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In search of Sister Aimee Daniel Mark Epstein finds spirit of a believer in writing biography

April 26, 1993|By Patrick McGuire | Patrick McGuire,Staff Writer

"There is no doubt in my mind," he says "that this was a great and courageous woman, whose religious inspiration was totally authentic. I tried to find some evidence in the voluminous newspaper accounts of her healings, of fraud. There is none. Instead I found hundreds of pages of newspaper documentation of reporters who were overwhelmed by what they saw at the healing services. The famous phrase used back then was 'those who came to scoff stayed to pray.' "

Mr. Epstein, who devotes almost full time to writing -- he now teaches a course in literature at the Maryland Institute of Art -- is at work on a play and hopes within a year to bring out a new volume of poems.

In the meantime, while he isn't so sure his view of Aimee McPherson, poetic or not, will convince the skeptical, he does hope his book will promote understanding about those who profess a hard core fundamental religious belief.

"There's a terrific division in this country between the secular world and the fundamentalist Christian movement," he says. "It's very important to me that these two groups understand each other better so that we not become victims of the religious wars that so often occur when fundamentalists don't understand the more liberal parts of the population."

As for the favorable reception his book has received, he ascribes it to a public need for faith.

"I think there is a deep-seated desire in most of us for the miraculous, for the possibility of salvation," he says. "To read about an authentic healer is very inspiring. It gives you a little more respect, I suppose, for authentic religious inspiration. The thing to remember is that authentic religious inspiration is very rare and there are a lot of people who pretend to do these things who don't really do them, and those people are dangerous."

But then, won't his endorsement of Aimee McPherson, however poetic, simply give the fakes more credibility?

"Yes, it may give them more ammunition," he admits. "I hope, though, it will make people more critical, make people expect more. I think people need to be guarded against the fakes. The pretenders. I've applied some pretty rigorous research standards to my evaluations of Aimee's healings. I think other people should do the same."

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