Extract from ‘Miracles’ by Craig S. Keener

… I quickly learned that Ed Wilkinson is not given to uniformed credulity; reflecting his training in neuropsychology, he complains about those who want faith to cure everything, using it as a neurosis to avoid dealing with reality.  Many years ago, however, his family faced a crisis in November 1984, when his eight-year-old son was found to have atrial septal defect, with two holes in his heart.  To allow time to convalesce without interrupting school, the visiting pediatric cardiologist scheduled surgery for June, warning that Brad could not play sport anymore in the meantime.

The months of waiting proved stressful. As June approached, Brad began giving away his toys, not expecting to survive.  One day he asked his father, “Am I going to die?”  Ed answered his son honestly: not everyone facing heart surgery dies, but that is always a possibility.  “Can Jesus heal me?” the eight-year-old asked.  Aware of how often faith had been abused, the father cringed.  “I’ll get back to you on that,” he responded.  A few days later, after some anguished prayer and engagement with Phil 4:13, he shared his resolution with his son.  God does heal, but whether he would heal in Brad’s case or not, they still had hope of an eternal life in Jesus.

Galen, the pastor, informed Ed that someone was planning to conduct a healing service in their church in June.  Ed felt that this was their only hope apart from the surgery that was scheduled the Sunday following the service.  When the anticipated service concluded, however, the visiting minister, Wesley Steelberg Jr., initially was focusing primarily on praying for emotional healing, and Ed felt cheated.  But then Steelberg called for those wanting prayer for physical healing, and Ed urged Brad to go forward.  At first reluctant, Brad finally complied, explaining to the minister what was wrong.  “Do you believe that Jesus can heal you?” Steelberg asked.  Brad answered affirmatively, and Steelberg offered a simple prayer.

The following Sunday the family traveled to the university hospital in Columbia, Missouri, for further tests.  The tests merely confirmed that nothing had changed.  The following morning, as Brad was taken for surgery, the doctor explained that Ed could follow Brad only as far as the yellow tape, and the team would be operating on Brad for four to six hours.  At this point any hope of a miraculous healing had faded, so the family could only pray for surgical success.  Ed returned anxiously to the waiting area.  After about an hour the cardiac pediatric surgeon, the pulmonologist, and the risk management director of the hospital entered the waiting area and summoned Ed to accompany them.  The surgery should have taken at least three more hours, so Ed was anxious.  Because the surgery was obviously no longer occurring, Ed, his mind racing, could only fear the worst as he followed them obediently down a long corridor.

Ushering Ed into the room, they displayed films posted on the wall, taken the day before.  “You see where the blood was leaking from one chamber to the next,” the surgeon explained.  Then the surgeon showed the film they had just taken as they were starting surgery, with a wall of some sort where the leak had been.  Too anxious and traumatized to process immediately what the surgeon was saying, Ed finally interrupted.  “What happened to my son?”  “Brad is in the recovery room,” the surgeon answered calmly.  “I beg your pardon?” Ed demanded.

The surgeon explained that there was nothing wrong with Brad’s heart – even though the holes were clearly there the day before.  His lungs were also now normal.  “I have not seen this before,” the surgeon explained.  While this sort of spontaneous closure could happen in infants, it was not supposed to happen in an eight-year-old.  “You can count this as a miracle.”  The pulmonologist added, “Someone, somewhere must have been praying.”  The hospital risk manager added firmly, “You can see from the films, this was not a misdiagnosis.”

Because they had done a cardiac catheterization, Brad would have to be kept overnight, but he was free to return the next day, on Tuesday.  Ed asked when Brad could start playing sports again.  “When is his next game scheduled?” the surgeon inquired.  “Thursday,” Ed responded numbly.  The doctor assured him that Brad could play on Thursday.  That Thursday, as they arrived late for the baseball game, Brad’s friend Paul spotted him.  Knowing that Brad was supposed to be convelescing, but having prayed for him, he shouted, “Did God heal you?”  “Yeah!” Brad shouted back, thrusting his fist into the air.  Brad hurried to second base, where he soon caught a ball and tagged out the runner who had been on first base in a double play.  A parent complained about the catch: “That was a miracle.” “You have no idea,” Ed recalls muttering.

An agent from the insurance company later complained about the forms he received.  “What is a ‘spontaneous closure’?” he demanded.  “A miracle,” Ed tried to explain.  Brad is now in his early thirties with a business and children of his own, and he has never had any heart problems since his healing.  Although before his healing experience he had also had pulmonary hypertension, normally supposed to be irreversible, that problem was cured at the same time as his heart.  Ed himself went through surgery for an unrelated issue last year and is well aware that miracles do not always happen.  He will never doubt, however, that at a time when he had virtually surrendered hope, God did a miracle for his eight-year-old son.

Another astonishing experience

It was about five years after my father in law recovered miraculously from a heart  attack that this happened:

My ex had a procedure on his gums done by an orthodontist.  It included some bone surgery and was done under a local anesthetic.  The doctor must have expected high levels of pain afterwards, because my ex came home with a supply of very strong pain killers and sleeping pills.  As it is, he seems to be different from other patients in that he doesn’t react well to pain killers.  They often seem to have no effect on him at all…

He was in a lot of pain that evening.  He couldn’t sleep, took too many pills during the night, and the result was that he got sick the next morning, with those raw gums…  I couldn’t bear looking on any longer and took him to our GP.  She gave him an injection and told me to drive home, as she expected the medication to knock him out.

It had no effect at all.  He didn’t sleep, and the pain persisted.  My poor ex was beyond himself with pain and it didn’t budge for a second.  When night time fell it was only getting worse.  By 3 o’clock in the morning we were both still wide awake.  My ex was sitting up in bed and wouldn’t let his head touch anywhere, as he said it only intensified the pain.

I was at my rope’s end.  It was only then that I told him that we have tried everything else but prayer, and asked if I could pray for him.

So I said a really simple little prayer, not expecting anything to happen and feeling a bit silly – something like: Please God let the pain go away, amen.   When we opened our eyes he told me that the pain had gone.  I was as astonished as he was.  He said that while I prayed, it felt as if the pain was draining from the top of his head down and away.

The next day was the third day after the operation, which is usually the worst, but the pain never returned.  He was completely pain free.

He discussed it with his cousin, who is a medical doctor and who had had the same procedure.  She told him that she kept going back to the orthodontist afterwards, as she was in so much pain for about a week that she was convinced there had to be an infection.

By writing this up I am not trying to give any simplistic explanations about human suffering, neither am I abandoning the use of medical science.  In fact, I still don’t have an answer when it comes to why we sometimes have to suffer, and I have been using medicine and doctors ever since.  I am not in favour of sensationalist ‘faith healers’ and I don’t expect God to make every little pain and illness miraculously disappear so that I can live a comfy life.

But I am extremely grateful for an experience that strengthened my faith in a loving God who is indeed interested in us and who hears our prayers, even if we don’t always get exactly what we wanted.  After all, prayer is not in the first place about giving God instructions to follow.

To me it is enough to know that he is there, and that he holds me when I am suffering.  In my experience that is when he is the nearest.

On the brink of tranquillity

I found this in old an EFL book: Headway Advanced, 1989 I think it was…
On the brink of tranquillity, an article from the Guardian, 19 December 1985.

It is now 10 years since Dr Raymond Moody’s Life After Life, the first survey of the Near Death Experience, became a best-seller. Research shows that there is a continuation of conscious experience in some 40 percent of cases where a person’s physical body is comatose after an accident, surgery or other life-threatening trauma. The subjective existence of the NDE is no longer in doubt. Nor are the sometimes dramatic after-effects.

Professor Kenneth Ring of the Connecticut University has described a widely accepted sequence of stages in the experience. The first stage (they occur with diminishing frequency) is characterised by an over-whelming sense of peace, calm and wellbeing, as well as freedom from bodily pain, which may have been acute. In the second stage the experiencer feels detached from the physical body, which is often seen below and in a slightly different light.

The detachment is emotional as well as physical: the self no longer identifies with what it sees as a physical instrument to be discarded when worn out. There is a sensation of weightlessness; mental processes are very clear and the senses of sight and hearing extremely acute. Hearing seems to be telepathic: “I heard him say, or rather, saw him think.” Experiencers are often able to describe in some detail events which actually took place while they were ‘unconscious’.

Sometimes these two stages are bypassed and the experiencer finds herself or himself moving rapidly down a dark tunnel towards a light. Some researchers interpret this as the transition into another mode of consciousness.

In stage four the light gradually enlarges until the experiencer emerges into it. There’s a feeling of love, joy, beauty and peace; the light exudes compassion and understanding, and may be felt as a presence or being with whom the experiencer feels at one, which some call an encounter with the ‘Higher Self’.

At this point the experiencer may have the impression of seeing his or her earthly life in review, discovering that nothing has been erased. Not only life experiences, but also the effects of thoughts, feelings and actions on others are now felt as if they were at the receiving end. The moral implications of this are momentous: it implies that we are so linked to each other that we undergo the reverberations of all we think, say, feel and do. For the experiencer awareness and control of thoughts, feelings and actions become a central concern.

The final and deepest stage is entering a transcendental environment of surpassing beauty. There may be meetings with dead relatives and loved ones, who usually make it clear that the experiencer’s time on earth is not yet up and that they must return to earth. Sometimes the return is symbolically presaged by a door, boundary or river which they are not allowed to cross. People return for two reasons: either their purpose has not been fulfilled or they must meet the needs of family or relatives.

Many are at first distressed and disappointed to find themselves back in the physical body with its pain and limitations. “Death is the hardest thing from the outside and as long as we are outside of it,” wrote CG Jung, after his own NDE in 1944. “But once inside, you taste of such completeness and peace and fulfilment that you don’t want to return.”

He found his illness gave him a glimpse behind the veil of what he called the truly real life; he was horrified at the prospect of returning to this “fragmentary, restricted, narrow, almost mechanical life, where you were subject to the laws of gravity and cohesion, imprisoned in a system of three dimensions and whirled along with other bodies in the turbulent stream of time.”

For Jung, death, far from being the irreversible extinction of consciousness, heralded an expansion and intensification of experience. It was our physical reality which now seemed unreal, limited and robot-like: a complete revolution of perspective and assumptions.

A small number of negative NDE’s has also been recorded. In Return from Death(Routledge and Kegan Paul), the first comparative survey to be published in this country, Margot Grey has found it possible to discern five stages which correspond with the positive ones: fear and a feeling of panic; out-of-the-body experience with an urge to return to the physical body; entering a black void; sensing an evil force which tries to drag you down; and entering a hell-like environment.

Perhaps the most pervasive after-effect of the NDE lies in the changed attitude to death and the possibility of an afterlife. Experiencers – as distinct from people who have been close to death but have not experienced a continuation of consciousness – lost their fear of death and are convinced of the existence of an afterlife, whatever the researchers’ conflicting interpretations.

They tend to find they have an enhanced appreciation of beauty, silence, the present and the small things in life. Their concern for others is greater; they have more insight and understanding, more tolerance and acceptance; they become more sympathetic listeners. They are less concerned with impressing others, and have an increased sense of self-worth.

Material values and status matter less; there is more emphasis on being rather than having. Some record the development of paranormal and healing abilities. There is a quest for meaning and intellectual or spiritual understanding.

The change in religious or spiritual orientation can also be significant. Typically, there is an emphasis on the spiritual life and unconditional love, with less stress on formal aspects of religion. People feel closer to God, especially if they have had a mystical encounter.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Margot Grey’s book has to do with the ‘planetary visions’ – ostensily precognitive glimpses of coming world events. Whatever one’s interpretation of the evidence, there is a surprising consensus on what is to come: widespread earthquakes and volcanic activity, a pole shift, erratic weather patterns, drought and food shortages, economic collapse, social disintegration, diseases of unknown origin, and possibly nuclear or natural holocaust or catastrophe.

Such calamities are seen as the inevitable result and reflection of a universally flagrant and ignorant violation of natural and spiritual laws, a necessary shake-up and purification which will bring a new sense of unity and cooperation. The severity of the disasters is said to depend on the extent to which human beings work to acquire the qualities that the NDE itself brings: unconditional love and spiritual values.

So the NDE is not a peripheral phenomenon of merely private interest. It points to a living universe and a spiritual view of humankind, towards personal survival of death, and towards the breakdown and renewal of our civilisation. The crisis is an opportunity.

A Christmas memory

It was many Christmases ago, in 1981, when my father-in-law had a heart attack. At that stage my ex-husband was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Newcastle. He was on duty and we were going to spend Christmas in Newcastle. On Tuesday, 22 December our phone rang while Erik was preparing his sermon for the Christmas service on Friday. It was his mom, telling him that his dad had been taken to hospital after having a heart attack at his office in Voortrekkerhoogte, Pretoria. His dad was a scout-admiral in the South African navy. Despite being a military officer with a high rank he was one of the humblest, most loving and affectionate people I’ve known. But he was in a high-stress job, worked too hard, and was a smoker. His life style was taking its toll…

We were in Pretoria in no time. His dad was in intensive care, but looked OK, and we believed it would only be a matter of time before he recovered. The hospital offered us a place to stay so we could be near him. My sister-in-law thought it a good idea to take turns to sit with him through the night. My shift was from 11 – 1 that night. I never liked hospitals – the smell of disinfectants, the feeling of being surrounded by illness and suffering… I was scared stiff, but patiently sat with him until I could call my ex at 1 o’clock, although I jumped in my seat when only a buzzer went off to notify that the drip was empty.

The next day he had a second attack. This time the blood clot was huge and caused massive damage to his heart. They had to connect him to life supporting machines because he was too weak to breathe. The brilliant young internist, dr. Ozoren, called my ex aside and told him that even if my father-in-law recovered, he would be in a wheel chair for the rest of his life and wouldn’t be able to lift a hand to comb his own hair. It is medically impossible for heart muscle to recover. Damaged muscles can only form scar tissue. The damage to his heart was so severe that it would never be able to function properly again. We realised that the doctor was trying to prepare us for his father’s death.

That night it was again my turn to sit with him from 11 – 1. This time there were machines and monitors and bleeps everywhere. The scariest was the incision in his neck where a pipe entered his windpipe.  He was sedated, as they had to give him morphine so he wouldn’t work against the rhythm of the lung machine. The heart monitor above his head told another scary story: his heart rate was very high, around 220 beats per minute if I remember correctly.

Somehow I managed to start focusing on my father-in-law’s needs instead of my own fears. He came round now and then and needed someone to wipe his brow and he wanted someone to hold his hand. A nurse regularly popped in and disconnected the pipe at the incision, and with another machine sucked the phlegm from his sick lungs. It was awful, he was clearly terribly uncomfortable and it made him cough uncontrollably.

Despite all the horror I started having an amazing feeling: it was as if the room was filled with something beyond words. I couldn’t get myself to leave. At 1 o’clock I decided to stay 10 minutes longer, and then 10 more minutes… It wasn’t before 4 in the morning that I could drag myself out of the room.

I can remember at first anxiously watching the monitors above his head. His heart beat seemed ridiculously fast, but during the night it gradually started dropping until it eventually reached about 140/120 beats a minute, can’t quite remember the exact figures. I didn’t think it was extraordinary, just felt a bit relieved. But at one stage dr. Ozoren came in, looked at the monitor, walked out, came back in and checked all the connections and settings of the machine. I had no idea what was happening before my eyes, but he had the knowledge…

He recovered rapidly after that night – they could take him off the life-supporting machines within a day or two, and within a week he was in a general ward.  Eventually he recovered so completely that he could take up a fitness program for heart patients at the hospital. He retired, stop smoking, and soon was fit and healthy, walking kilometers every day and fully enjoying life.

His own account afterwards was that God was with him throughout the experience.

His doctors, dr. Ozoren, the internist and prof. Zydie, the heart specialist, were among the finest in South Africa, where the standard of medical training in those days were of the highest in the world, according to what I’ve read. They told us that what had happened was medically impossible. They were the ones who called it a miracle.