Sunday, March 27, 2016

Faith healing

A couple of weeks ago, my preacher spoke on faith healing in his sermon.  He hedged his bets appropriately, and used the word 'moderns' to refer to people who accept science and don't look to supernatural explanations for phenomena.

It was a safe sermon intro, which then launched into a talk about what faith can and should do.  At a safe distance from all that healing stuff.  He never really challenged whether it COULD happen. But only admitted that he was willing to laugh at those who gain power and money through faith healing.

And he mentioned something that has troubled me for a long time - the problem of which miracles to accept.  He said that he has seen earnest prayers for healing go unfulfilled, and people who have been the subject of intense prayers have died. It makes it hard to ask for an exception in this case, when the previous ones have not been granted.

Simple truth? I want my God to protect those I love.  Heal them.  Allow them to stay with me. 

I also understand that it is not so simple. But I have also seen things that defy simple, natural explanations.

In 1978, the first medic ever in the area came to Lawton Madeiras da Amazonias, Limitada, in Olaria, Para, Brasil.  His name was Luis, and he had a high school education, combined with two years of medical training.  We hired him to live in our compound, to act as the on-call medic for when emergencies occurred.

When you are seven hours from the nearest hospital, it is important to have that reassurance nearby.

But to trust the lives of your family to a medic with so little training?  That is kinda tough.

Luis, was different, though, and we saw that from the start. Luis had the gift of healing.

He was a leader in the local Evangelical church, and when he was done with each procedure, he laid hands on the person and prayed with them.  Or over them, if they were not able to participate.  Time and time again, he executed a minimum of medical intervention, prayed over the patient, and then discharged the patient.

A man came in, four hours after a snakebite.  His skin was grey colored, with all of his natural coloring gone.  His wife, knowing what had happened, had already started to wail, because he was dead.  His friends carried his lifeless form into the room, where Luis waited.  No antevenin, nothing.  Just an oversized hyperdermic needle (I was terrified of that thing), some antibiotics, and faith.

An hour later, the man walked out of the clinic and arranged  to pay for the services. 

A three-year-old girl, carried in by her older brother.  She had toddled her way into the path of a swinging machete, where the older brother had not seen her.  Severed her Achilles tendon, anklebone to anklebone.  Luis stitched her up, prayed over her....

...and within six months she was walking without a dropped foot. 

Lest you think he was just a careful surgeon, let me explain a little about his approach.  He stitched me up once.  Playing in the river, I split my forehead on a viga (8x8 board) that was carefully submerged just beneath the surface of the Rio Jabiru.  The resulting cut was about two inches wide - blood everywhere.  Four stitches was all he used.

Four stitches.  One inside, three outside.  And, of course, his oversized hyperdermic needle.

In the absence of a sterile environment, without potable water, with minimal education, and with every possible strike against him, Luis managed to heal people.  Over and over again.

Was Luis special?  I have no doubt.  Did he have the gift of faith healing?  I cannot argue against it.  (That doesn't mean that it is proved.  But absence of proof is not proof of absence.) I believe he did.

I have also seen healing of a different sort. A young man of whom I am very fond had seizures when he was a kid.  And they were terrible, and inexplicable.  The family prayed every day - my family's morning service included him every morning.  Every single day. 

He was not healed of the seizures. 

But a number of years later, he spoke up, when a group of people came together to ask for healing of another.  As the family members gathered in my uncle's living room, my friend took his turn.  His prayer went something like ths:

Thank you, Lord, for these people praying for Bennett and his family.  Praying to you does make such a difference.  You know that these same people have prayed for me all my life.  We know that you are not responsible for the results, but it helps for us to ask you.  You haven't healed me here on earth, but you have blessed me enormously through the prayers of these same people.  Please do the same for Bennett and his family.

The healing we all prayed for - the cessation of his seizures - was not forthcoming for my friend.  But he showed me - showed all of us - what real healing can look like.  It was not at all what I thought it was. 

And, sure, my pastor is right.  That kind of healing looks nothing like Crespo Dollar or Benny Hinn or any of the other healers who offer to sell me a prayer napkin (available for a small donation).  That healing might not be available to us 'moderns', because of our faith in the germ theory of disease, the importance of innoculation, and our denial of the mysterious.
Ernest Angley, performing an act of healing.
Maybe the only change we can expect is in ourselves - the blessings we receive as a result of our prayers for each other.

But maybe, just maybe, we should be open to the workings of the divine.  And accept the possibility that our science does not cover all of the potential outcomes.  That we cannot predict everything with perfect precision, once we know all of the inputs.

And then, maybe, armed with the belief that all things are possible, maybe we can see miracles.


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