The Uncommon Touch by Tom Harpur

The Uncommon Touch

An attempt to examine the phenomenon of spiritual healing scientifically. Harpur, a Canadian religious writer, first explodes some stereotypes: TV evangelists who practice faith healing are simply charlatans; spiritual healing is an ally, rather than a critique, of conventional medicine; and spiritual healing includes in its definition those patients who simply believe they will get well, and do, as opposed to those who have given up, and die. Harpur cites testimony concerning historical figures such as the famous "blind healer," Geoffrey Mowatt, then alludes to the work of Wilhelm Reich, a physician and student of Freud who postulated "orgone energy." Orgone energy is a massless life force that is, perhaps, tapped into through the laying on of hands. The Canadian biologist Bernard Grad attempted to measure orgone energy in the laying on of hands of a contemporary healer, Oskar Estebany, with double-blind experiments involving mice. Wounded mice that Estebany had handled recovered more rapidly than the control group. There's much here, too, on what might be called the "positive thinking" aspects of prayer. Welcome evidence for those inclined to welcome it; for skeptics, Harpur will make fascinating reading. - John Mort, Booklist

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From Kirkus Reviews

A Canadian writer on religion, Harpur (God Help Us, Life After Death, etc.) here challenges doctors and other health care professionals "to look beyond conventional approaches to a much wider paradigm or model of healing''--a paradigm he does not actually present. Harpur also challenges the reader to look inward and become a channel for his or her own healing. He writes of the laying-on of hands and religious rites such as prayer, visualization, meditation, and "the cultivation of the inner, spiritual qualities of hope, faith, love, forgiveness, courage, purpose, and meaning.'' His absolute bedrock conviction is that "all healing is self- healing'' and the human organism is self-renewing: "Our total organism wants and wills health.'' Before becoming a journalist, Harpur was an Anglican parish priest and practiced laying-on of hands. Here he seriously seeks a medical use for the healing phenomenon. First he exposes frauds and charlatans (Oral Roberts, Peter Popoff), although he admits that these fakers sometimes channel real cures. He reviews the Judaic and Gospel traditions and finds in them healing on many levels, from the individual to the cosmic. He profiles the blind healer Godfrey Mowatt, portraying him as a well-rounded, socially engaged person before revealing the full scope of Mowatt's thought, which holds that inner healing precedes the physical and often comes about by the "healee" becoming a channel for healing others. Among scientific ideas, he relates Wilhelm Reich's orgone theory of bioenergies, which so intrigued Canadian biologist Bernard Grad that he then set out to verify the spiritual side of healing. Harpur also eyes psychiatric healing, touch therapy, and traditional healing in China, concluding that "the Ultimate Ground of the universe is with you." An earnest proclamation that the life force can renew when asked. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title

From Library Journal

Anglican priest, New Testament professor, and journalist, Harpur provides a balanced investigation of the religious roots and methods of healing. In the process, Harpur challenges the medical profession to openness toward alternative healing methods, churches to "recover the awareness that healing in the fullest sense of the word is really what they are about," and people to greater responsibility for their own health and for becoming healing influences on others. He believes that "trust and confidence in a loving God ...can constitute a potent factor in the self-healing process." Recommended especially for public, seminary, and medical libraries. -- Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

"In the last analysis, we are in the hands of God"
by Nikki Abraham
Catholic New Times, April 28, 1996

In the final months of my mother-in-law's terrible illness, The Uncommon Touch made its way into the apartment where we took turns caring for her. When I first say the book, I was not sure what to expect. I had read Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's On Death and Dying, which had made me aware of some of the mysterious psychological aspects of those processes. I had also read the excellent book, I Don't Know What to Say, and from it had gained practical help with understanding and approaching issues that arise for dying patients and those who are close to them. When I picked up Tom Harpur's book, I read whatever caught my eye, until interrupted by sickroom duties.

One day, I found this passage: "Though Western society often acts as though death is the ultimate insult and imposition, an unpleasantness our hi-tech medicine ought somehow to prevent, we all know we have to die eventually. There will come a time in everyone's life when the proper healing prayer or intervention will fittingly be made in the ‘voice' of that ancient Christian prayer: that ‘at the last' there may be ‘a perfect end.' It's because of this basic sense that the final mystery of our lives is hidden in the will or mind of God - or the cosmic spirit, if you prefer - that most Christian prayer for healing is quantified by the condition ‘according to Thy Will.' This is not doubt or fatalism masking itself as piety. It's a quiet recognition that, in the last analysis we are in the hands of God.' Reading this, I understood clearly that, although it was true that our family needed hope, this hope now lay not in any concrete remedy, but in a healing process that would end in peaceful death rather than a restoration of physical well-being.

This, then, was my "emotional" reason for being interested in The Uncommon Touch. But I was also interested in it for other reasons. Being from a medical family (father a doctor, mother a nurse), but also being a person who finds the scientific method rather limited - it surely doesn't explain everything, and if we expect it to, then we are guilty of the utmost arrogance - I am naturally interested in phenomena that it cannot explain, especially medical phenomena. In The Uncommon Touch, Tom Harpur gives a broad overview of non-medical healing as it has been practised throughout human history, and in nearly all cultures. He then concentrates on its modern-day manifestations. He does not dwell on the sometimes intense opposition of the medical establishment to all such efforts; he instead points out that the opposition is softening.

The book was most intriguing when it gave details of experiments devised to test the efficacy of non-medical healing. Particularly compelling were the sections on work done by Canada's Dr. Bernard Grad at McGill University. But there are accounts of many astonishing experiments. Some of these are efforts by individuals to effect spiritual or non-medical healing; some, simply the attempt to influence material phenomena by exerting mental energy from a distance; still others, efforts by groups of people to affect other people by means of directed prayer. Without exception, these make fascinating reading, and Harpur has provided both footnotes and a list of additional reading for those who wish to find original sources or simply pursue the subject further. Harpur attempts to accomplish two things in this book: to present the Christian mission as, primarily, one of "healing (to this end, he recasts salvation as healing, and sin as lack of wholeness or health); and to link all religions, as well as non-medical healing methods, to the underlying Cosmic or Divine Energy that is the source of all that exists.

Harpur argues that many religions and ancient shamanistic traditions, as well as some modern healing methods, achieve their aims by tapping into this Divine Source or achieving harmony with it. He suggests that current theories in physics may soon provide a modern scientific framework that validates the invisible, but nonetheless real, phenomena he describes throughout The Uncommon Touch. This is an ambitious book, but one that wisely avoids the attempt to preach or convert. It presents the evidence briefly, clearly, and level-headedly, and leaves the reader to follow up if interested. The writing style is a model of grace and economy; it is a pleasure to read.

If you are a Christian, you may not agree with Harpur's take on Jesus as the Great Healer, or God as the somewhat impersonal Ground of Being; but you are likely to find both inspiration and comfort here. There is love in this book: love of God, love of humankind, and a reflection of God's love for us. For the sick and their loved ones, this indeed is a tonic of the best kind.

Soujourners Magazine
By Arthur P. Boers
August 1994

When Tom Harpur says the medical establishment is sick, he is neither trite nor merely ironic. Harpur, a force to be reckoned with here in the Great White North, is worth hearing on both sides of the border. He is Canada's most popular religion columnist and a television commentator; his books are all Canadian bestsellers. This former Rhodes Scholar was previously an Anglican priest and New Testament seminary professor.

He says the medical establishment is ill, not just economically and bureaucratically, but because of over-reliance on a medical model that sees the body as merely a machine. The church is also sick unto death, as reflected in dwindling numbers and its overlooking of the mandate to heal.

Harpur cites the January 28, 1993 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine report that "a surprising 34 percent of Americans, or approximately 61 million people, used ... unconventional therapies for forms of non-medical healing in 1990." Many of those people were well-educated and most did not tell their doctors that they resorted to acupuncture, chiropractors, homeopathy, massage, self-help groups, relaxation response, meditation, biofeedback, prayer, or laying-on of hands.

Yet Harpur told me: "Doctors are moving. They've been dealing first of all with body-as-machine and then psychosomatic body-and-mind (usually in a disapproving way, the negative effect of the mind on the body). Now they are realizing the positive effect of the mind as well ... Then we'll have a whole person again that we're dealing with, rather than this truncated one."

Harpur went on to say: "One of the great themes of our time is healing, although it isn't always put in those terms. The recovery movement is one example." At the time of our interview, the top for Canadian bestsellers, including his own, all dealt with healing. "Over the years, it has become increasingly evident that healing, both as a metaphor and as a reality, might well hold the key to the renewal of spirituality in the post-Christian world of the future," he writes.

Since leaving his position as a New Testament seminary professor and becoming a journalist 22 years ago, he says: "My job has been to try to find places to lock on to the person at the edge or outside [of the church]. Where is he or she hurting? And where dos the gospel lock on to them? As Tillich said, [develop] ‘an answering theology': Look at where theology answers the questions that are being asked rather than forcing our answers on them."

Harpur has a reputation as a debunker and iconoclastic skeptic, thus his interest in healing seems surprising. It grew from his pasturing. He writes: "I was acutely conscious of not filling the gap between the correct church rhetoric and the average member's often inarticulate longing for wholeness and healing." Jesus exhorted us to preach, teach, and heal, but Harpur - like most pastors - focused on preaching and teaching.

He read widely on healing, especially the book of Acts, and began a midweek Communion service that included laying-on of hands. There were no signs, wonders, or starling cures, but he writes: "The sick said it gave them fresh faith and hope that they were on the road to fuller health; the dying found it calmed their fears, brought peace and, not infrequently, a sense of healing light at the end."

Harpur examines the history of healing, particularly its Judeo-Christian roots. Salvation means being "made sound or whole" and comes "from a root meaning alive and well, sound in every aspect of one's being." Salvation/healing is intended for individuals, communities, and all humanity; Jesus' most important characteristic was as a healer. Harpur writes: "The message of the Bible is that the energizing, creative intelligence ‘in whom we live and move and have out being' is constantly seeking us out to make us whole."

Churches could work closely with those who practice medicine. In Great Britain, thousands of healers (many of them Christian) often work alongside doctors. Healing could lend itself to church renewal as our communication and worship would speak once again to people's deepest yearnings, "to enunciate more clearly in everything [Christians] attempt or say the full, healing message of acceptance which the Gospel contains."

In spite of widespread use of such non-conventional methods and even the scientific evidence of results, there is resistance. Harpur told me: "I don't blame doctors for being skeptical Medicine had to struggle to be free of a lot of superstition." Yet many doctors are "fed up with not being able to deal with something deeper than the mechanical side," he says.

He explains some of the obstacles; "Our materialistic culture dislikes the thought of non-material interventions"; "The Western materialist outlook excludes the possibility of spiritual healing." And our culture, leery of touching, resists laying-on of hands or Therapeutic Touch.

Western medical publications are funded by pharmaceutical ads and not geared toward "non-medical" research. There are other vested interest too: In the United States, $600 billion was spent on medical products and services in 1989. Yet as Canada spends $70 million annually and the United States $1.6 billion annually to fight cancer, general cancer rates still rise. (The Office of Complementary Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, gets only $2 million a year.)

Harpur could not be more timely, given the increased interest in recovery and healing, the crisis in health care throughout North America, and the current re-evaluation of medical priorities in the United States. This well-written, thought-provoking, and carefully researched book encourages the reader to take seriously the potential of spiritual healing.

Harpur urges all Christians to re-read the Bible from the perspective of healing. He longs for Christians to form healing communities as in the Book of Acts. He noted to me that justice, shalom, and peace are on a healing continuum that includes relationships with the Earth and the political search for peace.

He reminded that "the word ‘religion' has two Latin roots meaning ‘to bind up and bring together things that are broken' So wherever we see brokenness," he said, "The language of healing and the actions of healing are appropriate. Religion become as way of looking at the whole of life again."