What constitutes a healing event?
A healing event can be physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual, at least according to most traditional teachings in the healing process and the common needs of most people.
Generally speaking, a physical healing event takes place as a biological, physiological event. It occurs according to natural laws, and when healing is not completely possible, natural laws are usually what prevents this from happening. Generally speaking, natural laws and the physical theory for healings are hard to dispute. It is only when we cannot immediately come up with an obvious explanation for some event that we begin to consider the possibility of some other kind of event not involving the physical world. We feel safer focused on the physical healing process and underlying theories because these events make up that part of existence that we are inherently most familiar with. Why work about how to explain something metaphysically when the obvious physical explanation for the event presents itself, be this presentation only theoretical and for the most part conjectural and subjective in nature (a typical human phenomenon), or something that we assume to be physical, but one which we haven’t yet found an explanation for.
With regard to emotional healing, the same can be said, but with the added caveat that some parts of the emotional healing process may require both physical and psychological processes to take place in order for the healing to be truly considered complete. The emotional healing process in anatomical or physical world terms can be related to the Limbic System of the brain, that part of the brain located between the more primitive brain (sometimes called reptilian) and the very advanced human brain (the cortical and immediate subcortical parts). This philosophy of the anatomy of the brain is something born during the 1960s, and for a science has some obvious inherent symbolism to its construct and its common name–the triunal theory.
The above two renderings of the famous Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo is not really my own invention. A religious writer came up with this idea for an image sometime around 2000, when he noticed the morphological similarity of these two works–the painting by Michelangelo and the cross-section of the brain (author and citation later, once I find the book). He felt this was no mistake, and claimed that somehow it tells us a lot about our inner workings and the relationships we often make or try to make with some form of ”Higher Power.” These words, coming from a theologian, never really raise any suspicion. We think of this as the words of someone who really should know about this type of relationship. Regarding the above paintings or illustrations, this theologian was suggesting that either Michelangelo had already seen some examples of the anatomy of the human body and the brain and therefore tried to depict them symbolically in his work, or was somehow unconsciously engaged in this process of piecing together what is known and seen and then not knowing what he was doing, reconstruct everything in this fashion through his famous painting.
The purely psychological process by which the brain functions is pretty much the way it sounds, complicated somewhat by the dualistic philosophy thriving out there in the psychologists’ community (the Descartian concept that soul/mind and brain are separate). But there are also biological or scientific and neurochemical reasons put into play when trying to explain a given psychological event. Some leaders in the field of psychology like to correlate psychological conditions with emotional conditions, based on some argument related to a shared synaptic event. This way physiology or neurochemistry can be used to define human behaviors as they are interpreted by psychologists. It is equally as often the case that the psychologist want to take a more adaptive, behavior approach to explaining the human psychological problem, meaning that the healing process has to be more than just neurochemical or neurophysiological in nature. Michelangelo’s painting depicts the products of spirit and soul, but one can easily transform it into something more scientific or biological in nature through the subconscious mind. For some, the same can be said about the healing process.
Physical, emotional and psychological healing processes are all somewhat interconnected with each other, and are harder to connect at the same level of complexity and completeness as the spiritual healing process. Mind and body may be interconnected as some sort of brain-centered concept of the mind as a product of ongoing thought and ever-changing emotions, but the same physical world connection cannot be described in equal detail when one tries to draw some sort of link between the brain and spirit, or the mind and spirit. The migration of some event from brain to mind is easier to imagine than the migration of some event at the brain or mind (thinking and being) level to something completely metaphysical such as the spiritual world. It is for these reasons that we psychologically come up with ways to conceptualize this transition from mind to spirit, by stating that spirit is a metaphysical construct, to which we apply physical natural laws by paralleling this special connection to some sort of energy concept or energy-mass derived event like the formation of a spark of energy or the transformation of countless neurological activities into some sort of energy field generation process. We can imagine and visualize this aura concept for a reason, to better understand how we can argue to ourselves the possibility that by changing our mind about something we are doing, that we are also changing the events taking place in the entire universe around us, at some quantum level, a philosophy very much in accordance to many contemporary philosophers in this field (the butterfly effect).
So most people pretty much walk away comfortable with their interpretation of the spirit world, considering it to be some sort of energy field concept, or some sort of frequency related event, or some sort of cosmic, universal and quantum theory based event. The most important process that ensues whenever this manner of thinking takes place is that we instinctively initiate certain human neurophysiological and behavior events when we are going through this thought process. We try to pull everything together to form some unified image or definition of what it is that we are trying to believe in. We still haven’t really brought the spiritual healing process that much closer to the body-emotions-psychology linkages by doing this. But we have resulted in some cognitive state or thought process that we can at least feel comfortable with for now, in our own mindset.
What is a spiritual healing event?
The spiritual healing process is a spiritual event because it transcends or goes well beyond these other three norms that we often use to explain it. An event is not spiritual if it took place due to some sort of energy driven principle. That kind of healing could be metaphysical, but is not necessarily spiritual in nature. To eliminate this argument as to why something like healing by touch is metaphysical, but not purely spiritual in nature, healers who perform such events routinely often try to add to the description of their skills the notion that they are the channel or vessel through which this metaphysical event is taking place. This is an adequate explanation for the time being, but doesn’t really draw us much closer to developing any understanding of how and why these healing events can happen in some cases and not in some others. There is this fairly self-centered idea of a threesome being involved with this process. There is the patient, the healer and the universal energy. If all three are not in synch, then the process is ineffective–at least this is the kind of argument often given for why some events work and others do not. Be that assumption right or wrong, that is really not the scenario being addressed here. Healing by touch is common; being healed spiritually in a way that only the healed can understand, transcends the other form of healing well beyond or “above” the most basic metaphysical state of a touch healing process.
The church has pretty much eliminated this three-stage line of reasoning with spiritual healing by requiring that the events they consider for consideration as a “miraculous” healing process be the result of the healed with the Creator. This is a unique concept of miracle, not meant to diminish other kinds of miracles that people experience as part of an unusual personal experience. The church using this unique definition because the goal is to replace the third party we often come to rely upon for physical inanimate objects that are purely unemotional and non-psychological in nature and intent. This way, the individual directly communicates his/her request for the healing process, even if it is indirectly communicated through the use of symbolic objects such as the Bible, the cross, or the rosaries. This type of intermediary activity in all of these cases is the same, and is not an individual. The person engaged in it is putting himself or herself into some very personal and often deeply meditative state. That meditative state is considered the equivalent to a fully committed prayer.
In terms of church or religious requirements, it is this meditative state or prayer state that has to be engaged in for a healing event to be considered a miracle in the official Vatican sense. The laying on of hands comes close to this type of scenario, and is commonly practiced in the church, but to call some sort of progress following such an event a miracle is perhaps taking the process and its outcomes a little too far into the physical world. This could be considered a miracle, but in the “minimalist” sense, not in the “highest” sense.
What constitutes a miracle?
The International Medical Committee of Lourdes is in charge of reviewing those cases considered to be “miracles.” To be considered the illness must be “serious,” and its cure “sudden” and “complete.”
“Serious” only refers to the degree to which an illness exists, and is fairly subjective in its nature.
The requirement of “sudden” is more obvious in nature, but might also be somewhat subjective in nature. A sudden cure ideally is one that happens pretty much immediately after the healing action is made, such as a prayer performed along with the placement of mud over the eyes of the blind using one or both thumbs, after which, in theory, the person opens his/her eyes and can see. In a more questionable cure process, the person may not have this return in eyesight for a few hours, or even the next day. So long as there is no reason to expect the sight to return, this change can be considered “unexpected” and then be further reviewed to determine whether it is “official” or not.
“Complete” is the only term that had an end-state that can be unequivocally defined. Completes means that which is being cured is gone, and over with, and is no longer a physical part of the individual’s life or body. This also means the illness will not return at some later point in life. A cure is one step more than a common event in medicine termed “spontaneous remission.” A cure is a “spontaneous recovery”, complete and non-reverting. “Spontaneous remission” implies that the symptomatology and perhaps even total signs of the problem have been eliminated.
The official board that was established by the Vatican in the mid-1900s to analyze reported miracles consists of about 100 Italian, mostly Catholic physicians. For the initial review, a panel of five Consulta Medica doctors review the case including all CT scans, X-rays, and medical reports provided. Once this review is complete, at least three of the five must agree that ‘God has prevailed where science faltered’. Once these results are determined, a case is reviewed by the entire committee of physicians who then decide upon a formal decision. This is then sent to a panel of cardinals and priests who must determine whether of not the cure is the result of praying to a saintly candidate. If this panel decides the evidence of healing prayer does exists, then the miracle is approved as such, and the panel issues its final conclusion in the form of a declaration.
In recent years, as technology has improved, and the methods of treatment have become more targeted and very specific, it has become harder to determine if a miracle has happened. Some case-related changes can naturally occur due to the complexity of the human body and the modes in which healing and remission are known to happen. For example, with multiple sclerosis, a person can have considerable periods of remission in which the disabling symptoms go away, and MS is no longer impacting day-to-day activities. This problem could return at some point in the months or years ahead, such as due to a known emotional or environmental stressors. A “spontaneous cure” of MS is when the symptomatology goes away, and the MS never returns or redisplays itself in a form somehow linked to the original MS. But proving whether a remission or a total cure has happened is not as easily accomplished in the modern world. Due to our increased understanding of the body and its physiological changes related to each of these improvements, it becomes easier for a physician to have a reason that didn’t exist years earlier when the previous miracles were being discussed.
Could technology and our knowledge of medicine and physiology finally won out over the definition of miracles concept we have often attached to some healings?
Yes and No. Most of the miracles claimed in recent decades have not been overnight events. Sometimes they have taken several weeks. This makes proving that a miracle happened related to a specific event harder to accomplish. An individual who visits Lourdes for example and remains there for a week or two, and at the end of this visit experiences the miracle, cannot attest with 100 percent certainty whether or not this event was due to the overall experience of being at Lourdes, the first minutes of being at the blessed waters, or the first day after undergoing that emotional stage of reconciliation to the personal disease history and fears about mortality that often serve as the impetus for bringing people to this blessed place.
Was this person miraculously healed? The answer to this question is up to the individual more than it is up to the church, and could take years to finally be answered. During that time of questioning the experience, one go through different phases in life, during which all possible answers to the question are experienced. Once most or all of these experiences do happen, one usually knows the final answer to his/her personal question.
A cure may be considered a miracle if it follows certain set of rules according to the Vatican. But for the individual, the answer to this question is left completely up to personal decision. When we apply this to the everyday human experience of thinking about and interpreting miracles, we come up with a less restricted way of analyzing these successful outcomes. A miracle cure is what we make of it. It is either there or it is not.
To demonstrate how we deal with the “miracle” concept regarding a cure. It helps to look at the more common “miracles” that people experience with health, and then see how many of these are a long-lasting cure, and how many are a result of some passionate response to a recent or immediate experience. Most recently, the following examples of “miracles” were pulled from some websites, and reviewed.
October 3, 1980
Dear XXXXXXXX and workers,
In 1976 I took a five-hour glucose tolerance test and the results indicated a pre-diabetic condition and severe hypoglycemia.
I have prayed to Our Lady of the Roses for a cure. I have just had another glucose tolerance test, and to my surprise and that of the doctor, the results were normal! I attribute this cure to Our Lady of the Roses and thank Her from the bottom of my heart!
Also, my sister XXXX has been an epileptic for about twelve years. I again prayed to Our Lady of the Roses for her. A recent brainwave test shows no epilepsy whatsoever.
I cannot thank Our Lady enough. I hope these cures will inspire many others to seek Our Lady’s help.
Sincerely yours in Our Lady of the Roses,
from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
There are two natural changes here that are interpreted as miracles–a change in outcomes for a glucose tolerance test and the lack of any EEG activity demonstrating seizure activity. This above scenario violates the first three rules–Serious, Sudden, and Complete–in several ways.
Proof of the seriousness of the case is not at all provided, in fact there may have not been any reason for concern at all regarding the pre–diabetes state. A normal to moderate condition of health is by rule implied by the “pre-diabetic condition”–this person is not diabetic. This is kind of like saying you’ve been cured of cancer of the skin developed due to your years in the tanning salon, simply because your skin became too freckled, began to form larger patterns of freckling that got you worried, but in the end would up simply being old age marks and not a cancer at all. There never was a cancer in the first place, so the cancer itself couldn’t be cured, and like most other people with freckles, you had a condition that made you worry for a moment, but in the end faced the good news that your changes in looks are due to getting older.
In terms of the hypoglycemica problem. Severe hypoglycemia is not as significant a problem as hyperglycemia, and is more a subjective diagnosis, and this use of the word ‘severe’ is subjective. The sudden difference in blood test results is not atypical.
The brainwave test for epilepsy is extremely often non-diagnostic. There is no association between diabetes and epilepsy.
The completion of this change is not at all proven. This is the most common error in proving that a change and cure has taken place. The possibility of simple remission has not been excluded. To demonstrate cure versus remission, a longer period of time would have to elapse after the change in order to demonstrate that an actual cure has happened. In some cases, only a few tests and days of evaluation may be all that is needed to decide whether or not a true change occurred. This is seen with cancer cases, and especially with all the tuberculosis cases cured through miracles. In the case of cancer, a series of x-rays and MRIs proves or disproves the change needed to demonstrate a cure. In cases of chronic disease like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, etc., to demonstrate a cure has happened and not a simple remission, the case may have to be followed up for a year or two.
Dear VVVVVVVV and workers of Our Lady of Roses,
A month ago, my family and I went to Bayside. We made the pilgrimage to honor Our Lady and Her beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus.
As we prayed the Rosary at Bayside, and the red light flashed, indicating the presence of Our Lord, I offered Him the terrible pain in my left shoulder blade for the poor souls in Purgatory. My pain left me at that very moment.
I have had rheumatism since 1942.
My family and I are grateful for the privilege of being on yours and Heaven’s side.
I pray for VVVVVVVV and you all,
from WWWWWWWWW, North Carolina
Pain management is a very personal experience, with personal limits set mentally and psychologically. Rheumatism is a physical disorder of the joints induced through autoimmune reactions. You can still have rheumatism but not be in as much pain as you were the week before. This type of change is very much cognitive and emotional in nature. This is a very good example of the mind-body phenomenon so prevalent in the popular culture world of personal health. The mechanisms that take place in this symptom-based healing are akin to processes one goes through by way of meditation, practicing yoga, taking a stroll in the woods each day, or going for a 5 to 10 mile jog before going to work. We can reset our thermostat for pain ending up with a much higher threshold through simple cognitive and reinforcing behavior changes. In terms of prayer related interventions, the prayer is part of the reinforcement practices engaged in, but since it is applied along with many other changes in personal attitude and behavior, is not the only reason for the ”cure” of rheumatoid pain. To absolutely cure someone of rheumatic pain, you either have to completely eliminate the disease problem, or eliminate the body of all sensory abilities and/or cognitive related processes attached to that sense of pain.
The purpose of lab tests and an x-ray is to show that the rheumatism has stopped, such as through a reduction in Rheumatoid Factor, accompanied by a decrease in symptomatology (pain and swelling), without a history of prescription drug use.
July 19, 1982
On February 9th of this year my daughter was taken to the hospital with what was thought to be pneumonia. It turned out to be a very severe case of Lupus. The doctors said it was like a forest fire raging out of control. Never had they seen such a bad case. Her chances were very slim. They went down a whole list of treatments usually used and none of them really did much. She lost her kidney function and suffered seizures. It looked hopeless, and we were told to prepare ourselves.
We all prayed constantly for her recovery. She had a rosary from Bayside and she said it daily. She wore the Our Lady of the Roses medal and scapular and used rose petals. She held on, but didn’t really get better, always worse.
At this point, on the eve of the feast of St. Joseph, I went to a vigil to place a petition before Our Lady personally. It hurt to leave her so desperately ill, but I felt perhaps I had to prove my faith. We prayed for her on the bus and she was constantly on my mind.
The next day she got much worse and her chances for survival were even more slim. We were told to prepare ourselves, as not a doctor or nurse expected her to survive–not just the disease but the treatment as well.
We prayed constantly, and on the day I received my petition back from Bayside she started to improve. With no kidney function to speak of she had to have dialysis three times a week. On the day the petition came back, she was supposed to have dialysis, but it was cancelled and she never had it again. The word “miracle” is used constantly by her doctors and her nurses as well.
She recently had a kidney biopsy at a medical center and they too call it a miracle–not only that she survived but keeps improving. She has very little kidney damage they tell us, and we are hopeful she will obtain a remission of the disease.
I ask the blessings of Jesus and Our Lady on the kind people who prayed constantly to St. Theresa, St. Jude, and St. Joseph for her recovery and still do. Most sincerely,
from Dupont, Pennsylvania
This case is possible.
The Role of Religion
Religion and religious gatherings play an important role in miracle stories. In any church setting, “miracles” happen every day. These much smaller miracles are events like finding a lost set of keys, remembering that you had left something on the stove when you left and once you made it back home had not caused any fires, or having to deal with leg pain but finding out that someone had left behind some cream for you to use by mistake the last time he/she came to visit. These events are in religious context small miracles, and in a non-religious context happenstance.
The image of Mary looking down into a glass receptacle filled with snakes symbolizes the purported power good has over evil, or in the case of medicine, the natural healthy body over a body suffering from some diseased state. In the case of the religion with snake handlers, religion provides us with the baseline needed to initiate the snake handlers faith. With the snake or serpent representing Satan, we go from Old Testament to New Testament in one single application of Adam and Even’s conquest to the fights with the devil of those healed by Jesus had to contend with. One could argue that without the snake, there is no reason for this kind of thinking to exist. The same is true for snake handler religions. In the purest sense, snake handlers have a skill that is symbolized by good and evil. these worshipping scenarios, the miracle here is handling the snake and not being bitten by the snake, or if you are bitten, not suffering much pain or even death due to the snake bite. One could argue there was no direct intervention taking place here by any sort of Great Spirit modality. This event is due to certain influences brought about through natural events related to the snake, the snake holder’s mood and affect, and perhaps even something as simple as the general temperature and climate for the time.
Applying this way of thinking to body-mind-spirit-soul relationship, each of these have their own duality in terms of health and well being–good or bad. Relate this way one thinks and reacts to poor health and disease, and you have a fairly strong statement being made about what illness is and how to eliminate it from your life. You can take the completely physiological approach and try to entice the snake to strike you in some way, only to reply to such an attempt by completely preventing the serpent’s poison from taking hold of your body, mind, spirit, soul, or when such does happen, recovering from the envenomation process is a way that is very symbolic of an exorcism.
In Illinois, there is this church that takes a Swedenborg approach to interpreting health and disease. Emmanuel Swedenborg’s concept of the body is that it is a receptacle for many things, not only physical things, but also spiritual things. An important part of these spiritual components in the body are its various angels. For Swedenborg, every tissue, organ, channel, vessel, corpuscle, or any other body part has its representative angel that oversees one’s balance of being and state of existence or health. This in turn leads Swedenborgians to very much adhere to alternative medical beliefs that somehow redefined the angel in some other way. It is no surprise therefore to learn that some of the strongest followers of Swedenborg historically in American history were the homeopathic physicians. Homeopathic physicians may refer to these healing powers as “vibrations” or the like, Swedenborgians define them as angels pulling from the homeopathic remedy whatever it is that they need to cure the receptacle’s parts that they are in charge of.
The Illinois prayer church I am referring to appears to be an offshoot of one of these following that had churches raised in the Midwest by 1850 (some homeopathics’ Swedenborg churches). The healers in this group imagine an angel for each part of the body to protect, and claim that encroachments on this territory being made by Satan and his demonic angels are what cause the disease. They then make an attempt to eliminate the satanic spirits within that are causing the body to become ill. They do this through simple presence or attendance (being by the patient’s side), through prayer, through the laying on of hands.
What religion does is define for us an avenue along which we can take our various forms of reasoning and philosophy in order to make better sense of the human part of this personal experience. Religion sets the stage for how and where social interactions that are either supporting or condemning of this spiritual practice will ensue. Religious beliefs define that which should be done. The people who are following this faith in turn define what will be done.
The Role of Place of Worship
In many church or synagogue settings, those who are most devoted to their religious group often include most of the various types of changes in life they experience as symbolic healings. These “healings” they like to talk about include such things as a move to a new home, the purchase of a new car, their ability to make it to the doctor’s office one more time.
Those who are more traditionalists when it comes to identifying any religious or spiritual related healing processes would probably be on the side of the Vatican or Chief Rabbi regarding the definition of a true spiritual healing event. These thinkers will probably refer back to the rules set forth generations before for what constitutes a true healing. A true healing is defined as an event or series of events that lead to the complete elimination of whatever it is that needed to be cured, events that take place other than through natural physiological and behavioral processes and socioculturally defined expectations. In order for such a change to be a real cure, there has to be evidence that the problem is no longer there once the cure is accomplished, and that its reversal could not be produced in some natural way. So depending upon what you defined as the problem in need of this cure, your cure can be fairly easy to obtain, like when the cure you are asking for is the simple ability to move you arm once again once it is fully healed and out of a sling, or it could be something and complex and unlikely as wanting to be able to see again once your sight has been lost due to diabetic retinopathy developed over a long period of time.
Some of the healing events that appear possible are more than likely just remedial. Other healing events are impossible because certain parts of the remedial process are likely to happen naturally, thereby initiating the remaining events necessary for completion to take place. Some healing events are just impossible biologically, and it is these events that are usually the ones that are considered for the possibility of being a spiritual cure of some sort or miraculous nature.
The Role of Saints and Prayer
The action of silence, prayer and attentiveness provide us with a direction to take in life. According to the authors of prayers and healing, direction and attention are needed for an intention to be made. Up till now, all the above events that may or may not be engaged in are less personal and more societal in nature. The involve you as a person, but in some more public, less private way. So you often do not completely release yourself to whatever it is you are searching for. These next two steps, involving saints and prayers, and engaging your own self at the personal level open you up to more accomplishments to be made and possibilities to be reached. When you are praying to Joan of Arc, you are essentially opening yourself up to some possibility not completely engaged in previously as a part of this process. When you turn to a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, or a prayer card devoted to Pope John Paul, you are initiating a process meant to go beyond the normal events engaged in with other people. This opens the door further for something hard to express completely with others–faith. Thus appears the argument that many religious thinkers have given to religious versus science, of religion versus medicine–you must have some sort of faith at work at the personal level in order for something that is not physical or sociocultural to take place–the faith healing process and more.
This differentiates faith healing from its similars, mind-body healing, healing by touch, healing by aromatherapy. Faith can play a role in something as basic as aromatherapy if the meaning and composition of the aromatherapeutic process match something else have to do with faith itself. But to simply light up an incense stick that has minimal philosophical reasoning or faith attached to it could be as physical as having a back rub or drinking some scullcap tea to calm your nerves.
When you engage a saint and do so in the correct manner, you initiate a process that states that you are open to impression for the moment, hoping and waiting to see if something that is based solely upon faith can and will happen. The same can be said for some similar metaphysical experiences so long as the right mindset and reasons for engagement exist. The actions of sufi prayer in a circle, holding hands, reciting certain lines again and again until some sort of group harmony is reached, may put you in that same meditative state of mind to enable other doors of opportunity to be opened. This is the process which Sufiists call becoming “devoted to the Divine”, performing prayer services as a form of intercessory prayer experience.
The makings of this particular form of sufism, born out of a social setting distinct from the contemporary systems of Islamic tradition, came to be in Baroda, India in 1882, when its founder Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan defined this particular form of Sufi practice. This practice later came to the United States in 1910, and has since developed its followers of poetry and music traditionalists, as well as the music, prayer and healing traditionalists. (see http://www.sufihealingorder.org/). In some ways, these sufi prayers designed by Khan, absent of the dervishes, semazens, and dizzying gyrations of a dancer in search of kemal, are practices that come very close to the traditional Roman Catholic concept of prayer and meditation.