Spiritual Healing and the Conversion Process

The spiritual healing process is not just a simple transition in philosophy and living habits.    It requires a series of events to take place before it can happen.  It is often a change that has some sort of permanent impact of the human psyche and expression of feelings and beliefs.   To prepare for such a process, some form of physical, emotional and intellectual transformation has to take place, before the spiritual transformation can be completed.

In a completely transformed person, peaks and lulls take place in personal life events along with similar changes in human behavior and emotions.  This is very much like the individual enrolled in a program devoted to the Alcoholics Anonymous, or some program designed for those who want to quit smoking.  However, this comparison that I imply exists between the religious transition in life, and ceasing an unhealthy habit such as drinking of smoking, is mentioned only as examples of how we can traditionally look at important changes in life events.  Traditionally, one way of teaching this type of change is through the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of Behavior Change first described in 1977 by James O. Prochaska  of the University of Rhode Island (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transtheoretical_model).   Even though spiritual transformation in the form of religious change is very different from the day to day uncontrollable consumption of certain foods, alcohol, or tobacco products, TTM still has all of the components needed to describe the mechanisms of a spiritually guided religious life change. 

The following list is of the six stages on must go through to initiate and continue a life change process.   The original wording for each of these steps has been modified to better fit this model of change into the changes people go through by way of conversion: 

  1. Precontemplation – no intention to take action or make a change is evident in the foreseeable future; one does not plan for a conversion to take place during the upcoming months
  2. Contemplation – a person is considering change or intending to change, perhaps even within the next few months, butis not actively engaged in tis process most of the time; he/she is not convinced that such a change is really a necessity
  3. Preparation – one i ready to take action in the immediate future for undergoing change, which is usually beginning to be taken more seriously; change will happen usually within the next month if not sooner.
  4. Action – setting goals and making specific overt modifications in one’ s life style to accomodate these changes; these events are meant to be ongoing and reasonably maintainable, at least for the next several months; passion for this change erupts before the option of total devotion needed for this change sets in
  5. Maintenance and Service – identifying accomplishments, setting new goals, and ways of working to prevent any possibility for relapse ensuing; this stage can last for several years, if not longer (remaining lifespan); there are highs and lows throughout this period of life, the consequences of which usually do not signify changes in the wrong direction.  For religious leaders, the details of this period are best represented by the Service activities they engage in.
  6. Termination – questioning and then rescinding the decision that was made, due to lack of certainty, confidence, a loss of the sense of complete involvement and total accomplishment.     The lack of 100% self-efficacy enables old unhealthy habits to be rekindled, and previous beliefs to no exist less. 

The Termination stage is very different from the Maintenance or Service stage.  All individuals taking a spiritual course towards the healing experience have their ups and downs that occur as part of the expected Maintenance period in life.  One way to think of the Action to Maintenance transition period is to think of this change as a result of everything clicking right into place, as if everything makes much more sense now than it did a few hours, days or weeks ago.  Embedded in this change in psychological thinking are several emotional changes as well, events which neuropsychologically enable the individual to adapt to these changes, and which are usually based on the emotional expressivity that arises from the limbic system in the brain.   Such is probably the feelings Tschoop manifested once he made his decision to convert and then finally experience the completion of this change in life.

In a popular 1960s and1970s theory of brain processes and evolution, the triunal theory of the brain that became popular stated that the brain could be viewed as a structure or organ divided into three sections–the core or center in which basic reflexes exist to maintain life, the limbic-midbrain section where emotions are formed and their effects upon our decision making processes are initiated, and the higher brain or cortical section the place where most of our logical thought processes are generated and maintained.  The transition from Action to Maintenance is complete when theological processes are in tune with an adapted to the emotional responses and vice versa.  This symbiosis of the two parts in turn impacts the lower levels of the nervous system, in effect resulting in some sort of deep seated sense of complete resolution.  It is this sense of complete resolution and its believability that in turn allow for it to be maintained for long periods of time, enough time to make thse changes pemanent, even though they experience normal periods of lulls.

One reason this model fits extremely well with the conversion process  is explained by its name.  Transtheoretical change means that one undergoes a significant change in one’s own personal  theoretical basis for existence, from which many of life’s practices and expectations get formed, become self-absorbing, and then become things that only we as individuals can fully understand and explain.  A fairly superficial application of this concept is to state that a smoker ceases smoking because he/she is finally convinced, without doubt, that this is a bad habit that may be detrimental to one’s quality of life and overall  life span.  The transtheoretical model can fail to be a success when the emotional reasons underlying these hopes and wishes are not fully there and being expressed.  Without this part of the triunal thinking taking hold, the TTM no longer holds its ground, and the person trying to cease smoking returns to being a smoker.

Religion is treated differently by the brain.  There is a very strong emotional path that is involved, and the human psyche undergo a much stronger transtheoretical modeling change due to these emotions.  One of the major impacts of religious change on the body physically is that sense of fulfillment and gratification. 

Before taking the anti-religious stance on religion and the body and mind however, there is another of compariing religious change to certain otehr very popular life experiences.  These same events constitute the change that a shaman undergoes when he or she meets up with his or her spirit guide.  Such is the change an American Indian like Tschoop felt once he became committed to Christianity, its teachings and its philosophy.   He was so convinced that he was even probably even asking himself at times, ‘Why turn back or change you mind once such a discovery is made?’   A sense of  enlightenment and ecstasy may be related to this event, giving rise to action.  



Brother John and Blessed Kateri

A comparison between Brother John and Kateri is fairly simple, and yet complex.  Kateri’s life experience had features that matched those of St. Catherine of Senna.  Brother John’s life experience could be compared with that of St. John the Apostle.  So how do the life experiences for these two Native Americans compare to each other?  The two have significant social and historical differences–Kateri healed her first followers following her death within weeks of dying.   We never read aboput anything like this for Tschoop, at least in the writings released about his life experience.

The following tables provide an important part in helping to answers the question: how much was Tschoop’s life experience like that of Blessed Kateri?  The purpose of these tables is to draw parallels between Brethren John and Kateri, with the primary goal of relating John’s experiences with those of Kateri when it comes to particular stages in Kateri’s spiritual development and maturation.   Only part of Kateri’s life experience is noted in these tables for now, in order to demonstrate the nature of the different stages of personal and societal growth both she and John experienced.  In spite of their temporal and cultural distinctions, and the different ways in which each one underwent his or her experiential process, the two have remarkable similarities  in need of our own contemplation and review as curious onlookers.  These two life stories when combined provide us with new insights into the American Indian beatification and canonization experience.   These tables are displayed in order of the life events or processes related to the transtheoretical model.

The Test





Conversion and Active Service



Service, Guidance, Leadership







A Comparison

We can also compared Kateri and John to the accomplishments of  recently canonized Saint Father Damien (to be covered in another chapter separately).  Father Damien’s unique life experience involved his work for the lepers in Hawaii, due to which he himself became a leper, in order to understand their life story and be more in touch with their special needs and experiences.  In someways, Father Damien ultimately learned about the most tragic parts of their life story, perhaps as a martyr but more so as an experientialist from whom they learned.  The parallels that have been drawn here are self explanatory.


Brother John is an American Indian and so compares best with Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.   As noted earlier for Kateri, the missionaries were taking a wait and see approach before deciding the names they would assign to their converts.  This means they were in touch somewhat with the personal experiences each member of the new church had, and some of these life experiences could be easily paralleled with the life experience of some important religious leader, biblical character, or saint.   As noted in my essay on Baptisms, this had to be the reason for of the names initially assigned for the first converts.   These individuals who received a baptismal name had a matching theological character, and in some cases the mirrored life experiences of their selected individual.  This becomes quite evident when we review the assignment of the baptismal name of Saint Catherine of Siena to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.  Kateri had a series of life experiences that are remarkably similar to those of St. Catherine.  Likewise, for Tschoop, many felt he resembled St. John the Apostle and Evangelist more than the Old Testament character related to his colloquial name, Job.

This unfortunately also suggests that it is possible that a significant amount of  Kateri’s story was modified or even made up the writers to match the same legends and tales related to St. Catherine.   This has led some historians and anthropologists to suggest that these sorts of stories are written as the were in order to serve more as lessons, than as actual history.   The remarkable duplication of the history of Tschoop’s story suggests that there was considerable effort made not to modify this historical tale by adding to its content.  The story of Tschoop seemed perfect the wayLoskiel has told it.  One can look up any missionary book or periodical for the times with this story and see that it has changed very little from its first publication in 1787 to its republication as Sunday school lessons nearly a century later.

Tschoop appears to meet fairly well the life history of a Convert and Exemplary, followed by that of a Martyr.  The remaining signs of become beatified however are missing–the association of John or Tschoop with the occurance of a miracle.