Living proof of the power of prayer

Published: July 5, 2006 | 4398th good news item since 2003

All my life I have been swimming against the tide. Here I am about to challenge a national $2.4 million study, one of those “I-told-you-so” scientific studies that disputes the power of prayer to heal strangers at a distance.

I sure wish they had asked me before they spent all that money. I could have saved that money for, say, research to find a cure for some of those reasons for intercessory prayer.

Do I have any scientific proof? I am living proof.

In December 1979, medical minds told me malignant melanoma cancer cells had spread to the lymph system and it would be a matter of months before it metastasized either to the liver or the brain. In other words, it was terminal.

Two hospitals had confirmed that fact. The last confirmation came from the Veterans Administration hospital in Roseburg. In my hospital room that night, Father Leo O’Riordan, a VA chaplain, came for a visit, unaware that I had just been given the hammer blow. His words were simple: “There is a larger physician than those we have on staff here.” His promise was to have prayers said for me by his Capuchin Franciscan order — strangers in brown robes.

The next day, I was transferred to the Portland VA and again tests verified the terminal condition of my cancer. The VA brought in a surgeon from Southern California who had a special skill in removing the cancer cells from the lymph system without spreading the cancer. I underwent that surgery in May 1980. Strangers were praying for me all over the world, although I didn’t know this.

I survived that surgery 26 years ago and had no chemotherapy or radiation.

If that was all the living proof I had, skeptics might say it was a medical fluke, or perhaps a misdiagnosis in the first place. It was not the end of my need for prayer — distant or otherwise.

In January 1997, I had a massive heart attack, so damaging that surgeons at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene told my wife and daughter I was too far gone for open-heart surgery. My family was notified to come to my bedside for a last vigil.

The newspapers for which I write published a story that I had been stricken.

Then something happened. The next day, a new team of surgeons reversed the decision, saying that I had miraculously improved overnight and surgery was now possible.

I don’t know how many people who read the story paused long enough to pray for an old wretch like me, but I have to believe they did, or else why had the diagnosis so radically changed?

I do know that complete strangers prayed for me. I even got prayer cards from two Presbyterian churches in Panama City, Fla., telling me Presbyterians were praying for me. The open-heart surgery was successful nine years ago.

I have three thick notebooks filled with cards and letters I received from readers of my column from all over the United States who said they were praying for me.

To those skeptics of the power of prayer to heal strangers at a distance, I wish there were space here to print the names and comments from all who sent their prayers — complete strangers who stormed heaven with my name on their lips.

There was a card from Dan and Marilyn Rose, of Marysville, Wash., with a note “Our prayers include Bill Duncan and a speedy recovery.”

Maxine Tjallker, of Quincy, Wash., sent a biblical reminder from Numbers 6:24, “The Lord bless you and keep you.”

Bill and Barbara Krieg, of Portland, sent “heartfelt prayers.”

Tunny McCollum, of Lebam, Wash., wrote, “My prayers are with you.”

Bob and Margie McCormick, of Shedd, Ore., sent notice of their prayers.

This may be an unscientific study, but it is proof enough for me. I am on a countdown to age 80 and I know there is a God in heaven who answers prayers to spare someone like me who has walked several times through the valley of the shadow of death.

Published in Life, Prayer
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