Healing through prayer

Local Christian Scientist Susan Stillwell credits her prayers to God for healing her from stomach cancer

Christian Scientist Susan Stillwell credits her prayers to God for healing her stomach cancer.

Christian Scientist Susan Stillwell credits her prayers to God for healing her stomach cancer.

Christian Science connection:
The Christian Science Church (First Church of Christ, Scientist) is located at 770 Palmetto Ave. (342-7990). The Christian Science Reading Room is located downtown at 188 East Third St. (342-1545).

“When I was extremely ill, my prayer was, ‘Please, God, help me.’ My suffering was intense,” offered Susan Stillwell during a recent interview at the Christian Science Reading Room on East Third Street in downtown Chico, where she is a regular volunteer. The vibrant 68-year-old was recalling the time, 23 1/2 years ago, shortly after she emerged from a coma after trying to take her life because of her despondency over having been diagnosed with stomach cancer.

For three years prior to her suicide attempt, as she wrote in a testimonial piece in the April 2010 issue of The Christian Science Journal, Stillwell—sick with various ailments and in the grip of a troubled marriage—“sought medical help, endured endless medical tests, and took countless prescription drugs. But my health continued to deteriorate. Finally, during one visit, the doctor told me that I had stomach cancer, and that this particular type could not be treated medically.”

Seven months later, after her condition deteriorated further, Stillwell attempted to end her life by swallowing an entire bottle of prescription sleeping pills. Her husband found her in a coma and she was taken to the hospital, where she remained on life support for five days. Stillwell was given a 50/50 chance of pulling through.

“When I did awaken five days later, knowing that the suicide attempt had failed, I realized that death was not an option,” Stillwell wrote in her testimonial. “And it was also apparent to me that the doctors, in spite of their earnest efforts, would not be able to help me.”

At that point Stillwell began to recall the Christian Science teachings she had learned as a child in Sunday school, teachings she had moved away from as a teenager.

“And I decided then and there that I was going to turn to God, take up the study of Christian Science,” she said. “And I decided that if I could be healed, I would dedicate my life to God and the practice of Christian Science.”

For the next five months, Stillwell prayed with a Christian Science practitioner.

“She assured me that God was taking care of me, God was with me and that I could expect healing.”

Stillwell also took up the study of both the Bible and the book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science.

She said the book, “explains the deep spiritual meaning of the Bible. The Bible is full of healing power, but if you read the letter and don’t grasp the spiritual essence of the lessons it teaches, healing may not be realized.

“When I first began to read [Science and Health], I didn’t understand any of it,” she continued. “I would cry and say, ‘If I don’t understand, how can I heal?’”

Stillwell said she spoke with her Christian Science practitioner daily, sometimes twice a day.

“I would speak to her of individuals in the Bible—such as David and Jacob—who, when they found themselves in harrowing circumstances, turned to God for healing, and their lives were redeemed. [The practitioner] said, ‘The same God that helped them is with you.’”

Miraculously—or not, depending on your viewpoint—Stillwell said that one day in late 1989 while reading an article in The Christian Science Journal, “about Divine Love, a synonym for God, my consciousness was flooded with love, I was so inspired by the article. The healing took place right then—it just happened in a few moments. [Divine Love] just seemed to go right into that area in my body where the problem seemed to be and removed it.”

Stillwell describes the removal of her cancer as a “mental surgery—very powerful, very gentle. I threw my head back and groaned. I was healed. I knew the cancer was gone. The doctor never saw me again.”

“In its most basic sense Christian Science can be described as a Bible-based Christian religion founded in New England in the latter part of the 19th century,” said Eric Nelson, Northern California-based Christian Science media spokes-person, legislative advocate and health blogger. “But in its more profound sense I would describe it as a spiritual practice that has proven to me and a lot of others that I know that I can rely solely on prayer—that is, on my growing understanding of God and my relationship to him—for my health and general well-being.”

In a recent article he wrote for The Washington Times (go to http://tinyurl.com/healthescape to read the entire piece), Nelson compared Christian Science healing to the life-saving “escape fire” lit by a firefighter named Wag Dodge during a raging blaze in a gulch in Montana’s Helena National Forest in 1949.

“Desperate to find a way out, Dodge did something that, to others, must have seemed completely crazy,” wrote Nelson. “He reached into his pocket, took out a match, and set fire to the tall, dry grass in front of him. Within moments a path had been burned leading to a rocky ridge above—a makeshift buffer zone where Dodge was able to wait safely while the main fire burned around him.” None of the other firefighters with Dodge followed him, despite his encouragement, and they all died.

Nelson compares Dodge’s situation to that of Stillwell, whom he refers to as his “good friend who once found herself in a situation not unlike that faced by Wag Dodge and his fellow smokejumpers.” After briefly telling the story of how the despairing, cancer-stricken Stillwell came to be found in a coma by her husband, Nelson notes that “when she regained consciousness five days later, she realized that her original escape plan had failed; death was not an option.”

“It was then that my friend did something that, to those around her, probably seemed just as crazy as Wag Dodge setting fire to a swath of tall, dry grass: She decided to give up on drugs and rely entirely on prayer for her healing.”

Stillwell fully appreciates the unusual curing process.

“It’s amazing to me that you can read a book and the book spiritualizes your consciousness until healing is realized—even if people don’t fully understand what they’re reading,” she said. “One needn’t have a full understanding of God to realize healing. It’s the most sanitary method of healing there is. There’s no cutting away at the body, no drugs, no medical testing.”