Reiki: good or bad?
After reading countless tales of chivalry and daring‑do, Don Quixote sets out to do battle with the giants. He takes his reluctant squire, Sancho Panza, the realist. Seeing the windmills of La Mancha, Don Quixote supposes they must be demons from the lowest reach of Dante’s Inferno and sets himself, despite Sancho’s protestations, to joust with them.
Some people demonise Reiki. But Sancho Panza says: ‘Its only a windmill’.
I do not propose to be an expert on Reiki, but I have some knowledge of the background from which Reiki comes, for Reiki is closely linked to eastern medicine and ritual.
- Eastern medicine:
We are now familiar, in the West, with acupuncture and acupressure and other forms of tactile therapy, which complement Swedish massage. They have become popular in the rationalist West where people have become distant from each other and where the body, throughout the 20th century, has been so terribly abused. The earlier strong opposition to acupuncture has crumbled in the face of its evident success. Acupuncture and acupressure work on the system of ‘channels’ in the body which partly though not completely correspond to the nervous system.
The cakras are places of meaning as much as parts of the anatomy. Ordinary language and coarse language as well as modern psychology shows the importance of certain parts of the body ‑ heart, stomach, throat, sexual organs, forehead, anus, crown of the head. Although they are locatable they have more than anatomical significance, as we all know. Thus the heart signifies the emotions of love etc. since these emotions seem most felt there. The stomach or ‘gut’ signifies courage since fear and determination are experienced particularly in that place. On this natural basis, the Church celebrates its Sacraments. For example in Confirmation, after the prayer for wisdom has been made over the head, the oil of chrism is placed on the forehead. The Sacrament of Anointing involves touching the sick person and even those faculties, which are particularly affected. And so on.
- Eastern ritual:
To eastern medicine Reiki has added eastern ritual practices, in particular the act of ritually placing (nyāsa) a mantra, e.g. “OṂ”, on certain centres of the body. These centres and mantras vary according to the different traditions. They can include, ears, shoulders, ankle, whole body, etc. The attitude behind the ritual of placing the mantra is the belief that the mantra, i.e. the word in its deepest sense, is powerful and transformative. The maxim ‘Sticks and stones can beak my bones but words can never harm me’ is patently false for words have the power to make or break a human being. The powerful use of ‘word’ is found the custom of granting awards, titles and decorations, in the coronation of kings and above all in the Sacraments of the Church. It is found also in the rituals of the Charismatic Renewal, where a hand is placed on a person, on head or shoulder etc., and the power of the healing Spirit is invoked. The invoking is often done by words which will not be found in a dictionary and which are known to impart spiritual power.
Reiki thus takes two approaches, eastern medicine and eastern ritual and combines them in a healing activity.
- Objections to Reiki:
Some object to this sort of healing activity. They see it as rivalling the healing work of the Church. “Why go elsewhere if you truly believe that Jesus Christ is the true Son of the Living God’. On this basis one must not consult a doctor or plough a field! Objection is made to any ‘heat’, ‘energy’, ‘healing’, ‘channelling’, which is not explicitly connected with a declared faith in Jesus Christ. Some fear ‘unknown sources’ and speak of ‘necromancy’, of an ‘occult base’ and ‘esoteric knowledge’ and ‘the spirit world’. Don Quixote rides again! But Sancho Panza says: ‘They are only windmills!’
Such opponents fail to distinguish between nature and grace. Despite its quotations from the scriptures and its use of certain formulas the article, to whch this essay is a response, does not give evidence of a belief either in nature or in grace. Let me explain.
- A disbelief in nature:
Reiki, in the first instance, only appeals to the world of nature. But let us not underestimate nature. Romans 1:20 speaks about the ‘everlasting power and deity’ of God being ‘there for the mind to see in the things he has made’. This glory, the power for good, which is at the very origin of the universe, can be seized by the person who is humble before it. ‘You have made him lord over the works of your hands, set all things under his feet.’ (Psalm 8:6)
Reiki therapy does not occur by some modern Cartesian idea of medicine where the body is just a machine to be manipulated. Reiki involves an openness to the vast ecology of the cosmos which is known, sensed, but which the rational mind cannot yet fathom. It is a humility before what exceeds us. It is a confidence in the essential benevolence of the world and its Author. It is a belief that the human being, microscopic though he be, is yet able, by his consciousness, to become attuned to all this harmony and to bring its power to overcome the ailment that afflicts a person in the heart and to remove the nightmare that has lodged in the very tissues of the body. Sancho Panza says ‘These are just windmills grinding the corn to make bread.’
Some opponents of Reiki profoundly disbelieve in nature. Nature, for them, is the cursed soil (Genesis 3:17), which can do no good. According to them nature is essentially perverse. They clearly depend on a theology of total depravity, which states that matter after the fall became hopelessly corrupt. Against this view the First Vatican Council was profoundly opposed.
The result of such an attitude is in fact a disbelief in grace. Grace becomes just the means of reversing the sin of Adam and has no purpose of its own. It ceases to be grace and becomes a repeat of nature. If we reduce Christianity just to restoring the word to the condition it enjoyed before the Fall, then the success of science etc. will be a threat to the Christian faith. That is why the opponents are so desperate. There is a profound ignorance of the purpose of the incarnation and therefore an insecurity in faith.
- A disbelief in grace:
The constant emphasis of the opponents is on the healing power of the Lord Jesus. But healing is not the primary role of Jesus. As the Creed puts it so carefully: he became man ‘for us and for our salvation’. The primary purpose is not salvation from sin and death but communion with the Triune God. According to the well‑known Patristic quote, ‘God became man so that man might become God’ and not just become a restored Adam and Eve. The heaven to which we are called is much greater than the Paradise of Eden. That is why Reiki can never be a threat to the Incarnate Christ.
- Reiki and Christianity:
Reiki appeals to nature. It is not a religion. For that reason its supporters are able to say that ‘no special kind of faith is needed’. In other words, a person need not be a Buddhist or Muslim or Christian to be involved in Reiki any more than a person need be a Hindu to write poetry. The phrase ‘no special kind of faith is needed’ can, however, be misconstrued to mean a conscious rejection of Christian faith. Yet, in undertaking Reiki a person must have trust in the process just as a patient must also trust his doctor if he is to accept proper treatment. Indeed, modern medicine realises the importance of psycho‑somatic and even pneumato‑psycho‑somatic treatment.
Can Reiki be misused? Certainly! But if the forest is set alight, blame the pyromaniac, not the fire!
Can Reiki be transfigured? Of course, since grace builds on nature! In fact, Reiki is ready for Christianity. It is a preparatio ad evangelium. That is why unthinking opposition is dangerous and destructive. It demonises what in fact is waiting for the divine Presence.
On the client side there is, in Reiki, a recognition of the need for healing and also a profound trust in the benevolence of the practitioner. On the practitioner’s side, there is a wish to heal. But more than that. The nature of the healing process means that the Reiki healer enters into the pain and darkness of the client. It is an incarnation into the client’s suffering.
The more the practitioner is remodelled on the image of Christ who is the Word, the “OṂ”, in whom all things are made, who knows our weakness but is without sin and who holds all things in unity, the more powerfully will the practitioner be able to reveal the Face of God. The illness is the occasion for achieving a Divine Intimacy. It can become a moment of grace.
If redemption from sin is the only purpose of Christ’s incarnation, then he must depart once salvation is achieved. He becomes irrelevant in the long term. Eden is restored but heaven is not gained. However, even if there had been no sin, intimacy would have been secured by some other means, since, as St Paul says, ‘Before the world was made he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, to live through love in his presence.’ (Ephesians 1:4). Just as the Word rests in his Father’s heart, so Jesus wants us to rest in his heart. Reiki, which in the first instance touches the human heart, can become the means to reveal the Heart.
Far from demonising Reiki, its opponents should see its Christian possibility.
Sancho Panza says: ‘Let us use some of the flour to bake bread and celebrate the Eucharist.’