Then, for three years, I traveled wherever Grace traveled. Wherever she went, I went, and after she prayed for my husband in Tarrytown, he wanted to go with me, for reasons I assumed were the same as mine. For three years her ministry was our church, and Ross came, too, and read some during the services, and played in the halls outside.
Newington and Glastonbury, Springfield and Darien: It was a long time since I had enjoyed so much freedom, and it was exhilarating to get into the car every weekend, crank up the music, and drive. Every weekend we went to new places and attended new services, as I fixed my attention on this singular creature whom God had used to save my life. If God had been able to use her so powerfully, my reasoning went, I wanted to know what she knew. If she had something to say, I was ready to listen, and she didn’t disappoint me. She was a wonderful teacher, humorous and encouraging, positive and down-to-earth. She had been a hairdresser before she ministered, had grown up in the projects, and was married with four children. In short, she was a housewife, and it would be a long time—until I read the autobiography of St. Thérèse, years later—before I would encounter again such realism in preaching. Bickering kids, dirty floors: Grace could speak to these things, like Thérèse at her best, when she writes about the annoying woman clicking her beads in the choir stall.
So, in certain ways, the end of my journey was anticipated in its beginnings, both in its practicality and its power, and in the way Grace’s services brought together the commonplace, and even the vulgar, with the sublime. Later, in the charismatic and evangelical worlds, I would see other things, deeply troubling things, but at Grace’s services I followed a ministry operating under an anointing of love, and a faith that anticipated for me, long before I knew it existed, the faith of the Church. These were people—the majority of them Catholic, as it happened—who believed the gospel. They believed and had received deeply into their hearts the truth that Jesus saves. And when anyone gave a testimony at Grace’s services, this was what was testified to, or the microphone was taken away. And when Grace preached, she preached Jesus, and him crucified, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross, in St. Paul’s words, be robbed of its power.
Listening to her evangelize in this way during those first weeks in her company, in small, uncertain congregations or packed, boisterous auditoriums, I marveled at her courage and the purity of what she offered. Again and again, I was made aware of all the restrictions I placed on God, all the rhetorical distractions I put in his way, like when I tried to tell people what had happened to me and began by saying apologetically, “You’re not going to believe this, but . . .” I realized, moreover, that every preacher in my experience had done the same thing. In every sermon I had ever heard, the minister had inserted himself between his listeners and God, as if to compensate for something that was lacking.
Whereas Grace was transparent, which is a curious thing to say, given her gowns and her hair, her jewelry and her flashing, powerful personality. She was a sign of contradiction: a strong personality that did not rely on itself, but instead listened and prayed and tried to obey God in everything. When I am lifted up from the earth, Jesus says in the Gospel, I will draw all men to myself. So Grace lifted him up. God inhabits the praises of his people. So she and her people praised God. They didn’t quibble or tire. There was nothing chary about them, or stingy. They never stinted on praise, but took God at his word and did their part. So there was this strong impression of obedience at their services, an impression of a people at work, like God himself, putting in the hours, month after month, year after year. And as they persevered and traveled, evangelized and prayed, bringing the Spirit to other people, they themselves were visibly released to go further and pray longer. I remember a night when they were all dancing together near the end: Grace and the Vessels and the hard-core followers who always sat down front near the stage. Grace had kicked off her high heels, and the frothy hem of her gown was bouncing around as she danced. They were all singing and carrying on, shouting and praising, and Grace had her tambourine and the older Vessels were clapping, and I was suddenly aware of how far away they were from the rest of us, even while they were right in front of us. I felt their indifference—a profound indifference to the world, even as they served it. It was as vivid a picture of true freedom as I had ever seen, and when it came to an end, and they were all gasping and laughing, suddenly it was as if Grace remembered the rest of us. Finding the microphone again, she lifted up her head and pushed her hair off her face and gazed at us for a moment, and then she said quietly, in a flat, thoughtful voice, as the others quieted down around her, “We will be free.”
And then she smiled—that radiant smile—and called for the blessing line, and the Vessels scattered to orchestrate it. And as we came down, and the music resumed, and she reached for us or pointed at us, sometimes talking to someone else over her shoulder as she pointed, there it was again—that strong love, pouring through her like a river. Person after person, infirmity after infirmity, she prayed until well after midnight, and when it was over, and almost everyone had gone home, it still wasn’t over. As the audience trailed out—most people leaving, as I usually did, as soon as they had received prayer—Grace and the Vessels were still going strong, picking up again on the stage where they had left off earlier, lifting their heads to a higher revelation of joy.
Norwich and Bridgeport, Bristol and Yorktown Heights. Waterbury, Stratford, East Hampton. The weeks raced by, and I blossomed and changed. At first, after Danbury, and even after that transforming morning in Tarrytown, I was ravenous and insecure, anxious about getting a seat or a parking place, and obsessively focused on the blessing line at the end, like a baby clamoring for the breast. Away from the services, I was better, calmer and more generous. But at the services, I could still resemble a person half-starved: almost mistrustful of the abundance, and obscurely afraid that there wouldn’t be enough to go around.
But soon enough, at the services, too, a deeper happiness prevailed. In only a matter of months, something shifted in me. There was a huge service in Bridgeport, and another in Milford a month later, when I first experienced this difference that was like the emerging contentment of a sated child, leaning against its mother, turning its satisfied gaze on other things. At both services, what I experienced was a cessation of desire, an absence of wishes, and this was true despite the fact that I still had many symptoms and allergies. At the latter service, in Milford, the change was especially striking, and I even second-guessed myself afterward and wondered if there had been a healing for me that I missed, because that night Grace called for people with blood disorders to come up for prayer. But at the time, when she said this, I could only fumble after what she said, like a person confused and almost drunk. Like, isn’t that me? But phlebitis—I couldn’t think of it. I was praising God and too far gone in worship to find my way back to that disappearing neighborhood of desire and distress. So I let it go, and let happiness wash over me. That night, in my journal, I wrote: “What does this mean? . . . Even in retrospect I cannot regret it. What I remember instead is how satisfied I was, how content.”
It is true that if I had been alert to it, and inclined to be critical, I might have dwelt, even so soon, on a thin wedge that was beginning to open between Grace’s ministry and me. Already there was a discrepancy sometimes between what I was experiencing and some things that Grace said. But while I had been delivered, more or less, from the helplessness of infancy, I was a child still, and dependent, and very attached to Grace. Her anointing continued to be my strong sacramental: the specially created grace God gave me for my healing and encouragement. But there were other graces, too, he was giving in those years—supports he was putting into place in my life, against a time when I would have to go out on my own.
There was Scripture, of course. Like every new Christian, I discovered the Word and the living spirit that animates it, until I could say, with Jeremiah, I found your words and I devoured them, and they became my joy and the happiness of my heart. Sown into my heart by the Scripture-based music at the services, these words took root there and grew with an astonishing vitality, demonstrating, to my amazement, that they weren’t just poetry, or metaphor, but something far greater: actual spirit and life. I had heard these words all my life. They weren’t new to me. And yet, they were new, and spoke to me now of things I hadn’t grasped, or even dared to imagine:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
And because I had been blind and deaf, I had to start over, and go over old ground. In this spirit, I went back to the Episcopal church, to see what was there, and to discern the connection, if there was one, between Grace and everything else. And amazingly, the same Spirit was there, if very quiet and subtle, touching me gently when I received communion, or raising the hairs on my skin when certain passages of the liturgy were read.
At the same time, the God who makes all things new was showing me the law in a fresh guise. He was teaching me morality in the context of a relationship, which was revolutionary to me and changed the valence of the propositions completely. I remember, for example, being faced with a moral dilemma around this time: a temptation to sabotage a radon test that a potential buyer of our home was having done in our basement. And I remember the battle that was fought over this—like nothing I had ever experienced—between my fears on the one hand, and my love on the other. Between my instinct to take care of myself in the way that seemed best to me, and my desire to please God, and not disappoint him. When I was growing up, fear was my primary motivation for doing what was right, but now fear was more on the side of sin, and it was love that hung in the balance, mute and defenseless, like Christ on the cross.
My prayer life, too, broadened and deepened. All of my emotions began finding their way into my prayer, and the more I prayed, the more God came to me: like a wind on my ears, or a brightness on a page, or a strong vibration in my hands, or even, one memorable night, like a bird in my mouth that fluttered and beat its wings and then escaped in a rush, bursting out through my lips on a rising trajectory of sound.
Finally, in the middle of my second year following Grace, I learned about money, one of the most important, most difficult lessons. They always took a collection at Grace’s services to defray expenses, and like most people, I put in a dollar or two. Sometimes Grace talked about their finances and begged for more help, but it was as if I didn’t hear her. Her appeal simply went past me, until the night I saw Ceci’s ex-husband writing out a check for sixty dollars. Sixty dollars! I was dumbfounded, as God placed his finger on a wound, and a blind spot, that I hadn’t realized was there.
After that, I was uncomfortable with the subject and tried to give more, but it was hard. It was like trying to pry something loose. It went against everything instinctive in myself, and in my husband, too. We had both grown up poor. We came from ungenerous people and held the little we had very close to the vest. Time went by, and it became clear that this was a real stumbling block, one I began to despair of getting past.
Meanwhile, at home, an apparently unrelated drama was unfolding. We had an old piano that we needed to sell because of my sensitivity to molds. I had long since stopped playing it, but even when I walked past it, its sweet, heavy odor bothered me. So we advertised it for five hundred dollars, which was half what we had paid years before. There was no response. We lowered the price and advertised it again, but still, no one called. Again we lowered the price; again no one called. Then we tried to give it away, with no success. Heavy and silent, the piano sat in our dining room, like a mountain that could not be moved, until we realized, one Saturday, that we were going to have to pay someone to take it away: a depressing conclusion, given the state of our finances.
That night, Grace was at a high school in Waterbury and the service was packed and fervid. Around ten o’clock, in the middle of a song, Grace suddenly paused and said dramatically, waving the instruments into silence behind her, “That one thing that is especially bothering you—give it to God right now, he wants to take care of it!” And she ran off the stage, which I had never seen her do, prayed in private, and then came back, bouncing and radiant. And I admit it: I prayed about the piano. And for the record, that was also the night I first prayed in tongues, in the blessing line, when Grace pointed at me, and out of my mouth came a thunder of wings.
The next day was Sunday. I went to the Episcopal church in Branford in the morning, as I had been doing for some time, and when I came back, my husband had a funny expression on his face. Someone had called about the piano and was coming by to collect it. “But you can’t rent a dolly on Sunday,” I said skeptically, and as I said this, two vehicles pulled into our driveway: a large, low-slung Chevrolet and a small pickup truck. A group of middle-aged black people came in cheerfully, looked the piano over, picked it up, and carried it out the front door. They carried it down our front steps and lifted it, with no ramp, into the bed of the truck, while gospel music played in the idling Chevrolet. Then they counted out five hundred dollars, which was what we had asked for in the first place, weeks before. I remember my husband running after them to give them some money back, and even so, I was standing in my living room with three hundred dollars in my hands. “Whose money is this?” I remember thinking in bewilderment, and laughing until I cried, because the answer was so clear.
The earth is the Lord’s: I never doubted it again. And never again would I resist sharing back with him what he shares so freely with us. No longer was I like a plugged drain, but able to let things pass through me to others who needed them.
Giving is healing. That was also what I learned. And I became more interested, finally, in the other people at the services. I didn’t always sit on the aisle anymore, but immersed myself in the crowd. And I began taking people to services, too, and not necessarily the people I would have chosen, who were often hostile or indifferent, but whomever God put in my path. I took a real estate agent once, and two teachers from my son’s school, and a neighbor I hardly knew, whom I ran into in a market a few hours before a service. And watching their different reactions—so many ways of being human! so many ways of being hungry or afraid—I learned a little about detachment, and the mysterious endurance of God.
Toward the end of that second year, I also learned, to my sorrow, something of what Jesus meant when he said, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone rises from the dead.”
I had a friend named Gloria, an art historian who was married to a friend of my husband’s, a painter who taught at Yale. She was bright and vivacious. He was a small man with heavy-lidded eyes, a mouth that was always slightly open, and a two-day beard. When they married, she entered his world: a fiercely ambitious, strenuously disdainful world, with a demanding ideology. Adhering to this ideology, they lived together in an intentional slum, in astonishing squalor, with black walls, decaying food, and cockroaches. And they drank hard, and cultivated hard attitudes.
Soon after they married, Gloria was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis and deteriorated to a point where she could hardly walk, dragging one foot behind her like an old woman. I sent her to my doctor, and when that didn’t help, I urged her to come to a service.
For a long time, I prayed she would come. But when she finally agreed, I panicked. What have I done? What if nothing happens? It will be so awkward! Besides, she was hostile, probably because she was nervous, which only fueled my resentment. Why are webothering? I remember thinking, when she sneered on the phone and I almost hung up on her. Let her stay sick!
But when we picked her up to take her to Newington, she was cheerful enough. She talked about the pyramids as we drove, and how they were built to house mystical energy from astrological alignments, and so on. When we arrived in Newington, the auditorium wasn’t crowded at all, and in fact it never did fill up, or get hot or noisy.
Then the service began, and my heart sank further, because it was the exact opposite of the kind of service I would have wanted Gloria to see. There were no testimonies, and no healings in the crowd. There was no humor. Instead, Grace gave a long sermon, and a bald-faced, literal one: Jesus, blood, and hell. When Grace finally did the call to salvation, Gloria didn’t even seem to hear her. She was sitting in front of me on the aisle, near the back of the auditorium, and she was clearly bored and alienated, and it all seemed pointless. And then abruptly, Grace came and got her. She stopped in mid-sentence, jumped off the stage, and made a beeline for Gloria. She took her by the shoulders and moved her into the aisle, stood up straight and spoke suddenly and dramatically in tongues, and Gloria simply crumpled at her feet, and tears flowed away from her eyes. The whole thing took maybe four or five seconds—it was that fast. And then all the Vessels were crowding around Gloria, praying, and the power of the Spirit was overwhelming. By this point, Gloria was half sitting and her fingers were throbbing. Grace got her up and talked with her for a minute and then had her run, up and down the aisle. And when she came back and I held her in my arms, she was all floppy and soft, like a rag doll—like all the starch had gone out of her. Afterward, she sat for a long time by herself near the wall, and her hands made strange, rhythmic flutterings and patterns in the air. This went on for over an hour, until the blessing line, when she went down again and stayed down for another hour, thumping her hands on the floor and laughing.
Gloria said nothing on the way home—not one thing about what had happened—and we took her cue, and talked about other things.
A few days later I telephoned her, and the first thing she said, and almost the only thing, was, “Patty, I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything.”
Later that week my husband discovered, inadvertently, that she hadn’t told her husband anything about that night.
From the outside, she seemed derailed. She said she felt “in shock.” And she was clearly upset and afraid. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to push her or upset her further, but my heart ached for her, because I had a sense of what it was that she feared. I sensed that she was afraid of death: of losing her personality, and even her life as she knew it, if she pursued this. And I wanted to say to her, “Gloria, nothing that matters will be lost! Nothing that is real is threatened!”
But the distance was too great, and I couldn’t cross it.
And so I learned—again, to my sorrow—that it isn’t enough to have an experience, or an encounter with the Glorious Intruder. One has to be able to incorporate the experience, to pay the price and leave something behind. Not for nothing does the Gospel say that the kingdom of heaven is entered violently, and the violent bear it away. I think of all those pigs, plunging into the sea, and the people upset, and wanting Jesus to go away.
Not long after that night, Gloria was strong enough to move to the city and separate from her husband. She put a life together, and went back to teaching and writing. In time, we lost touch, but I never forgot what God did that night—for me, if not for her.
By now, I had been following Grace for more than two years, and some of my relatives had come to a service: one sister and my father. One of my brothers came, too, the weekend Ross was baptized. We took him to a service in Stratford on Saturday night, and the next morning in Branford, in the Episcopal church, we saw the Spirit, like a cloud, when the baptismal water was poured.
And still we lingered at Grace’s services every weekend, though I sensed that the end was near.
And then I got pregnant.
For years this had been a subject fraught with ambivalence and fear. For years, I had lived in terror of such an eventuality, because of my health. But as my health improved and my courage returned, the desire for another child crept up on me, facing off with my fear, until, one night at a service, I fell under the Spirit and God impressed upon me gently that I would have another child, a daughter, and I would be able to care for her as I hadn’t been able to care for my son.
It was a hard, painful pregnancy. My allergies were worse and my phlebitis flared up, so I was alone a great deal at home. Then, when my daughter was born in the spring of 1989, she had meningitis, and we had a brief, terrifying brush with death. She recovered quickly, but the medication devastated her bowel, and for months afterward she bled and stayed small, and I agonized over her, and hoped and despaired, until finally, when she was a year old, her symptoms passed, and we all recovered, more or less.
And in all of this, there was a mystery of healing for me. Harrowing as these events were, there was something strengthening about them, too, that was part of my learning to be a human being on the earth. When my son was born and I was so sick, unable even to lift or carry him afterward, it was as if I was cut off from something essential and wounded in my very self. And now this wound was healed. For all the difficulties of this second pregnancy—or maybe because of them—I gained something of the confidence that successful mothering can give. I experienced a consolidation of myself, and came into a place of peace and acceptance of my physical life. I conceived Jeanne, gave birth to her, went to the hospital with her, and nursed her—even for many months with a chronic mastitis because she could tolerate no other food—and as I did these things and was given the grace to endure, I was weaned from Grace. The last cord broke, and there was nothing to hold me. During the pregnancy, it is true, I was often too weak and tired to go to services. But afterward, when we resumed going, it wasn’t the same. The power was still there, but it wasn’t for me anymore. I remember being prayed for in the blessing line and falling backward from habit, and then realizing there was nothing there any longer to hold me down. So I got up—with a certain reluctance!—and went back to my seat, and pondered this for a long time.
And then I moved on, into the rest of my life.
Is there anything still to say, before I leave Grace’s ministry behind?
I would like to emphasize, one last time, that it was at Grace’s services that I first learned to ask. Ask and you will receive, Jesus says in the Gospels, and then restates it as a spiritual law: Everyone who asks receives. Is it any wonder, if this is true, that so much energy is expended by the enemies of God to persuade people not to ask, or better yet, not even to desire the things of heaven? I had my own reasons, from childhood, for my stoic pose, but as with anyone simply too discouraged or too angry to ask, mine was a fairly thin defense that was easily penetrated. More disturbing to me, after going to Grace, were the people persuaded it was somehow beneath them to ask—people persuaded that desire itself, for spiritual goods, was vulgar and disqualifying. People who drew back with an air of fastidious superiority and said distastefully, “Oh, but I don’t need that,” meaning healing, or happiness, or heaven, or whatever. I met so many people in the educated classes—vaguely religious people, as I had been—who were only too happy to despoil themselves voluntarily of their own inheritance, as if this redounded, somehow, to their praise. I thought of George Eliot and her friends, who worked so hard for so long in the English upper classes to separate goodness from its rewards, as if those rewards were both illusory and demeaning. And I thought of Jesus, paying the highest price to give the greatest gift.
In this connection, I sometimes remembered the guide at Sunnyside, and his fragile, heightened vanity, behind his velvet rope, in his lifeless, museum-like world.
And then I would think of all the people at Grace’s services who couldn’t afford that kind of pride: people who knew themselves poor and had no illusions about their ability to satisfy themselves. I would think of the Vessels especially, the reformed prostitutes and drug dealers, and the nights when Grace would move through the crowd with these Vessels in tow, and the anointing would be so strong that people would be falling on all sides. I remember watching from a balcony one night as this shining locus of power moved through the crowd. Grace was wearing a red satin gown, and the Vessels were in red, too, and the hunger of the crowd was terrific. And for a brief moment, watching them, surrounded by the banners and the plastic flowers, the fashion and the war paint, I knew what it was like when Jesus walked on the earth and everything was turned upside down. I felt the revolution and the power, the vividness and the holy physicality, as God came in the flesh and the Spirit found a home—with sinners. Emmanuel: who gave us the Beatitudes as the key to everything else, and warned us, even then, “Look, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of heaven ahead of you . . .”
I would also like to say something about the phenomenon of the anointing. For a long time, seeing Grace only at services, I idealized her, and had a vague idea that it was her strong faith, operative at every moment, that caused the Holy Spirit to come when she prayed. I knew that God was acting through her, but I credited her with making it happen. She refuted this herself and always referred everything to God and the “anointing,” but I didn’t really know what that meant.
Then, in the spring of the second year, after I learned to give, my husband and I were invited to a small fundraising dinner at the Sheraton Hotel in Waterbury, where we interacted with Grace at close range. She was wearing a three-quarter-length dress, and she carried pictures of her first grandchild in her large hand as she moved from table to table. Altogether, it was very awkward and intense. She was so completely her human self, it was almost shocking to me, because of my misconceptions. At the services I could hardly look at her, the light surrounding her was so bright, but there was nothing like that here. She was uneasy and loud. She boasted and carried on. All evening the anointing was absent, until the end, when she stood up to pray for people, and suddenly, there it was: the power of God.
So I understood, finally, what the anointing meant. I understood why Grace could be pointing at one of us in the blessing line and talking with one of the Vessels over her shoulder at the same time, and still the power could fall.
I understood that it was all God, and I grasped the truth that God can commit himself, and does, to particular people, or situations, in a way that goes far beyond any individual’s deserving. I learned the secret of the sacraments, in other words, years before I received them.
As Grace liked to say, “It’s not my faith, but his faithfulness.”
And I learned about intercession—how could I not?—and by extension, something about Mary and the whole communion of saints. But the interesting thing is, I didn’t know yet what I knew. It was as if God were sowing truth into me in secret in those days, which would bear fruit in another time.
Thirdly, and most importantly, going to Grace’s services broke the power of culture in my life. It simply smashed it, like an idol, and so guaranteed that I would find my way into the fullness of faith, and not stumble or lose heart in one of the many curious neighborhoods of Christendom through which I would have to travel on my way to the end. When I first went to Grace and was alarmed by the Vessels, bored by the repetitions, and contemptuous of the plastic flowers and much else, and then received, through these people to whom I felt superior, the incomparable gifts of faith and life, I was irreversibly humbled. It was not a lesson I would need to learn twice. Just as everything that holds us captive received its death sentence on Calvary, so, in a sense, did every attachment of mine meet its end in an Elks Lodge in Danbury. In my family, as in all families, there were the unspoken, powerfully controlling assumptions, like, “The Episcopal church is the best church,” or “The intellect is the most important thing.” But as I left these behind and followed Jesus outside the gate, adhering strictly to the principle that every cherished idea must be taken captive for Christ and every attachment surrendered to him, I gave myself to a process that would carry me, in the end, into the richest culture in the world. I would follow Jesus through the door of the Catholic Church, undeterred by its strangeness, and find myself at last in one of the most enduring, most varied and intellectual traditions on earth.
But why should this have surprised me? As Grace herself always said, no one can outgive God.
Finally, I want to say something about healing itself. Always, it was the first question people asked when I told them what had happened to me: “Well, and what about your hands? Are they healed?” And if I allowed that sometimes my hands did still hurt, they turned away, disillusioned, as if everything depended on this, from the validity of Grace’s ministry to the very existence of God.
And I found this a curious thing.
Because what, after all, is healing? Must physical healing, to be real, last until we die? What about the seventy-year-old whose cancer disappears completely after prayer, only to return ten years later? Was that person not healed? Or what about the woman who is healed of one illness and later dies of something else? Or the person in chronic pain who experiences complete relief after prayer, for one month, or even for one day?
To me, it is all grace. It is all healing, however long it lasts, because the truth is, none of it lasts. However many graces of healing we receive—and I received enough at Grace’s services to make a profound difference in my life—we grow older every day. Secretly and steadily, our bodies break down and we are set, all of us, on a course that will end in death. Even Lazarus, back from the dead, received only a little more life in a still-dying body. In physical terms, this is the most we can hope for. At its best, even the greatest miracle of healing is primarily a sign of something still greater. And like any sign or sacramental, it is efficacious to the extent that it draws us deeper into this greater reality. It succeeds to the extent that it allows us to touch, for a moment, the source of all healing—the mystery of God himself. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. No, it wasn’t the miracles themselves that kept me going to Grace for so long, but the intimation of something greater that the charisms of the Spirit brought very near. Looked at in this way, the bigger or more demonstrable miracle at the services was often the greater failure, while the small, temporary healing, or even the minor word of knowledge, touching a private matter, could become, for the person able to receive it, a door opening to eternal life.
I don’t know, though, whether other people at Grace’s services shared my point of view. Certainly, the media did not. To the extent that they were interested in Grace’s ministry, it was the big miracle they were looking for: the medical miracle, complete with X-rays, before and after. As for Grace herself, she always said that the call to salvation was the greatest miracle, when people gave their lives to God. But she, too, was powerfully attracted to the big story and the dramatic healing. She was so embattled in her ministry, and so alone, in a human sense, it was perhaps inevitable that she would try to vindicate herself against her detractors by amassing evidence of her gift. But it seemed to me, even early on, that once an evangelist begins to define healing by the world’s lights, she is playing a game she cannot win.
So I was out of step, a little, with Grace. What interested me most were the intangible miracles—the moments when you could virtually see, by its effects, grace being infused into another person, so that they knew, afterward, who Jesus was. Sometimes it was as if you were literally watching someone step over a threshold into the kingdom. And then they were in, and “something greater than Solomon [was] here.” Sometimes it happened when people broke down and wept as Grace talked with them privately about something she couldn’t have known, except by God’s confiding. Other times it was more dramatic. I remember a man falling to the ground when Grace simply smiled at him, from a few feet away, and all he could say afterward, into the microphone, in an incredulous voice as he lay flat on the floor was, “I didn’t know. I just didn’t know.”
In the Litany of the Holy Ghost, the Church prays to the Holy Spirit: Grant us the only necessary knowledge. But physical healing doesn’t guarantee this kind of knowledge, this life-changing, saving knowledge of God himself.
Personally, I was always attracted to the scene in Bethany where Lazarus, back from the dead, sits at the table with Jesus while the Pharisees gawk. Certainly, this was a big miracle. A real crowd-pleaser. But then quietly, to one side, Lazarus’s sister Mary breaks open a vial of ointment to anoint Jesus for his death, and the powerful aroma of the perfume fills the room.
Just like the people who annoyed me because they wanted my hands to be perfect, I, too, was looking for healing that lasts. And in this scene with the ointment, I found a clue to what I was looking for. But it was a sign of a healing that was inseparable from suffering, and even from death: a sign of the Passion that releases into the world the mysterious, risen life of Jesus himself.
Suffering, however, was rarely spoken of at Grace’s services in a positive or even a mysterious light. Jesus’s sufferings, yes, but not our own. And since I still suffered, in spite of all the healing I had received, Grace’s theology did not explain my life. It oversimplified it, and even distorted it a little, like the times when I gave my testimony at services and felt a pressure from Grace to conform my story to the audience’s expectations. “So you have no more pain?” she prompted me once. And I thought for a moment and said, “When I have pain now, I know where to go with it.” Sometimes the pressure was more subtle and difficult to fend off, and though I always resisted it and tried to be scrupulously truthful, I was troubled by it, because I didn’t understand why it was necessary. What God had done for me was so wonderful, I didn’t need to exaggerate it. He had done what he had done, and he hadn’t done what he hadn’t done, and since I knew him, I knew, in the purest part of myself, that what he had done was exactly right, and enough. To imply otherwise, by any kind of revision, seemed to me ungrateful and even absurd. God certainly didn’t need me to cover for him!
To be fair, though, I should add that sometimes when she talked this way, Grace was making a theological point. She often quoted Philippians: “Brothers, whatever is true . . . whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” And when she switched off the microphone because someone only wanted to complain, I understood what she was teaching. But sometimes she went too far.
Later, I would learn that there is something that lasts, that assuages our hunger for food that endures, even in this life. But for now, all I knew was that to try to feed this hunger with the food of miracles didn’t work and could lead to sin. And it was this, more than anything else, that was my warning that Grace’s ministry wasn’t the end for me. It wasn’t the last word on either healing or suffering.
But this does not take away from what Grace gave to me. Before the angels themselves I will testify that I can never repay her for what she did for me, when I was too far gone even to set foot in a church, and her ministry, so out there and joyfully attracted to the lost, pulled me out of deep water and set my feet on solid ground. She betrothed me to my God, that is essentially what she did. And I grew up under grace . . .
Even now, years later, what lingers most clearly in my memory of those days is not the healings themselves, but Grace’s brave, loving heart. As for prophecies, they will pass away, as for tongues, they will cease. I remember a night when a man who was very sick had to leave a service early to return to the hospital, and Grace, alerted to this, stopped the service in midstream and had everyone pray for him before he left. He was standing in the rear of the auditorium by the door, in rumpled khakis and a ragged sweater, and everybody stood up and turned in his direction and stretched out their hands toward him, who was so small and forlorn. And in the sudden silence that fell over the auditorium, you could feel the Spirit gathering. It reached a critical mass, and then it lifted, like a great wave, and rolled toward the man and engulfed him.
Afterward he stood for a long moment, with his head bent, crying.
And Grace called to him from the stage, beaming. “Okay?”
He lifted his thumb.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the auditorium, I stood for a long moment of my own, with my eyes closed, struggling to retrieve what I had just seen in the Spirit, that had lifted me forward into the future.
But I couldn’t get it back. The man left, and the service went on.
So I turned back to the present: happy in those days to be in Grace’s company; looking forward, even now, to the day when we can be together again.
Patricia Snow is a writer in New Haven, Connecticut.