Along with supportive comments, I got some friendly pushback from my post last week in which I expressed doubt about Jesus’ miracles, and I think readers deserve a fuller explanation. One longtime friend kidded that I was being a “spiritual Scrooge,” setting my 21st century mindset against so many who attested to his healings at the time!
My first “date” with my only fundamentalist boyfriend was watching the charismatic healer Kathryn Kuhlman on late Sunday night television in L.A. Stan Schobert accompanied the singing during the evening services of the MCC in the Valley that I attended the summer I was home from my first year in seminary.
After worship and an evening snack with other worshipers at a nearby coffee shop, he invited me to his home to watch Kuhlman. Thinking he was kidding, I laughed, “I couldn’t think of anything more boring to do!” He smiled and said, “I thought you’d say that,” and I realized he was serious. And so I watched the program with him.
I grew up in the heyday of another faith healer, Oral Roberts. But though my family members were fundamentalist Baptists, we didn’t take him seriously. When our television wasn’t working (which was often) we joked that we’d turn on Oral Roberts and lay hands on our set and pray for its healing.
Kathryn Kuhlman was another Christian faith healer who made the rounds of public venues like the Shrine auditorium in Los Angeles. People would line up by the hundreds in a wide variety of cities to see her, hear her, and seek her healing touch.
Stan explained that he had attended some of her gatherings, once with a skeptical friend with a brain tumor. Kuhlman would call out her healings from the stage, and she pointed to Stan’s friend, who was unknown to her, and said “accept your healing of cancer.” She came back to him several times as she called out other miracles in the house, insisting that the resistant friend accept this healing.
Kuhlman always urged people to get medical confirmation of their healings, and though Stan’s friend was not convinced, he returned to his doctors at UCLA, who found the tumor had disappeared.
Stan himself had once been touched by Kathryn Kuhlman, and the next thing he knew he was on the floor of the stage area. He said he didn’t know what hit him, but he felt as light as a feather and sublime peace, then he was on the floor, being helped up by her “body guards,” who were there to make sure other people’s bodies were not injured when they fell.
During a particularly hot August he took me to see her myself. I had been to the Shrine for concerts, and knew it to be poorly ventilated at the time, with inadequate air conditioning. I was very warm as we awaited her to come on stage, singing gospel songs to the musical stylings of her pianist Dino, a kind of evangelical Liberace.
Despite the heat, when Kuhlman finally entered the hall, I suddenly felt cool as a cucumber. Maybe they had switched on the AC, but the effect was so immediate that it left me amazed. She proceeded to give a terrible “sermon,” and then began calling out miracles.
Days later, Stan and I went to a Mexican restaurant managed by the father of a child who had reportedly been healed by her. When we expressed interest, he and his wife sat down in the booth with us, and recounted the story in detail, then treated us to appetizers and margaritas.
At the time I thought, though she didn’t have the gift of preaching, she may indeed have had the gift of healing.
All of this is to say, I do have an open mind about such things.
A friend who is a physician once told me that he liked to spend time with his patients, talking about their lives. He discovered that 80% of the time, what they came in to see him about actually reflected what they were going through emotionally or spiritually. Just paying attention to what was going on in their lives enormously aided whatever medical treatments he might offer.
Though many ailments may be dismissed as “psychosomatic,” I don’t believe that that makes someone’s illness and its healing any less real—at least, to the patient.
In Jesus’ day, illness was often associated with “demons” and “unclean spirits,” thus could be cast out. The power of suggestion that one can be so easily relieved undoubtedly worked to the advantage of the many healers of Jesus’ time. Maybe Jesus had spiritual insight into this phenomenon when he pointed out to some of those healed in his presence that it was their faith that made them well.
I heard Norman Cousins speak during a conference at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles about research he and others were doing at UCLA on the many chemicals the brain emits, some of which foster healing, since he himself was restored after a life-threatening illness.
All this is to say that what we might consider a miracle may someday be explainable without resorting to other than “natural” means. To me, that makes the original event no less miraculous.
When my father died of cancer, my mother thought that her prayers had not been effective, that somehow she had failed. This is a liability of “magical thinking.” I tried to assure her, perhaps unconvincingly, that her prayers had made her a better caregiver to the love of her life. Today I would add that knowing of her loving prayers gave him comfort and whatever healing is possible as one suffers and dies.
The Desert Fathers and Mothers believed that prayer was the place, not of changing God’s mind, but of our own transformation.
Stan Schobert’s faith later saw him through many challenges, including recovery from a serious cocaine addiction, and finally, his death from AIDS. When I last caught up with him by chance at a coffee shop in the Castro, he was the happiest he had ever been, despite his struggle with HIV.
Ultimately, whatever healing Jesus offers now comes through his teachings, the Spirit, and our own tender, loving touch.
A reading for Epiphany (today): Summer Christmas
A reading for Orthodox Christmas (tomorrow): Meanings of Christmas
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