I was recently made aware of these lines by George Fox:
So the ministers of the Spirit must minister to the Spirit that is transgressed and in prison [in other people], which hath been in captivity in every one; whereby with the same Spirit people must be led out of captivity up to God, the Father of spirits, and do service to him and have unity with him, with the Scriptures and with one another.
The captivity of which Fox speaks is a bondage to demonic powers. Of course, these days we would replace demons with psychiatric categories. In any case, Jesus “cast out demons” and healed people who were mentally ill. Perhaps those so cured were originally psychotic, perhaps they were physically affected by mental conflicts, perhaps they were afflicted by some other neurosis. But Jesus, the miracle worker, the minister of souls, healed them. We, who are ordinary people, can hardly do the same. Our ministry must be humbler.
After all, no one can control another person. If someone else chooses to remain in bondage to a psychological or spiritual problem, we cannot force them to embrace a cure or solution. If an alcoholic doesn’t want to stop drinking, nothing we say can force that person to stop. And we won’t have much better luck with someone who’s self-deprecating or even depressed. “Stop running yourself down” will not instill self-confidence and self-respect. “Snap out of it” is exactly what a depressed Friend can’t do. And if someone is psychotic, they may not even understand what we say.
Even so, words may occasionally be helpful, especially in a therapeutic relationship or a close friendship. But that will be the exception, not the rule. Really, all we can do is set a good example in our own lives and allow others to face problems—ultimately—on their own. Or is that all we can do?
Many times, most times in fact, we can sit in silence with those who are distressed. We can listen to them. We can be present to their anguish or sorrow. This kind of comfort may be just what someone needs to finally come out of, or start to come out of, a psychic malaise. God or Spirit—a Healing Power—can rise through us and into those who need the healing. Perhaps we will even say the word or words that strike a responsive chord in the other.
Really, what we are doing by sitting with another is to accept that person, be they ever so flawed or psychologically sick. We are saying, in effect, “You are worthwhile despite this problem of yours. I accept you as I accept my imperfect self.” In that moment, the sufferer may consciously or unconsciously feel accepted by God. When a Friend is healed or begins a healing process “because of” our intervention, it is really the Holy Spirit that is the healer.
The traditional Christian word for such healing is “grace.” Paul Tillich explains the concept in beautiful, poetic language:
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life…. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: "You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you….
Non-theist Friends may not be comfortable with words like “grace” or “Holy Spirit.” To such Friends, let us simply speak of “love.” When we lovingly listen to someone or even lovingly and actively try to help, that person may experience renewed hope and a very real healing of mind and spirit. If a person slips or falls psychologically or spiritually, Isaac Penington tells us to help them up with a tender hand. Tenderness—love—may do wonders if patience and time are given a chance.
~ Richard Russell
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