Healing and spiritual transformation

A desire for healing can be limiting if healing is narrowly defined as nothing more than the resolution of some problem.

One summer while in my teens, I suffered a very painful injury to my ankle. My immediate concern was that it would interfere with the coming football season, because I knew that sprained ankles can take weeks or even months to heal, and I was afraid the ankle might actually be broken.

I called a Christian Science practitioner for metaphysical treatment through prayer, and I also prayed on my own. That night, as I prayed I felt a sudden, profound conviction that my true identity is spiritual and therefore cannot suffer an injury of any kind. In that moment, the pain vanished, and the swelling and discoloration, which had been considerable, diminished before my eyes; I was able to walk freely and without pain. (For a fuller account, see Robert P. Cochran, Sentinel, April 14, 1973.)

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Needless to say, I’ve treasured that healing ever since. But over the years, I’ve also pondered my response to it. I could have said, “Wow! What an incredible, marvelous gift Christian Science is! I’m going to be more devout, redouble my efforts to study this wonderful Science, and become a better healer for myself and others.” What I actually said was, “Great! Now I can play football again!” And I did.

We’ll come back to that healing, but let’s turn for a moment to a related subject—spiritual growth or transformation. In his letter to Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul gives this powerful admonition: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).

One of the more striking biblical accounts of character transformation is from the book of Genesis. At one point in his very eventful life, Jacob faced a crisis and realized that he had to make some radical changes. During a sleepless night, he wrestled with a “man,” which most commentators interpret as an angel from God. The sun rose, and the angel tried to leave, but Jacob said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” The angel then gave Jacob the new name of Israel, blessed him, and departed (see Genesis 32:24–30). 

Mary Baker Eddy provides an interpretation of this story in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She tells us that Jacob’s real struggle was with “a mortal sense of life, substance, and intelligence as existent in matter with its false pleasures and pains” (p. 308), and that the angel—angels being defined in part in the Glossary of Science and Health as thoughts from God passing to man (see p. 581)—appeared in order to help him in this struggle. Mrs. Eddy goes on to say that Jacob refused to part with the angel “until his nature was transformed.” Jacob didn’t merely want his immediate problem (severe though it was) to be solved; he wanted a “renewing of [his] mind”—a transformation of his character. And the Bible makes clear that this is exactly what he received, as symbolized by his new name.

Now back to the healing of my ankle. In retrospect, it’s pretty clear that at the time, unlike Jacob, I wasn’t terribly interested in having my nature transformed. I wanted spiritual progress—but not too much! I wanted just enough so I could get on with my life and pursue my own cherished plans and desires. 

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a desire for healing. Many people turn to Christian Science seeking relief from suffering of one kind or another, and remain because they find it. But as we continue with a regular study and practice of Christian Science, we may begin to realize that a desire for healing can be limiting if healing is narrowly defined as nothing more than the resolution of some problem. This is because the more we focus on what the physical senses are telling us is going on, the less we’re focused on what God is telling us. And what God is telling us is always the truth, the only truth, about us and whatever situation we find ourselves in. In fact, God is Truth, and Truth is always good and always spiritual, because God is also Spirit (see John 4:24). 

Therefore, the need for spiritual transformation isn’t something God imposes on us, as a professor imposes exams on students or a drill sergeant imposes an obstacle course on recruits. Rather, it’s the natural outcome of the unalterable reality of God’s goodness, and of recognizing our true identity as the expression of that goodness. So, regardless of how our life seems to be going on the surface, if we’re not progressing spiritually, we’re not progressing at all. We’re just drifting, apparently unmoored from the substantial and the true. And the sooner we correct this by turning our attention to spiritual growth, the better. 

This growth can take many forms. It might be (as in Jacob’s case) genuine remorse for wrong done to another and a commitment to make restitution. It might be forgiving a wrong done to us; attaining a deeper sense of compassion for those in need; letting go of some cherished desire we’ve outgrown; overcoming undesirable character traits, such as stubbornness or a bad temper, and replacing them with qualities such as humility and kindness; or simply rising to a stronger faith in God and His allness and goodness. These are just a few of the possibilities, and if we examine ourselves honestly, we’re likely to find there’s no shortage of opportunities for growth!

As we understand this more clearly, we’ll begin to think of healing as spiritual transformation rather than merely the solving of difficulties, and transformation will become the purpose of our prayers. A healthier, more meaningful and productive life, even when not the main goal of such prayer, is its natural—indeed, its inevitable—result. This transformation doesn’t happen all at once, but by degrees. Even after his night of struggling with the angel, Jacob had other challenges to meet, each requiring further spiritual growth. Transformation is a constant, lifelong effort, but one that is necessary and unavoidable as well as deeply rewarding.

It’s not always easy to seek spiritual growth when we’re facing a severe challenge, physical or otherwise. Fear, pain, confusion, and emotional turmoil clamor for attention and, understandably, we yearn for relief. But we can still make an effort to humbly ask God what growth needs to take place. We can strive for transformation; in fact, like Jacob, we can insist on it. When we look beyond solving our immediate problems and hold on to our “angels”—the spiritual messages God is constantly sending us—until we are transformed, we’ll find healing as well, for transformation is healing, and healing is transformation.

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