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The Healing Christ and Three New Thought Healers:

P. P. Quimby, Henry Wood, and Agnes Sanford

It is an honor and a pleasure to be invited to review Robert Winterhalter’s last—and possibly best—book, The Healing Christ. Having known him as a scholar, it is fascinating to encounter such a powerful reminder that he was also interested in healing, serving as he did as a minister in various environments. As a New Thought Christian, he reminds us that "we regard [Jesus of Nazareth] as the founder of our science and its greatest practitioner", and that our Elder Brother and Way Shower told us, "He who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do" (John 14:12). Robert’s book is a scholarly and painstaking account of the Scriptural basis for the patterns of healing employed by Jesus.

Robert goes through each of the 22 healings performed by Jesus as described in the Gospels, commenting on them from a scholarly viewpoint. He especially treats the nuances of translation from Greek or Aramaic, supplying the reader with insights that go beyond the simple translations. Use of verb tenses makes an enormous difference, and Robert brings out those differences. Robert also deals with Hebrew and Hellenistic cultures, showing what they bring to bear on the various healing incidents. He includes so-called "metaphysical" (symbolic) insights into the accounts.

All illness is psychosomatic, having both psyche and soma components, and we can now say that nearly all illness (some 90 percent or more) is psychogenic, its cause being in the mind or spirit. Perhaps Robert’s most useful contribution is his psychological insights into how and why people become ill, and what it takes for them to become well and stay that way. He shows that Jesus was aware of most if not all of these: "Jesus understood, with complete clarity, that the springs of life are from within. The formative power of thought, feeling, and belief is always at work, shaping our outer conditions according to what we hold in mind" (page 110). Robert includes New Thought principles and practices, especially the use of affirmations, which he liberally supplies.

New Thought, Robert reminds us, is more than willing to work with medical practitioners at the same time that it follows the healing methods of Jesus. Robert cites physician Larry Dossey’s book, Prayer is Good Medicine, as an example of the acknowledgment of the proven role of prayer in healing. Although he sticks primarily to his own field, Robert also mentions energy medicine and other recent breakthroughs in science that support the ancient Christian teachings about healing. He was always interested in keeping up with such developments along with new findings in Biblical scholarship.

I have one bone to pick with Robert, one that he and I have gnawed on and growled over in the past. He seems totally unaware of the existence of Ericksonian hypnosis, sometimes known as utilization theory. Robert states,

Hypnotism works by suspending the patient’s will, and by injecting a flow of imagery, verbal and visual, from the hypnotist’s own psyche. This changes the subconscious mind of the patient to a degree, though results are usually temporary. The hypnotist may also, without intending to do so, transfer discordant images into the patient’s psyche. Using Jesus’ methods, the flow of imagery is released from within the individual needing help, thus also changing the subconscious phase of mind. In the latter case, however, the change is natural to the patient. Being indigenous to the patient’s own psyche, it is always more or less permanent. (page 15)

He does not indicate where he gets these notions, nor whether he has had any first-hand experience with hypnosis as a scholar or as a subject.

Psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson, whose painstaking laboratory research made clinical hypnosis a scientific discipline, believed first and foremost in respecting the patient. He helped patients free themselves of much subconscious or unconscious baggage through utilizing what the patient presented in the way of information, both what the patient actually said and what Erickson’s own astounding ability to observe minute physical details such as pulse, flushing, and changes in small muscles, supplied. "Suspending the patient’s will", or "injecting a flow of imagery" would scarcely be respectful of the patient, nor would they be scientific in that they would only confuse what the patient was supplying; in effect, putting words in the patient’s mouth. Erickson’s approach was far closer to what Robert refers to as "Jesus’ methods", although it would be a great overstatement to refer to Erickson as Christian. A quotation from Jung that Robert then cites would indicate that Jung was not personally familiar with the work of Erickson. Ernest L. Rossi of the C. J. Jung Institute of Los Angeles once stated, "Milton H. Erickson was a genius of effective simplicity in his storytelling approach to healing and the realization of the human spirit." In the introduction to a book by Erickson and Rossi, Andre Weitzenhoffer states, "It has ... been widely recognized that suggestions leading to the sort of behaviors exhibited by hypnotized individuals can also be effectively used in the absence of any induction of hypnosis. That is, they can be effective with persons who have presumably not been hypnotized" (Hypnotic Realities, 1976, page xviii).

For more on Ericksonian hypnosis, including a comparison of Erickson’s work with that of the father of New Thought, P. P. Quimby, see my paper, "New Age, New Thought, and Process Thought", available online at Quimby (1802-1866), a very bright, self-educated clockmaker, daguerreotypist, and inventor, discovered that he was also good at mesmerizing people, mesmerism being the latest scientific wrinkle of the day, the precursor of hypnotism. He then discovered that he was healing people, and later, that mesmerism could not possibly be the explanation for the healings. Quimby’s research led him to his own careful study of the Bible and remarkable spiritual growth of his own. A simple and delightful introduction to the complex and difficult-to-learn approach of Erickson is My Voice Will Go With You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson (1982), edited by Sidney Rosen.

Erickson was one of three therapists who were studied exhaustively by the developers of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Rossi was an early practitioner of NLP, as was Genie Z. Laborde, author of Influencing with Integrity (1983). Laborde states, "Achieving your own outcome at the expense of or even without regard for the other party constitutes manipulation. . . . I recommend influencing over manipulation" (pages xvii-xviii). We are all constantly influencing one another, with or without trance induction; in fact, we cannot not influence. The question is whether we are doing so with integrity, with regard for the needs and wants of the other party. An NLP cofounder, Robert Dilts, did a study of Jesus in NLP terms.

An example of the utilization approach is in Robert’s chapter, "Deaf Man With a Speech Impediment". Robert lists seven actions that Jesus took in a manner resembling that of Greek magicians of Jesus’ time. He points out that Jesus would have had to communicate with a deaf man nonverbally. "His actions, then", writes Robert, "were an instrument of the moment, used to establish rapport with the man needing help" (page 102). Erickson was famous for his nonverbal trance inductions, including one with a woman who did not speak any English. Robert notes that Jesus "deals with the central issue of how the individual views himself or herself" (page 103). This is precisely how Erickson operated: he did what the patient expected (like Jesus’ emulating the Greek magicians). This is what Quimby did by pouring water on patients’ heads. The women hated it, because then they had to take their hair down to dry it. Erickson likewise was famous for his "ordeal therapy". "Jesus", explains Robert, "had to somehow communicate a new image of self to the man needing help". So did Quimby and Erickson.

However, this is a relatively minor point in an entire book. For the most part, I found Robert’s book both informative and inspiring. Secular practitioners cannot be expected to provide the depth of insight that Robert furnishes when he writes, "The Healing Christ refers not to Jesus alone, but to the Christ Identity which is the core of our own being, and that of the cosmos. Jesus was the rabbi from Nazareth. Christ is God’s perfect idea of humanity, encompassing both genders equally" (page ii). Then again, on page vi: "Christ is our life (Colossians 3:4), as well as the life of Jesus. Thus, the Healing Christ has a double meaning, being both a person (Jesus of Nazareth) and a collective principle and reality (Christ in us all)." Jesus performed his healing miracles in numerous ways, and so can we.

This year, I have been doing research on certain New Thought healers. I began with the work of Henry Wood (1834-1909), a very successful businessman who was forced to retire early as a result of stress-related illness, sought various forms of healing, and eventually was healed through New Thought principles. He then taught those healing principles to others, mainly through authoring ten books that sold in the tens of thousands. He was one of the founders, and served at one time as President, of the Metaphysical Club, and—along with Horatio W. Dresser—was mentioned by William James in Varieties of Religious Experience as the two best New Thought writers around, most of the others being what James characterized as " so moonstruck with optimism and so vaguely expressed that an academically trained intellect finds it almost impossible to read it at all" (page 94). I have been reading Wood’s works (all available as Google PDF files; links at the Henry Wood tab of our site). This pioneer of New Thought, who did not found a denomination and was not a minister, had a reputation as a successful healer.

Wood was an excellent writer, having proven himself as a business author before taking up New Thought, known as Mind Cure at the time. His first New Thought book was a novel, Edward Burton (1890), still a delightful read, in which he places into the mouths of various characters positions that he wants to uphold, along with those he wishes to discredit. Perhaps his best-known and most helpful book was Ideal Suggestion Through Mental Photography (1893), in which he provides large-type affirmations for the reader to focus on while reading short meditations. The book also includes Wood’s views. It was written long before Erickson’s work on hypnosis, but Wood seemed to have gained some understanding of altered states of consciousness, which can be of great use in healing. He begins his Preface:

Suggestion of some kind is the great mental motor. It may enter the human mind either in thought-waves projected by another mind, or through the avenue of an outer sense. Hypnotic suggestion stirs the mind on the sensuous plane by the dominant imposition of the force of another personality. IDEAL SUGGESTION is the photographing of pure and perfect ideals directly upon the mind through the medium of the sense of sight. It is voluntary, and free from any admixture of personality or imperfection. By the cultivated vigor of thought-concentration it develops wonderful power and utility. (page 7)

Wood does, however, make a valid point with respect to hypnosis:

Without judging it unfairly in advance of more thorough investigation, — which it is receiving both in Europe and America, — its kingdom is undoubtedly within the boundaries of the lower or sensuous mind. Even if it serve some therapeutic ends it can never be an ideal curative agent. In proportion to the measure of development of the spiritual selfhood, one rises above its possible dominion. (page 101)

He states on the previous page, "The grand mission of these great principles [used in Ideal Suggestion] is the development of the spiritual ego." As Quimby before him had discovered with respect to mesmerism, Wood recognized that spiritual work must be done in consciousness quite apart from other useful methods such as the hypnotic state that may assist one in preparing for it:

A positively developed spiritual nature is invulnerable to any "evil" thing known in the whole universe of God. No claim of animal magnetism, hypnotic suggestion, witchcraft, ill-luck, external circumstance, malign astrological influence, nor even adverse heredity, can shake a soul-structure of Truth. (page 91)

Surely Robert would be delighted with Wood’s observation:

When the Founder of Christianity gave his great commission, "Preach the gospel and heal the sick," did he not mean all that he said? Is the power of Truth partial, local, and limited to a single age? If God be infinitely good, unchangeable, and orderly in His manifestations, could He withdraw powers and privileges that had been already bestowed? If divine law is not suspended nor violated, the same "gifts of healing" that have once been exercised must be operative to-day, under corresponding spiritual conditions. On the divine side, spiritual law must always be uniform, otherwise God’s methods would be self-contradictory. Many eminent men of advanced thought in the church who now admit the immutability of law, spiritual as well as material, have apparently failed to observe its logical outcome. It follows that the direct assurance of the Christ that, "These signs shall follow them that believe," either limits true believers to one epoch, or else proves that "works of healing" have a permanent and lawful basis. (page 18)

Wood adds, "It is only medical science, as it has gradually degenerated into a great drug prescription system, that seeks for primary causation in the inert clay of the body. The wise physician makes a mental, as well as a physical diagnosis and is logically led to the utilization of immaterial forces." (page 19)

A twentieth-century healer who was a great admirer of Emmet Fox but did not embrace New Thought theology (which we have, even though we have no creed) was Agnes Sanford (1897-1982). She unquestionably believed in a good God, an abundant universe, and the moral code supplied by that good God, as well as in the power of thought, so we might well consider her a New Thoughter. The child of Presbyterian missionaries who worked in China, she married an Episcopal priest and spent years as a conventional wife and mother before another Episcopal priest healed her sick toddler, then later healed her of chronic depression and taught her to become a healer herself, using a simple laying on of hands as well as some distance healing. Like Henry Wood, she was a layperson and a popular author. She healed thousands of people herself in addition to teaching many others to heal, especially clergy from many denominations. Perhaps her best-known book was her first, The Healing Light (1947). She also wrote some still-entertaining fiction to illustrate her healing principles along with other works of non-fiction, including her autobiography, Sealed Orders (1972).

Like Quimby, Sanford went through the Bible as an adult, reading the Gospels with special attention to what Jesus said and did. She would have been delighted with The Healing Christ. She believed that it was absolutely essential to have Christ heal the subconscious of all the outworn, mistaken ideas picked up in childhood along with the burden of guilt over past misdeeds. In The Healing Touch of God (formerly titled Behold Your God) (1958), she writes:

The subconscious mind responds to suggestion. That is a law. The two most destructive suggestions are these: First, "I don’t believe I can get well," and second, "I am not worthy." The lack of faith comes from the oft-repeated suggestion of the conscious mind, burdened as it is by the unbelief of the world around us. The sense of unworthiness comes from the spirit. For just as God gave the body an ability to rebuild and heal, so too He gave the spirit an ability to know what is right and what is wrong. But why did He give us this inbuilt sense of right and wrong that we sometimes call the conscience? So that we may correct what is wrong and do what is right. How perfectly amazing that some Christians feel that it is worthy to feel unworthy, and to go about congratulating themselves upon being miserable sinners! Jesus Christ did not die on the cross that we should remain in our sins, but that by his grace we should correct our unworthiness and learn to live as new creatures in Him! When once we see our faults and lack and failures and repent of them and pray for forgiveness, then we can go back to our positive thinking and say, "I am God’s perfect child and His power is working within me toward life and health." But if we do not see our faults, then the spirit whispers to us, "No, you are not God’s perfect child. You hate your mother-in-law". . . . When Jesus healed people, he did not say, "Now if you have any further trouble, call up Peter or John and they will be glad to ask the group to pray for you again. He said, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee (John 5:14)." (pages 50-51)

Studying the works of Wood and Sanford—and now, Robert—has inevitably led me back to Quimby. In a piece titled "Jesus, His Belief or Wisdom", he states, "Christ is that unseen principle in man, of which he is conscious but which he had never considered as intelligence. It is God in us, and when man arrives at that state that he can recognize an intelligence that transcends belief, then death is swallowed up in wisdom." (Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: His Complete Writings and Beyond, ed. Ronald A. Hughes, 2009, page 353). This is different wording from Sanford’s, but it takes us to the same place: "We have the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16). Quimby would have argued a patient out of his mistaken beliefs, but not out of the need for repentance, metanoia. Similarly, Unity co-founder Myrtle Fillmore used Quimby’s disputation technique to argue herself out of a belief in hereditary disease and also incorporated a metanoia that eventually led her to search her virtues as well as her faults. (How to Let God Help You, page 198).

In a piece titled "Spiritualism: Death of the Natural Man", Quimby observes, "Jesus taught Christ and put it in practice by his works. Do the Christians do the same? No. They preach about it, so their faith is not of works but a belief. The world is no wiser or better for it" (page 545). In "Spiritual Interpretation", he comments, "To be a follower of Christ is to do the things that he did, but to be a believer in Christ embraces what you know nothing of, only as a belief. There is a vast difference between a belief and knowledge. Knowledge is wisdom and does not contain a belief. A belief is error or the wisdom of this world and the only way to tell them apart is to detect them by their work or fruits" (page 527).

I will give Robert the last word in all of this, since there are bound to be numerous perspectives, and the points of agreement are far more significant than the differences:

Whether one considers Jesus to be a god, man, fully God and fully man, or holds to some other theological view, remember that Christ is more than a man, even Jesus. Christ is our life (Colossians 3:4), as well as the life of Jesus. Thus, the Healing Christ has a double meaning, being both a person (Jesus of Nazareth) and a collective principle and reality (Christ in us all). (page vi).

By all means, buy and read The Healing Christ, and then check out some of the writings of Henry Wood, Agnes Sanford, and P. P. Quimby. "Live long and prosper."