Inner Healing Prayer Concerns, part 3

Emotionalism

As stated above, these overly spiritualized methods of healing place far too much emphasis on emotion as the single greatest criterion used to determine the presence of the Holy Spirit. In a “prayer session”, when the “prayer minister” is leading the recipient through their memories often the question is “what do you feel?” and then when it is time to ask the Lord to reveal his truth, it is again emotion that is looked for to determine whether the person has fully accepted the Lord’s message in their hearts. Yes, I see the value of leading people to a cathartic moment, which can be very powerful in someone’s life in helping them reconcile their past. I practice marriage counseling from an Emotionally Focused perspective, too. However, I once again raise caution on making on-the-fly assertions of the work of the Holy Spirit. Time ultimately will tell if what occurred produced genuine fruit from the Lord. Humility is in order here, not presumption.

IMG_0428Furthermore, what tends to occur in these “prayer sessions” is that a direct correlation is made between crying and Holy Spirit’s presence. Cardinal Suenens, who wrote much about the need for balance in the Charismatic Renewal, calls this phenomenon of excess emotionality the fabrication of an artificial spirituality (Nature and Grace, pgs. 2-3). In other words, over spiritualization of healing that is primarily governed by emotion is not the work of the Holy Spirit, but some artificial experience. This is a major problem. Often people walk away from the ‘healing prayer experience’ thinking that it was God and that they are fully healed, yet they may not have been. This disrupts the inner sensors and sensibilities of one’s soul to properly discern God’s presence. Precisely for this reason, St John of the Cross in the Ascent of Mt Carmel, cautions one seeking these types of visions and signs in prayer; because the devil can deceive us with visions, too; God rarely grants them; and when we do receive a vision or sign, we are prone to misinterpreting them or cling to them instead of God himself (Book Second, Ch. 18). God’s ways are not our ways and to make quick assertions of God’s will is often a foolish enterprise.

Along these lines, another problem arises when there are teams of prayer ministers that are not sufficiently trained in authentic Catholic spirituality, theology, or sound counseling techniques leading ‘prayer sessions’ at conferences. What then occurs is that they are only trained to look for wounds of the past and emotion as the presence of the Holy Spirit. To place a vulnerable soul in this care is negligent behavior. It stands to reason that the unskilled “prayer minister” will only look for what they are trained to look for and as the adage goes, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Again, the method alone does not leave room for the nuances of grace and reason, and ignores the complexity of the human condition. People get hurt in these situations, and it is extra painful because we are talking about claims of God’s presence.

Another problem that arises from an overly spiritualized approach is a lack of structure and appropriate emotional boundaries. Often, there is an expectation within the milieu of these groups to expose your deepest wounds to a stranger or the group at large. This fails to honor the positive aspect of shame as discussed in JPII’s Theology of the Body (12:1). Simply stated, JPII recognizes that shame exists in our fallen world as a means to safeguard the mystery and inherent goodness of the human person. It is good for us to have a healthy sense of emotional modesty[1]. To fully expose oneself emotionally to a group or individual who have not proven themselves trustworthy, leaves people overly vulnerable and the potential for hurt is great. On this side of heaven, emotional intimacy is only capable with a small number of people; usually our spouses, family, close confidants, spiritual directors, counselors, and even in ongoing group therapy. To make the expectation that recipients should come for a weekend event and pour out all of their deepest secrets in a brief prayer session is reckless behavior.

[1] Certainly, one can go to the other extreme, repress their emotions, and never open up to a trusted other; this can lead to emotional isolation. I am merely proposing the need for a healthy balance with emotional vulnerability.

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