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Quaker Thought & History

Mental Healing and Divine Grace

By Edward Grubb


Mental Healing and Divine Grace

The influence of Mind over Body is now so generally recognized that the point needs no labouring. If we hold to the ideal of the "mens sana in corpore sano,"* we understand that the tenant can give quality to the house no less than the house to the tenant. A lovely soul will beautify the features of even the plainest face, just as evil passions mar the fairest. Everyone knows that the emotions of fear, anxiety and worry often upset the digestion, while a serene and tranquil mind favours healthy functioning. At the same time, most of us have doubtless been impressed with the slightness of the control over bodily health that can be exercised by the conscious will. Many who are troubled with sleeplessness know that the only hope of getting to sleep is to forget all about it. In this and other fields it often seems as though the exercise of will-power either has no effect at all, or acts in the opposite direction to that desired. Hence M. Coué puts the will into sharp antagonism with what he calls "the imagination" — a term not very appropriate, since he means an exercise of the mind of which we are not conscious. It is well known now that a very large part of our mental life goes on below the "threshold" of consciousness — as when we search for the solution of a problem that baffles us, and it suddenly slips into our thoughts, perhaps after sleep, when we are engaged on something else. It is clear that, somewhere deep down in us, the mind has gone on with the task and has succeeded where conscious effort failed. Our "mind," therefore, must be taken to include an unknown depth of "sub-consciousness," above which lies, as it were the topmost layer, our conscious life of feeling, thinking and willing.

Now it appears to be certain that it is the subconscious part of the mind which is in the closest relation to the bodily functions. Just as full consciousness uses the brain as its organ, so the subconscious uses (probably) not only the brain and spinal cord but the "sympathetic" nervous system which controls the heart, the blood-vessels, the digestive tract and so forth. And if an idea can be effectively impressed on the sub-conscious mind, it frequently tends to work itself out through this bodily mechanism. Such an idea is known as a "suggestion." When a person is hypnotized, the conscious mind is for the time asleep or in abeyance, and the sub-conscious holds the field. Such a person is temporarily under the influence of any "suggestion" the hypnotizer chooses to make; and, in response to it, may do things that the normal person could hardly do at all. Moreover, a suggestion that the hypnotized person will, after the return of normal consciousness, act in a certain way very often fulfils itself — the person being quite unaware that he is so acting for any reason other than that he chooses to do so. It is obvious that for this reason hypnotism offers a very valuable field for curative treatment — as also it may be a terribly dangerous weapon in the hands of an unscrupulous practitioner.

But it is not only in the hypnotic state that "suggestion" works. Probably all of us can receive "suggestions," even in the waking state, though some persons are far more "suggestible" than others. A distinguished physician, whose experience had been largely with the insane, once told me he believed that something like three-quarters of the cures attributed to drugs are really due to suggestion. A great part of the work of a good doctor is to convey the right kind of suggestion to the sub-conscious minds of his patients. He does this largely by his own demeanour, by assuring the patient that he understands what is the matter and can help, and by the medicine he orders. If in these and other ways the sub-conscious mind is impressed with the idea of recovery, half the battle is won. We may go further, and say that many of the truly wonderful cures wrought by Faith Healing and by Christian Science are due to suggestion of this kind. Where conscious effort and even ordinary medicine fail, these agencies are often able to effect a cure because they convey to the sub-conscious mind of the sufferer the right suggestion. And the work of M. Coué is chiefly remarkable in that he has shown us a method by which we can (in many cases at least) convey it to ourselves without any outside aid. He tells us to repeat over, for about twenty times just before going to sleep (when the conscious mind is giving up control and the sub-conscious is coming to the fore), such a formula as, "Day by day, and in every way, I am getting better and better." He says that it is not needful to attend much to what we are saying, or to think of the particular ailments for which we desire a cure; and, if we fall asleep during the process, so much the better.

Some who have persisted long enough with this method of "self-suggestion" appear to have derived great benefit from it, even in the face of initial disbelief and an apparent utter inability to receive suggestions. They have found not only that bodily ailments gradually disappear, but that persistent depression gives place to cheerfulness of spirit. It does not seem to be at all needful for success that a person should be hypnotizable or of a "psychical" or mystical temperament. And I venture on the further hint that perhaps it affords an easy method of applying "absent treatment" to friends in whose health we are interested: by the substitution of the words "we are" for "I am," with special thought of those persons. There is certainly strong ground for belief in the reality of "telepathic" influences.

My first thoughts, when I read a book by M. Coué, was one of regret that the method recommended appeared to have nothing to do with prayer or faith or any thought of God. I am told that Coué himself is a sincerely religious man, but that he deliberately left religion out because he wished the method to be tried by all, whether believers or otherwise. Perhaps he is right in doing so, and I judge that we who are believers can very easily put the method on to a religious basis and shall find great benefit in doing so. Why not repeat such a formula as "The power of God can heal, and His life is an overcoming life"? This would not arouse antagonism from "common sense," as Coué's formula does when all the indications are that we are not "getting better." It is easy to couple with such a method a prayer of thanksgiving that the Divine power is always with us to help, if only we can receive it, to ask that all obstacles to its working in us, whether conscious or unconscious, may be removed, and that God's help and blessing may be with us in finding and using the best means for their removal. We need not think of "auto-suggestion" as a substitute for Divine healing, any more than most of us now think of Evolution as a substitute for Divine creation. In both cases what we have got is simply a little new light on the way in which the Divine power works.

One advantage of the theory of Suggestion is that it links together different ways in which healing is experienced. It appears to underlie much of ordinary medicine, and it probably indicates the chief basis of the cures undoubtedly wrought by Christian Science, and by "faith," as at Lourdes. What it does not explain is why certain persons appear to have a special gift of conveying to others effective suggestions, or of evoking the necessary faith. The nature and origin of the qualities we vaguely call "genius" still elude us. But we are coming to see, more and more clearly, that the Divine power does not usually work apart from human channels, whether of healers or healed; and that the partial discovery of these channels is not in the least a negation of the Divine energy that flows through them. I suppose that our Christian Science friends will object to any doctrine that appears to make the facts of their experience independent of the special theories (the non-existence of matter and evil and so forth) on which these facts are thought to rest. But many of us find these theories impossible of belief, while the facts stare us in the face; with other facts, equally remarkable, which do not depend on the theories. It does not seem wise to refuse to accept the work of God unless we are sure that it comes in some special or miraculous manner. There are "diversities of gifts," but it is "the same Spirit" that works through all. We must enlarge our thoughts of "the Grace of God" to include, as it certainly did in the Apostle's mind, the healing of the body as well as the salvation of the sin-sick soul.

In our Lord's ministry the two were very closely connected, and it would seem that He hardly thought of them apart. The first words He addressed to the paralytic boy let down into the midst of the crowd were, "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee." He spoke of a woman who could not straighten her back as one "whom Satan hath bound." He clearly thought of disease, as of sin, as something alien to the beauty and harmony and purity of His Father's world. This may be a difficult thought for some of us who have been taught that the germs of disease lie deeply embedded in the natural world, and are inclined to think they must be a part of the order of nature as it came from God. And yet we have hints of a strife, even in nature, between the germs of disease and the "phagocytes" which, in health, are ever destroying them.

These mysteries we cannot at present solve, but it may help us to observe how our Master, in His healing work, made abundant use of what we now call "suggestion." He anointed the eyes of the blind, and touched the tongue of a stammerer, with saliva which was believed to have a healing power. He frequently laid His hands on the sick, and even touched a leper. The much-debated entry of the legion of devils into the herd of swine may probably have been intended as a powerful suggestion to the lunatic that they had really gone and were destroyed. A man, He said, is of more value than a sheep, and perhaps to Him one human soul was worth more than even two thousand pigs — though we cannot doubt that to Him, as to His follower Francis of Assisi, even pigs were dear.

A word may be added as to the relation between Divine Grace and human Faith. Need we too rigidly distinguish the Grace that is ever round about us, seeking entrance, that it may purify sin-stained lives, lift up those that are bowed down, invigorate them and give strength for service, from the Faith that admits it and makes it our own? Are they not rather two sides of one right relation between God and man? May we not say that Grace is the Divine side of faith, and that faith is the human side of Grace? Of one thing we may be sure: that God's Grace does not act upon us mechanically or coercively; it does not weaken our own personality, but raises it to a higher power and efficiency. "Work out your own salvation, for it is God that worketh in you."

Chapter X ...>

From Quaker Thought and History: A Volume of Essays. By Edward Grubb, M.A. Published in 1925 by The MacMillan Company, New York.)

Notes and Links

"mens sana in corpore sano"
A sound mind in a healthy body.