“Know the virtue of a healing tongue and how to use it.” —James Nayler (1618–1660)
“This anointing is for real. Don’t abuse it.” I woke with my palms buzzing, hearing a voice in my mind saying these words. I’d heard that voice before, and it had a ring of authentic divinity to it, though I couldn’t explain why I thought so. But surely many of my Quaker readers have read “The Lord said to me” in George Fox’s Journal, and perhaps also Isaac Penington’s famous outburst, “This is he, this is he; there is not another, there never was another!” Well, Friend, these things still happen, and I guess that’s what keeps Quaker faith in continuing and immediate revelation alive. God may reveal Godself as He, She, or It, but God does talk to us. (I’ll be using the pronoun “He” in this account only because that’s truest to my personal experience of the Divine Person.)
That voice had first spoken to me years earlier, not long after I’d made a formal offering of myself to God, inspired by my reading of nineteenth-century Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life:
Do you, then, now at this moment, surrender yourself wholly to Him? Then, my dear friend, begin at once to reckon that you are His, that He has taken you, and that He is working in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Shortly after that surrender, I heard that voice say, “I give ear.”
The Naming of the Gift
I’d just recently returned from a Christ-centered Friends weekend conference at New York Yearly Meeting’s Powell House, where a gifted namer of Friends’ gifts had identified me as carrying a gift of healing. (Me? Really? Well, coworkers at the box factory had told me that my hands took away their headaches . . . but a divine gift?) At the end of the gathering, she put her hands over mine, and blessed and “sealed” the gift. And now, a few mornings later, I was hearing confirmation from on high—with a warning attached: no abuse of the gift.
To hear “this anointing is for real” left my mind silent for a moment. Then, predictably, my mind and feelings went wild: What does this mean? What’s next?
I felt fear, of course, that I’d “abuse” the gift in some way that would put me into disfavor with God that I’d rue forever: I certainly wouldn’t ask for money! “Freely ye have received,” Jesus said (Matt. 10:8); “freely give.” Would I fall prey to sexual temptation? I hoped not! But might a subtler temptation blind-side me, like a desire to please and impress people? Or might I abuse the gift by self-protectively hiding it under a bushel?
At the same time, I felt excited to imagine that I might have a miracle worker’s career opening up before me. Bzz! From now on my hands might buzz to tell me that they were “charged” and ready to work wonders. Bzz! They’d tell me where the cancer or the kidney stone was, I’d lay them where the buzzing was loudest, and presto! when the buzzing stopped, I’d know I was done and the patient was cured. It was a little boy’s fantasy of having magical powers, with no doubts, no ambiguities, no failures, no grief over sufferers left unhealed. Problem was, my hands never buzzed again. I sometimes tell people that it’s a “blind gift”: it’s not given to me to know when or how it’s working; I just pray that healing occurs. And enough people report improvement, or heat from my hands, that I persist in offering hands-on prayer.
By the grace of God, I had my life partner, Elizabeth, to share my experience with, and she took the news of the buzzing palms and the interior locution soberly. She’d gone to that weekend conference with me, and had her own gifts of wisdom; discernment; and healing named, blessed, and sealed there. She’d heard the divine voice at times, too.
The prospect of inviting spirit guides reminded me that my gift had been from the Holy Spirit, who would surely be spirit guide enough.
Growing into Giftedness
With encouragement from other Quaker healers, Elizabeth and I began to study techniques of hands-on healing: we went to weekend training workshops; we read the writings of Christian healers; shamanic healers; and practitioners of Reiki, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and homeopathy. I longed to be able to inspect people’s etheric and astral bodies, their chakras and marmas, with a diagnostician’s eye. So long as it involved no straying from Christ, I aspired to know how to mobilize healing virtues in plant spirits, minerals, colors, and sounds, and how to recognize “holy” places.
But none of that connected for us. Then I came to realize that whatever healing knowledge there was to be found in these disciplines, the Omniscient Teacher knew it all already, and He could guide my hands and mobilize healing energies as He knew best. My part is to pray for the patient innocently, willing only to be Christ’s instrument as I lay hands on. Sometimes I imagine His hands superimposed on mine, dark nail-wounds at the center.
Elizabeth and I dropped out of one training program when we were told that at “Level 3” we’d be encouraged to connect with “spirit guides.” We both smelled temptation. But the prospect of inviting spirit guides reminded me that my gift had been from the Holy Spirit, who would surely be spirit guide enough.
I’ve learned to listen to my own moods, as well as body feelings, as possible indicators of a patient’s condition.
Traditional Chinese medicine finds times of day medically relevant, and medical astrology names better and worse times for healing, but no one knew the right time better for my visit to Carla than the Holy Spirit did. Carla was an old friend who’d gone on to medical school and become an MD. Her pituitary gland was overfunctioning, causing Cushing’s disease, and I’d heard she’d gone into the hospital for corrective surgery. I’d had another errand to run in the city, and her hospital was on the way to it, so, I thought, why not pay Carla a visit? I happened to come to her bedside a few hours after the surgery, as she was plunging into a life-threatening Addison’s disease crisis from pituitary underfunctioning. Did my prayer help? Only God knows: but Carla told me later that my timing had been perfect. I’d call it providential.
I learned an important lesson about healing one evening when, in a casual moonlit conversation with a neighbor on our adjacent doorsteps, she told me of her thyroid trouble, and I offered to lay hands on her neck. Whoosh! No sooner had I touched her skin than I felt powerful, unanticipated sexual arousal. “I’ve never been unfaithful to my husband,” she blurted out nervously: she’d felt it, too. No more touching women without a third party present! I’ve made exceptions to this rule since then, but only rarely, and with awareness of the danger involved.
Along the way, I’ve learned some other lessons about being affected by contact with patients. No one else’s sickness has ever made me feel physically sick, but I was once plunged into an inexplicable mood of despair by the close presence of a woman, who then revealed that her husband was dying of cancer. So I’ve learned to listen to my own moods, as well as body feelings, as possible indicators of a patient’s condition.
Growing into Discipline
But the most challenging limitation that my gift imposed on me was one that only dawned on me gradually. It was about discipline of my speech and thoughts.
First, I met two other Christian healers, Wallace and Vanessa, who, like so many (including myself), had been made aware by a miraculous hands-on intervention that the gifts of healing evidenced in the early church (1 Cor. 12:9, 28) had never been taken from it. This had made them eager to seek out other churches in Manhattan that had healing ministries, and someone at the Friends quarterly meeting office had given them the names of Elizabeth and me. The rest, as they say, is history. Through their ministry, I received the training preparatory to membership in the International Order of Saint Luke the Physician (OSL), a body of “clergy, health professionals, and lay people who feel called to make Jesus’s ministry of healing a regular part of our vocation.” I was inducted into the OSL on October 12, 2013.
Part of that training was the systematic study of the healings of Jesus recorded in the New Testament. In those healing stories, I noticed a pattern: Jesus, when about to do a healing, never imputed the morbid condition (leprosy, blindness, deformity) to His patient; instead, his words anticipated the healing He intended to bring about: “Arise, take up thy bed, and walk!”; “The maiden is not dead, but sleepeth.” To my dismay, I thought I’d found a contrary example in His statement “Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14), but upon inspection of the original Greek, I learned that Jesus had said “Lazarus died”: a declaration of a past occurrence but not of a present state. My conclusion was to not risk reinforcing the undesirable condition by talking or writing as if it’s the truth of the situation. Instead I help realize the desired state by naming and celebrating it as if your words had the creative power to help it come true.
The Call to Truthful and Harmless Speech
It grew on me that this was part of a more general calling to what I call “truthful and harmless speech.” The apostle James, challenging all believers to tame the tongue, warns us not to let blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth (Jas. 3:10); Paul also advises, “Bless, and curse not” (Rom. 12:14). This happens to be a teaching of spiritual wisdom worldwide: right speech is one of the components of the Noble Eightfold Path of Theravada Buddhism, and the Hindus’ Bhagavad Gita (17:15) prescribes an “austerity of speech” that limits speech to the inoffensive, the truthful, the desirable, and the practice of reading Scripture. It may seem, of course, that the truth is at times quite offensive and undesirable, and I must charge a person with, say, lying. But instead of calling him a liar (which would be “offensive,” and also “undesirable” in the sense of tending to fix him in that identity permanently), I may simply call his statements untrue, and exercise my option of hoping and praying for his repentance of a frequent recourse to untruth, as I was led to repent of my own. There’s a difference.
Any feelings in my heart of the person’s otherness would tend to subvert that connectedness: gender otherness, ethnic or racial otherness, political or religious otherness, particularly any “other” that, by its very nature, is engaged in a competition for dominance or survival with “my” kind.
Right Livelihood, Nonpartisanship, and Chastity of Thought
None of this taming of the tongue, I realized, would be possible without my abstinence from employment where my superiors would require as part of my work my telling untruths or making evil appear good (Isa. 5:20). Perhaps a Buddhist would say that right speech requires right mindfulness and right livelihood, two other aspects of the Eightfold Path. By the grace of God, I’m now retired from a world of industry, commerce, and mass persuasion, where I was sometimes complicit in corporate truth bending (may God forgive me). Healers, like other framers of prayer, must mean what they say.
Another realization came when I realized that I must not engage in a contest of wills with a person I wish to heal (2 Tim. 2:24). This meant, for me, ceasing to vote in national elections, although I also had other reasons for doing that, chiefly that I couldn’t, in good conscience, express a preference for one armed Caesar over another armed Caesar. That would be voicing a desire for a lesser evil over a greater evil, after Christ had forbidden me to choose evil at all. Paul warned, long ago, against the kind of sophistry that justifies evil means by the supposedly “good” ends they serve (Rom. 3:8).
But I’ll expand further on the connection I feel between the healer’s call and political nonpartisanship: when I do healing work, “I” step back and ask Christ-in-me to work, which I believe He does in concert with Christ-in-the-other-person, Christ being in no way divided (1 Cor. 1:13). Any feelings in my heart of the person’s otherness would tend to subvert that connectedness: gender otherness, ethnic or racial otherness, political or religious otherness, particularly any “other” that, by its very nature, is engaged in a competition for dominance or survival with “my” kind.
It should take only a moment’s reflection to realize that one can’t hope to tame the tongue if one is exercising no restraint on the heart: “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). To maintain harmless speech, I must steer the heart not only away from violent desires but also from lustful ones, greedy ones, and self-serving ones of all kinds that go beyond the simple demands of self-care. They will still be there in the heart, of course; the point is not to encourage them. I call this discipline “chastity of thought.” If I should happen to fall in love with someone who is not my wife, I may sober myself up with the memory of something I heard the divine voice say one morning when I saw a heartbreakingly beautiful young woman out of my bus window on my way to work: “So you love her, do you? Have you prayed for her?”