I recently applied to a school for massage therapy. On the application, they asked the question, “What is your philosophy of wellness and healing?” I had never quite considered the question before. This is what I came up with…
Every common rock is disease-free, but we do not call rocks healthy or well on that account, because we intuitively recognize that health is more than the absence of disease; it is the presence of vitality.
Health is not an accident; it is a gift from God. As with any gift, health calls for gratitude, and gratitude cannot be merely spoken. A child who says “Thank you” to his grandmother for the hand-knit sweater and then never wears it is polite, but not grateful. Saying “Thank you” is appropriate as far as it goes, but embodying real gratitude requires right use of the gift.
Every gift has its right use. A sweater should be worn; an album should be played; a toy should be played with. Even that most generic of gifts, money, is meant to be spent — as is our health. The gift can be stewarded, but not hoarded. We are all spending our capital, and in the end, our last creditor drains the account. In N. D. Wilson’s unforgettable phrase, “death by living” is the best we can hope for. So the question is not whether we will spend our health, but how — and how quickly.
Healing is the art of slowing down, of losing ground with style. We all move toward the edge of the cliff where our last creditor is waiting. Healing is helping someone spin away from the edge this time, helping someone dance two steps forward for every three steps back, helping someone dance instead of just being inexorably dragged toward the edge, clinging in vain to a bean-sprout sandwich. He who saves his life will lose it, as the rabbi said. Might as well dance.
Healing takes in the whole person. It is not enough to say that we require words for the spirit and touch for the body. A living soul is made of dust and breath, body and spirit, coextensively. You have never touched a living body without putting your fingers on a soul. When you touch a spirit with a loving word, watch what happens to the body — pupils dilate, posture and muscle tone shift, cheeks flush, breathing changes. Sometimes a word heals the body. Sometimes a touch heals the spirit.
But in reality, we do not heal people, or even cause healing. Healing is a mystery, a gift. A surgeon can align bones and stitch up a wound, but we say that he set the bone and closed the wound, not that he healed the injury. He can bring the pieces into proximity with one another, but he cannot make the skin join, the blood vessels reunite, the fascia reconnect, the fracture remodel. A counselor can cause thoughts to meet that had been carefully hidden from one another, but he cannot reach in and fill the place where someone tore a hole in his client’s spirit. We remove barriers. We align the parts, hoping for wholeness. We create an opportunity, a container in which someone can receive healing, if it is given to them. And we wait, sometimes for seconds, sometimes for weeks. The work is too fine for any hands but God’s.