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Authors: Barbara Bradley Hagerty

Fingerprints of God

BOOK: Fingerprints of God
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Table of Contents
 
 
 
RIVERHEAD BOOKS
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700,Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
 
Copyright © 2009 by Barbara Bradley Hagerty
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without
permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.
Purchase only authorized editions. Published simultaneously in Canada
 
 
The author gratefully acknowledges permission to quote from William R. Miller and Janet C’de Baca,
Quantum Change:When Epiphanies and Insights Transform Ordinary Lives
(Guilford Press, 2001).
 
 
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
 
Hagerty, Barbara Bradley.
Fingerprints of God: the search for the science of spirituality/ Barbara Bradley Hagerty.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
eISBN : 978-1-101-05260-0
1.Religion and science. I.Title.
BL240.3.H
215—dc22
 
 
 
 
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

http://us.penguingroup.com

To Mom,
the finest person I know
What if you slept? And what if, in your sleep, you dreamed? And what if, in your dream, you went to heaven and plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?
 
 
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
CHAPTER 1
Crossing the Stream
I REMEMBER THE MOMENT I decided to leave Christian Science. It was a Sunday afternoon in February 1994. By my bleak accounting, New Haven, Connecticut, was enjoying its seventeenth snowstorm of the winter. I was completing a one-year fellowship at Yale Law School. I had abandoned my sunny apartment in Washington, D.C., for a dark cave in the Taft Hotel with rented furniture that, I’d realized upon delivery, was identical to that favored by Holiday Inns.
I was sick—sick with stomach flu, a fever and chills that induced me to pile every blanket, sweater, and coat in the apartment on top of me. Still I shook so violently that my teeth chattered. I slipped in and out of consciousness all afternoon, but in a moment of lucidity I envisioned the medicine cabinet above the bathroom sink. In normal circumstances, my medicine cabinet contained nothing more therapeutic than Band-Aids. I had been raised a Christian Scientist, and at the age of thirty-four—with the exception of receiving a vaccine before my family traveled to Europe—I had never visited the doctor, never taken a vitamin, never popped an aspirin, much less flu medicine. At that moment, what flashed in my mind’s eye like a blinking neon sign was
Tylenol,Tylenol,Tylenol.
A friend of mine, I recalled, had left some Tylenol during a visit.
The bottle of Tylenol called seductively, and I followed its siren call. I slipped out of bed and, steadying myself on the furniture lest I faint, crept to the medicine cabinet. Before I could stop myself, I downed one tablet, closed the cabinet, averted my eyes from the mirror, and stumbled quickly back to bed. Five minutes passed. My teeth stopped chattering. Another minute or so, I began to feel quite warm, no, hot,
hot
, what was I doing under all these covers? I threw off the coats and sweaters and blankets and felt the fever physically recede like a wave at low tide.
Wow,
I thought,
I feel terrific!
It was not thirty minutes later when I was up for the first time in two days and cheerfully making myself some tomato soup; it was not then, precisely, that I incorporated medicine into my life. It would take me another sixteen months before I would leave the religion of my childhood for good. Soon thereafter, I announced this to my friend Laura one day at lunch.
“Oh, Barb,” she exclaimed, squeezing my hand in excitement.“Now the whole world of pharmacology is open to you!”
And so it was. But three decades of religious training does not evaporate quickly. As a Christian Scientist, I had come to believe in the power of prayer to alter my experience, whether that be my wracking cough or my employment status, my mood or my love life. In that time, I had witnessed several healings. I had come to suspect that there exists another type of spiritual reality just beyond the grasp of our human senses that occasionally, and often unexpectedly, pierces the veil of our physical world. In Christian Science we called these “spiritual laws,” and (I was told over and over) I needed merely to bring myself in line with those higher laws to banish the cough or the heartache.
I say “merely,” but it’s actually tough sledding, trying to fix all your problems through prayer. In my mid-thirties, I chose the ease and reliability of Tylenol over the hard-won healings of Christian Science. More than that, I was tired of my ascetic diet of divine law and spiritual principles. I suppose I could have walked away from religion altogether, dismissing God and swatting away questions about eternity. But for whatever reason—my genetic wiring or the serotonin receptors in my brain or the stress hormones in my body—I held fast to the idea of God, of a Creator above and within this messy creation called my life and yours. I remained open to something unexplainable, even supernatural. But I did not have a clue as to how radically my life would be upended when I encountered that mystery one summer evening in Los Angeles.
 
 
 
ON JUNE 10, 1995, Kathy Younge and I were sitting on a bench outside Saddleback Valley Community Church. The Saturday-night service had ended an hour earlier. Even the stragglers had gone home. I was interviewing her for a
Los Angeles Times
Sunday magazine article about fast-growing churches—specifically, why baby boomers in their thirties and forties were flocking to evangelical churches. This took me into new spiritual territory. As a Christian Scientist, I had absorbed Mary Baker Eddy’s version of Deity. The flinty founder of Christian Science defined “God” as a list of qualities—Life,Truth, Love, Spirit, Soul, Mind, and Principle. The Christian Science God is not a person. But to the evangelical Christians I met during my research for the
Times
, God is first and foremost a Person, one who came to earth two millennia ago and still yearns for a relationship with every human being.
Kathy Younge was my tour guide through this evangelical world. I was drawn to her because we occupied the same lonely demographic: both in our mid-thirties and single, we were wrestling with existential questions. But my questions paled next to hers. This woman had been fighting cancer for years. Her melanoma had recently returned, driving her to her knees in despair, and eventually to the comfort of Saddleback Church. Saddleback and its pastor, Rick Warren, are now almost household names, but in 1995, Rick Warren was unknown outside evangelical Christian circles, and his church drew only a few thousand people a week. (Now it’s closer to 20,000.) Many of those people were like Kathy—broken in some way, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and famished for a living, breathing God who listens and intervenes. Saddleback is founded on this kind of God, and gives Him a structure to work with—twelve-step programs, ministries for every sort of physical, emotional, or financial challenge, and a massive prayer chain in which hundreds of Saddleback members pray for those in distress, like Kathy.
“Do you think the prayer group in the church will heal the cancer?” I asked Kathy that night, scribbling notes in the fading light.
“No. Healing comes from God,” she said.“The church is here to be your family. They’re really your support team down here because we don’t have Jesus around to touch and talk to us. The church is God with skin on.”
That was the quote that appeared in my
Times
article. What happened next did not.
“Kathy, how can you possibly be so cheerful when you’ve got this awful disease?” I asked.
“It’s Jesus,” she said. “Jesus gives me peace.”
“A guy who lived two thousand years ago?” I asked, incredulous. “How can that be?”
“Jesus is as real to me as you are,” she explained. “He’s right here, right now.”
Right,
I thought
.
Yet there was something wondrous about Kathy’s confidence as she struggled through this disease that could kill her. She told me then how she had been diagnosed with melanoma in her twenties, how her fear and loneliness had led her to Saddleback on a random Sunday, how she had come to believe that God had placed cancer in her life not to snuff it out but to give it a transcendent purpose.
As we talked, the night darkened. The streetlamp next to our bench cast a circle around us, creating the eerie sense that we were actors in a spotlight on a stage. The temperature had dropped into the fifties. I was shivering but pinned to the spot, riveted by Kathy and her serene faith.
BOOK: Fingerprints of God
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