by Elaine Emily
In the mid 1990’s, I attended a 5-day workshop at Ben Lomond Quaker Center led by John Calvi. After a many-year hiatus, I had found that high voltage, healing energy was flowing through me unbidden. Several weighty Quakers in Southern California encouraged me to attend John’s workshop. That workshop changed the trajectory of my life. John affirmed that this healing energy wasn’t mine, but a gift to the community—and everyone has some capacity to access this universal healing energy. He also introduced me to meeting for worship for healing.
Later, when I was Friend-in-Residence at Pendle Hill, between 2008 and 2010, a meeting for healing was held every Sunday night. Leading them was one of my tasks, along with Marcelle Martin. I often began by introducing how healing was practiced by early Quakers, with words such as these:
George Fox was a well-known healer in his day and time. He left money for The Book of Miracles, an account of his healings, to be published after his death. Fox grew up during a time of radical change, on the cusp of the “scientific era.” By the time he died, such miracles as Fox recounted were suspect. At any rate, his Book of Miracles was never published, and the manuscript has disappeared. What we have today is Henry Cadbury’s reconstitution of the many references to the book, and accounts of healings in other early Quaker writings. Jesus was also a famous healer.
Given this lineage, I invite those present to explore this mode of meeting for healing.
For today, we’ll experiment with a silent experience. We’ll gather in a circle with a few chairs in the middle. Be alert to the same kinds of internal prompts that you might encounter if you were to rise and give vocal ministry. Instead of listening for words, be alert for a prompt to go sit in one of the center chairs to be the focus of the hands-on healing. You may have an idea of what you are wanting healed (physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually) or you may have no idea. Don’t try to figure it out. Try to listen to the prompt.
As folks are led to the center chair, the rest of us will listen for an internal prompt to go silently and lay hands on the person in the center.
Before we actually start the meeting, I lay out some general rules.
First of all, no one touching in a sexualized way. Folks get to say if they want to be touched or not, or if there are areas that they would rather not be touched, such as their head or feet.
Then I would pair folks with a person they are already sitting next to, and have a very short practice session. I would ask the giver to lay hands on the receiver. After about a minute, I would instruct them to lift their hands and move to another place on their partner. I would then ask the recipient to give just a snippet of feedback to the giver. Then, I would invite them to reverse the roles.
I would begin the meeting for healing itself by saying I expect the meeting to be for about an hour, or whatever time we have. I would explain that everyone in the circle is in the healing soup regardless if they sit in the middle or if they offer hands-on healing. If no one moved, it would still be a healing meeting, and a healing would have happened for all participating.
This is a totally silent version. As an afterpiece, I would ask if folks wanted to share about what they experienced. I have found it has always been a rich experience for many.
There are many ways to structure a meeting for healing. In other meetings for healing, the folks in the center may briefly name out loud the healing they are hoping for. Some may include verbal prayers as well as hands-on touch. Other folks gather to pray for individuals and may read prayer requests, made by the person seeking healing for themselves or for friends or family members.
In my own meeting, every first day at the close of meeting for worship, we have a time for folks to name, and name only, who they would like the meeting to hold in healing prayer.
Elaine is a member of Pacific YM. She is an elder and has led many programs on Quaker eldership. She is the co-author with Mary Glazer of An Invitation to Quaker Eldering: On Being Faithful to the Ministry of Spiritual Nurture among Friends, Inner Light Books, 2002.