“I see people like I’m looking at trees walking around” (Mark 8:24). This is what the man at the lakeside town of Bethsaida said to Jesus, after Jesus spit on his eyes, laid his hands on them, and asked him, “Do you see anything?” Doug and I know a bit about what he means. Here’s my story:
Two years ago (October 2015) I began to see flashes in the corners of my eyes at night and ended up being diagnosed with two kinds of macular degeneration: the dry kind that begins by eroding one’s peripheral vision (which was what I was beginning to see, though I caught it early and with good care from Gurley Eye Associates of Manchester, MA, I still have mine) and wet macular degeneration that builds up a bubble of debris around the retina and threatens to bleed. This one can be treated with laser surgery. I was still in the watching stages, taking Preservision Vitamins and getting periodic checks with x-rays of my eyes to see how they were faring.
For a year they seemed to stay steady and then by March of 2017, it became obvious to me that things were changing. The autumn before I had taken Doug (whose story follows) and his wife to a thrift shop they wanted to visit near the Boston (Roxbury) campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where I teach and where they were trying out classes. Standing in the checkout line with them, as they were about to make their purchases, I remarked that the CDs on distant shelves looked like they’d been soaked with water. I figured that they were warped and didn’t bother to go check them out. But then, in March of the next year, I suddenly noticed the clapboards on my neighbors’ homes were becoming wavy. Cars had begun to look like they’d careened on our road from a cartoon. And a trip through my email was now a voyage on a tossing sea. Especially wavy were the address lines of emails and the URLs of an article I was attempting to download for an up-to-date example for my upcoming “Contemporary Theology and Theologians” class. Something was definitely going wrong. My attentive eye doctors called me right in, the nurse practitioners took x-rays, the doctors examined these x-rays minutely, and then shown their airport light on the telephone pole (or so it seems) into all the crevices of my eyes. The diagnosis was not what we expected.
I had been getting powerful prayer at our storefront church, Pilgrim Church in Beverly, MA, from powerful pray-ers involved in our ministry in Haiti and in New England Concerts of Prayer, from our prayer leaders, and elders and pastors (including my wife) and anybody else who happened to be nearby and wanted to join in. Lengthy, fervent, powerful prayer! And, as is the practice we recommend, some prayed for me all the week after the Sunday prayer and others had my eyes on their regular prayer list.
Dr. Gurley himself examined my x-rays carefully, and we looked them over together for quite a long time. He recalled the earlier x-rays and positioned them side by side. We went back and forth. Then he sent me over to the retina specialist who did the same thing—back and forth. They both reached the same conclusion.
The distortion, they agreed, was my brain trying to adjust my vision to a new development—the bubble of debris that had built up was now disappearing. The brain had been compensating by “draping over the bubble” so that my vision would equalize. But now the bubble was leaving, hence a distortion from the compensation.
Dr. Gurley is a fine Christian (a Gordon College grad) and when I told him, “It must have been the prayer,” he replied, “It must have been the prayer.”
Two visits later (on December 15, 2017), the distortion has basically straightened out. Everything is pretty much back to normal and the elimination of most of the debris is steady in my x-rays. Cars are back to normal, clapboards are also back in line in the shade and pretty much leveled out in the sun as well. Wavy lines are confined to a bit of the smallest size letters on my computer. The tops of the tables and sink and cabinets are back where they should be.
Francis MacNutt, in his book The Power to Heal, likens prayer to a medicine taken in doses. I myself like to parallel prayer to sanctification. These are healing processes of the body and the spirit that take place out of sight.
In the case of my eyes, prayer and good medical care have been working hand in hand, as God created both our spirits and our bodies and they interrelate. Praying through diagnoses and working along with the doctors in my experience is the wise approach. God does the healing. The doctor is like the skilled news commentator who checks in and interprets what’s happening and then sets up the conditions for more healing to take place, as God works through the natural means, but, in some cases, as with my eyes, with some supra-natural miracle treatments as well (though to God there are no miracles, since God established all the laws and works as Providence in nature).
While we all must die at some point and this is a fallen world in which accident, illness, and age-related incapacitation beset us all, in the midst of them, we should not neglect our physical and spiritual well-being, but apply prayer and good health care daily to steward the gifts of body and spirit that God has given us. It’s just another wise way to live successfully “beyond the curse,” as my wife calls it.
Now, here’s Doug’s own story in his words (sent to me on September 24, 2017):
This January my eye doctor told me that I was losing my peripheral vision fast and once lost could not be regained and so my Pilgrim family has been praying for me all year. This week I went to the eye doctor for a checkup and he said, “I know I told you that the optic nerve damage is never regained so I can’t account for these results. Look at this analysis.” It showed my decline over time and then it suddenly jumped back about 25% last Tuesday. I told him Pilgrim Church has been praying. He said, “This is clearly divine intervention!”
Even as Jesus’s healing of the blind man was gradual, so too Jesus has been healing both our eyes in a gradual but definitive manner through the prayers of our fellow Christians. But now we can see!
Bill (and Doug MacDougal)
Check out www.pilgrimchurchbeverlyma.com
Picture may be found at http://disclosingnewworlds.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/80_jesus-heals-a-man-born-blind_900x600_72dpi_2.jpg on imagesgoogle.