There was a distinct moment after six bullets pierced his body at close range when Alan Wheeler fell to the ground, closed his eyes and felt the warm and tranquil summons of death.
But Wheeler, then a young military college graduate, didn't die. Instead, he opened his eyes, alive and already on the path not only to survival but to recovery. Some 40 years later, he attributes that recovery to his Christian Science faith's belief in the healing abilities of prayer and in God's - and therefore humanity's - all-powerful goodness.
Today, the local construction company owner attributes the positive outcomes of many of his life's events to prayer. He recounts accidents avoided, sicknesses prevented and injuries healed.
A trained Christian Science practitioner, he explains the faith as one that considers prayer more powerful than medicine and that sees people as mirrors of the good and loving God in whose likeness the Bible says they were created.
While he attributes his physical recovery to prayer, he says faith in the goodness of man saved him from desiring retribution against the mentally ill man who shot him.
Meanwhile, a national Christian Science speaker and teacher comes to Charleston on Saturday to discuss prayer as a solution to violence, such as what Wheeler experienced.
John Q. Adams III will hold a free public lecture at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Charleston County Public Library's Main branch in downtown Charleston.
"Around the world, societies and individuals are grappling with the problem of violence, searching for an alternative. This lecture offers prayer as a solution," Adams says.
Adams plans to present examples of people who have overcome violent impulses and experienced physical healings through prayer.
Adams says he was healed of a serious drug habit through studying the healing power of prayer. He went on to open nine flower stores in New York City, and, in 1985, became a full-time practitioner of Christian Science healing. Today, he is a member of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship and speaks nationwide about the power of prayer to heal.
"The major thrust of this lecture is to emphasize that evil cannot be defeated with evil, but that it can be overcome and destroyed through our prayers and good efforts," Adams says.
Christian Science has been the subject of criticism, chiefly when members have not pursued medical care or immunizations for children who later died. Throughout its history, dozens of church members or practitioners have been charged criminally in connection with deaths. (After protests from Christian Scientists, today nearly all states, including South Carolina, allow religious exemptions to compulsory vaccinations.)
However, Wheeler emphasized that Christian Science, which has about 100,000 members, doesn't enforce a strict dogma about when members should get medical care. For example, he received medical care after being shot to reset and repair his femur, which was fractured by a bullet.
"It's really an individual choice," Wheeler says. "But when we are challenged in Christian Science life, we try to deal with it through prayer."
Christian Science was founded in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy, who grew up a sickly child in a Puritan household that valued studying the Bible. After suffering a serious fall in 1866, she experienced a miraculous recovery after reading stories of Jesus' healings, according to Christian Science teachings.
Eddy later published "Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures" in which she elaborates on the idea that sickness is an illusion that can be resolved through prayer rather than medicine. She also described healing others through prayer.
"It is plain that God does not employ drugs or hygiene, nor provide them for human use; else Jesus would have recommended and employed them in his healing," Eddy wrote in "Science and Health." In addition to the Bible, the book now comprises Christian Science's central texts.
Wheeler, for example, recalls being on crutches while dealing with water build up on his knee when he was 16. The competitive athlete and lifelong Christian met a woman who suggested prayer by a Christian Science practitioner. He decided to pursue it.
"Three days later, I woke up and my knee was permanently healed," Wheeler says.
He read Eddy's book and learned more about the power of prayer. After marrying and starting a family, he took the church's class to become a practitioner himself, meaning he can provide spiritual treatment through prayer.
"It is trying to grow into effective prayer that says sickness and disease don't have to be," Wheeler says. He describes prayer as both preventive and curative.
For instance, he recalls his young daughter being diagnosed decades ago with complete hearing loss in one ear, a condition her doctors said had no treatment. Wheeler and his wife turned to prayer and, he says, the child recovered all of her hearing.
Another time, he felt his car come to a sudden stop for a train he hadn't seen coming. And once, when a car pulled out right in front of him, he felt his car stop through no action of his own, he says.
And then there was the shooting. Wheeler and his girlfriend had been eating a picnic dinner when a stranger came up and shot him for what seemed to be no reason.
Wheeler survived only to learn later, he says, that one bullet severed an artery in his leg, which could have caused him to bleed to death. Yet, he says, it healed before he reached the hospital.
"I know it sounds fantastic," he says. "But it was another affirmation for me that prayer is effective and that I should keep it up."
Prayer also kept him from seeing the man who shot him as a sinful or evil person. Instead, he learned what the young man was dealing with himself. The shooter wound up in a psychiatric hospital, he says. "I felt compassion for what he was going through," Wheeler says.
When Wheeler's family moved to Charleston several years ago, they joined the city's Christian Science church, which draws about 50 members to services near Hampton Park.
Over the years, Wheeler recovered well enough to run the Cooper River Bridge Run twice, jump out of an airplane and climb in the Swiss Alps.
"Darkness seems to be there, but when the light of prayer is turned on, darkness and evil disappear. There is no real substance to them," Wheeler says. "Evil has no creation and no law behind it. There is only a law of good."
Saturday's lecture is sponsored by First Church of Christ, Scientist, Charleston.
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563, follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes or subscribe to her at facebook.com/jennifer.b.hawes.