Modern miracles

For many, miracles are distant legends. Others believe they are real events in the here and now. Here radio and TV presenter Roger Bolton recounts his sceptic’s attempt to reconcile the two.

I don’t think I believe in them, except of course when anyone I love is seriously ill or in danger, in which case I certainly pray for a miracle.

I was brought up in the evangelical protestant Christian tradition which disapproves of the prominence given to the Virgin Mary, dismisses any talk of her appearing to Bernadette in Lourdes, and positively revolts at the suggestion that the sick should go there to be cured.

But when I went to that little town in the French Pyrenees, armed with my scepticism, I was strangely impressed.

For a start, few physical miracles are accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as having occurred there – only 67 in the almost 150 years since Bernadette had her visions – and the church has a very rigorous screening process in place to evaluate the thousands of claims that are put forward.

The Church is more concerned with what might be called miracles of the soul, and there is no doubt that for many the pilgrimage to Lourdes is a life-changing experience.

I went there in the off-season, so was spared the mass crowds and perhaps the mass hysteria. What I found was love, compassion and concern.

The Bernadette “snow shakers” could be bought along with other religious tat, but the shops were well away from the true heart of Lourdes.

I have no doubt that many of the sick who go there are uplifted, given the ability to live with their illness and feel part of a community that transcends place, race or time.

Is that a miracle ? Whatever it’s called, it is something wonderful.

Mind games

Many people, like Dr Raj Persaud and Uri Geller, think that what we call miracles are simply examples of the power of the mind to command the body.

We still know so little about the way the mind functions that it would be rash indeed to rule out this explanation of what are otherwise inexplicable “cures”.

Katie Pring, of Essex, knows what a miracle is – she thinks she’s experienced one. Eleven years ago when she was 16, she was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, a debilitating condition which has no known cure.

“For me it came on very quickly, my mum was sizing up wheelchairs for me because when I got up in the morning I was so stiff I found it very difficult to walk. Everyday things, like turning on the taps, became impossible.”

Drugs helped with the pain but soon became ineffective. She turned to her church, and at a healing service, Katie felt her prayers being answered.

“I received prayer on the Sunday morning, and played hockey that afternoon. Prior to receiving prayer, I had barely been able to walk. It had to be a miracle.”


Listen to BBC Radio 2’s Modern Miracles. Roger Bolton talks to those who’ve experienced miracles. (RealPlayer)

Her doctor, unable to explain how she had been instantly transformed back to full health, tried to explain her illness away as a misdiagnosis.

Miracle cure

But what of those who appear to be able to bring about those “miracles” like Damian Stayne, of the Roman Catholic Cor et Lumen Christi organisation?

He is as far from those suspect US televangelists as is possible to get, and he certainly does not make any money from his work.

Yet he is sure that God works through him to cure people and is prepared to open his books to anyone. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, believe they have been cured as a result of his ministry.

At his rallies, he asks God for guidance about what to pray for.

“The Lord may show me that there’s a lady here who’s being healed of an ear condition, somebody here being cured of a throat condition,” he says.

“I was in Australia recently and there was a man who had cancer in his mouth. We asked the people with cancers to stand, and I commanded the cancers in the name of Jesus to disappear. Two minutes after the prayer, there was no cancer in his mouth; it was a perfectly new mouth. His doctor came over and verified the healing. That’s slightly challenging if you don’t believe in these things, isn’t it?”

He does not believe that he has natural healing ability; rather that he is God’s vessel.

“I do believe God has given us faculties through which we can enter into divine gifts – gifts like faith, compassion? and that can unlock something of the power of God, so God is free to act.”

Of course I still have many doubts and questions about the whole thing. For a start there is the obvious question, if God can intervene directly in our lives in such small ways, why doesn’t he intervene to stop the Boxing Day tsunami or the concentration camps?

Even believers have no easy answers to that.

And one sceptic told me he would believe in miracles if an amputated leg began to grow back. Why, he wondered, are so many of the cured conditions invisible to the eye?

I have tried to keep an open mind. But just don’t ask me what I believe, because I’m still making my mind up.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
BBC / Radio 2, UK
Apr. 12, 2006

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday April 14, 2006.
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