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Miracle man?

Curious to see if celebrity faith healer John of God is the real deal, a United Church minister joins hundreds of followers at a Toronto rally

By Anne Hines

Tuesday, 10 a.m. I call my best friend, Kate.

Me: “There’s a Brazilian faith healer coming to Toronto on Friday. I want us to go. See a miracle. Tickets are $200 per person, not including the cost of Holy Water, which the website says we’ll need to buy. And we have to wear all white because the Healing Entities he channels like white.”

Kate: “I’m in. I would never let you do something so crazy all on your own.” This, of course, is the definition of a best friend.

10:30 a.m. Kate and I go online and buy tickets to “John of God: Live at the Metro Convention Centre.” Later, we decide that no way are we following the “wear all white” rule. The Healing Entities will have to take us in blue jeans.

Wednesday, 2 p.m. I have coffee with a minister friend and tell him about my plan.

Minister friend: “Don’t tell anyone you’re seeing a faith healer.”

Me: “We’re Christians. We believe in miracles.”

Minister friend: “We believe in them. We just don’t always approve of them.”

Thursday, 4 p.m. I’m getting excited. I’ve spent $85 for a white shirt, pants and sneakers, and call Kate to confess. She spent $102.

Friday, 7 a.m. I’m about to leave for my day with John of God.

My partner, Liz: “If he’s passing out miracles, ask to be able to sleep.” For two months, I’ve been sleeping poorly, tossing and turning until dawn. I say it’s because I have many big and important things on my mind. Liz suggests it’s because I’m over 50 and still drink coffee after 10 a.m. I promise I’ll mention the sleeping problem to the Healing Entities.

7:50 a.m. The convention centre is swarming with 2,000 folks dressed almost entirely in white. I’m shocked by the makeup of the crowd: they look just like me. Middle class, middle aged, mostly white — they could be here for a Maeve Binchy reading rather than a miracle healing. Something of a line forms, though when Kate and I ask, no one seems clear about where it’s going or what the criteria are for being in it. One woman says it’s the way to “The Room.” Which room?

Moments later, white-clad volunteers appear, cheerfully clapping blue paper bands on our wrists. I’m vexed. The men in front of us got gold paper bands. Kate reasonably points out that we have no idea what either colour means. To me, blue seems . . . less miraculous.

We enter “The Room.” I don’t know what I was expecting. Incense? Chanting? There should be — I don’t know — an aura. A feeling. Atmosphere. For $200 a ticket, I expect atmosphere. Instead, we’re in a cavernous hall with as much ambience as an airplane hangar. Participants mill around tables selling crystals, books on John of God’s Brazilian healing centre, and plastic bottles of Holy Water bearing John of God’s portrait and a guarantee that the beverage has been officially blessed.

Me to Kate: “Are you starting to feel stupid?”

Kate: “No, continuing to.”

9:30 a.m. Kate and I have been sitting in one of the several hundred rows of convention centre chairs for almost an hour. No sign of John of God. The organizers are waiting to hear how the Healing Entities want to order our time today. On stage, a woman is singing some very nice songs in Portuguese. Then a speaker appears, touting the virtues of thinking positively. The sound echoes, and it’s hard to hear.

Speaker: “We have fur. We have much fur.” Kate and I energetically discuss the possible primal imagery of this.

A woman beside us: “He means ‘fear.’” Oh.

A new line forms in front of a large wooden triangle mounted on a blue curtain. One by one, people go to the triangle, place their hands on it and pray. Many hold pieces of paper or photos. As they finish, they drop the papers into a plastic laundry basket. The Healing Entities will go through the requests later, we’re told, and make sure they get answered.

11 a.m. A cry of excitement in the crowd. John of God sweeps through the room toward the stage. I get a glimpse of the miracle worker. For the life of me, he looks like an aging Las Vegas card shark. Slicked-back black hair. A poorly tailored white suit coat and white pants. Slightly stooped, making no eye contact. A small band of young men surround him. John of God then shuffles through a gap in the curtain beside the stage and disappears.

The organizers announce that John of God is ready to begin channelling the Healing Entities. Anyone who wants a “spiritual surgery” should form a line to go into the room behind the stage. Almost everyone lines up. The organizers suggest some people wait and have surgery this afternoon. No one leaves the line. The organizers insist that anyone who has seen John of God before is better off waiting until this afternoon. No one budges.

Organizers: “Anyone who gets spiritual surgery now can’t do any exercise for 40 days.” No problem; I’m staying in line. “Also, no sex for 40 days.” I’m still in. “And you need to buy enough cases of Holy Water to drink for 40 days.”

Me: “I’m going to think about this a bit longer.” We leave the line.

Kate: “It wasn’t our time.” I don’t ask what she means.

11:30 a.m. We decide we might as well pray at the triangle. When it’s my turn, I place my hands on the wooden frame, pressing onto it my own piece of paper. I have written a prayer request for my wonky back, for my troublesome digestive system, and for my two children, both in transition periods, to find their way. I forget what my partner, Liz, said about asking for sleep. I drop the paper into the basket and sit down again while Kate prays.

I look around at those waiting for the afternoon “surgery.” People are meditating, talking quietly, sipping Holy Water. They seem peaceful. At ease. Hope is healing all on its own, perhaps.

strong>Lunchtime Kate and I head to an adjoining room where everyone is to receive a sandwich and Holy Soup. The kitchen quickly runs out of Holy Soup. There is concern among the participants. Without soup, will we be healed? The kitchen staff rushes off to make more soup. Kate and I choose a table at the furthest, emptiest corner of the room. I’m discouraged.

Me: “I was hoping for . . . something.”

Kate, smiling: “I was too.”

Three women wander over with their sandwiches and ask if they can sit with us.

One woman, looking at Kate: “I know you!” They exchange addresses, talk about where they summer, finally realizing their daughters attended the same high school.

The woman, abruptly: “No, I was wrong. I’m sure we’ve never met. But my daughter and your daughter are housemates at college right now.”

Kate: “My daughter is having a lot of emotional trouble. She’s really struggling.”

The woman: “I know.” We finish our sandwiches in silence.

1 p.m. We sit in the big room. John of God does not reappear.

3:30 p.m. The line starts for the afternoon spiritual surgery group, but Kate suddenly wants to leave. We get our coats and head back out into the real world.

4:30 p.m. I arrive home feeling foolish. One day and $285 wasted. A wave of exhaustion hits. I decide to take a quick nap, figuring 20 minutes, tops. I lie down and sleep for 15 hours.

Weeks later I have been sleeping for eight or nine hours every night, and in my own bed — out like a light. The woman who spoke to Kate tracked her down and provided crucial information about Kate’s daughter’s difficulties. Kate feels she’s found an important ally in helping her daughter heal.

Me to Kate: “Do you think John of God’s Entities did all of this for us?”

Kate: “I think we opened ourselves up to possibility, which is where God can start.”

And that, alone, is a miracle.

Rev. Anne Hines is a minister at Emmanuel-Howard Park United in Toronto.

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