as anxiety disorders or not – are abundant, and that worry or shame over what we have done or think we have done is a really common problem. That is terrible, really, and I see it as definitely a symptom of a broken world, when I look at the Bible and see Christ who said he was rest for our souls, and gives us peace. It sets up an unpleasant cycle in my mind when I read about Christ’s peace – for I often lack it, and knowing it is lacking makes me worry all the more, worry that I am not truly one of Christ’s people, because I lack his peace.
Yet I tell myself – I have to tell myself – that being worried is not a sin but an affliction. I do what I can to try to stop worrying so much and yet it is because my brain is faulty that I do worry so much. I can do only so much, with my own resources. Of course, when I am worried I try my best to lean on God, and there are certain things I can do (for me: reading the Bible, listening to Christian music, praying) which help ease the worry a little. I do not believe that I am less of a Christian because of my anxiety – although I do need healing from it.
I hope that I will one day achieve a permanent serenity of spirit, and know the peace of God more intimately, and more lastingly, than I can achieve today. I know that were I to be free from anxiety I would probably have few to no episodes of depression, and I long for that freedom. In fact I enjoy alcohol for the reason that it, for a time, frees me from feeling anxiety.
I can offer no solutions for either my or anyone else’s anxiety, but I do think that healing services such as this can be helpful. While no one at my service walked away throwing their walking sticks in the air or proclaiming a miraculous cure, the point was made that healing is not necessarily about physical healing, but may also refer to receiving strength to endure illness, or growth in some way or form. It sounds like a cop-out but I do think that God has a purpose for us. I don’t think he gives us our illnesses, but I do think he uses them, and can bring good from bad. I don’t know why I have not been healed – but then, my life is not over, I may be healed yet – and I certainly will be healed once my earthly life is over, when all sickness and suffering will cease. I lack answers, but maybe that is no bad thing – if I thought I knew everything, I would probably be intolerable to live with!
I hope that the people I attended church with this evening received healing – mental, physical or spiritual, from the service. I also hope that this service inclines all of us to respect those who suffer, to look out for those who are sick in mind or body, and to pray for all of us. We will all get sick at all time, we are at present “temporarily abled” and I do think that we as Christians should be more open about sickness, and certainly about mental illness.
A Prayer from the CofE:
May the cross of the Son of God,
which is mightier than all the hosts of Satan
and more glorious than all the hosts of heaven,
abide with you in your going out and in your coming in.
By day and by night, at morning and at evening,
at all times and in all places may it protect and defend you.
From the wrath of evildoers, from the assaults of evil spirits,
from foes visible and invisible, from the snares of the devil,
from all passions that beguile the soul and body:
may it guard, protect and deliver you.