Elaine Mason needed a miracle. She had a cancerous growth on her nose and upper lip, which she describes as hideous. It bled constantly. Surgeons wanted to cut it out. Instead, the 54-year-old Virginia real estate agent came to Spokane to be healed.
For more than a year, modern religious pilgrims like Mason have come from all over the country to the Healing Rooms in downtown Spokane in search of a powerful spiritual experience. The phenomenon is a model of Pentecostal revivals that have waxed and waned throughout the United States for the past 100 years. Participants often laugh, cry, and fall to the floor as they experience the presence of the Holy Spirit.
|"There are a lot of people who are dissatisfied or even bored with their religious experience....They have a need for a daily, personal experience of God."|
The founder and director of the Healing Rooms, Cal Pierce, teaches that miracles are available to those who believe. "What Jesus did, we can do, too," Pierce said. "We can heal people and we can show others how to heal people, by plugging into the Holy Spirit." In addition to physical healings, Pierce said up to half of the people who come to him are seeking refuge from emotional demons like depression or addiction.
While critics dismiss faith healings as mass hysteria or emotional manipulation, the Healing Rooms are gaining popularity. For four days last spring, Mason walked from her hotel room to the third floor of the Rookery Building, a rundown office complex. There, volunteers prayed for her. Within a week the growth diminished to the point that doctors declared an operation was no longer necessary, she said.
She came back in the fall, bringing her husband and two friends, "to complete the healing." One September day, associate director Patrick McEnnerney ushered Mason into an empty room where he and an assistant began to pray for her. "God, we want to thank you for healing Elaine's face," he said. "We want to praise you and glorify you and hold your word high." He gently touched her face with his fingertips, and Mason collapsed backward. Her long blond hair was mussed. Her cotton blazer was askew. "Come spirit," McEnnerney said, kneeling at her side. "Make this healing complete."
For 20 minutes Mason stayed on the floor, moaning, crying and laughing. Slowly she opened her eyes, as if coming out of a deep sleep. "Can you feel it?" she asked in a Southern drawl. "The presence of God is right here in this room. It's surging all through my body."
That was a busy day at the Healing Rooms, which have been open since July 1999. Bodies were sprawled on the floor in almost every room. People from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Minnesota had come and everyone wanted prayer from the team that claims to have healed everything from brain tumors to strained ankles.
Supporters come mainly from the ranks of evangelical Christians, but Catholics and mainline Protestants also donate time and money. In the first six months of this year, donors gave more than $100,000, according to reports released by Pierce.
Twice a month, Pierce and several of his paid and volunteer staff travel to other cities, where they offer instructions on setting up Healing Rooms. They are booked through October 2001 in cities as small as Cody, Wyoming, and as big as London. At the second annual Spiritual Hunger Conference held in September and organized by the Healing Rooms, 1,800 people signed up to learn how they could obtain and impart emotional and physical healing.
McEnnerney wet his fingers with oil from a tiny brown glass vial. The mixture--a combination of almond oil, frankincense, myrrh, and cinnamon--is blended in a small room down the hall. Corder tilted his head back, closed his eyes and whispered, "Yes, God." Then he began speaking in tongues, a repetitive string of syllables considered by Pentecostals the premier sign that a person has received the Holy Spirit.
McEnnerney waved his hands, as if dispersing smoke in Corder's direction. He paced in front of the boxer and the preacher, swaying and staggering--"drunk with the spirit," he later explained. "We call forth new cartilage, Lord; new ligaments. Heal this knuckle, Lord. More, Lord, more, more. More, Lord."
Minutes later Corder said the pain in his hand and ankle had diminished. He pounded his fist into his other hand. "It doesn't hurt until I start punching," he said.
McEnnerney wasn't satisfied. "We want a complete healing, Lord," he prayed, holding Corder's hand. "Because we know that you desire Cleveland be healed."
Corder said the pain was much less, and he believed his knuckle had been healed. "The Holy Spirit whispered something to me just now," McEnnerney said. "I heard the word 'youth pastor.'"
Corder sighed and discussed the volunteer work he did with the Boys and Girls Club in Boise. He admitted he was torn between his passion for boxing and his desire to serve the Lord. "God wants you to know that he is pleased with you," McEnnerney said.
Corder smiled and settled into a peaceful, silent prayer. He won his fight that night in a six-round decision.
"He was touched that day," Hancock said of Corder. "More so than his knuckle, he was touched in his confidence. We all need to hear that--that God is pleased with us. It's so good to have it come from a place where God is clearly at work."
The last time anything like this happened in Spokane, it was 1914, when itinerant faith healer John G. Lake set up headquarters here. Within five years, newspapers reported, Lake claimed to have healed 100,000 people. Pierce's ministry is designed to be a modern version of Lake's. It's typical of Pentecostal efforts across the country, said Edith Blumhofer, a history professor and director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. "There are a lot of people who are dissatisfied or even bored with their religious experience," she said."They have a need for a daily, personal experience of God."
Pierce went through a similar cycle. Married as a Catholic, he and his wife, Michelle, joined an Evangelical church in Redding, Calif., early in their marriage. In the beginning, Pierce said he felt very devout. Eventually, the excitement of the weekly worship experience wore off. A real-estate developer, he and his wife were planning their retirement when everything changed during a worship service in 1996.
|"They gave me six months to live at one point. Now they say the tumor is not cancerous anymore. And no one can explain that."|
Pierce said he had a mystical experience while listening to a young preacher. "Wave after wave of the Holy Spirit slammed me to the floor," he said. When he came to, he was obsessed with Lake's life and writings. Although he had heard of Lake before his religious experience, he had never studied Lake's work.
Pierce came to Spokane in 1998 to visit Lake's grave, the land where his church stood, and the site of the original Healing Rooms--the third floor of the Rookery Building. Standing there, Pierce said he knew God wanted him to resurrect Lake's ministry. Pierce started a Web page and began to circulate among Pentecostal and evangelical crowds in Spokane.
Now the Healing Rooms are open every Wednesday through Saturday. The sick begin trickling in shortly after 9 a.m. By 10 a.m., when the prayers begin, up to a dozen people are waiting in a tiny reception area, where contemporary Christian music is piped in. Usually there are two to four prayer rooms open, but sometimes as many as seven. Each room is staffed by two or three members of the prayer team.
Brian Wilkes heard about the Healing Rooms from a fellow brain cancer patient while waiting for radiation treatment. Wilkes, 38 and a father of five, fell off a house he was building in 1997, knocking himself out. During a CAT scan in the emergency room, doctors spotted his tumor. Until his first visit to the Healing Rooms, he had never experienced any of the signs associated with Pentecostal worship, like speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, and receiving visions.
"It was really foreign to me," Wilkes said. "They anointed me with oil. They were praying in tongues." He went once a week for five months and after several weeks he began to speak in tongues as well. Twice he has been "slain in the Spirit"--so overcome that he has fallen to the floor unconscious. "I was looking for the big miracle--boom the cancer's gone," he said. "But it didn't happen that way."
Instead, he said he felt God guiding him to change his diet and try alternative therapies. He traveled to Mexico for a controversial cancer treatment that included bee venom injections. Last April, after a surgeon took out most of the tumor, biopsies revealed it was no longer cancerous. Instead, the lab report identified the growth as "abnormal brain tissue."
"I want to be really clear that my doctor does not say I am cured," Wilkes said. "But I believe I am. They gave me six months to live at one point. Now they say the tumor is not cancerous anymore. And no one can explain that."
Wilkes' name appears on one of several dozen handwritten pink index cards taped to the wall in an overflow waiting room. It reads: "Brain tumor, May 11, '00." Each card proclaims a dramatic healing. Migraines, diabetes, depression, bad heart, cataracts, heroin addiction, back problems--all are among the afflictions claimed to be healed. Pierce encourages people to continue medical treatment and follow doctor's orders. But he also warns them that not many medical practitioners believe in miraculous healings. "They can always explain it away," Pierce said. "They'll even say they misdiagnosed someone before they admit that a miracle has occurred. We're used to it. It doesn't diminish what we believe, which is that God is the ultimate healer."
Pentecostal beliefs are controversial. Some Christians say Pentecostal theology is on shaky ground, with its heavy emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit. Fundamentalists claim Pentecostal worship and prayer go beyond the foundations of the New Testament. Other Christians criticize the movement's tendency to blame a person's spiritual condition for his physical illness.
"The whole movement is fraught with dangers," Blumhofer said. "It's very unbalanced in a theological sense because of what it projects about health and wealth and happiness. There is no room for suffering."
David Harrell, author of several biographies of well-known Pentecostal preachers including Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson, said there are holes in Pentecostal logic." It's a positive-thinking movement where you don't tolerate negative thoughts," said Harrell, a history professor at Auburn University in Alabama. "You have to believe that healing is happening. If you start looking back and say, 'Was that person really healed?' Well, that's like renouncing your faith."
Pierce agrees that unquestioning belief is crucial. All illness has spiritual roots, he said. "The only reason this kind of healing isn't more widespread is because people don't believe in it anymore," Pierce said. "People who believe will experience healing."
At first glance, Cleveland Corder seemed out of place in the Healing Rooms. The boxer from Boise is young and Hollywood good-looking. He came to the Healing Rooms with his pastor, Cliff Hancock, of Community Christian Church in Garden City, Idaho.
In a prayer room, McEnnerney was assisted by Gloris Frigeri. Healers work in teams of two or three, with one person taking the lead. The other healers sometimes work as catchers, standing behind the sick and easing them to the floor, should they fall. Corder, Hancock, and Cripps stood, eyes closed, leaning back against a wood-paneled wall, their hands extended as if waiting to catch a ball. Corder pointed to a protruding knuckle and a sore ankle--old injuries that plague him. Then he explained that he was also seeking spiritual guidance. He was disappointed last summer when he failed to make the U.S. Olympic team and hoped God would provide him with direction. "I'm four months away from becoming a father," he said. "But my heart's desire is to be a world champion."