In chapter 4 of “Vanessa the Wonder-worker,” we saw the strange bet that her brother James made, and which Abigail urged her — maybe even forced her — to take. Father Andrew helped Vanessa get some perspective and now she’s ready to start going about it for real. Only … how?
As I said in The four questions of “Vanessa,” trying to figure out what was going to happen to Vanessa (question #2) led me to think about how Christians are challenged by our very secular world (question #3) which often takes issue with our extraordinary claims (question #4). That becomes reduced to the question that the bet represents: “What would you do if someone you cared about really wanted you to show him/her a miracle?” In chapter 8, the Club talks it over:
It was Maggie-May who spoke first.
“He … he needs to see a miracle?”
Her astonishment and disapproval were clearly evident, and Vanessa
was too distressed to answer right away.
“Who can do that?” Maggie pressed. “You can’t just make them happen. They depend on God’s will and God’s … something else.” She waved her hands helplessly and turned to Photini. “What else do they depend on?”
Photini considered momentarily. “The grace of the Holy Spirit.”
“Yes!” agreed Maggie with gusto.
“And on being ready in some way,” mused Photini. “… Not godly, exactly. Sometimes miraculous things happen to people that we wouldn’t say are godly at all. Like Saint Mary of Egypt, who had led a terrible life. Or Saint Paul, who started out by persecuting Christians. God sees people differently than we do. Sometimes He sees that people are ready in some way that we don’t understand. Maybe James will turn out to be ready for a miracle?”
Maggie is the practical one, which makes her the most negative. The whole idea, really, is crazy. Abigail is excited because her finely-tuned antennae tell her that this is an opportunity that might have been heaven-sent. Photini — who can be judgmental where spiritual matters are concerned — is willing to consider the matter. And Xenia is already turning it over in her very logical mind as a kind of puzzle and problem.
I sort of love having the girls kick around a problem, because they all look at things so differently. In this case, Maggie kind of represents that reasonable part of myself that sometimes just wants the natural world to stay natural after all. Even as a Christian, I am not always willing to step outside what is understandable and comfortable.
But in the end, the girls are finally all on board to help Vanessa try to win the bet. And at that point, something interesting happens. When the talking and reasoning and puzzling is through — when she has disengaged from all that and just gone back to everyday things — Vanessa has another encounter with Mary, the strange woman from church. And again, this clear impression that there’s something going on with her, that there’s more to her than meets the eye. I think it’s all right to say, without much fear of giving away spoilers, that this person will be very important for Vanessa, if she wants to actually succeed with what she has undertaken.
Big things made small
In chapter 9, the problem begins to change from something totally vague to something more specific. The way forward appears to be one event that actually led to other events. Something that happened in the ’60s called The Miracle of the Geese, which inspired a movie in the ’80s called Swancall, which has led to a presentday annual Christian music concert called The Angel Wings Festival.
I apologize for how strange that all sounds. It’s a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine, and I hardly know myself why I needed all those moving parts. I think that it came from me thinking that if there ever really were a miraculous event that happened right in front of everyone, and were even caught on film, it would cause a very strange kind of ripple effect in our pop culture. I don’t think people would be able to process something like that, but they wouldn’t quite be able to forget it, either. Most likely, it would keep popping up from time to time with different layers of padding, as we tried to make peace with the dangerous idea that we don’t know our world as well as we think we do.
The ETC has begun to work out some things, and see a direction that they can go. It seems clear that that is going to take them back through this thread — the festival, the movie, and the film that started it all. And in case they were unsure what to tackle first, Xenia’s boisterous mother butts in and lets them know: They’re all coming over to watch Swancall.
On Thursday: Chapter 11: All about Swancall