April 7th, 2008
I met someone who claimed to be a faith healer once. It was comical, really — or would have been, it wasn’t so terrifying. I was reporting on religion at the time (something I still do on occasion to this day), and had scheduled the meeting with a pastor who headed up a place called Miracle Hands Ministries at the behest of one of his parishioners. Though I realized that he believed in faith healing, I expected it to be along the lines of the Pentecostals and Charismatics I had met who viewed faith healing as a distinct possibility, but not the primary focus of their beliefs — a nice to have that was part of God’s overall gifts, made possible by the power of prayer.
This, I’m afraid, was something else entirely. From the outside, it was an unassuming little church, tucked behind an unaffiliated Baptist church and the local Jehovah’s Witness headquarters. When I stepped inside, however, I kept imagining Elizabeth Vargas’ voiceover as she interviewed my parents and husband, asking, “Now, when you step inside this building, and you see the decay and horror before you — don’t you wonder what she was thinking? How she could have possibly continued forward?” I imagined the cameras panning to the birdcages, some empty and mysteriously full of feces, and some full of skeletal birds with sparse feathers and dull eyes. In the corner, there was a fish tank overrun with algae — there were piles of it literally overflowing from the top of the tank, highlighted by some sort of back light that cast an eerie green glow on the darkened room. Bags of crickets littered a table and dangled from the backs of chairs, and what looked like an iguana was slumped in the corner of a haphazard tupperware container placed on the floor. It smelled horrible, like the very essence of death captured in aromatic form.
And yet, I kept going — I honestly don’t know why, because I had a dark, sinister feeling that I couldn’t quite explain. I found him in the back in what he claimed was his office, though the only evidence that it was used for anything business-like was a desk sitting among piles of boxes filled with canned goods and open boxes of pasta — I remember seeing an inordinate amount of Ragu. He invited me to sit in a folding chair in front of him, and when I did, I couldn’t honestly believe what I saw. There were ants everywhere — covering his desk, nestled among the papers and at times, crawling up his fingers. And worse, he seemed not to notice, as though it was a daily occurrence, which I’m now certain it was.
Aside from the obvious, I can’t explain what an overwhelmingly bad feeling I had — not that I was in any personal danger, but something almost worse — that I was in the presence of true, dark evil. I can’t say I’ve ever had that feeling before, nor since, and I am almost reluctant to admit it, for I’ve never believed in such things. My appendages felt heavy despite my quickening pulse, and I had difficulty opening my mouth to ask him any questions. My tongue was thick and dry, and I remember desperately trying to swallow but being unable to move my muscles properly.
When I finally spoke, he answered in a slow drawl that suggested he was either thoughtful or drugged, and his responses were both frightening and hilarious in equal measure.
“It’s both a blessing and a curse,” he said of his ability to heal. “I’ve felt bones move beneath my fingers and helped children to walk again, but it all comes at a steep, steep price. Satan is never pleased with those who heal, and he seeks retribution.”
Retribution for him involved the sudden departure of his wife (“She took the money and ran …”), a near-fatal heart attack, an accident involving a drunk driver and, perhaps most pointedly, a washer-dryer set that continually broke down, a clear sign that Satan had a hand in the calculated breakdown of his household appliances.
And so it continued in much the same vein for more than three hours as he alternated between stories of miraculous healing and Satan’s swift retribution. He claimed to have healed everything from eczema to migraines to pancreatic cancer, and cited no fewer than five people who had been told they’d never walk again but were now running marathons thanks to his able fingers. He even admitted that at one time, a woman regrew part of her pinky finger that had been severed during a boating accident. And once, during a particularly magical service, he said, he looked up to find gold dust pouring from the ceiling, raining down on the pews.
In retrospect, what disturbed me the most was his claimed ability to heal checkbooks. When he said this at first, I foolishly imagined him laying his hands over checkbooks that had been neglected or damaged after a run through the Satan-infected washing machine. Instead, as most of you probably figured, he was referring to his ability to miraculously infuse cash into families down on their luck — with the assumption, of course, that a significant percentage of every windfall would be returned to the church, of which there was very little infrastructure beyond himself. In fact, he and his two children lived in the church, which explained the odd menagerie and discarded food strewn throughout. Nonetheless, recipients of healed checkbooks, he said, quickly turned into the church’s top tithers.
Nearly four hours and a million ants later, I left with a feeling of disgust unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before or since. I’m not one to believe in Satan, necessarily, but I do believe I was somehow in the presence of pure evil beyond anything I previously imagined. I immediately called my mother — the most religious person I personally know — and talked through what I’d experienced, asking her to please, talk to God on my behalf, tell him I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to go there. That sounds crazy, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but that’s precisely what I did. And despite my agnosticism, I told him so myself, too.
I never did write the story, by the way, and part of me was relieved, for I initially pitched an in-depth expose involving background checks and financials and things that doubtless would have attracted the attention of a man I sincerely hoped would forget that I ever existed. He never asked about the article, either, and my hope is that he did indeed forget. As for why it never materialized, my editor at the time was a bit of a pansy who was afraid to incite the ire of the religious community, one that we relied upon quite heavily for both readership and content.
I’m honestly not sure what made me think of that today, but it’s a story I’ve been meaning to write down for a long, long time — I still have the notes I made that day, and as I read them tonight, I felt sick at the memory. I’m incredibly grateful that I never had to write it, and beyond this, I never will. I’ll admit, too, that part of me is wondering if he somehow isn’t responsible for the spider I found in my bed tonight, such is the unexplainable fear I have about this man and what he claims to do.
And though, as I said, I still write about churches and/or religion from time to time, I am grateful that the seediest thing I’ve encountered since was a bake sale whose profits were questionable because — GASP! — many of the participants bought their items instead of making them.
Have a great Tuesday and beyond!
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