[Editor’s Note: This essay resides within Anderson Blanton’s “The Materiality of Prayer,” a portal into Reverberations’ unfolding compendium of resources related to the study of prayer.]
“Many lay their hands upon the radio as a point of contact during our Healing Waters broadcast. Through this means they release their faith and through faith they are healed during the ‘prayer time’ of the broadcast.”
The new definition of prayer laid forth in this portal could be used to articulate key techniques of Pentecostal and charismatic Christian healing prayer such as the “point of contact.” Now a ubiquitous term in the performance of Pentecostal prayer, Oral Roberts developed this technique specifically in relation to the radio apparatus. As millions of listeners tuned in to the “prayer time” of his Healing Waters Broadcast in the early 1950s, audiences began to experience distanced voice-in-prayer in a radically new way. The machinations of radio loudspeakers translated a praying voice into a series of warm vibrations that were haptically registered as listeners were exhorted to “lay their hands upon the radio” as “the point of contact.” Technical reproduction allowed for a new tactile sensation of the voice through the hand, signaling a profound shift in the experience and practice of prayer.
Prayer in the age of mechanical reproduction thus marks an inversion of the rite of manual imposition: it is no longer the healer who lays hands upon the sick, but the patient who reaches out to make tactile contact with the apparatus. The radio as point of contact organized a new “apparatus of belief” that no longer subsisted upon earlier modes of temporal articulation. Instead of articulating belief through the temporal deferrals and delays characteristic of the exchange and circulation of objects (see for instance, Prayer Cloths), for example, the radio apparatus produced the sensation of belief through sensory displacements and disjunctures attuned through the medium itself.