Every Sunday at church the parishioners at St. Michael’s Episcopal have an opportunity to step forth during Communion and receive sacramental healing from an extensively trained layperson. I never miss the opportunity. If I’m in church, I go.
For me, healing is not a sometime thing. It is an everyday need, a constant longing to feel well, whole and unafraid. You don’t have to be traumatized or in trouble to ask for healing prayers; you don’t have to be looking for miracles for yourself or someone else. You can be, but you don’t have to be. There is therapy in mere presence and medicine even in sharing joy or giving thanks.
There is restoration in the knowledge that someone else hears your cry for help or call for blessing. To qualify, all you have to be is a hungry, searching soul. To find peace and feel renewed, all you need is to be heard from and then drawn in to something larger than yourself, whether it’s the twosome created by you and the healer or the whole congregation or your belief system or God.
Dr. Harold Koenig, director of Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, whose current research concerns comparing the outcomes of secular and spirituality-based therapies, notes that religious involvement with a strong spiritual component can actually alter the structure of the brain in people at high risk for depression. There is equally strong evidence that faith can result in reduced risk for anxiety, substance abuse, poor lifestyle choices, heart disease and memory loss.
Dr. Koenig says, “It turns out that belief itself doesn’t mean much. It’s whether the belief is carried out through some sort of action.” This includes gathering with others in a faith community. It includes, for me, the laying on of healing hands.
At St. Michael’s we have eloquent and gifted healing ministers. More often than not, I approach filled with doubt and misgiving. Sometimes I feel embarrassed. But owing to their active listening, genuine compassion, firm but gentle touch, intimate yet deeply respectful intercession, and caring, thought-full words, I feel a powerful presence emerge from our shared experience. Together, we have created a sacred space and perhaps conjured the spirit of the one who made example for us. The anointing at the end, receiving the sign of the cross on my forehead with consecrated oil, has become as much a part of my Sunday worship as singing a favorite hymn, eating a wafer or trying to fathom the meaning of it all.
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