We’re far enough along in Vanessa the Wonder-worker now that you can count on secrets being revealed more regularly. These two chapters get to the truth of things that have been going on since Vanessa’s first Tuesday night in the hallway. There are bigger revelations coming as well, and it seemed fitting to me that all of this fall on the fifth week of the Pascha season, since the Sunday reading is of the Man Born Blind.
In this case, there are two puzzles that get solved. In chapter 22, Abigail figures out — really quite cleverly, I thought — that Mary-Lily is actually not two first names but a first and last name. It’s just a theory of hers at this point (though I don’t think I’m giving anything away to say that she is on the right track). But knowing a person’s real name is important, and she and Maggie will find that it makes a big difference in figuring out some important things about Mary.
But Xenia’s intrepid resourcefulness also gains the Club an important discovery. At last, they know what James was talking about when he made the bet — why he mentioned Ascension Day and what it was that he had in mind. And it’s an ugly prank, of the type that we see much too much of on the internet. It took some work, but basically, Otto and James have done a little behavior modification exercise. When the snow geese hear the big finale of the song “Angel Wings,” they associate it with food that make them sick, and they throw up. Yuck.
The opposite of hope
It’s a disgusting image — I apologize for that. I was trying to imitate the kind of extremely crass humor that you see on the internet. That has come to be considered as the cutting edge of culture; these are the videos that get shared millions of times. But there is a vulgar and somewhat cruel side to it. James is probably right when he says that the video would go viral.
But I think he would have done it, even if it didn’t have the potential to bring a lot of traffic to a new website he built. It seems to me that lapsed believers (of Christianity or anything else worth believing in) are often bitter antagonists of what they once held dear. I think James sees an opportunity to put the last nail in the coffin of his faith. There’s the chance to make all the nicey-nice Christians look like fools, but the joke has a deeper meaning for him — one he reveals to Vanessa right at the end.
“It’s revolting and mean. And it’s a lie.”
“It’s not a lie,” James muttered angrily. They had come to the parking lot, and he was talking quieter than ever to avoid drawing attention to them.
“Okay, so we had to cheat a little,” James conceded. “But only so we could get at the truth.”
James faced her, more serious than she had ever seen him.
“That there is no Miracle of the Geese.”
Vanessa was so amazed she didn’t know what to say.
“That isn’t real, because none of it is real,” James continued. “I’m sorry, Vanessa. I know you say there are miracles, but there aren’t for me. And there aren’t for most of us. Swancall is just a stupid movie. And that film from the ’60s with the crazy girl singing was probably just a hoax or something.”
So there it is. James and Vanessa have both been on a journey. Vanessa’s has brought her to a place where she not only knows that miracles happen, but has met a miracle-worker. James, on the other hand, has found only emptiness and bitterness. He’s looking to sever the last tie with a belief in anything outside of the world, just in order to end his own disappointment and fit in more with the skeptics and atheists he has met in college.
Vanessa knows that he is wrong. But could she ever get him to believe her? What can possibly penetrate an armor-coating that thick? As we ask so often, this side of glory, how do we reach people for Christ if they have become hard-hearted? James wasn’t born blind, but at this point, he might as well have been.
I’m glad I get to end this sad chapter with a hint of something brighter. Another mention of something that happened to Vanessa when she was a child. We’re still not quite ready to hear what it was — another mystery! But at least, it gives glints of sunlight to an otherwise gloomy evening. As so often happens, hope comes along when it is needed most. And a little of it goes a long way.
Thursday: Chapter 24: Vanessa’s visitation