Monday, January 3

I have always wondered why people of little or no faith seem to turn to God or spirituality in times of distress. The dismissal of this phenomenon by skeptics—as merely an irrational act of desperation—has always disturbed me, because I have always assumed that to be a good explanation. But I ran across a paragraph in one of my favorite books that made me stop and think.

The book is Many Waters, by Madeleine L’Engle. Twins, named Sandy and Dennys, have landed themselves on the pre-flood Earth, a world where unicorns (like quanta) have a tendency towards life, but have to be believed in to be. Here’s the quote:

“Dennys, he remembered, had summoned a unicorn after Tiglah’s father and brother had nearly killed him, dumping him into the garbage pit. It wasn’t easy for Dennys to believe in unicorns either, but when he had to, he did.”

Allow me to switch topics for a moment: I promise to come back to this idea, and I promise that my tangent is relevant.

I grew up reading Reader’s Digest. My favorite thing to read, as a kid, were the Drama in Real Life stories. Many of them, if not most, contained stories of people doing extraordinary things in times of desperation. Some of them were feats of strength—lifting cars off of babies and the like—of which they would not have been capable under normal conditions. The others were actions that seemed irrational, but later proved to have been the only thing that could have saved the day. The only reason it had seemed irrational was that not all the information was available to the person at the time of the distress. In fact, the idea of lifting a car off one’s child also seems irrational, in that most people are not capable of such feats of strength in day-to-day life. However, the irrational urge to lift the car is known to be the only way to save the child, and so it is accomplished.

Now, imagine that faith in God or the supernatural is not, in fact, subjective or irrational. Perhaps some people—many people, even—are not normally capable of these moments of faith. However, in times of distress, they are able to achieve faith when it might seem irrational or impossible.

Faith, then, is an act, an objective thing that takes strength to accomplish. And sometimes, when we are at the end of ourselves, we are granted the ability to have faith.