The Healing Light by Agnes Sanford

The Healing Light by Agnes SanfordSummary: A book on physical and spiritual healing, published in 1947 by a Episcopal Priest’s wife. Anges Sanford mentored and impacted many, included Dallas Willard. 

Way back in March, over three months ago I started reading The Healing Light because both the book and author were mentioned in the very good biography of Dallas Willard. The Healing Light was available and cheap so I picked it up and started reading. It has taken me three months to get through it because it is both fascinating and frustrating.

Part of what I have appreciated about it is that it is written in a different era. Published in 1947, it has been out for more than 70 years and still in print. CS Lewis’ point about reading books of different ages was not that different ages were better, but they had different blind spots and different emphases and different strengths.

There are three primary issue that I think are negatives and significant ones. First, there is an attempt to scientifically analyze prayer and healing. There is some aspect of that that is appropriate. But it felt very dated and a dead end because prayer is not scientific. It is using a tool of analysis that is inappropriate to the task it is being used for. The type of approach to prayer as science is summed up in the quote, “Some day we will understand the scientific principles that underlie the miracle-working powers of God, and we will accept His intervention as simply and naturally as we do the radio.”

The second, very significant problem, is that it places blame for lack of healing on the healer or the person being healed. That seems to be theologically wrong. Paul had his thorn that was not removed. Others in Christian history seem to have had afflictions or problems that were not a result of lack of faith, but of circumstances, the general evil of the world or God’s will. She goes as far to say, “There is no record in the whole Bible of an holy man who remained an invalid.” That problem was tempered a bit in later chapters, but the early chapters make it hard to recommend to anyone that themselves has been frustrated by unanswered prayer. Especially those that are physically disabled in some way.

The third problem is what I think is an inadequate Christology. There are multiple times when there is a reference to Jesus’ inabilities to do something (which really emphasizes my problem with the second point). Jesus is fully human and fully God, but to talk about Jesus’ inability to heal really raises some concerns about her broader Christology.

I still have significant concerns about the book as a whole, but there was some very good sections toward the end about the importance of spiritual health for the person attempting healing prayer, the role of confession and the sacraments in healing, and praying more broadly for the world’s problems (the last chapter.) I think you probably need to read the whole book for context, but it is really only the last about 40 percent that I thought was helpful.

It is interesting to read this in combination with a Russian novel (Laurus) about a 15th century mystic and healer. They talked about healing in such different ways. But at times they talked about them in very similar ways as well. I very much do believe real physical and spiritual healing and I believe in prayer that actually changes events around us. But I also think that God chooses to allow things to happen that are not what we ask for in prayer more often.

I think there is something about overcoming addiction or spiritual growth or a whole host of other issues that God thinks the process is important. If we could just pray away all disease or bad things I think we would come to treat God differently. There is a point in the book Laurus when he stops being able to heal significant issues because the people have come to expect healing and have stopped seeing God’s power in healing but think of the healing as part of standard natural order.

But I also think there is something to Sanford’s point that we also are just not developing our prayer life and so are not experiencing at least some healing and miracles because we have discounted the possibility. There are parts of the book that I think that are helpful about thinking through how we pray, how we pray for healing, how we trust God and prepare for God’s work. But there are also so many (for lack of a better descriptor) New Age or spiritualist types of descriptions. She talked frequently about ‘vibrations’ or ‘energies’ or similar. There has to be some language used, so I do not want to harp on this too much, but I do think it is a sign of her era.

The Healing Light by Agnes Sanford Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

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