Writer Helen Garner, talking about a difficult time in her life, described a feeling that there was a column of darkness behind her, ‘of tremendous but benign force’, waiting for her to turn around and acknowledge it. She never did, she said because she believed that if she did so she would have had to go down on her knees to it. She recounted her experience to writer Tim Winton who said he believed the presence she described was the Holy Spirit.
Journalist and author Greg Sheridan once recounted seeing in a chapel at the foot of the altar a woman in radiant white robes, kneeling in prayer.
On October 13 1917, Avelino de Almeida, Editor in Chief of Lisbon’s secular daily newspaper O Seculo (The Century), was in Fatima to investigate the reports of three shepherd children who had claimed that Mary had told them she would perform a miracle on that day.
De Almeida described to his readers what he saw that day. “The sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the people.”
People of faith have confidence that God is with them throughout life in all its joys and sorrows, close, comforting, encouraging. Faith is not a belief in a fairy-tale, clung to naively to make death more palatable. That would be a self-deception, incapable of providing comforting. Rather, faith is a rock-solid trust in a real and present God.
To those without faith though it might well seem like a fantasy, that people trust what cannot be seen or listen for something that lies beyond the noise that surrounds us. How does one bridge the gap between the two groups?
The strange, supernatural experiences referred to above are but a smattering of those reported. For some, they will provide a tangible starting point for investigation. Why are people saying they see Mary in the world or feel a presence and understand intuitively that it is well meaning and deserving of reverence? How were shepherd children able to announce to sceptics in advance a date upon which something inexplicable would occur?
Such supernatural experiences should be examined, with all the logic that humankind can muster to see if they are explicable by reason alone. If they are not explicable in that way, what follows? The pandemic has shown us that the things we usually put our faith in, jobs, money, structures, order, can disappear quickly. Now is maybe the time to start talking about God.
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