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"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, con
cerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it ...." I John 1:1-2 (RSV)

"After his resurrection the disciples saw the living Christ, whom they knew to have died, with the eyes of faith (oculata fide)." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 55, 2 ad 1, as quoted in D. M. Stanley, Jesus in Gethsemane (New York, Paulist Press 1980).

Monday, July 13, 2015

Feed My Lambs - Agnes Sanford

Peter loved Jesus and told him so, as we read in John 21.  The response of Jesus was, "Feed my lambs."  Jn. 21:17.   This order that Christian leaders should help people, should feed the lambs, inspired Agnes Sanford to to do her work.    I'm reading Sanford's books again, which brought to mind this post from 2012:

Healing of Memories
          In a previous post dated July 10,2012, I thought of  Peter who had to live with memories of his denials of Jesus.  Jesus intervened  after his resurrection by assuring and challenging Peter as described in John chapter 21.   This John chapter 21 encounter raises a good issue:  Do the healing effects of new life in Christ include healing of bad memories?  

           The place to start here  is with new creation theology.   In 2 Cor 5:17, St. Paul writes, "So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (NAB).  We see this in the words and deeds of Jesus as well, in John chapter 3,  where Jesus tells Nicodemus that he needs a new birth.  When a person converts to Jesus, all is new.  The past does not matter.  But how deeply into the mind  does the healing light of Christ penetrate?
           One fascinating response to this question comes from the famous spiritual healer, Agnes Sanford (1897-1982).   I remember reading her autobiography, Sealed Orders (Bridge-Logos 1972)  in 1976 when I was 20 years old.   At that time I knew a few people who thought they had the gift of healing and who made prayers for  "inner healing" of bad memories part of their ministry.  That was not for me.  But I was enthralled with Sealed Orders.  It is the great story of a hopeful Christian who writes with the descriptive skills of a novelist.
          Sanford was raised in China as  the child of a missionary.  After she married an Episcopalian pastor she lived in New England.      At 20 years old, I did not have much theological sophistication, or ability to scrutinize the pros and cons of the spiritual healing ideas of Agnes Sanford.   Many  have been critical. See  http://hbcdelivers.org/?p=732   (concluding that Sanford's  inner healing is a dangerous combination of psychology and new-age spirituality). But at that time I missed the new-age issue.   For me reading Sealed Orders  was an experience of reading simple and beautifully stated  eyewitness testimony, describing people who saw their emotional lives turned around for the better after Sanford's  prayers to Jesus for this kind of spiritual healing. 
          My memories of reading  Sealed Orders  35 years ago are  of a person frustrated with Christians who lived as though Jesus never rose from the dead.  She believed that Jesus is alive, and that he offers his healing touch today just as he did during his public ministry on earth - a touch  that included this "inner healing" of bad memories.  If Agnes Sanford had lived in the days of Acts chapter 6 I bet that  she would have gone over with  the Hellenists who with their  free spirits and visioning of the risen Jesus (Stephen)  felt constrained and limited by the Jerusalem church.   See Martin Hengel,  Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity,  Trans. John Bowden.  LondonSCM, 1983 [German essays 1975-83].
          Yes, the church rightly puts a check on those who would claim the ability to solve complicated mental health issues with prayer.   But if Jesus,  the Lord of heaven and earth,  can be surprising in the ways that he heals and changes people,  then even if I may not go along with all of their ideas I like to keep an open mind and  listen to the voice of healers like Agnes Sanford. 
         Here is Agnes Sanford  thinking back to her  days in China  when she first considered the possibility that healing was part of the Christian life.  She recalls wondering if as a young girl  she with prayer could have helped a women who  suffered from severe depression:  

It would have been easy to heal this lovely lady even as I long afterword was healed.  If only some one of God's ministers had known that he himself was a channel for God's power and had laid his hands on her and prayed for the love of Jesus to come into her and lift her out of darkness into his light!   All my life I have grieved that no one knew how to pray for her.   But for the first time now, as I write this down, I wonder:  could I myself have prayed for her and channeled God's power into her?   I knew nothing about healing.    …
Could I have prayed for her daily in silence and in secret as I prayed for the young man?  Was that what God wanted me to do? 

Perhaps the reader is thinking, “Well, of course!”  But in those days it was not, “Of course.” We were fundamentalists. That meant that we believed implicitly in every word in the Bible, yet we did not believe in healing through prayer. We were supposed to obey Jesus in every word that He said. Yet, when He said, “The works that I do shall ye do also,” we  didn’t obey Him, and indeed considered it heresy that any one should try to do His works.”  

Sealed Orders, p. 49.

         Today if you use the word "channel" in Christian circles, there will be raised eyebrows, and I suppose there should be.  But in 1972 Agnes Sanford thought of herself as a channel not as a new-ager but as a matter of  simple obedience to Jesus.   When St. Francis said, "Make me a channel of your peace," nobody questioned his orthodoxy. 
         This subject is not a matter for  intellectual curiosity or theological speculation.  We are talking about people's lives here.  After writing about Agnes Sanford I got home to find the July 23, 2012  issue of the TIME magazine on the kitchen counter, and I saw on the  cover  “One a Day - Every day one U.S. soldier commits suicide."   In the TIME story by journalists Mark Thompson and Nancy Gibbs, they write:  “The U.S. military seldom meets an enemy it cannot target, cannot crush, cannot put a fence around or drive a tank across. But it has not been able to defeat or contain the epidemic of suicides among its troops.”     Agnes Sanford says about the Chinese woman, “I have grieved that no one knew  how to pray for her.”  And now with these children of our friends and neighbors who have served our country,  do we still not know how to pray and reach out with a healing touch?

A version of this blog post was originally on this blog site  July 13, 2012.