Of Hips and Miracles

By December 13, 2009

My daughter was diagnosed with Perthes yesterday. It’s a condition where blood doesn’t get to the hip bone and so it doesn’t grow, which causes all kinds of problems. She’s been having a lot of difficulty walking recently but the doctor says its very treatable and for this we are grateful.

Her condition reminded me of a few stories from the past that I’ve read recently. The first is quoted in Jane Shaw’s Miracles in Enlightenment England.

On the evening of 26 November 1693, a thirteen-year-old lame girl named Marie Maillard was instantly healed while she was reading the Bible. It was a day when she had been especially reminded of her lameness because local boys had teased her and thrown dirt at her as she had been walking home. She had just eaten supper and was reading the second chapter of Mark, ‘where is related the cure of the man sick of the Palsy’, when her thigh snapped ‘just as the words were out of my mouth, and I said, Madam, I am cured.’ She ran about and showed her perfectly upright body and now even hips to Madame Renee de Laulan, the French gentlewoman with whom she lived.

Shaw then tells of how this story was used and debated at the time, but I couldn’t help thinking of the poor girl being teased and what life might have been like for my daughter if she had been born many years ago.

I thought also of a story from Samuel Woolley’s dairy form 1855. He had been giving many blessing while staying in Centerville, Delaware, in route home from a mission in India (he was trying to get the rest of the money to get home). He reported a number of healings that generated interest in the area and was requested the bless one Davis Fury who had a dislocated hip bone from an accident with a horse. Fury had “fell away to nothing but skin and bone.” Woolley blessed the boy under the promise that he and his mother would be baptized. They began blessing the boy daily and Woolley reported that the boy was getting better. He then went on a week’s trip into Pennsylvania and when he came back there was a problem. The local presiding elder had gone to bless Fury but then refused saying that his progress wasn’t good enough, which he said meant the boy and his mother didn’t have enough faith. Woolley was unhappy with the presiding elder but from then on Woolley continued to mention visiting the family but never recorded the boy’s condition. One assumes that Fury did not get better; neither he nor his mother got baptized.

In my work on Mormonism in the area, I’ve found a number of cases of disappointed miraculous expectations but the Mormons usually provide what they see as explanations of divine providence nonetheless. This story, however, gets no explanation; the most bitter kind of disappointment.

To this point I’ve found it difficult to weave this story into my analysis. There are just so many layers and yesterday’s events added one more.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Origins Methodology, Academic Issues Reflective Posts Theology


Comments

  1. I’m happy for your daughter and family. We live at a time when “miracles” are common place with the wonderful advances of science.

    One of the pitfalls that emerges from these advances in science is anemic faith. It is natural to transfer faith in God to trusting in the arm of flesh.

    I’m not quite sure about your position after reading your post. Do you believe in the power of faith, prayer, and priesthood blessings to heal the sick and afflicted?

    Near the end of your post you appear to be saying Mormons contrive miraculous events where none really occur.

    Comment by Jared — December 13, 2009 @ 8:59 am

  2. Steve, I’m glad it looks like she’ll be okay. Keep us updated

    Jared, I think you’re misreading Steve’s statement. He’s simply commenting on how the Mormon journals he’s read from the Delaware Valley deal with healing and Providence, not taking a position on whether healing through faith is possible or impossible.

    Comment by David G. — December 13, 2009 @ 9:14 am

  3. I winced as I read the line about teasing and thrown dirt, Steve, and was pleased (in a “we understand each other” kind of way) that you did, too. I hope your daughter’s treatment and healing spare her from that.

    I run across a lot of missionary writings about healings; they are hard to use even in an informal way on Keepa because they can only be repeated or ignored, not elaborated upon: there is almost never a way to verify even the outward story, much less the miraculousness, and they are so subjective (and formulaic) that I don’t know what to think of them. I do believe in healings through priesthood power, but I struggle with treating many of the accounts as authentic healings in part because they are so formulaic, or they credit a priesthood blessing for the fact that a broken bone heals in six weeks (as it should have done without a blessing) or because somebody got well after multiple blessings over many days. What are we supposed to do with those reports?

    Jared, I’ve given my opinion of comments like yours (see comment 6 here) and wish that attitude were never again associated with Mormonism.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 13, 2009 @ 10:21 am

  4. #2 David G.–

    Thank you for helping me understand.

    Comment by Jared — December 13, 2009 @ 10:30 am

  5. Ardis E Parshall–

    I not sure what your point is. I read the post, commented, and asked a question. I’m not sure why that appears to have troubled you.

    I read the link you provided, and it appears you have the impression I’m suggesting faith and medical help are not compatible. If that is a correct interpretation of your comment to me;let me say it is 180 degrees off.

    I believe the advances in science are a gift from God. With that said, I also believe we need to exercise faith when employing medical help.

    I have observed that many members put their faith in medical help first and then out of tradition call on the Elders for a blessing. In my opinion, that isn’t the kind of faith (anemic) heaven responds too.

    Comment by Jared — December 13, 2009 @ 10:52 am

  6. Sorry for my ambiguity, Jared. I did not mean to suggest that I was doubting miracles in anyway (I don’t). My point was that these two stories became more poignant after my daughter’s diagnosis. I also wanted to talk about dealing with miracles as a historian.

    I like that you brought up the point about the arm of flesh. In the case of Maillard, the doctors had pronounced her incurable and the doctors had had no positive effect on Fury. The situation is very different for my daughter. You’re right that the blessings of science can have it’s own pitfalls.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 13, 2009 @ 11:21 am

  7. Arids, yes, miracle stories are an interesting subject. The way I approach it is not to deal with the issue of veracity but to simply try to reconstruct the early Mormons’ worldview. They report lots of miracles but I find what they say when no miracle occurs particularly interesting: they generally see God’s hand in providing understanding and comfort. God is still there. What is difficult about the Fury story is that Woolley gives no comment; day after day he just says “visited the Furys” and nothing else. Sort of a deafening silence.

    On the issue of science and blessings, I remember what Talmage said about Jesus’s miracles: that he never did things for people that they could do for themselves. Yes, God has blessed the world with much knowledge.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 13, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  8. I’m sorry to hear about the diagnosis of your daughter, Steve; but I am encouraged that you will have medical treatment available.

    Brigham Young made similar comments about people doing what they could before asking for a blessing.

    Failed healings are significant part of the Mormon narrative.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 13, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

  9. …as a side note, from the title, I thought you were going to the famous hip reconstruction at Hawn’s Mill.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 13, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

  10. Thanks, Steve. Insights like these make me aware how sophisticated our historical tools must be(come) to engage meaningfully with elements like this one in the historical record.

    I likewise wish you (and your daughter) the best with this uphill path.

    Comment by Ryan T. — December 14, 2009 @ 1:04 am

  11. #6 Steve–

    Thanks for the post and the additional explanation that helped me see your perspective. 😀

    Comment by Jared — December 14, 2009 @ 8:57 am

  12. I work in the medical profession. There are many advances that would be called miraculous to people 50-100 years ago.

    I have very mixed feelings regarding blessings, based on experiences I have had. I have seen things happen that I can’t explain after blessings, that I ascribe to the hand of God. At the same time, I have seen similar things happen in people who don’t believe in God. I have also seen promises of health and full recovery given to very obviously sick people who ended up dying in the ICU the next day.

    Ultimately, it is all God’s will. Given that people may or may not get better after a blessing, for reasons that our minds cannot understand, I have a hard time understand what purpose the blessing may have other than helping us remember God. Perhaps that’s enough.

    Comment by Mike S — December 14, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

  13. I agree with Mike. I feel blessings are more for our benefit, ie feeling peace during a troubled time, remembering God, etc. I don’t think its “if you have enough faith, BAM, your prayers are answered” like Jared is implying. Even the man in the scriptures, “Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief” got his miracle and he admitted he didn’t have “enough” faith. I think turning to God at ALL in any way shape or form is “enough” faith. Its not like He’s up there counting the number of prayers or oops, you didn’t fast QUITE long enough, or that father faltered for 1 second during his blessing!

    I’m not saying miracles don’t occur, but I do think most of the time its just the odds at work. You’ve got a 50/50 chance at being “right” and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes people die, sometimes they live. There are plenty of people who live beyond all the odds who DON’T believe in God, and plenty of people who DO believe in God, and pray, fast, bless and should have lived, but who die.

    Jared, its comments like yours that make people feel horrible when they don’t get the miracle they prayed for.

    Comment by anon — December 14, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

  14. #13 anon said: its comments like yours that make people feel horrible when they don’t get the miracle they prayed for.

    I’ve been the recipient of miracles. I know by experience that what the scriptures teach about prayer, priesthood blessings, dreams, visions, promptings of the Spirit, ministering of angels; as well as other more sacred experiences—that these things are available when members embrace the doctrine of Christ.

    I write and comment from the perspective of my experiences. You’re welcome to write and comment from yours.

    Comment by Jared — December 14, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

  15. Thanks for the comments and the well-wishing. I’ve found that where faith is really important is not so much in “producing” miracles but in hanging in there where there is no miracle. The miracles help us know that God is there and that he love us which we need to know when He’s trying to “build our character” with the hard stuff.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 15, 2009 @ 12:19 am

  16. Best wishes to you and your family, Steve. I find that three years after my son was diagnosed with a major congenital issue, I’m still dealing with issues of faith, although it certainly isn’t as acute as it was in the first months. And my family has seen so many blessings along the way and met so many wonderful people, and seen the blessings of the Lord in our lives and our son’s life in very real and practical ways, as well as enjoying the many blessings of spiritual comfort that can come in a time of crisis and hardship.

    By the way, have you found a good, online support group? I see one in YahooGroups for your daughter’s condition. It has 300+ members.

    Comment by Researcher — December 15, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

  17. Thanks Researcher, this is all very helpful.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 15, 2009 @ 3:44 pm


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