The New Quest for Healing: When Therapy and Spirituality Intermingle *

By Ugeux, Bernard | International Review of Mission, January-April 2007 | Go to article overview

The New Quest for Healing: When Therapy and Spirituality Intermingle *


Ugeux, Bernard, International Review of Mission


Abstract

For some decades one has noted an increased interest in spirituality outside the traditional religions of the West, viz the three monotheisms. New spiritual quests often develop on the fringes of the churches, and sometimes even as a reaction to the churches' vision of what it means to be human. In this regard, those interested in spirituality often see their spiritual search as something linked to a general care for wellbeing or health, and reproach Christianity for being too disembodied. The association of the spiritual with the therapeutical leads to a certain permeability between the spiritual and therapeutical in terms of the claims each makes. It also leads to the creation of new alternative proposals. This porousness runs the risk of bringing confusion to everything, and using the spiritual and religious to serve therapeutic needs.

However, the way in which the claims of the spiritual and therapeutical realms evolve presents a challenge to Christianity. This can be put in terms of, "What place does Christianity attribute to the body, affectivity, pleasure, and legitimate personal development?' Some individuals and groups in the Christian churches, rather than trying to justify existing approaches, propose more "incarnated" ones that will respond to the new audience in a Christian way. From a theological, pastoral and missiological viewpoint, Christian communities are thus intended to become communities of healing and reconciliation, although not at any price. If Christian spirituality also has to favour the empowering and development of a person--for Christ has assumed everything of humanity, except sin--one should not reduce salvation to healing or ignore the paschal mystery as a way of avoiding the element of pain that this mystery contains. In short, Christianity is invited to do a work of inculturation that not only keeps in mind contemporary developments but also is accompanied by an authentic interdisciplinary discernment.

Introduction

Since the beginning of human society, there has existed a more or less tight link between religion and health, and between spirituality and human growth, with different emphases according to traditions and cultures. The priest was sought as a healer and the traditional chief as a protector of the life of their people by virtue of their privileged relationship with the world of the invisible. In all the major religious traditions, there exist rituals, practices and mediators that promote and heal their followers.

One would think that with the Enlightenment and the progress in science and secularism, the distinction, if not the separation between health and salvation would now be complete. Even within Christianity, notwithstanding the extensive engagement of the churches in the field of healthcare, (hospitals, etc.), there has been a progressive distancing with regard to the idea of "healing", as distinguished from the idea of care, with consequences for traditional rituals, such as the anointing of the sick. If the value of pilgrimages and of saintly healers has never completely lost its merit in the practice of "popular" religion, church institutions have distanced themselves from an emphasis on the therapeutic effects of the sacraments.

However, in the West, we are noticing an important evolution in respect of our contemporaries with regard to health and spirituality. More and more, a connection is being made between spiritual quests and therapeutic practices. One no longer disassociates spirituality from human growth, even if organized religion does not have good press. The credibility of a religious or spiritual group is evaluated in terms of its capacity to foster healings or, at least, foster a harmonious, balanced personal life.

It is not a question of returning to ancestral practices or to anti-modern behaviour. Nor is it a question of a "returning to religion". The latter does not hold currency for three reasons. …

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