Anna (Kylie Rogers) with her father, Kevin (Martin Henderson), in “Miracles from Heaven.” (Columbia Pictures)
When I went to see “Miracles from Heaven,” I saw more laughter, crying and applause than I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. Clearly, this new movie — the real-life story of a young girl, suffering from an incurable illness, who was inexplicably healed after a nearly fatal accident — touches a chord, at least in the theater in Boston where I saw it.
To doctors, events like the story that this girl’s mother (played in the film by Jennifer Garner) recounted in her memoir are impossible to explain. Scientists call them “spontaneous remission” or “placebo responses.”
Religious people generally use a different word: “miracle.”
Based on her memoir of the same name, Christy Beam's (Jennifer Garner) daughter is suffering from a serious digestive disorder. After a near-death experience falling out of a tree, she is subsequently cured of the disease. (Sony Pictures)
I’m trained in both medicine and theology. I’ve been investigating the medical evidence in stories like these since 2003. And I can say unequivocally that much of physical reality, remarkable as it may sound, is created in our minds.
I do not believe that we can think ourselves into health. But I do believe that principles of mind and spirit exist that we have not even begun to scientifically map in the West, and that we should be doing so.
Think of it this way: Two people can sit on a park bench together, and yet live in very different worlds. One person can be living in hell, with a turbulent, frightened inner world, noticing and experiencing an outer world full of violence and pain. The other person, sitting right next to him, may be living in a completely different universe, full of love, connection and beauty.
Those people might have totally different medical outcomes, influenced solely by the way they see the world.
It’s amazing to me that in the history of medicine we have never studied the people who beat the odds and find a path to health after being told that their illness is incurable or that they are going to die. You would think that these are the people that we would most want to study, that perhaps they found golden keys to health and vitality that we would want to understand. Certainly it’s true that if I wanted to become a great athlete I would study Michael Jordan or Serena Williams. But in medicine we have too long ignored or dismissed people with remarkable recoveries.
I have listened to more than 100 of these remarkably cured individuals, despite the fact that in medical school, I was taught that reports of spontaneous remission are rare, “anecdotes” and “flukes” from which nothing can be learned.
That assumption appears to be wrong. In my studies of more than 100 people with medical evidence for recovery from incurable illness, the similarity in their paths suggests to me identifiable mental and spiritual principles associated with their recoveries.
Take Claire Haser, for example. She said she was diagnosed in 2008 by biopsy with adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, a brutal form of cancer. Without surgery at an early stage, it is essentially a death sentence. Radiation and chemotherapy can delay death, but only briefly.
Haser was told that she was going to die. She values science highly and has a long history of pursuing the best that traditional medicine can offer. After much consideration, however, she said that she knew at a deep level that she needed to not chase a cure but rather to change her relationship with fear.
Five years after deciding not to go through cancer treatment, Haser had an abdominal CT for unrelated reasons. It turned out, she said, that her cancer was gone.
Haser did the same thing that I see over and over in these remarkable patients. She faced her fears and at a deep level changed her relationship with herself.
To move through fear and self-criticism in a way that genuinely changes how one relates to the world, to change not just one’s thoughts, but one’s experience and perception — that is a major feat, whether done as an adult or a child, and whether that process occurs in 10 minutes or 10 years.
As for Anna, the subject of “Miracles from Heaven,” I have not reviewed the medical evidence for myself nor spoken with her doctors, but the diagnosis does appear to have been made very carefully, after multiple tests and evaluations. And the medical evidence, and the psychological pattern that one typically finds after such remarkable recoveries, appear to support her story as well.
I believe Anna. But I disagree with one common viewpoint that the movie espouses. At the very beginning, it defines a “miracle” as a contradiction of natural law.
I believe that miracles only contradict what we know of nature at this point in time. Modern physics is, for example, way ahead of traditional science, and its implications have not been fully incorporated into its perspectives and methods yet. So I believe that miracles actually are consistent with mental and spiritual laws that we are only beginning to study. This is the only way I can understand the similarities among all those with remarkable recoveries whom I have been interviewing.
From whatever perspective you look at it — from the standpoint of Eastern philosophy or of modern physics, from my personal training as a scientist or as a theologian — you see a deeper relationship between the mind and physical reality.
As Scripture says, the Kingdom of Heaven is within and at hand — as near as our souls are to our bodies. Life really is a matter of perception. Perception changes experience, even perhaps to the point of changing physical bodies.
Anna may have experienced a piece of heaven. The astonishing medical evidence suggests her body changed to match her inner experience.
Jeffrey D. Rediger is an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. A medical doctor, he also earned a master’s degree in divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.
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I agree with the author's contention that we should study the cases of "spontaneous" or natural recovery, and that these cases could teach us a lot about what is going on in the body. But you also have to consider misdiagnosis, and the possibility that the human immune system did it on its own as plausible explanations for seemingly "miraculous" recovery. Invoking spirits doesn't help us get any closer to finding answers than the people you deride for dismissing these cases as "flukes." Further...."suggests to me identifiable mental and spiritual principles associated with their recoveries" is problematic to me. Are you claiming that there is a 1) mental component to our body, and a 2) spiritual component? Aren't those both "mental," as they pertain to thoughts in your brain? Or are you suggesting that we have a "spiritual" bodypart in there that is separate from the mental?
"... more than 100 of these remarkably cured individuals, despite the fact that in medical school, I was taught that reports of spontaneous remission are rare." Sounds pretty rare to me. How many just died, as predicted?
Required reading: "The Miracle Detective" by R. Sullivan, former skeptic, esp. the miracle cure of Rita Klauss, and other phenomenal events at Medjugorje; "Miracles," by Richard Casdorph, M.D., Ph. D., a skeptic who saw his wheelchair-bound patient cured at a Kathryn Kuhlman prayer service ca. 1973 in L.A. A similar cure happened to Lisa Larrios and was covered by the L A Times. Another miracle cure cited by Dr. Casdorph was at a Kuhlman healing service in Oakland, to a woman from Walnut Creek who had a brain tumor. The cases include before-and-after X-rays. There also many famous cures at Lourdes, which maintained a medical review board of 22 doctors, incl. skeptics, from various religions. The official cures they registered after years of investigating each one are only 68 or so, since 1858. Another miracle cure that rocked young America is profiled in "Anne Mattingly's Cure" -- the closure of an open breast cancer tumor in just minutes, before 13 witnesses, when the sick woman, the mayor of Washington's sister, was given a communion wafer brought for her at 2 a.m. following a special healing mass for the terminally-ill woman, ca. 1826. The priest came from nearby Georgetown College. Another miracle cure a few years ago was to Jake Finkbonner, a young boy in Wash. state who had only a day to live from necrotizing fascitis.
Folks let me iterate from a Christian perspective. I had a healing ( miracle ) when I was a young child. Tho it was small in comparison to some , never the less it was still a miracle. This happened , from prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ , whom He made it happen. Call them “spontaneous remission” or “placebo responses” , the glory goes to the Lord God almighty.
The movie's not my cup of tea, but from what I've read the child's condition was well studied and documented, as was the remission/cure/miracle. As a physician, I have had occasion to witness the occasional "what the..." occurrence (maybe not to the "miracle" degree), but to Dr. Rediger's credit, examining the inexplicably good outcomes is just as important as the unexpectedly bad results, when it comes to gaining a better understanding of how body and mind might work together. As far as "supernatural" influences, science demands proof, and I didn't perceive from the article that the author claimed otherwise.
It's bittersweet seeing a Harvard medical school professor go after this specific area of interest. I say bittersweet because in order for us to understand the details surrounding these miracle areas it is going to take much, much more than just a PhD from an educational system that repeatedly fails us in so many ways, not to mention this one. Example: Telepathy has been proven to be real using the scientific process (Google telepathy proven ). Being that this is the case why are we not beginning to see an educational system that is out to teach and let students master telepathy? You DO realize that if we all begin to master telepathy, there will no longer be a need for cell phones. What's more, is that the space between us would once and for all be proven to be nothing more than an illusion.
As for the placebo effect? It is the only looking glass peak into the miraculous abilities that lay dormant within most all humans today. Let us ask the good doctor why he and his colleagues have not yet attempted to even understand the Placebo better. I can tell you why. Because if we all master the placebo effect we will NO LONGER NEED DOCTORS!