My Experience with Brauching

Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them. ~ Luke 4:40

Mary Ann aptly described the many differences among Amish church groups in her guest post here. When I read her blog, I am constantly amazed at how different her experiences are in many respects from my own, though sometimes I am also amazed at how very similar her experiences are to my own.

In the case of “brauching” my experiences are quite different from those Mary Ann described in her guest post. What her family experienced on behalf of her little brother was indeed manipulative and creepy. It seems the people who colluded on making sure Mary Ann’s brother received brauching had motives that were less than honorable and furthermore they did not know their boundaries. It was up to Mary Ann’s parents to decide what was best for their small son, and allowing him to choose the time he eats sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I don’t know too many children who ever chose to starve, after all.

There were people from my home community who practiced “brauching” or the laying on of hands as a form of healing things such as headaches or earaches. To my knowledge, they did not say anything while they were doing so. Usually the person who started out with the pain would describe relief, and the person doing the brauching would describe the feeling of the pain be drawn out and entering his/her arm.

The most amazing experience I ever had around brauching happened when I had gone to visit a sick man on a Sunday afternoon with the couple who I was living with at the time. There were other visitors there as well, including a mother with a baby daughter who was suffering from an earache. She tried comforting the child, she tried putting a warm patch on the baby’s ear, and she tried nursing her to relieve the pain. The poor baby was screaming and crying in pain and the poor mother was feeling helpless to help her child. Because it was a Sunday afternoon, she couldn’t take the child to the doctor’s. (In my home community, doctors were usually visited for illnesses.) Finally the mother came into the living room and said, “Is there anyone here who can brauch? People all looked at one another, until finally the woman I lived with said to her husband, “Jake, do you want to try it?” I was shocked… I had no idea Jake had that gift. Jake hesitated, then said, “I suppose I could try it.” The mother sat the child in Jake’s lap, and he put a hand on each of her ears. She was crying hard, with tears streaming down both cheeks when she was put on his lap. When he put his hands on her ears, surprise registered in her eyes, and then the tears, which had run halfway down her cheeks, stopped where they were. Over the next few minutes, she got this peaceful and contented look on her face. Jake said, quietly, “It’s her left ear.”

On our buggy ride home, I said something about how amazing that was, and Jake and Katie didn’t want to talk about it. They seemed almost embarrassed that I found out that Jake had the ability to brauch. I thought this ability was a gift, and I didn’t understand why someone would want to deny such a gift.

When David and I got married, he sometimes got migraines, which seemed to run in the family (especially the men in their twenties). One day I told him I wish I could brauch and he asked what that was. So I told him what I knew, and he said, “Well put your hand on my forehead.” I did. There was no immediate reaction, but in a few moments, David said, “Wow, something is happening — I feel some relief.” I said, “Yes, I feel the pain corkscrewing up into my arm.”

Before I had my babies, I used to have excruciatingly painful menstrual cramps (this ran in my family). I tried warm baths, I tried a hot water bottle, I tried pain relievers and going to bed, but it didn’t seem to matter what I did, I usually was sobbing in pain for three hours each month. One day I asked David if he would lay his hands on me, which he did. This relieved the pain enough to make it bearable. It was David’s compassion, caring, and the laying on of his hands that got me through those months. Then when I got pregnant and had my first son, I was delighted to discover I no longer got the severe cramps.

David and I used this method of alleviating pain for one another, and then we also used it for Paul and Tim when they were growing up. When Tim was about five or six, he had an earache. That night I laid him down next to me in bed, and laid my hand on his ear. We both fell asleep. The next morning I was trying to decide whether to take him to the doctor’s, and I asked him if his ear still hurt. He said, “No.” then he said, “But Mommy, it did last night, and then you put your hand on my ear, and then… and then it went away!” He said this in amazement, like he was realizing it for the first time. There was another time when he ended up with an ear infection that I took him to the doctor’s and got antibiotics for, but alas it took twenty-four hours for it to become effective. It is a horrible feeling to see a helpless child in great pain, but not be able to relieve it. I tried, but his pain was beyond the limits of my alleviating it by laying my hand on his ear. He still wanted my hand on his ear — it was some comfort, but not enough to take it away.

Though brauching was used in the Amish community in which I grew up,  it wasn’t ever pushed on anyone who didn’t want it, either for themselves or for their children, at least not to my knowledge. I still don’t understand why Jake would deny such a gift, but I understand even less the misusing of the gift, as in the case of Mary Ann’s little brother.

I am learning more and more how there are very few aspects of Amish life that can be lumped together into one category. It seems brauching is another one that cannot.

I  do not see brauching to be an issue of whether someone is a true Christian or not. Rather I see it as “healing touch” which for me is nothing more than the miracle of compassion and caring, which Jesus modeled for us in the way he healed many people. I know many Christians would disagree with this interpretation, but our differing experiences, perceptions, and interpretations is what keeps life so very interesting.

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13 thoughts on “My Experience with Brauching”

  1. I agree with you and that is exactly what you experienced. What Mary Ann’s family had to deal with was bullying and manipulation. I don’t think Jesus would want to be a party to that.

  2. Two very different experiences and approaches! Saloma’s experience/practice sounds so much more like what it should be! Thank you ladies for sharing. I just love reading your blogs and find myself drawn to them long before I open my email or facebook!

  3. Hi Saloma –

    I’ve never seen any references to this term in the books I’ve read about the Amish. Thanks for the information.

    In Hebrews 6:1,2, we’re told that one of the basic doctrines of Christ is the laying on of hands. There are other references to this practice as well.

    It is common practice to pray for the sick by the laying on of hands. We’ve seen many desperate situations turned around as a result.

    Susan :)

  4. Thank you Angelle, Karen, Peggy, And Susan for your comments.

    Susan, I’ve heard of collective praying and laying on of hands for the sick, and the miracles that have come that. I imagine that would be quite a powerful experience.

    The Amish brauching that I am familiar with is more one-on-one. Some people seem to have the gift of healing and are quite effective at it. However, many Amish are reticent about telling “outsiders” about this, because they cannot explain how it works. This is most likely why you probably haven’t heard of this practice among the Amish, Karen.

    Whether individuals or a group of people use this method, I believe it’s compassion and caring that make the laying on of hands so effective.

    Peggy, thank you for your compliments about our blogs. It is always gratifying to know that people enjoy what I write.

    Thank you again for your comments.

  5. Saloma, It’s very interesting to read of these two experiences and views that you and MaryAnn have shared. You may or may not know that brauching is widely condemned among Mennonites, and preached against. Yet there are many, many acceptable forms of alternative healing that are used, and the version of brauching that you described sounds a lot to me like “reikki” which is a popular form of Eastern healing art that is widely gaining acceptance. I have a cousin who is an herbalist and very interested in non-traditional healing methods, and she has told me much about it. Anyway, as you may be aware, brauche is a divisive issue even amongst the Amish, and will probably always be so. Let everyone draw their own conclusions and have the freedom to make the decisions for their own care.

  6. Monica, thank you for your perspective. I was aware that this is a controversial issue among the Amish. And I was also aware that those Amish dubbed “mission-minded” are usually against it. I’ve noticed that those Anabaptists who consider themselves born again, are the most judgmental against “brauching” and conversely, the more conservative Amish are more likely to use this method for healing or relieving pain. It would be interesting to research the origins of this schism.

  7. Another thing I’ve learned this week. Thank you for the insight.

    I agree that your experience sounds a lot more benign and respectful. Mary Ann’s story is indeed distressing. On the other hand, I suppose (and hope) the perpetrators truly felt they were doing the best for her brother. It also brings to my mind the arrogance with which Western medicine (and other cultural values and technical advances) tend to get thrust on others whether they like it or not.

  8. In my country those who are the 7th son of the 7th son or the 7th daughter of the 7th daughter can heal minor health compliants.I remember a skin complaint being healed by a girl 2 years older than me.She just put her hand on area and prayed.It worked when stuff from the doctor would not work.

  9. It sounds very similar the practice of Water Witching. I live near St.Jacobs in Canada and remember people speaking of this “power” being demonic but widely practiced amongst the Amish. Who do people who Brauch attribute the power or is it unknown to them?

    Love reading this blog btw I happened upon it while reading an Amish book and having a question about their belief in the assurity of salvation.

  10. The only experience I’ve had with this sort of thing was when my dad would cure my sister and me of earaches. He would hold us in his lap and blow cigar smoke into our ears. I think the warm smoke softened the wax, just as holding your hand over the ear would contain the body’s own heat. That, and rocking in my dad’s lap was comforting all by itself. (My mom thought that holding children too much wasn’t healthy for them.)

  11. In the early 80s I was working (RN) in a rehabilitation center. We had patients experiencing phantom limb pain following an amputation. I expressed interest in attending a “Therapeutic touch” training–so they paid for it.

    In therapeutic touch the practitioner never touches the person directly. Hands hover about an inch above the person. A full explanation takes more time then I will take up here. But suffice it to say, I learned the techniques and used them in my nursing practice. I still use them for people in intractable pain. I see it as an adjunct therapy to traditional medicine. However I would never force it on someone that did not want me to try it.

    I feel so bad for Mary Ann’s description of what happened to her family/brother.

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