Viewing healing ministry through diaconal eyes

Viewing healing ministry through diaconal eyes

By Ross White

When we are present, we see that there really is a Holy Plan, and that it is happening right now. Consciously participating in the miraculous unfolding of reality is Holy Work and it is the greatest source of satisfaction that we have.” (Understanding the Enneagram, 56)

I am a confirmed eclectic. Many of us are. I feel indebted to several clinical forms of pastoral care like Transactional Analysis, Gestalt Therapy, the Goulding’s, the Kabat-Zinn’s, and Mindfulness training. These therapeutic schools employ the use of sound psychological theory together with skilled application. They all teach valuable insights to life. However, from the earliest days of my spiritual journey, I had a longing for a therapy of a different sort. I’ve known experientially that deep life insights of incredible power are available to me. I knew this power was capable of coursing through my very being: cells, tissues, bones AND mind. It happened to me one night while reading the Gospel of Luke and changed my life. It also started in me a journey fed by a hunger for the mysteries of prayer and meditation . . . something I’d been doing at the time.

It was in 1992 that I began to find a form of healing that matched my understanding of Jesus. Rochelle Graham, then a physiotherapist teaching Healing Touch on the sideline, was invited into Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to do some of her work with church folk offering services to the marginalized and homeless. I met up with her there as she instructed workers and volunteers at First United Church. She noticed that when faith groups were instructed (to use their faith) there came an additional boost of power and energy in the room and in the participants, themselves. A prayer as simple as “thy will be done,” seemed to enable the presence and guidance of Spirit. People began to feel the actual texture of another’s energy field through their hands! The requests from church folk poured in and by 1995 Rochelle had drafted a curriculum designed for healing ministry in churches which became known as Healing Pathway. I want to make some observations in this article about the link between the emergence of Healing Pathway and diaconal ministry.

Diaconal theology promises God will show up with empowerment for those without power. Since my teenage experience I’d been looking for embodiment of Christ very visceral message as well as empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The more I studied the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith the more convinced I was that it was possible to bring the energy felt during a mystical state into the lived reality of human life.

The story of Jesus and Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43; Matt. 9:18-26; Luke 8: 41-56), while metaphorical on many levels, also strikes me as a particularly diaconal moment of embodied ministry. The gentle sense of calmness, the easy pace, the steady confidence of Jesus in responding to the leader of the synagogue and the highly emotional crowd around the event show clarity of purpose. He is asked to come ‘lay on hands’, but what he offers instead is a healing presence and a safe environment. Mark places on his lips a few rare Aramaic words: ‘Talitha cumi’ which our brothers and sisters in the Iona Community translate with the colloquial:” Up ye get, lassie.” Then an invitation is offered for others to give witness, that is, to prepare a meal for the child and to be quiet: “. . . ordered them that no one should know this.” NRSV

Healing Pathway practitioners at Highland United Church, Lorraine Elliot and Tony Dodd

Through Healing Pathway, the laity in our churches can now quite readily be empowered with training to be the sort of healing presence and offer the kind of relaxed relationship that Jesus did with the girl in the story. I have had some of the most powerful experiences of my life at the hands of those lay folk. Healing Pathway, like Jesus, teaches that the light of love and Christ comes through the life and witness of an embodied believer (Matt. 5:16). No one has the power but rather is given this power. What we have is the authority to claim it and use it. Everyone has that possibility plus the potential to sense, feel and experience energy around beings.

Bruce Epperly reminds us that process theology and the world of the new physics are consistently identifying with a God who must operate in a dynamic and relational matrix. “ . . everything that exists shapes the nature of God. In the spirit of Jesus’ own vision of God, this infinitely caring love extends even to the least of these’ that is, the very cells of our bodies.”

Recently I moved from Victoria to North Vancouver to be close to family and to rebuild a house that had fallen in to disrepair. I was in, and had been for a year, a rather manic phase of busyness. It is like my personality type to plan numerous tasks and when they are done to avoid feeling idle at all costs. I found I had just completed my full list of “moving in “projects, yet I could feel the noisy internal drive to get and keep busy. Ironically, right at this time, I had the opportunity to get on a healing table and receive. It was on an evening when extra practitioners had shown up so when offered I jumped at the chance. Three members of the Healing Hands Ministry were there to support me in my work during the session and each stated her intention for God’s Love and Light to be present for my highest good.

About ten minutes into the session a high vibration began to run up my legs. It stopped at my pelvis where there was a huge block of energy. Then it broke through and flooded my torso giving me, in turn, a headache.

Even though I have been giving and receiving these kinds of treatments (which are better referred to as sessions) I’m continually surprised at the new depths I find in my being; healing old wounds but just as importantly discovering the expansiveness and wonder of the spiritual realm.

I’ve come to believe the soul has unlimited capacity to experience different feelings and sensations simultaneously. Most of my prior clinical pastoral training has focused on experiencing one feeling at a time. Now I realize that when I am on the table receiving a session fear can tremble in my entire body while, at the same time, a deep sense of safety flows. Experiencing healing at this level allows my mind to be free of the need to keep busy to justify myself. My being, rather than my doing, become aware of the path to follow because I experience what I’ve come to call ARN feelings. In other words, Alive-Right-Now feelings. ARN feelings are compound. Terror and satisfaction. Grief and soothing. Regret and happiness. Betrayal and feelings of warmth like forgiveness. Yet ARN feelings don’t stick around. They come they shoot through the whole body and then leave.

There is always a shadow side too. One can become distracted by such powerful sensations and begin to seek more and more of the same experience. Agnes Sanford in her book Healing Light warns against getting caught up in these vibrations and other feelings/sensations. So diaconal spiral reflection techniques are very useful. What these feelings teach is a lesson only to those who are awake and I, for one don’t know how to stay even close to a wakeful state unless I regularly get on the table. In the Pathway I know I will be honoured whether I use the opportunity to do my soul work or not. Even if I am uncomfortable with the dark, painful, hurting part of myself I can trust those with me during the session to know these things are revealing themselves for my highest good. They hold my ARN feelings gently so that I can go deeper into them.

Those trained in Healing Pathway are unattached to outcome. They never say, “We did excellent work on that person.” Further they take no credit if there is terrific movement (which is often). In being thanked after a session I have invariably noticed they remark on the honour and privilege it was and that they are glad they were simply able to show up. There is a book by Bob and Mary Goulding entitled The Power Is in the Patient. In it the Goulding’s identify how critical it is for the person to say, as part of the beginning, what it is they want to work on. The same practice is shared by Healing Pathway. The focus is on the intention of the receiver and the work they are willing to do. By the way, they are neither seen as a ‘patient ‘nor a ‘client’ as a medical/clinical model would frame them. That is because each person present, whether receiving or offering, is engaging in a mutual meeting with divine participation. Power is acknowledged but only in so far as those offering get out of its way and allow the one receiving to have an experience of God’s love.

This training is not a practice of naivete. Lay people being trained to handle this power must also have what Parker Palmer calls a hidden wholeness. The Pathway teaches the practitioner to become open and grounded but also empty. Looking at a Healing Pathway practitioner you would not know they are walking, talking mystics. What Jesus reveals in the room where the daughter of Jairus lay was not only that she was sleeping but also, all present were asleep. What lay hidden was the power of waking up.

Healing Pathway and the essence of diaconal ministry lies in the lessons of waking up to the world within and world around us. The waking up means participation in the emerging and expanding consciousness as we move to a more cosmic understanding of ourselves. Just as consciousness expands, so too is the spread of Healing Pathway. As I write this I am preparing for a two-day meeting to launch the Society’s new Board of Directors (Directors Circle). It, together with a cluster of 18 Instructors, has representatives from across Canada. Though the Society is sponsored by the United Church of Canada’s BC Conference it has a vision to grow with points of light all over the nation. I believe that as the movement spreads across Canada, it will attract an ever more diverse population. An introductory workshop can come to a location near you if you just reach out with a phone call or email. Then you will see for yourself how seamlessly an energetically-based healing outreach, supported by the Pathway, can enhance any expression of Diaconal Ministry.

Ross White has been practicing diaconal children’s/youth/family ministry for over 40 years. He graduated from CCS in 1978, received a Bachelor in Diaconal Ministry degree from St Stephen’s College in 1988 and became a Healing Pathway Instructor in 2002. He has served in Moose Jaw/South Alberta/Vancouver Burrard/ Vancouver South/Kamloops-Okanagan and Victoria Presbyteries. Ross continues to teach Healing Pathway Ph I and II courses through his retirement. He lives in North Vancouver with his wife Jeannie and close to their three daughters and four grandchildren from whom they receive abundant joy. He can be reached at

Cowie, Ian, Jesus Healing Works and Ours, Wild Goose Publications, 2000 pg. 72

Epperly, Bruce G., God’s Touch. Faith Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus. Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. pg. 17

Goulding, Robert L., and Goulding, Mary McClure, The Power Is in the Patient, A TA/Gestalt Approach to Psychotherapy. pg. 161