Thursday, April 29th, 2010. 11:30 am.
I lay on the sanctuary floor, a heap of broken, quivering flesh, having fallen some twenty-five feet from a poorly constructed scaffold. I was having difficulty breathing and finding sufficient mental cogency with which to call for help. After what seemed like a week, emergency personnel were on the scene repackaging my accordioned body for transport. One gal insisted on asking me perfectly sane questions such as “What is your name? Do you know where you are? How many fingers am I holding up?”
Nothing. Although I understood her perfectly, the orderly, disciplined parade of words required to answer her refused an appearance, hiding themselves away. In less than an hour, shock and adrenaline, now handily vacated in betrayal, made room for exquisite pain and a baffling array of machinery and doctors, lights and nurses (one of whom insisted upon cutting my trousers off, stem to stern, with an unnecessarily large pair of scissors).
Of the many things that remain a mystery about that day, what was becoming profoundly clear was that this had been no ordinary fall. The truth of this came home robustly as four people with arms underneath me lifted my body toward their collective chest in order to remove the gurney in favor of the sliding table that would be my ride into the MRI machine. The pain of that one endeavor, made loudly vocal, I shall never forget.
In short order I was heavily sedated in a featureless room, my distraught wife on one side of me, my morphine-drip mistress on the other. As if in a dream the attending physician materialized in the room and gave us the skinny. I had a broken pelvis, a severe concussion (I was blind in my left eye), a damaged spine and a shattered left arm.
More shattered than my body was this news. I’m a professional musician and, well, kinda need both arms. I’m sure, buried under the morphine somewhere, I was crying out in anguish. My perfectly lucid wife however let emotions run wild. It was one of the scariest moments of our life together.
As is ever the way of the redeeming God, this event would ultimately provide a portal through which much blessing was to come and through which I was to learn a host of valuable kingdom lessons. Jacci Turner’s article on the practical dimensions of prayer ministry was a timely challenge, reminding me that, in a hundred ways, I am the last person to write anything noteworthy on healing. For years I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the whole affair. Odd, I suppose, given the fact that I’m a mystic by nature and not especially a lover of any rational arguments to the contrary.
Having experienced much abuse in “miracle circles” I developed an aversion to the caricatures of healing prayer. I had grown skeptical of the chicanery of the big hair clown parade. However, this was to be an epic reawakening for me. God was about to use an oversized view-screen in the form of physical brokenness to reignite a belief, and eventually, love for healing ministry.
In the days following the accident I had a lengthy, intricate surgery on my arm. As my x-rays revealed, I am now great fun at airport security and tend to stand a bit further away from the microwave. I convalesced for months at home in a specially designed bed with many fun switches and levers. The recovering pelvis and damaged spine meant excruciating spasms up and down my body that made it almost impossible to breath and robbed me of sleep for over three weeks. I weighed less than I had since high school.
Only two things relieved my agony: Percoset and acupuncture. But the spasms just kept coming and most doctors tend to feel professionally uncomfortable prescribing class 5 substances for any length of time, especially to those with substance abuse issues like myself.
By way of further clarifying context, I was in the second year of a three year M.A. program in Spiritual Formation and Leadership through Spring Arbor University. It was primarily an online program with an annual residency at which our virtual relationships congealed in the laughter and tears of mutual presence. Ironically, on the day of my accident, we were halfway through a class titled… wait for it… Healing and Wholeness in Christian Spirituality. Although I would not have said so then, I can certainly do so now: God can be most disagreeable at times in his choice of teaching apparatus.
The nineteen other souls who comprised our cohort, lovingly titled, “Conspirators” wasted no time in their collective online prayer siege. At the height of my pain, they contacted my wife to tell her they would be having online prayer for healing. The same day, the deacons at the church I serve, sent an update to the prayer chain on my condition.
That was Thursday afternoon.
By Friday morning I walked with a cane for the first time. I never again had another spasm and I slept for almost two straight days. Against all my skepticism and doubt I had encountered the healing hand of God. There was no fanfare, no raised voices, no pushing me backward for the cameras. There was only silence and the electrons found in the fingertips of God transported through nineteen computer screens.
Says Turner, “if a person leaves a prayer ministry session having experienced nothing more than the loving presence of Jesus, those praying for that person have done their job.” I admit to a number of those I-didn’t-experience-healing-and-didn’t-really-expect-to-but-I’m-glad-I-came encounters. I figured this would be just one more.
Instead, two and a half years later, I’m again running marathons, writing and playing music, serving a precious Presbyterian congregation as their music director and blogging, against all odds, in favor of God’s whimsical way with skeptics like me. I thank Ms. Turner for challenging me to see my story against the larger backdrop of healing prayer and would add only this: God’s favorite challenge is not ratifying our theology but straddling it with surprising acts of healing and grace.
Have you ever felt cynical or wary about healing prayer, only to experience the movement of God through it?
Have you ever experienced the support that comes through people praying for your healing, even if you’re not sure that it’s going to be effective?
Robert Rife is the music and worship minister at Westminster Presbyterian Church (www.westpress.org), a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, poet and writer. He is a recent graduate from Spring Arbor University with an M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Leadership and blogs at innerwoven.me.