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A Social Anthropologist’s Analysis of Contemporary Healing, Part 2

For well-known phenomena like falling over it was more difficult to test for the influence of suggestion because many of those present at the Harrogate conference had attended other Wimber conferences or heard about them. This was particularly the case for a dozen commonly occurring phenomena publicly mentioned on the third day of the 1985 Sheffield conference during a workshop on physical healing—by which time the participants had already witnessed most of these forms of behaviour.

We do not know why God seems to heal some people but not others.

However, when I later tried to classify all the different kinds of phenomena actually reported on their questionnaires by participants at the Harrogate conference, I found that I needed over two hundred different categories. Most of these were very difficult or else impossible to explain away as due to ‘suggestion’. They included sensations of something like “electricity” or a “force field … like something out of Star Wars.”35 A few people spoke not of heat (which could be due to suggestion) but of “cold sensations” or “severe chilling.”36 Several people mentioned experiences of a heavy weight or pressure upon parts of their bodies, particularly the head or chest.37 Others felt what they variously described as like a “mantle,” a “blanket” or a “heavy sheepskin coat” over them. A few found themselves unexpectedly outside their physical bodies, in one case looking down on her own body receiving ministry while “resting in the Spirit” on the floor.38 Two people mentioned smelling fragrances of flowers. One of them afterwards asked the young German man next to her if he had smelt them too. At first he replied “No,” but then he “reluctantly” told her that during that session he had “walked in the garden with the Lord.”39

Why did Jesus heal one man at the pool of Bethesda and apparently leave other invalids alone?

It is difficult, and in several cases probably impossible, to explain away these and other kinds of experiences as due merely to ‘suggestion’. There are also many other accounts of individuals with no prior exposure to this kind of ministry, or teaching about it, who have nevertheless experienced some of these phenomena. A clear example occurred in 1992 at my own church in England. In my message on being “open to God” I had not mentioned these kinds of phenomena at all, but when the Holy Spirit was invited to minister to people the first person to display any kind of “unusual” behaviour—and the only one to “rest in the Spirit”—was a Ukrainian girl who was visiting us at the time. I knew that she had definitely not come across such phenomena previously in her limited contacts with Orthodox or Catholic churches in the Ukraine.

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Category: In Depth, Winter 2009

About the Author: David C. Lewis [as of 1993] is a cultural anthropologist and is currently a Research Associate of the Mongolia and Inner Asian Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, where he received his Ph.D. (Anthropology). He also serves as a Consultant Anthropologist for several Christian mission organizations. He has conducted research projects at Nottingham University and the Oxford Hardy Research Centre (Religious Experience Research Project, 1984-1985). He has written numerous scholarly articles and books, including Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact? (Hodder & Stoughton).

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