Healing is a mainstay of the Bible, both old and new testaments, ending with the most spectacular healing of all time, the raising of Lazarus of Bethany in the Gospel of John, four days after his death. Students of the ancient texts will tell you that the name Lazarus is in fact the English variant of the name comes directly from the Latin, itself derived from the Greek Lazaros, which in turn came from the Aramaic Lazar. The ultimate origin is the Hebrew name Eleazar (אלעזר), which literally translates to "God (has) helped". Some might argue that this is in fact not a healing at all, because Lazarus is already in his tomb, but the mechanism of the healing follows other examples of healings by the hand of Jesus and he does nothing different in this example. Historically, Lazarus was supposedly a friend of Jesus, which is significant to the parable simply because Jesus is showing emotion over his friends reported death, an element that does not seem to exist in other healings.
Healing as a Christian concept can come through the touch of faith (James 5:14-15); by speaking the word of faith (Luke 7:1-10); or by the presence of God being manifested (Mark 6:56; Acts 19:11-12). The Bible speaks of "gifts" of healing because there are three types of healings: physical (diabetes, blindness, cancer, deafness, etc.), emotional (jealousy, worry, discouragement, and other destructive attitudes), and spiritual (bitterness, greed, and guilt, etc.). Although there are three main types of healings in Christianity, there is much diversity with the gift of healings. While one person might have the gift of healing to rid a person of cancer or perform a creative miracle, another person might have a diversity of the same gift to correct lower back problems or remove a root of bitterness). According to Mark 16:17-20, the gifts of healing belong to all believers, with the key element being the “belief” that you can indeed heal coupled with the recipients belief that you can do it.
But what of non-Christian, or even secular healing? Largely, the parameters are the same, even though the rhetoric is not; the single necessary element required to heal is the belief of the healer that he can heal a subject and of the subject believing that healing can be accomplished in his case.
Among the non-Christian healers a wide range of beliefs can be found, from purely Eastern philosophies to the homegrown ones of the United States. Many believe in the healing of the sick from the inside, thus diet becomes an integral part of the process, others see it as a calling down of healing powers from a higher plain, which can be addressed by a number of different names.
For India’s Gurus and Mystics, the simple wave of a peacock feather can cure many minor problems, both physical and emotional, while other cultures feel it necessary to participate in a “laying of hands” to accomplish their ends. Some say that the subject must be present in the same space as the healer, while others practice distance healing without a second thought, yet to some degree, it all works. Some groups, such as the fundamentalist Christian Scientists rejected the use of all medications, others have softened their stand on the use of drugs in a modern day version of “Give unto Caesar…”
Of course, not all “miracles” are limited to healing, faith based or otherwise. Possibly the best known story of Christian miracles concern the parable of the Loaves and the Fishes. This miracle is also known as the "miracle of the five loaves and two fish" given the Gospel of John reports those five small barley loaves and two small fish supplied by a boy were used by Jesus to feed a multitude.
According to the Gospels, when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been killed, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place near Bethsaida. The crowds followed Jesus on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food."
Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
"We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered. To which he reportedly replied, "Bring them here to me."
Jesus directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children, John says.
This miracle, which appears in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, is also known as the "miracle of the loaves and fishes" but the Gospel of Matthew refers to seven loaves and a few small fish used by Jesus to feed a multitude.
From the scriptures, this was a remarkable feat, whether there were 5, 7 or a dozen loaves and similar numbers of fish on hand for the crowd of several thousand… it would be a feat to feed several hundred. But this is not the last time that a small group fed a larger one with limited resources. Let’s take a look at a modern day and very secular story of even greater proportions.
In the summer of 1969 in Bethel, New York a small group of eager promoters proposed the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival on the farm of Max Yasgur. The original affair was planned to be held in Woodstock, 60 miles further east, but the town father rejected the concept and the Bethel site was decided upon just a few weeks before the event. While preparations for the site were lacking, promotion of the event was not and every would be hippie intended to attend, so a neat little songfest for about 8,000 quickly grew as every radio station within 500 miles talked up the event.
Everyone knows what happened next. The traffic to Bethel was so bad that the state decided to close the NYS Thruway, nothing moved on the major roads within 50 miles and a crowd of kids numbering from a conservative estimate of 200,000 to over a half a million crowded into the little farming community. The event stated on Thursday and it rained on Friday night, turning the site into a disaster area of epic proportions. The state’s Governor, Nelson Rockefeller considered issuing an executive order to arrest the promoters for poor planning and sending in the National Guard to rescue “survivors.”
But the disaster never happened. On Saturday morning, an eclectic hippy named Wavy Gravy stepped up to the microphone on stage and made a startling announcement, “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 500,000!” Wavy was a mover and shaker with a group from California, known lovingly as the Hog Farm, who travelled about from one concert to another, offering aid to “bad trippers,” (Those who took either too much or simply bad psychedelic drugs) and feeding the hungry. But Woodstock was bigger than anything they had ever seen before.
Nevertheless, the Hog Farm served their version of the loaves and fishes, in this case Granola, to the eager throng, averting disaster. Later that day, a mother of two local teens turned up on the access road with bags filled with peanut butter on Wonder bread sandwiches that she a some friends had prepared at their home in Woodridge NY, about 20 miles away. Knowing the local roads, Leni Binder had no problem following a circuitous route through the back woods, a trip she made several times to, “Feed the kids.” At one point she got out of her car near the first aid tent to exchange greeting with another local volunteer, Gracie Shaner, who was standing by with the local ambulance… they walked to the edge of the bowl that made the natural setting for the stage area, listened for a while and said, “This is good!”
I do not want to anger anyone who looks at the loaves and fishes as a miracle, I have read several accounts about what modern mathematicians have suggested and I just do not know the real numbers, but I will admit no matter how you fudge those numbers, the end result was remarkable, but so too was the ability of the Hog Farmers and Mrs. Binder in their modern day efforts to feed the hungry.
The point I am trying to make is simply that what is remembered as miraculous might well have been the power of the Almighty, or simply the will of people to overcome adverse conditions and avert disaster only confused by an inaccurate head count, or how much food was really available. Obviously, there is no way to know in the case of the loaves and fishes, that kind of date is lost in time, but it is reasonable to assume that among the masses were a few folks who had their own food with them and we really can’t comment on the exact number of people that were fed that day. As I said earlier, even if we are talking about 500 people, not 4 or 5 thousand, the feat is miraculous, but there could be a reasonable explanation. Once those assembled saw the sharing of what was on hand, they might well have decided to share what they had with them, thus the “discards” far outweighed the original offering; as for how many were present, I don’t see St. Peter doing a real head count… it suffices to say that it was a large crowd, given the remote location and that is enough.
Woodstock falls under similar considerations. Yes, we have all seen the flyovers of the crowd, but no one really knows how many people were there after the storm when the “Breakfast in Bed,” was undertaken by workers at the Hog Farm or Mrs. Binder distributed her peanut butter sandwiches. Some things are fairly clear; the Hog Farm team came to the site in renovated school busses, which served as accommodations for the volunteers, a place for food prep and storage. No matter how you look at it, a bus load or granola would not nearly be enough for the crowd that morning, but it was! The hoarding factor comes into play here as well. I survived on a couple of Milky Way bars and a few cokes (yes, there were cokes available – if you had access to the first aid tent) and there were others who had some meager food supplies in their backpacks. We also had a large number of folks freely using illicit prescription drugs to stay awake… and suppress their appetites.
Was Woodstock’s food supply a miracle? Well, no one has ever made a religious claim to that effect, but it was at least remarkable and who knows, in a hundred years someone might look back on that event and deem it all an act of God. The fact however is that mankind can do remarkable, even miraculous things, once they open themselves up to it.
This is not contrary to the overall concepts of what a miracle might be, in fact when you look at miracles in general most have a human element that is the causative factor. When we look at modern miracles, like the mass sightings in Egypt, some claim it is mass consciousness in play, the group construct. But with each of these miracles is an element that defies being forced into an accepted theory… for instance in Egypt, the first reported sighting was made by a group of Muslim men, not Christians, who immediately identified the apparition as being the Mother of Jesus, who in their religion is a great prophet.
Yes, some miraculous sightings are religiously motivated; Knock, Ireland in the 19th century was almost purely Catholic and the church was the center of the community and life in general. The same is true when you look at Fatima or Lourdes in their eras. In all of these cases there were overriding concerns placing outside pressure on the participants, be it famine, an invading army, revolution or times of financial disaster, which obviously feed the phenomenon.
Now, here is the question. We can identify Ireland, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Portugal, even Egypt as being ripe for a miracle when they occurred, but why is the United States devoid of these phenomena? One expert suggests it is because we are, as a nation, more protestant in our beliefs; even the American Catholic tends to be much more liberal than his European cousins, in fact in Ireland I know folks who refer to American Catholics as practicing a form of “Catholic Lite,” who pick and choose doctrine to fit their personal beliefs, so they readily accept the Church’s teachings on abortion, but ignore their stand on birth control, premarital sex, etc. In that atmosphere there is less likelihood of events being interpreted as miraculous. In the American society, we accept it as possibly paranormal, before hanging a religious tag on it and the Church itself fosters that kind of thought process. If a person goes to the parish priest to say they think a family member is possessed, they are more likely to be referred to a psychiatrist or a paranormal investigator than a team of exorcists. The Exorcist only becomes involved if the lay professionals say the situation deems their participation.
Bilocation is most probably the act of an out of body experience taken to the maximum; visions may well be mental constructs of the visionaries and healing the act of a human mind over matter with a willing subject, but that begs the involvement of the religious aspects found in each of these phenomenon. So in the final analysis, we may understand the mechanism of a miracle, but not the explanation for the missing pieces. I suppose that after all is why we call them miracles!
© 2010 Rick Moran & ASUP, Inc.