Losing Ground with Style

July 15, 2015

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.  

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The Redemption of Natural Philosophy

March 7, 2015

In order to understand the place of science in the world, we need to define some terms. 

 Natural Philosophy: an investigation into the way the natural world is and the way it works. In ancient times, philosophers weren’t just concerned with intangibles or ethics or human nature, they were also concerned with how the world worked. So Aristotle, for example, expresses a natural philosophy. 

 Science: born out of natural philosophy, science is a particular way of investigating the natural world that relies on generating ideas about the world, generating predictions from those ideas, testing the predictions through repeatable experiments, and revising the ideas accordingly. 

Scientists object to being lumped in with natural philosophy because they consider themselves vastly more rigorous than the natural philosophers, and insofar as they really are more rigorous, they have a point. But then, many scientists also regard naturalism as coextensive with ‘Science,’ and naturalism is a religious conviction not subject to scientific testing — so they’re natural philosophers. They just can’t help themselves. Religion gets into everything, and there is no neutrality. 

Special Revelation: God telling us something particular. Sometimes questions about the world do address an area where God has spoken. For example, “Is it true that we’ll die if we eat this particular fruit?” As our experience in Eden demonstrates, when God has spoken to a point, it is wise to take His revelation into account.

False religion: various untrue ideas about spiritual things. The principal goal of these ideas is to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, to keep Yahweh out of human awareness. 

We are obliged to hear special revelation. What God has shown us must be taken into account, period.

We are obliged to disregard false religion. We may not bow down to or in any wise serve idols, and ideas that exist to turn us away from Yahweh are to be rejected out of hand. 

Science and natural philosophy, however, are a different matter, and have to be handled differently. Science and natural philosophy are always tied in with an overall worldview, and it matters which one they’re tied in with. Carl Sagan’s science is no more to be trusted than Lao Tzu’s natural philosophy — but no less, either. To the extent that they have observed the natural world accurately, they must be recognized. Paul requires it: “Whatever things are true…think on these things.” To the extent that they have failed to glorify Yahweh and be thankful, they have exalted themselves against the knowledge of God, and they must be cast down. Since we have to do both of these things, we are simply not permitted to discard them, nor to swallow them whole. We are required to seek the redemption of science and natural philosophy, to see these disciplines brought into obedience to Christ. 

In the Western world, we like to lump science on the side of the angels, and demonize natural philosophy. Christians have adopted this into our theological schema very uncritically, such that Western medicine is appropriate for Christians (despite its pronounced tendency to murder babies) and acupuncture is not, because it’s not scientific and tied up with Taoism.

Well, sure it’s tied up with Taoism. Good thinkers always seek a consistent, integrated view of everything, and Chinese natural philosophers didn’t keep their Taoism locked in a box whilst they were observing the natural world. Whaddaya expect? Nor did Carl Sagan keep his atheism locked in a box when he looked through a telescope — but I don’t know even one Christian who thinks that means we should ignore what he saw. If we’re prepared to accept insights about the natural world from the round-eyed observer, then why are we so balky about the slant-eyed ones?

Frankly, I think it’s simple xenophobia. Our M.D. doesn’t believe that we have a soul, and that doesn’t bother us at all, because we’re used to it. An acupuncturist says something about yin and yang, and we lose our minds — without even stopping to find out what he meant. As communication improves and the world comes back together again, we need to learn to listen carefully rather than simply rejecting unfamiliar things out of hand. We might learn something.