What does it mean to you to be well? Does it mean your body is healthy? That you are experiencing no symptoms of illness?
Many of our notions of health revolve around this idea. For much of the 20th century, as we moved towards ever more technical proficiency in the field of medicine, we have also narrowed our definitions of health. Health became that which we could treat physically through medical science. It became about curing diseases and alleviating symptoms.
So that had an impact on the way in which we felt prayers for healing should function in church. This has caused confusion. Fueled by some branches of Christianity that do practice 'healing prayer' as a kind of magical means to alleviate symptoms, we have a sense that what we should expect is a cessation of physical infirmity after we have participated in healing prayers, and if we don't, then something has gone wrong.
But as I have already said, I think this definition of health is too narrow. When I was looking for more expansive definitions I found this in the preamble to the constitution of WHO - the World Health Organization:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.*
I love this definition. It is expansive, it has room in it for a variety of disciplines to be included as part of the healing arts and it reminds us that we are not just our bodies and our health is not just about symptoms.
We are physical, mental and social. Health has to do with communities, economics, science, therapy... And faith.
The only thing missing from the wonderful WHO definition of health is 'spiritual'. I don't blame them, but for me this would be the perfect definition of health:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
In this sense, everything we do at church is intended to encourage health. But once a month we offer particular prayers for healing. These prayers take place in the side chapel, and include powerful Christian symbols, such as anointing with oil and laying on of hands. We pray for the whole person, and their community - loved ones who are also struggling. We pray for spiritual strength in the face of adversity, we pray for healing and wholeness. We believe that God answers every single prayer, but the method of her answer may be different each time, and may or may not include the relief of symptoms.
Personally I have received healing prayer every time it has been offered. I never tell the person praying what I am asking for, as I believe God knows - but I am always amazed at the way the gentle and respectful prayers of the healing team lift my spirits and bring a sense of the presence of God to me more closely.
Come for prayers today, and know that you are loved by God and by your community.
*Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948. The Definition has not been amended since 1948.
From the UK, Matthew loved US culture from the first time he picked up a Fantastic Four Comic when he was 12.