The Laying on of Hands
by Brenda Rhodes Miller

Harlem Moon Broadway Books, 2004. ISBN 0767915569.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 10/24/2005

Fiction: Christian

Meet "Miss Muchie"—an engaging character and the voice of The Laying on of Hands. So nicknamed by her Papa, Muchie's real name is Charlotte, but her family has a tradition of attaching strange and unusual names to each member...names that sometimes were as interesting as the life stories of the individual. In Muchie's case, Papa said that she was his "muchie sweet girl."

Through Miss Muchie's recollections, readers are transported to the Mississippi and Alabama of the 1920s through the 1950s. Miss Muchie, her papa, and her grandmother, "Tyler Mama," have the gift of healing. People for miles and miles come to their home at all hours of the day and night seeking the healing powers of Papa and Tyler Mama. Muchie is certain that she wants no part of these healing powers and resists giving in to them at every opportunity until Muchie is about thirteen and Tyler Mama insists she learns to birth babies.

This is a story of love, hope, faith, life and death. It is also a glimpse into the sometimes-misunderstood realm of "healing" with the most basic of natural commodities—hands and herbs. Tyler Mama teaches Muchie her homespun remedies during the house the two spend in the herb cottage behind their house. She has a potient or an ointment to heal almost any treat the ills that the flesh is heir to. But it is her record of never having lost a mother or baby during childbirth that makes Tyler Mama most proud.

Papa never takes any credit for his healing gifts. Knowing that many so-called healers blamed illness on spells and curses and then offer spells or charms as a way of healing, Papa was quick to say that he believed that most sickness came from the way people worked, ate and lived. He would often tell those who came to him for help that "Healing doesn't come from me, it works through me plain and simple. After I have done all that I know to do, I lay hands on the sick, bow my head and pray the gift will take over and do the rest."

With gentle understanding and guidance, Tyler Mama passes her skills and knowledge on to her granddaughter despite Muchie's protests. But when Tyler Mama lies dying, Muchie is unable to save her own grandmother with those healing powers. When the gift of healing deserts her in her greatest hour of need, Muchie loses any desire to continue to heal.

Throughout her life, in the few instances where she tries to resurrect her healing gift, her hand cannot save her beloved family members and friends. This becomes Muchie's great burden to bear. After the loss of two daughters and her husband, Teddy, Muchie wants nothing to do with healing ever again.

But, when her young son Tom-Tom begins to display the same gifts, Muchie finds herself battling her own shortcomings and the knowledge that Tyler Mama would have wanted her to encourage the child to develop his gift. In the end, it is Tom-Tom who teaches Muchie about the overwhelming powers of love and faith to heal.

When I reached the last page, I was sad to say goodbye to this beautifully simple and yet intricate family and especially to Muchie who I came to feel was a friend indeed. The delightful and touching way Miller presents this story is worth savoring.

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