THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT
Horatio W. Dresser
Spiritual Health and Healing
Two generations ago, in a small New England city, a promising young man of twenty-two lay apparently at the point of death. On both sides of his house the ancestors were physically weak, and all save two in a family of nine had already passed from this life when our record begins. The young man of whom we are speaking was frail in physique. There seemed to be little power of resistance to withstand the oncoming of a disease ordinarily accounted fatal as matters go in this world of allegiance to material things. In type he was spiritually minded and highly intuitive, inclined to think for himself and exercise rights of individual initiative. He was zealous in religion, devoted to the church, eager in fact to prepare himself for the ministry if his health should permit the completion of his college course. On the side of faith as conventionally understood nothing more could indeed have been asked.
He had joined the church at sixteen with a large measure of emotional enthusiasm. He regularly attended all services and was especially zealous in prayer-meeting. He was a Calvinist, however, in the thorough-going sense of the word. God to him was little more than a Man seated on a white throne of authority outside the world, a God to be admired with awesome reverence rather than a Father to be loved. Naturally our young man, devout as he was, had no idea of the power of divine love as an indwelling presence to be sought as one might turn to a friend. Christianity was a doctrine of salvation interpreted as a Baptist of the period understood it. Salvation as thus conceived by no means included the problems of bodily weakness and ill-health. Prayer was for certain purposes. The observances decreed by the church were to be rigidly adhered to, leaving mundane matters for consideration in their proper place. Among these matters was the question of disease, and the physicians of the old school had apparently done their utmost to save this young man.
Then there came from a wholly unexpected source a marvellous change into this young life. This change not only meant that he was rescued from the abyss of death by spiritual means when material methods had failed, but that he was given a new impetus and an understanding of life which enabled him to live on this earth during many years of great usefulness. It will be worthwhile considering what wrought the change, why it could be so pronounced in the case of a man emphatically spiritual in type, genuinely a Christian as the Gospel was then understood.
There came as if heaven-sent a man whose work among the sick had no place among therepeutic systems commonly known as scientific. He did not give medicines or drugs. He had no system of physical treatment. Nor did he even diagnose disease by its symptoms, or inquire into verdicts pronounced by those competent to make a diagnosis. He received as patients those whose faith gave them impetus enough to visit his office or send for him. Without asking questions, he sat meditatively by his patients to gather whatever impressions might come intuitively by his own way of seeking such discernment. Having gained his impression and sought light on the problem before him, he put his mind through a realization akin to prayer as an act of worship, but more effective than such prayers as our young man was wont to hear on Friday evenings at church. He believed that God is directly accessible through prayer, yet with additional faith in the immediate response of the human spirit as potential master of the body. This definite and practical faith implied the utilizing of healing power to restore the body through the spirit. Proceeding by his own method, he ventured to seek help from within when all hope of a cure through conventional methods had passed. For in his practice with the sick he was not governed by outward appearances or even by signs which indicate the nearby presence of death. What signified was the state of a person’s spirit and the possibility of leading a responsive person into the light out of the darkness of threatening miseries and fears.
Many people were restored to health by this true believer in the presence of God, some of whom became active workers when they grasped the principle. The world has since become familiar with the idea of mental healing, and is quick to arrive at the conclusion that this is what one means, namely, that by the influence of one mind on another through “suggestion” changes are wrought which physical means fail to accomplish. But here our account would end if this were an adequate explanation. Our reason for telling about the marvellous result accomplished in this young man’s life is found in the fact that the change was more than victory over death and the successful staying of a disease presumably fatal. It will hardly be possible to see the meaning of this profound turning of a young life from one channel into another if we look at it as a mental cure. The change was the equivalent of a conversion and much more, if by a conversion we mean the adoption of a creed which makes of a worldly man a follower of Christ. For this young man had already given himself to Christ. Strange to relate, in adopting the teachings of the new therepeutist he renounced the church as an organization, together with all its observances, also his desire to become a minister. Yet on the other hand he became more faithfully a follower of Christ than before.
The apparent paradox is resolved when we note that the transition was from the Calvinistic deity to faith in God as immanent, loving, guiding Father, immediate and accessible, in a sense as intimate as that of our own self-consciousness when aware that there is an ideal self within us, when we will to have that self become actual in daily life. It meant the conviction that the true God is already present in our spirit to uplift and make us free as rapidly as we come to recognize and respond, admitting the divine life into all parts of our being. It signified the disclosure of the original gospel of health and freedom taught and proved by the Master. Sectarian Christianity no longer existed for him. He reacted against its limitations as against the faults of medical science and practice. Yet he did not in any sense cease to believe in Christ as the true Saviour of the world.
That his was a genuine conversion in the practical sense of the word was shown by the fact that, once restored to active service, he began to live by what to him was a new gospel and to give his time to spreading this gospel in the world. We naturally look for different signs if we gain this point of view, and we are not surprised when we find a person somewhat critical of the old order of thought. For the reaction, in the case of a man who discards theology as a formulated scheme but retains religion, is in favor of what is spiritually essential. It is constructive and worthy of being regarded from within. Intellectually it is critical because the understanding must be clarified. Spiritually it assimilates all that was best in the type of thought that has been discarded.
Later, our young man was fond of saying that one must set aside all preconceptions for the time being, to grasp the new point of view as a “spiritual science.” So we too must neglect for the moment ideas which are familiar and toward which we strongly incline, if we shall enter sympathetically into a spirit of truth capable of giving a creative impetus in Christian life. This is not easy for those who judge by doctrines in contrast with experience disclosing new fields.
This gospel involved the idea that Christ is not a Person in the sense in which orthodox believers associate the Son with the Father in the Trinity. The leading idea was that Christ was divine wisdom taught and exemplified by the historical personality, Jesus of Nazareth, whom we begin truly to understand when we make this discrimination. The extent to which such a distinction is justifiable by interpretation of the Gospels is a question which we postpone for the time being. We are now concerned with its practical consequences through belief in “the light of Christ in the soul,” the living Christ near to the heart of every sincere believer, the divine wisdom and love made concrete in our needs and aspirations.
Much depends on our prior thought concerning the human self. If instead of regarding man as “fallen” or dwelling upon his shortcomings and his sins, pitying him in his miserable plight and emphasizing the need of supernatural salvation, we hold that man is by birthright free and sound, yet at first ignorant and in need of experience which shall make him aware of resident divine powers within him, we are ready for the proposition that Christ is the enlightenment needed to awaken man to his true estate. For man’s miseries are unwittingly of his own making, ignorant that he is a spirit endowed with power in the image and likeness of God. These miseries belong with man’s lesser selfhood when, under bondage to material sense, he is like one sleeping. Even our young man with all his Christian zeal was as one in a dream. To awaken him was to give him a different idea of what it means to be faithful to the Master, to believe in God and live by the divine wisdom. It was to start from within in the living present, the divine moment of his true selfhood. It was to concentrate upon what man is ideally, touched with the fulness of life by the quickening presence of Christ.
History virtually disappears from this point of view and one sees the living Christ coming through the mists with a glad message of light and freedom. Whatever is deemed noblest and best is already here. This was the real purport of the Gospels, that we should find the living Christ now. This means an ever-present resource, for power, for health, for life wherewith to break down barriers which imprison souls and set them free. It does not mean the exaltation of the self, as if one claimed for the man of today what the wisest men of the ages have missed. It does not mean undue emphasis on inner experience, as if in one’s egotism one attributed all power to finite man. Yet it certainly does mean an application of ancient truth which has eluded good and wise men. It gives everyone, however humble his station, however great his trouble, opportunity to begin where he is and live by the science which Jesus taught when summoning men to fulness of being.
The impressive characteristic of the healer who restored our young man was constructive humility, an exceptional combination of true receptivity interposing no obstacle and an affirmativeness reaching beyond what ordinary Christians venture to claim. This is vastly different from attributing all virtue to the finite self. It calls for much more thorough renovation of one’s life than is usually expected by priest or physician, each of whom ordinarily asks us to reform but half a man. It means taking life seriously indeed, yet with a joy, a benefit, a freedom, with powers of service beyond comparison.
Our young man began to reform the whole man–he who needed it less in most respects than many men do. Or, rather the Spirit wrought such regeneration in him. The Spirit summoned him to live a consistent life in mind and body. He was still handicapped, with his frail physique and difficult inheritance. But he began anew to work on and up. He led a triumphant life of the spirit. That is the great consideration.
Too often we judge a human life by its failures, by disfigurements and injuries which do not wholly disappear, by apparent lapses and inconsistencies. We should gain the point of view of the achieving spirit, taking up one phase of life after another as steadily as each can be understood and brought into line. The perfect demonstration will come only when the entire human race is regenerated. No one can truly know himself in the profounder sense save as a, member of a human family whose weaknesses and ignorance he shares when he starts on the long road. No one can begin truly to be free unless he extends a helping hand to fellow mortals. Indeed, one may begin thus genuinely to serve while struggling to get on one’s feet out of quagmires of inheritance which seem overwhelming.
The spiritual life is a progress, not a leap. What one claims who adopts Christ as guide, in preference to sciences and methods which approach man from the outside, is that the wisdom which proves itself by its works here and now can be carried on to the perfect demonstration.
Our young man had all the obstacles he could contend with during years when people were not ready for the truth he saw. But these were given him, let us say, not to make light of, not to run away from, but to face, to call out his courage and his faith, that he might learn the law of Christ, live by it and help others to live by it. His spirit could not have begun to be supreme save through obstacles in the flesh and his environment over which to become triumphant. The turning-point came with him when he realized that infinite resources of divine love and wisdom were ready at hand within him.
What we need to do, therefore, to realize the power of the Spirit in the Christ-consciousness is to discern the elements or principles which are active in this triumph. For we have to do with a more enlightened idea of the human spirit, a different view of health extending into the spiritual life in its fulness, and an interpretation of healing adapted to the deepest problems of the soul.
We are apt to think when we believe rightly that the rest will follow, as zealous Christians have thought all through the ages, with their doctrine of “faith alone.” We are apt to think that it is sufficient to see nearby causes of our unhappiness, and make some slight change. But a spiritual interpretation of life calls upon us to trace matters to the end, not stopping with merely remedial activities.
The finding of the way back to health is secondary to the discovery of the kind of life we might have lived had we always kept close to God, had we drawn upon divine resources, practised divine wisdom, manifested divine love, outwardly as well as inwardly in spiritual health. The power of the spirit to keep the way, to live by the truth, attain the life, is a greater consideration than the power to regain the way when we have missed it. For Christ is affirmative in us. The Christ is the true science of right living, and only indirectly the corrective of our errors. We are bidden to judge by the ideal, the normal, and to expand our life to its full proportions. We are bidden to find the kingdom which is within and to live by its law. This the power of the Spirit is able to accomplish through us. This gives the impetus which makes daily life a joy in the presence of our friends and our God.
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Spiritual Health and Healing
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