Nancy Ellen Abrams had a wonderful career, and a stimulating intellectual life with her husband who was a cosmologist studying the great mysteries of why galaxies exist.
But Abrams had an eating disorder. She found it almost impossible to curb her over-eating. She tried endless diets, and then went into a spiral of self-criticism for failing.
Then one day she heard about a program with a spiritual component that helped participants curb their desire to over-eat. As with most 12-step programs, it required participants to acknowledge a higher power, and to turn their problem over to that power. This was a challenge for Abrams, for she had been an avowed atheist since childhood. Still, she decided to try this method, since everything else had failed her.
In a wide-ranging interview on CBC’s Tapestry, Abrams discussed her experience and the resulting book, A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet. Speaking with radio host Mary Hynes, she shared how the decision to join that program changed her life.
Abrams admits that at first she was just playing along with the requirement to acknowledge a higher power. She explained that the group she was in did not define the “higher power,” but that each participant was expected to find their own definition. After a while, she began to consider what a higher power would be like.
She explained how she imagined that power as loving; but she also needed a tough love image because, like many addicts, she made excuses for her behaviour. “That is denialism. I understand those who live in denial. I have been there.” For the first time since the problem with food had begun, Abrams found she had to be honest, and that was a tremendous step for her.
Because the program required it, Abrams began to pray every morning. To her surprise, she found herself changing – becoming more confident, less critical and more compassionate to those who were in struggles of their own.
Then one day she experienced a moment of transformation.
Abrams was attending a conference that ended with a very luxurious banquet. As she walked into the room she felt the familiar, magnetic pull to the food table, and her anxiety began to rise.
“Suddenly out of the blue it occurred to me, now is the time to pray – not just in the morning, I need to pray when I need the help.” And, she did. “At that moment all the desire for the food just went away…. I walked away from the table like a boat gliding through calm water…. It was a spiritual experience…. For me, not eating attractive food was always a challenge. This time it wasn’t an effort – it wasn’t even an option. I have never had this feeling before. This was a turning point. I realized that this was a way to recover. This didn’t need to be a battle for the rest of my life. If I stuck with this idea of a higher power, the compulsion would go away – and it has.”
As I listened to Abrams share this experience, I thought that this was what it felt like for people in the Bible who turned to God in prayer, and experienced complete and permanent healing. Or, what people experienced when Jesus prayed for them and they were immediately healed. Many people since then have had that same experience, including me.
In her book, Abrams writes about her continued search for a meaningful God within the context of her scientific and atheist background. What touches me about her search and struggle for answers is that she didn’t just take the healing, write it off as a “miracle” or unexplainable event, and just carry on with her life as it was before. She allowed it to launch her on a journey to try and understand what brought about the freedom from an addiction she had struggled with for so long.
In this respect, it seems really important to think about one of the topics she explored; namely, the role that prayer – communion with God – plays in healing.
– Is God a product of the collective human mind experience – akin to the cutting-edge science of emergence as Abrams feels is the case?
– Or, is the divine a consciousness quite separate from the human mind?
What has helped me with these age-old questions and the conclusions that Abrams poses has been a study, not just of Jesus’s teachings, but also of his healing record, based on his understanding of God as divine, all-powerful Love. He healed many diseases, such as leprosy, that humanity collectively feared at the time. The Bible says “perfect love casts out fear,” and Jesus made it clear that he saw that love as divine. He often told those he healed not to be afraid.
Abrams feared food, as do many today. And no amount of trying to think her way free of it with her human mind worked. She turned to a sense of divine Love, and became conscious of it in a way that radically changed her thinking – and her experience. The healing, then, came from that higher power, or consciousness, that is more powerful than either a disease, an addiction, or the fear of it.
The physical sciences offer many wonderful views as to the nature of the universe and of human existence, but they are unable to explain experiences such as the one Abrams had. For anyone who, like Abrams, yearns to find freedom from an addiction or illness, there is the opportunity to reach beyond human thinking and to explore the very nature and origin of the divine Love that brings healing.