There is a false dichotomy, an error in thinking, that runs deep in the veins of our sense of ourselves. This is the idea that our psychology is separate from our spirituality or our biology. It is certainly good to look through different lenses to notice different aspects of Truth, or our existence in the universe, but it is not correct to think that we are really different parts.
We are not different parts, sewn together like a well-made piece of clothing or bolted and welded together like a car. We are body and spirit, a mysterious unity of two kinds of creation, united together while also maintaining some reality of difference. It is an error (and heresy) to deny one or the other as being essentially human, and it is to disregard the full revelation of Jesus in the incarnation to deny the unity of the two.
We are not all philosophers, so this idea doesn’t necessarily excite all of us on its own. However, this truth has dramatic effects on our human journey towards excellence, thriving, and flourishing. It has dramatic effects on healing. We need to understand this teaching in order to accurately assess types of healing and how to think about what helps us and what doesn’t.
Some healers focus on the body while some healers focus on the spirit. Healing the body will have an effect on the spirit because the two are united, and healing the spirit will have an effect on the body because the two are united. Healers should know what they are focusing on and be clear about what they offer. (Psychologists straddle the line between the body and the spirit, which is why it is so important that psychologists know about the unity – nevermind the existence – of both).
Any good spiritual director or confessor will also care about a person’s physical and mental health, any good physician will care about a person’s soul and mental health, and any good psychologist will care about a person’s body and spiritual health. How many do? Do you see yet how important this unity business is for healing?
We can also make a distinction between natural and supernatural means of healing. Natural means to follow the natural order that God has created the world with. You can expect that certain actions will lead to certain reactions. Unhealthy actions lead to unhealthy reactions, and healthy actions lead to healthy reactions. These can be on the level of the body or the spirit. There are natural spiritual consequences of both good and bad actions. There are natural bodily consequences of both good and bad actions.
Then there are supernatural experiences of healing. These are the actions of grace in our lives, where God steps in and provides an extra hand in the process. These are not things we can predict and expect with the same kind of accuracy as a natural consequence. These are the answers to prayers or the particular form that specific graces take through the Sacraments. These are the actions of the Holy Spirit in our lives perfectly ordered not to natural laws but the Will of God. Supernatural means of healing can have an effect on our bodies or spirits, and ultimately both.
There is a document by the USCCB that teaches why it is wrong to practice Reiki as a Catholic. In this document, the church reminds us of these two kinds of healing- supernatural and natural. The healing power of Reiki is attributed to supernatural means, but its practitioners call upon the “energy of the universe” to heal instead of the Holy Spirit. We have good reason to stay far away from any healing that calls on supernatural healing that is not clearly and specifically attributed to God. Healing attributed to God is unpredictable, uncontrollable, and requiring of our trust and abandonment. Reiki does not claim those things.
When I teach Catholic Mindfulness, however, I am teaching first a protocol that has been observed, tested, and predicted on a natural level. Mindfulness has been shown to naturally reduce many symptoms of different disorders, including anxiety and depression. This is basic healing on the natural and scientific level. There is nothing supernatural about it. However, it also trains the faculties of the mind to develop greater control over our focus, which greatly facilitates our ability to put into practice the habits of prayer that we choose to integrate into our lives. When we pray, we invite the supernatural healing of the Holy Spirit into our lives.
The work we do to make ourselves healthier on a natural level can facilitate supernatural healing.
Part of the teaching of the Church on the supernatural work of God is that “grace builds on nature.” This means that there is a totally gratuitous reality to God’s grace, but by his own desire, he uses what we give him. His efforts meet our efforts where they are, as ineffective as they would be without his aid, and makes them fruitful.
In some circles, there can develop a sense of passive resignation to the grace of God, as if it’s all up to him and there’s nothing for us to do. I see this in many people who go through self-diagnosed “dark nights,” which are assumed to be based on the action of God, when in reality they are not putting into place basic routines and behaviors that keep us spiritually, psychologically, and physically healthy.
There are people who likewise may doubt the importance of doing something like mindfulness to work on the ways our minds work, to take care of natural things on our end so that God can do the work on His end. These misunderstandings are easy to fall into without a proper sense of who we are.
There is a spiritual dictum that states, “work as if everything depends on you, pray as if everything depends on God.” This sums up pretty well the distinction between the different parts of who we are and how we are to become our best selves.