This is my first actual post in a series of blogging through Agnes Sanfords book ‘the healing light’ (1947), subtitled ‘the art and the method of spiritual healing’ which can be read in PDF here. The introductory post can be found here and I will try to cover the whole book in parts throughout the next months, with some spin-off posts addressing certain topics that need to be looked at some more and from different angles. In this post we’ll cover the first 3 chapters.
It’s probably clear already that, while I did learn some things from it, this is not a book that I agree with completely. I can even say that it sometimes takes an approach that sounds quite alien to me, but it was very interesting to read through nonetheless. As the foreword (written by someone named Glenn Clark) says:
Agnes Sanford was born in China as the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary, she has lived for years in New Jersey as the wife of an Episcopalian rector, and she has studied and tried every form of healing that has ever been known. Never have I met one who combined the metaphysical and the sacramental approach as she does. I have never met anyone more Christ-centered nor anyone more church-centered and yet more utterly unconcerned about the creed or lack of creed of those that she administers to.
Before we start with the content of the first three chapters let’s make some more general remarks about the book; Agnes’ writing style is easy to read. She regularly jumps from more theoretical and instructional parts to a lot of anecdotes, and stories of healing and other own experiences. Her way of writing indicated that she isn’t merely trying to teach some kind of theory that she made up, but that she has a lot of experience with Divine healing and prayer, and afterwards has distilled theory and methods out of that that she wants to share.
The implication of this for me is that I do trust her heart, and her connection to God, but not all of her conclusions and theories. There seems to be a bit of new thought influence and a quite mechanical ‘scientific’ worldview for example that I can’t completely follow.
So, for the actual content of the first 3 chapters then. She lays the basis for faith healing, a scientific explanation of how it works according to her, and a first articulation of her method. It’s probably interesting to start with her theology of healing and the role of God in that:
God is both within us and without us. He is the Source of all life; the Creator of universe behind universe; and of unimaginable depths of inter-stellar space and of light-years without end. But He is also the indwelling life of our own little selves. And just as a whole world full of electricity will not light a house unless the house itself is prepared to receive that electricity, so the infinite and eternal life of God cannot help us unless we are prepared to receive that life within ourselves. Only the amount of God that we can get in us will work for us.
She then begins with developing a ‘scientific’ method for faith healing, in full confidence that it’s possible to use this ‘law of nature’. Like I mentioned before she seems to think that the universe is fully answering to natural laws that God has put into His Creation. Miracles for her are not breaking the laws of nature but following laws of nature that we don’t know yet, and if we as humans will grow to understand them more we will be able to use them just as easily as we use the laws of gravity and electricity now in our technique.
Few of us in the north would ask God to produce a full-blown rose out of doors in January. Yet He can do this very thing, if we adapt our greenhouses to His laws of heat and light, so as to provide the necessities of the rose. And He can produce a full-blown answer to prayer if we adapt our earthly tabernacles to His laws of love and faith so as to provide the necessities of answered prayer.
Some day the world will come to understand this fact, as it now understands the miracle of sound waves, for one generation’s miracles are the commonplaces of another generation.
Some day we will understand the scientific principles that underlie the miracle-working powers of God, and we will accept His intervention as simply and naturally as we do the radio.
And this is already something where I might not really agree. Even if she is right about miracles following for us unknown laws of nature, -which is very plausible to me- then still I highly doubt that we are able to hack those laws and use them as easily as we do with the laws of gravity and electricity in our machines… This is a bit too much modernist thriumph of technique talk for me…
But that there is a ‘natural law’ behind how miracles operate and that we might be more effective in praying according to this law is not something I have a problem with.
The method that she has worked out then, and that she returns to several times in the book has 4 steps:
1. The first step is getting in contact with God. This is worded a bit strangely because she writes for Christians and non-Christians alike, but she’s not compromising here. Maybe having a bit too much optimism about how easily non-Christians can ‘tune in’ to God though.
Later in the book she recommends meditation as a help at this first step, based on the psalms verse of ‘be still and know that I am God.’. Her point is here to actually get in contact with God, something which she seems to do very naturally herself.
2. The second step is ‘turning on the energy’, which she recommends to do with a prayer like “Heavenly Father, please increase in me at this time Your lifegiving power.”
3. The third step is to believe that this power is coming into use and to accept it by faith. This is the next thing that can be easily written about, but isn’t easily as easily done and turned into a method as it might sound to her.
“No matter how much we ask for something it becomes ours only as we accept it and give thanks for it. “Thank You,” we can say, “that Your life is now coming into me and increasing life in my spirit and in my mind and in my body.””
4. The fourth step is observing the power at work. This needs an actual goal to accomplish so we can see it it has worked, so this is where the actual healing takes place.
She adds that if it it doesn’t work that it doesn’t mean that healing doesn’t work, but that we do it wrong and need to find a right way for it to work, and that we better learn to know how to pray effectively.
How strange it is that people who fear to do this do not hesitate to pray for the most difficult objectives of all, such as the peace of the world or the salvation of their souls! If they have so little confidence in prayer that they do not dare to test their powers of contacting God by praying for an easy thing, it is probable that their cosmic intercessions are of little force. If everyone who prayed for the peace of the world had enough prayer power to accomplish the healing of a head cold, this would be a different world within twenty-four hours.
She does speak about prayer power to accomplish things, but that doesn’t mean that she reduces prayer to a magical power by which Divine power gives us everything we want if we just know how to ask it. There is one small detail that isn’t small after all, and that is that we need to pray according to Gods will:
There is no great mystery concerning the will of God, in so far as it applies to our small selves. God’s will is written into His nature,and the nature of God is love. Therefore, when we pray in accordance with the law of love, we are praying in accordance with the will of God.
It might sound simple, but it isn’t that simple. Elsewhere she really implies in certain places that only living in accordance with ‘the law of love’ keeps us connected to God. Which is not exactly the fluffy new age stuff that some might think she is saying at first glance… Love is foundational to everything she writes and seems to be a reality she’s expecting to manifest in everybodies life. She seems to have had such a lifestyle in which she naturally tried to love all people and God (and even the rest of creation). But that will come back in a later chapter.
So, while it sounds easy to have a method of faith healing based on a ‘scientific’ method and an to us unknown law of nature that can be used if we just know how, it seems that she at least requires 3 things that are easier said than done:
A) connecting the Creator
B) have real and specific faith in healing
C) naturally living a lifestyle based on loving God and our fellow humans…
If you master those things, faith healing is as simple as turning on a radio apparently…
I must say that, even though I have a tiny bit of experience with prayer healing very similar to what she describes, I cannot say how good her method works. I feel not that good at step #1/A, I am more a person who prays ‘if it be your will’ than who has faith for healing to really happen when it comes to #3/B, and while I try, I don’t know if I really can say anything about really living a life of love in C… Maybe a better (wo)man than me could try it for me though.
So what do you people think? A lot of this is very controversial ground, so I’m open to input from all angles except for those who are mocking or engaging in anti-supernatural gaslighting…
Notes: Some of these quotes might sound like God being an impersonal energy, but in other places she does affirm the personality and will of God. She is not at all pantheist, but she does like the Eastern Orthodox believe in a distinction between the transcendent essence of God and the immanent energies of God, that sustain all of creation.
Her Christianity also shows in the importance she places on the person of Jesus. One of the most quoted parts of the bible in the book is the sermon on the mount, which seems very foundational to her faith -something I do agree with-. She doesn’t mention the cross yet, but later on in a later chapter she’ll develop a theory of atonement in which the cross and resurrection are very important.