Twenty Friends sit comfortably in a circle in the warming sunshine of Powell House retreat center. While some Friends gaze around the room, upward, or out the windows overlooking the snow-covered landscape, most have their eyes closed and are settling into the familiar silence and gathering of Spirit common to a Quaker meeting for worship. One thing, however, distinguishes this meeting from the usual worship: two empty chairs stand within the circle.
The sense of warmth and worship, the gathering of love and Spirit begins to settle more fully around the group. Shortly, a young woman rises from her seat on the couch and walks to the chair in the center of the circle and sits, with eyes closed, in quiet waiting. In a few moments, another woman steps in and gently lays hands upon her shoulders. They are soon joined by a man who comes and holds her hands.
Time seems to suspend itself as the energy in the room becomes more vibrant and focused. The young woman’s face responds to the love and care, and she begins to cry. Her body tenses and then relaxes. Another member joins those gathered in the center; he kneels and cradles her feet, while those surrounding continue to sit in silence and hold the now palpable energy.
After several minutes, first one and then the second and third Friend gently release their hands and step back. For a moment they stand in a small circle with arms outstretched around the woman while she continues to sit, the last tears slowly moving down her cheeks. One by one, they resume their seats among the wider circle, joined a moment later by the young woman, visibly changed.
A spiritual healing among Friends has occurred.
Over the next hour or so, several more people come to the inner chairs and Friends are drawn to step in and lay hands upon heads and hearts and, very quietly, powerful healing work is done. After this, names of loved ones are spoken into the center to be held in the Light of love and distant healing. The meeting closes with hands held around the circle, which abounds with gratitude and healing energy flowing through all.
Two such "worship for healing" meetings were held during the First Annual Gathering of Quaker Healers. Friends who practice a variety of healing work, both independently and within Quaker meetings, came together from Maryland, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and points between at Powell House, the retreat center of New York Yearly Meeting, over the weekend of February 22-25, 2001, to share our knowledge and experience of healing work as Friends and to begin a network to connect us.
We took time to learn about the role of early Quakers as healers. From numerous historical examples, we heard of Friends’ struggles to do healing work and maintain their integrity; how they had to face persecution; and, sadly, how fear eventually drove many Friends healers into obscurity and caused the destruction of George Fox’s Book of Miracles.
In our more recent past, we have been witnessing a return of healing activity within the Religious Society of Friends. There have been increasing requests for healing-related workshops within the settings of Friends General Conference, yearly meeting gatherings, Pendle Hill, and other Quaker retreats. These have been well attended, and the work is being carried back to individual meetings in the form of healing worship.
What does it mean to be a Quaker healer? How do we discern what is just ego-based and what is a true leading? Once we recognize that we have this gift of healing, then what? What is healing, anyway? These were just a few of the many queries that arose and were explored during this snowy weekend gathering in Old Chatham, New York.
In talking about healing work, one discovers how limited our ordinary language is. Words do not convey the profound experiences we have, and much of what happens in healing sessions is unseen and not readily talked about. While some people can see the movement of energy in various forms, others feel it or sense it, but most of us must rely on faith. Healing does not often appear evident as in the miracles of Jesus. Symptoms may not disappear, disease may not be cured, death comes anyway. There are no concrete standards by which we can measure and know the authenticity of this gift. We are reminded however, that healing is a process of transformation that is available to everyone.
As we shared our own personal stories, we found that we had come to healing ministry in different ways and for different reasons; we have various methods of working and viewing the process of healing. For some, there is a certain studied technique that opens the way; for others, it is a process of being led and of recognizing a gift. It requires that we open to our intuition and vision and set our "self" aside in order to allow the Spirit and power of healing to flow through. Some say that we use our hands as conduits for the power of God’s healing. It could also be expressed that Spirit uses us. Others use the power of gathered prayer and the model of Jesus to guide the work. In all cases, it is a call to which we must respond—a call that is ongoing and profound.
How do we know when a leading to heal is a true leading and not just something we think we want to do? Often the call to healing is something we have not planned out nor ever would have imagined for ourselves. We may not come to it by choice or even willingly. It is a journey of sacred learning that calls for surrender to what we think we cannot do and may even be afraid of. The courage to persist is not the absence of fear, but rather doing something in the face of that fear. When a true leading is followed, the impossible appears possible and exciting, and then, by grace, the task at hand becomes easy and joyful. We must trust and remember that we are never alone.
In this journey of healing, it is important to know the nature of our own path and to maintain balance in our lives. As healers who in so many ways nurture others, we also need to remember to nourish and protect ourselves. As a group, we shared many valuable ways to practice self-care, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It is essential to our well-being that we create space in our lives for peace and quiet reflection. In this work, where we often deal with much pain, humor can be a great balm and cleanser.
The most controversial issue among us was the title "Quaker Healers." Some feel their healing work should not be named within a religious context, while others feel it is essential to have their leading identified in the context of their Quaker faith and practice. For some, the word "healer" is uncomfortable as it sets up a mistaken expectation that one can cure another. This work is not about claiming that power for ourselves.
This was a weekend of profound sharing, healing, and discovery. The discussions were rich. We found comfort in our uniqueness and diversity as Friends, that all our different voices together bring a gift to the community. Even though we did not all resonate on how to name this emerging group, we all felt our Light honored among Friends in our common ground of healing ministry. We left with a firm resolve to meet again next year at a second annual gathering, no matter what we decide to call ourselves. As we stepped out into the newly snow-covered landscape to return to our home meetings, we were deeply strengthened and affirmed in our ministries of healing.
"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. . . . For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge . . . ; to another faith . . . ; to another the gifts of healing . . . ; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits . . . ; But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit. . . ."
—1 Corinthians 12:4-11