Healing in Contemporary North American Christianity.doc

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McMaster University
Health, Aging and Society
Geraldine Voros

Healing in Contemporary North American Christianity Health and Age 1AA3 October 10th, 2012 • Spiritual and faith healing is far more common in small Christian groups associated with a local church • Most religious healing is done in small, local groups in unspectacular, undramatic fashion • God bestows gifts of the spirit on those who worship him and that it is primarily the power of God that heals or enables an ill person to understand and learn from illness • Religious healing is related to the biblical accounts of the early church • Religious healing remains an important part of the mainline Christian tradition in North America • Agnes Sanford is one of the most important religious healers of the modern period • She affirmed a theology that stated the healing power of God is latent in every individual waiting to be awakened or cultivated Illness and Healing Understood in a Theological Context • A striking feature of religious healing in contemporary Christianity is the centrality of providing a theological framework within which illness and healing can be understood • To come to an understanding of what one's illness means, how it firs a larger biographical or social pattern, is synonymous to finding healing • Healing is the process of combating the heightened fear and anxiety associated with illness and affirming that the human suffering associated with disease is not proof that life is meaningless and chaotic --> central feature of religious healing in contemporary Christianity • Religious healing relates sickness to a divine scheme or purpose as it provides an overarching theology in which illness has significance • There are a few theological assertions that are central to understanding religious healing in most groups and for most individuals • First, illness is related to one's overall life experience • Traditional Christianity tends to relate illness to a human being's sinful nature or to specific sinful actions or thoughts • Sin causes sickness, either directly, in a kind of cause-and-effect way, or as a punishment from God • Christianity's idea is that the human tendency to rebel against, ignore, or resist God's will makes human being subject to illness • In the case of sin as the cause of illness, the individual is encouraged to "own" his or her illness, to take responsibility for it because it is the individual's actions that bring on the sickness • Healing is the process of admitting one's sinful nature or actions and trying to do better. Often healing is understood to necessitate a renewed commitment to God • The second dominant theory of illness is that it is caused by Satan or evil spirits • This power is always seeking to undermine human commitment to God and often attacks human beings in the form of sickness • This theory tends to disassociate God from sickness and also tends to relieve the individual of blame for his or her illness • Individuals are portrayed as far from helpless in combating Satan's power. If one joins a prayer group and combines efforts with other devotees, Satan can be held at bay Group Structures and Practices • Healing is often private, the services are low key, and the leaders are often laypeople who claim no special healing power • A particularly striking difference from the famous faith healers is the low profile of the leaders in local healing groups • In the small, local groups, although clergy (the body of all people ordained for religious duties e.g. priest) may play leadership roles, there is an insistence on the democratization of routine healing • Healing is something that anyone can do for another person and that one can do for oneself • It is a natural ability given by God to all human beings and healing itself is understood to be a normal part of spiritual development • While the small local groups do not deny the possibility of dramatic physical cures as a result of their efforts, they concentrate on healing as a maturing of one's spiritual life • Healing is a fuller understanding of how illness fits into one's spiritual sojourn • Prayer is by far the most common and central healing activity of these groups • Group members may pray for a person who is present and ill, or they may pray on behalf of someone who is not present but for whom someone has come with a request • There are many other healing practices such as in Roman Catholic groups, the sacraments often play a central role in healing services • Of particular importance is the sacrament called "anointing of the sick" which WAS used primarily to prepare people for death • In recent years, the sacrament has been reinterpreted to play the role it originally played in early Christianity, namely, healing the sick • In the sacrament of Penance, the priest may discuss people's past lives with them in an attempt to heal oppressive and painful memories. The emphasis of this sacrament was put on reconciling the patients' relationships with others (healing or restoring relationships) • The Eucharist, the central ritual drama of Roman Catholicism, may be performed during services held specifically for healing • The most common healing ritual acct besides prayer is the "laying on of hands" • The laying on of hands is an anc
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