What is going on in spiritual healing?

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I have a double interest in spiritual healing, practical and intellectual.

Giving healing

Image of Healing areas. Fraser Watts discusses healing.
I became familiar with healing while in the clergy

I got into healing when working as a Church of England priest. I was fairly sure I didn’t have any special gift for it, but thought I owed it to people to try it and to do my best. I set aside any scepticism I might have, and put my heart and soul into it.

I was surprised to find that something seemed to happen. When I laid hands on people they often felt that strange heat from the hands often reported in spiritual healing. I was also staggered by how much it actually seemed to help people. Not every time, of course, but often enough for me to be convinced that something beneficial really was going on.

Receiving healing

I have given healing more often than I have received it. But I certainly sought it out when, some years ago, I had bowel cancer. It is hard to be sure, but I think it aided my post-operative recovery and has helped me to stay well since.

Recently I have had a severe flu-time virus and sought spiritual healing. Again it is hard to be sure, but it seemed to mark the end of the time when I felt really ill and was rather just washed out and lacking in energy. I am pleased to say that normal energy is now returning.

What is happening?

What exactly is going on is another matter. When I am praying for healing I set those questions aside and just fervently invoke the healing power of Christ. Though I think some aspects of the gospels have greater historical accuracy than others, it seems to me highly likely that Jesus really was a remarkable healer. Josephus (a kind of independent historian) refers to him as a miracle worker.

It seems likely that there is a complex mixture of spiritual and psychological factors going on in healing. I don’t think they are the same, and I don’t think it can all be reduced to psychology. But, in practice, they are so intertwined that it is hard to disentangle them.

Natural or Miraculous?

Some people want to force a dichotomy. Either it can all be understood in everyday terms (i.e. ‘naturalistically), or there is something completely inexplicable going on. I reject that sharp dichotomy. I think there is something special going on, but I think it works through everyday processes. However, we probably need to expand our understanding of everyday processes before we can figure that out how.

I tried to sort some of this out in my 2011 book on Spiritual Healing: Scientific and Religious Perspectives (CUP), and I look forward to writing about it again in the book I am currently writing, on Embodied Spirituality.

– Fraser Watts