Sophia Alternative Healing Group

The following is a report on the:

Third Conference on Faith in Healing and Health Care Provision
Held on Wednesday 26 and Thursday 27 July 2000 at St. Martin’s College, Lancaster.

First, we reproduce some quotes from the introductory material to the conference:

“(It will) seek to explore a wide range of issues pertaining to faith-related and spiritual aspects of holistic health and the inclusion of spiritual care within various forms of health care provision.”

“SOPHIA: Scholarly Society for the Exploration of Spiritual Health and Healing, will be launched, with an Inaugural General Meeting during the Conference”

“The focus of the conference will be especially but not exclusively Christian.”

These and all other comments in italics are the personal observations of an attendee:

I sought to understand what these statements meant and to establish what the aims and aspirations of the conference were, as well as to enjoy the company of others and being part of the conference as much as possible.

The conference booklet was entitled:

“St. Martin’s College – Centre for Advanced Nursing Practise and Research and HYGEIA: Centre for the Study of Health and Religion.”

As far as I can tell this is simply a department of St Martin’s College, which also has its own web site, called HYGEIA. This department, represented at the conference by some of its own lecturers, was at least partly instrumental in organising these conferences.

The programme outline covered the following:

Wednesday

Introduction

Plenary Talks – Community Action / Meditation in the work place as a form of staff support / Spirituality within the Counselling Room

Choices – Labyrinth Walking / Spirituality within the Counselling Room – experiential session / Meditation – practical session

Choices – Understanding Healing Energy / Meditation: Making Spiritual Boundaries

Plenary Talks – Resources for the delivery of Faith-Related Care / Clinical Effectiveness, Clinical Governance and all that

Chapel – Healing Eucharist in Anglo-Catholic Tradition

Dance Studio – Sacred Dance

Thursday

Chapel – Morning Prayer

Plenary Talks – General Meeting to Launch SOPHIA / Healing in Zen Buddhism / Sharing terminology and classification of the Spiritual Domain / Holy Rood House

Choices – Line, Circle and Cross Dance Workshop / Meditation and Contemplation for Health

Choices – Interviews with colleagues to explore the Spiritual Domain / Healing Workshop

Plenary Talks – The Mystery of Healing / Summaries

I will now make some notes on the sessions I attended plus other information:

Community Action – Jim Baker – Chaplain for NHS Trust, Mental Health Manager, Rural Dean.

This is a work to help young people in Whitehaven. He opened the first ‘Healthy Living Centre’ in Cumbria, now 400 people per week using it and was instrumental in building a labyrinth in Whitehaven. Promotes action rather than bureaucracy.

Meditation in the Workplace – Chris Calvert – previously midwife, presently in the Community Drugs Team, meditation teacher and Marie Curie Bank Nurse.

She did two pilot studies with a local Community Drugs Team and local Health Promotion Service, in the form of a 6-week course, one hour session each week. She believes this meditation can stand apart from or with any belief system. It helped with migraines and gave a more energised feeling, greater ability to focus, more in control, more team cohesion, less anxiety etc. She believed it to be cost effective but that it should not be compulsory.

I went to her practical session later.

Spirituality within the Counselling Room – Amanda Keighley – a senior lecturer in the Department of Primary Health Care at St Martin’s College.

All religious and non-religious people have a spiritual dimension and we apparently all struggle with this area.

I had a strong sense that ‘everyone’ was struggling and striving to find the meaning to life generally, and picked up quite a strong sadness amongst the delegates under the friendly chatter.

We are not to label people who hear voices, and cannot judge another person’s spirituality.

This I feel was in the context of everyone being encouraged to have their own religious beliefs whether a mainstream religion, made-up religion, belief in any god or spirit or spiritual energy. From this talk and others at the conference, it was obvious that it was not simply a case of respecting people of other religions and beliefs.

Admitted that she personally was very confused in her personal spirituality.

In the course booklet, it says that the talk was to explore how counsellors can support their clients to define their spiritual needs. The ‘transpersonal’ – transpersonal experiences involve ‘an expansion or extension of consciousness beyond the usual boundaries and beyond the limitations of time and or space’ – is considered an extremely neglected area in the field of counselling and psychotherapy.

Practical Sessions

Walking the Labyrinth – Steve Wright – Assoc. Professor, Faculty of Health, St Martin’s College. Editor of ‘Sacred Space: International Journal of Spirituality and Health’ and Chairman of ‘The Sacred Space Foundation’.

I only attended the first quarter of an hour. There is a painted labyrinth on floor outside to walk round. You apparently begin to feel a deeper impact the second or third time round. You can walk it in various ways – fast, slow, dance, stopping to meditate, clothed or unclothed.

The rose symbol in the middle represents the heart of the Christian; the four quadrants represent the four seasons. The path should enter by East, the source of our birth, and open to the West.

It is likened to an inner journey. Entering the bosom of Christ, walking the path of Jesus and basically has three phases:

Purgation – ridding of personal agendas, letting go, quieting and emptying the mind – Illumination and Union – becoming connected with self or divine, whatever you perceive it to be

It is perceived as a helpful tool for use as a Church or Chapel.

I think this is one of the glaring problems of the conference as far as evangelical Christianity is concerned. Church is not a tool for being connected personally with self or divine, but rather a community united worship to the Father through His Son Jesus Christ. Neither can the Divine be simply what you perceive it to be, and neither should a Church be a tool to reach other gods of other religions, some of which have many.

Before entering the labyrinth you spend a few moments in reflection, then go in with an open heart and mind, letting all thoughts go, allowing a sense of calmness yet wakefulness to flow through you. Ask a question and be open to whatever comes in. Use a mantra or other words or phrase that you repeat. Read scripture from your own faith or other books on spirituality or poetry etc. Ask for help through prayer.

The conference booklet tells us that the Labyrinth at St. Martin’s College is a replica of that found at Chartres Cathedral, France.

Lauren Artress, Canon for Special Ministries at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco sees labyrinths as…

“divine imprints…they are universal patterns most likely created in the collective unconscious, birthed through the human psyche and passed down through the ages.”Meditation – Practical Session – Chris Calvert (see previous talk)

The room had incense burning as I entered, and leant against the table was a picture in a frame. It was explained that on the picture the circle on the outside represented all religions and even atheism, all of which had access to the inner flame. All can access the inner place passed the sub-conscious jumble, down to love/peace which passes all understanding/inner ego/inner self etc.

It seemed that various spiritual concepts including Biblical ones as well as psychology terms were all placed under the same umbrella as though they were synonymous. This was I suppose an attempt to clarify her previous statement that this meditation can stand apart from or with any belief system.

After introductions, we were advised preferably to lie down on a mat or sit comfortably in a chair. We were told to focus on our breathing as though looking from a different angle or place since our eyes were closed. It was okay for thoughts to come, but we were to focus back on our breathing from a ‘lazy position’. We were led to stiffen the body and then let go to aid relaxation.

Later she said further sessions would normally involve a mantra or candle etc.

Interestingly, a woman who during the introductions had said she was a Christian seeking to get very close to God, left just before the meditation on the grounds of a headache and she never returned to the conference to my knowledge. During the introductions I had thought she had the most noble aim of the whole group but felt she was looking in the wrong place. I later wondered if God had helped her to see that.

Understanding Healing Energy – Gloria McDonald – state registered occupational therapist who lectures at South Bank University, London.

We broke into groups to discuss spiritual healing in its various forms. One conclusion was that the Holy Spirit could be described as a healing energy.

A consistent theme throughout the conference was that you could say anything you liked about spirituality, although not a lot was said about Christianity in these sessions to see what the response would have been. No one would contradict you, so the overriding assumption was that it was okay to believe what you liked.

On this and a couple of other occasions ‘Christian fundamentalists’ [I think referring to Evangelicals] were mentioned as laughable because they may believe that some of the spiritual concepts such as prana or other beliefs regarding spiritual energy are demonic. This was the only religious group mocked in the whole conference. Strangely enough most of the techniques and meditations dealt with were from eastern religions, but no belief in evil spirits and forces prevalent and central to the teachings of these other religions, were given a hearing while experimenting with healing energy which they admittedly didn’t understand.

In my group the topic was ‘grace’ and so I shared about forgiveness as a source of healing and how I only felt I had the power to put that into practise when I met with God. No one else shared similar concepts.

It seems that nobody else believed in the Trinity or that the Holy Spirit is a Person and part of the Godhead.

Talks

Resources for the delivery of Faith-Related care: a survival kit – Gretchen Stevens – Director and full time healer at the ‘Centre for Complementary Care’ in Eskdale, W. Cumbria. Works closely with local GPs and Consultants, the N. Cumbria Health Authority, Social Services and voluntary groups in the area.

People are treated at the centre regardless of religious or financial status. There were many references to raising money and seeking grants and the importance of getting good references from churches and businesses as a result of doing good in the local community was stressed. Unconditional love and humility was referred to in closing.

In the accompanying material given to delegates, we were informed that the Centre for Complementary Care offers:

Healing by gentle and therapeutic touch to stimulate the body’s own healing mechanisms.

Acupuncture.

Meditation and silence.

Cancer Support.

An enclosed note informed the reader that the cost per client per hour of maintaining the Centre is in excess of £35 and they asked for a donation of between £10 – £35, but in some cases this can be reduced or waived.

Patrons include The Rt. Revd. George Hacker – the former Bishop of Penrith, Harry Enfield and The Reverend Dr Peter Tiplady.

Chapel

Healing Eucharist in Anglo-Catholic Tradition – Revd Alan Brown – Head of Applied Health Studies at the School of Healthcare Studies at the University of Leeds, and Priest at Ilkley.

This meeting was poorly attended.

The sermon had clear hallmarks of encouraging multi-faith practices beyond simply respecting and caring for all humanity.

There should have been more people there if this was a conference focusing on Christianity, especially in view of there being no other alternative except to wander into town. Some may have travelled home early if they were not sleeping on site.

Out of those who came, I could not fail to sense a confusion and emptiness. Some were there I think because they were trying to show respect for all beliefs at the conference and not because they would see themselves as Christians as such, and looked very uncomfortable.

Dance Studio

Sacred Dance – Alan Beattie – trained in classical and contemporary dance. Professor of Health Promotion at St. Martin’s College, Lancaster.

This was an emotion-based experience, following the leader in dance using interesting pieces of music from different eras. Later, one or two others took the lead and were free to express themselves in movement with everyone else copying.

The final event was the leader expressing an issue of the day in dance, which was then passed by hand. The next person either carried it on or did their own spontaneous expressive dance movements concerning their issue of the day. All those present mirrored each dance and by the end, everyone very emotionally involved in their dancing.

In the conference booklet, referring to the workshop, we read,

“It is a practical session that gives the opportunity to participate in some simple devotional and celebratory dances drawn from a variety of faith backgrounds.”Here we have the multi-faith aspect again. Dance can be very emotional and engaging. This workshop aimed to offer devotion and celebration to other gods or beliefs.

General Meeting to Launch SOPHIA: The Scholarly Society for the Exploration of Spirituality in Health and Healing. – Helen Leathard – Reader in Pharmacology and Human Psychology in the Department of Nursing Studies at St. Martin’s, Anglican Reader.

SOPHIA was officially launched at this sitting with Helen Leathard as the Chairman and President of Sophia. The next conference in July 2000 will have Sophia as its official organiser.

Also planned next year is the establishing of an electric communication network through HYGEIA: Centre for the Study of Religion and Health, based in the Department of Religion and Ethics at St. Martin’s College, Lancaster.

‘Sophia’ will use the journal ‘Sacred Space: The International Journal of Spirituality and Health’ as its main vehicle for publishing conference abstracts and papers. The Editor of the journal is Steve Wright (mentioned before).

Under ‘Aims and Scope of the Journal’ at the back of Volume 1, Issue 1 Autumn 1999, the first paragraph says:

“Sacred Space seeks to publish papers, reports and other material in relation to spirituality of concern to all those involved in health care. From the place of sacred architecture in healing to ecopraxis and the health of the environment, from religion to ‘new age’ spirituality, from prayer and meditation to labyrinth walking and psychotherapy… diverse themes such as these, and more, will be included to look at many possible facets of spirituality; what it means to the healers and carers and those they wish to help.”

Steve Wright is also Chairman of the ‘Sacred Space Foundation’ which came into being in 1997, originally the Didsbury Trust dedicated to the teaching of a healing art known as Therapeutic Touch (TT). The principal aim of the Foundation is to provide peaceful rest, retreat and recuperation facilities – ‘sacred space’ – for health care workers and other carers who have become burned out in their work.

Amongst other activities, they organise programmes and courses on Therapeutic Touch, Creating Sacred Space, Shamanism, Meditation and Relaxation, Team Building – Group Work and Conflict Resolution, Labyrinth Walking, Sanctuary Creation.

From the Provisional ‘Aims’ and ‘Operational Statement’ it is clear that Sophia seeks to go heavily into research and validation of what they believe, and promote its presence as part and parcel of all forms of health care, which, judging by the professions of the lecturers, would also mean targeting the National Health Service. In the light of this, the Operational Statement becomes clear, such as lobbying in support of its aims and encouraging education relating to these practices.

One of the statements says that they will ’embrace Christian (non-denominational), multi-faith, and secular perspectives on health and healing’. This speaks for itself.

Healing in Zen Buddhism – David Brandon – Emeritus Professor in Community Care, Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge. Zen Buddhist.

This followed in the footsteps of Bankei the Shamanic healer and great Zen master who lived in seventeenth century Japan. It expressed love through action and that there were more important things in life than success. In fact, it pulled down a lot of what the conference was about.

He did not go down very well with most but he did have a few followers. A lot of swearing in his talk too

Sharing terminology and classification of the Spiritual Domain – Gloria MacDonald (see previously)

Use of religious terminology to relate to any person who seeks help, for instance, parallels with Krishna and beloved. These are to be used in counselling to point people in the spiritual direction they are expressing.

This can encourage people to follow any god or religion. Christian counselling does hold back on bringing God into the process at times but when the spiritual side comes into play it is always through Jesus that we seek spiritual wholeness.

Holy Rood House – Stanley Baxter – joint Director of Holy Rood House with Elizabeth Baxter.

This group seeks to promote justice in society and believes that elimination of poverty and oppression is part of healing ministry. They approach without fear and with unconditional love many who have been rejected by the church and society. Communities are wounded and so they produce wounded people.

They use drama, aromatherapy and physiotherapy. Clients are called guests and one remarked that, “This is the safest place for me to be unsafe in.”

He said some very good things from a Christian perspective, and the aims of Holy Rood House as outlined in the conference booklet under ‘Church-based activities’, ‘Health and pastoral care’ and ‘Justice and advocacy’ are excellent. The only areas under these headings that cause me to question are: ‘Training Healers’ and ‘Co-operating with other healing partners’ [as distinct categories from ‘Supporting those in healing ministries’ and ‘Providing education in the areas of health and healing’ which come under the same heading]. This is presumably where the link with Sophia may come in.

These thoughts seem to be confirmed by the Holy Rood House literature given to delegates where we see that their therapeutic care includes:

Counselling and Psychotherapy; Creative Arts – weaving, art therapy, creative writing, pottery, drama therapy; Therapies – aromatherapy, full body massage, Indian head massage, reflexology, shiatsu and yoga.

Interestingly, Holy Rood House used to be sub-titled ‘The Centre for the North of England Christian Healing Trust’, but now it is called, ‘The Centre for Health and Pastoral Care’.

Practical Sessions

Meditation and Contemplation for Health – Helen Leathard (see previously)

We were encouraged to lie down on a mat or sit comfortably. Those lying down were to adopt the so-called ‘corpse position’. She referred to the healing energy as ‘Life Force’ to encompass everyone’s beliefs and terminology.

She then taught us a breathing technique – when we held our breath we had to imaginatively send the life force to parts of our body for healing. She led us to do this while imagining rainbow colours for successive areas of the body.

I can see the appeal as this dealt with private areas of the body in a non-threatening way and encouraged positive thought and hope regarding your own physical and emotional ailments. You had the supporting presence of other people in the same room yet with no intrusion.

I would like to leave it at that if I could but I have studied and interviewed ‘healers’ concerning the life force in a different study and had cause for concern, so I would not recommend this ‘healing energy’. If I felt happy that there was no risk of a non-Christian spiritual force at work then I would have recommended this as a positive psychological exercise. However, in view of the aims of Sophia I feel caution is necessary. I also did not feel happy about this taking place in the Chapel.

In the conference booklet we read,

“Prayers and poetry derived from diverse Christian traditions will invite the healing presence of God’s Holy Spirit.”

“Appropriate breathing techniques will be used to help achieve focus upon the meditation. To aid the transition from meditation on concrete guided imagery to more abstract contemplation, associations will be made between the body systems, rainbow colours and a physiological analogue of the yoga chakras.”Interviews with colleagues to explore the Spiritual Domain – Gloria MacDonald (see previously)

There were only four of us and we had to pair off to ask deep spiritual and emotional questions of each other to fill out a supposedly anonymous questionnaire – difficult with only four of us. Mine inevitably consisted of my Christian testimony.

The speaker collected in the completed questionnaires, which I readily agreed to, but for some reason, when I asked her for a ‘blank’ copy of the questionnaire she refused.

Talk

The Mystery of Healing – Steve Wright (see previously)

Something occurs in the healing experience that encourages the healing mechanism to take place through nature. Tools and models are to help us but we are not to be caught up with ‘I am the Healer’ etc.

Conclusions

In the conference booklet we read,

“It is possible to be healed and yet not cured of a particular disease and its consequences.”

I think some Christians need to accept that statement

“Recent studies have affirmed the possibility that healing may not even need the presence of the healer; the phenomenon of ‘non-local’ healing suggests exciting -and frightening if used negatively – possibilities for healing work … As understanding of the nature of consciousness deepens, it seems possible that each person may posses some internal mechanism which can be activated by themselves or others, and which ‘switches on’ the inherent capacity of the body to heal itself.”As an evangelical Christian, I am already aware that healing can take place without the presence of a human healer because God himself is ever present to heal through Jesus. We also have the Biblical example of Jesus healing the Centurion’s servant and Paul’s sending of handkerchiefs, amongst others. This I feel though is different to the energy that this conference is seeking.

The booklet also reads:

“…it may be that healing emerges with or without instrumentalist intervention. If this is possible, and the author will contend that it is, then the question may need to be answered as to the source of this healing.”

If the conference is supposed to be especially Christian as the introductory material says then they should have no hesitation in believing that the healing is of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ. From what I have experienced of the conference this is not what is believed. The healing is seen as a healing energy of whatever kind you believe it to be and from whatever God or gods you choose.

It was concluded at the conference that the words ‘spiritual’ and ‘energy’ do not define the healing very well but they concluded they would not be able to find a better one for now. To me, the supernatural healing that I have witnessed throughout my Christian life through prayer is none other than by God himself directly and by his own will.

I could not describe this conference as a Christian one or even supportive of Christian teaching, although there are elements of Christianity within it, particularly in view of the Chapel services, and some of the members of Sophia are involved in church ministry and are clergy. It is a society promoting multi-faith and alternative therapies under the respected English title of Christian. I leave this report for the reader to draw his or her own conclusion and have tried to be honest and fair throughout. I have found this a very worthwhile study and experience.

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