Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Review of Powers of Darkness, Powers of Light by John Cornwell

I chanced upon this book during a casual stroll through the Tanglin Club library. That place is a treasure trove of literary marvels, I tell you. :)

Written by a former editorial staff on London's Observer, this non-fiction novel traces his journey across Europe in a quest to validate and debunk religious miracles.

Although the first few chapters start off slowly, the patient reader will be rewarded for his/her effort, as they provide important information on the writer's background, most notably his 8 years spent at a seminary, before becoming disillusioned and moving on to more - shall we say - realistic endeavours.

By Chapter 6, the book goes into full swing, as Cornwell takes a year of unpaid leave and embarks on his soul-searching trip, which sends him to far-flung villages in secluded mountains. He travels through Yugoslavia, Spain, Canada, Italy and Ireland, meeting a slew of controversial figures and becoming somewhat embroiled in political conflicts.

Each reader will find something to strike his/her fancy. For me, it was Cornwell's detailed descriptions of the visionaries' raptures and ecstasies, which are bizarre at best and super-creepy at worst. Although what he witnesses is far from blood-curdling ( staring into space, strangely synchronized silent chanting ), the first-, second-, or even third-hand accounts from those who claim to have seen these unexplained phenomena are guaranteed to cause a few hairs to stand on end.

For example, there're widespread reports of ecstatic children running backwards, on their knees, down rocky hillsides.
Some levitate until they hit the ceiling, and others become impossibly heavy and immovable, only to return to normal once the rapture concludes.

Cornwell dutifully records these stories, but remains unaffected spiritually. And while I agree with some of his opinions, I also found his consistent disbelief a little odd. Even I, a self-proclaimed major cynic, have my soft moments. :)

My favourite chapter is Dinner With Briege, where the author discusses the concept of miraculous healing with Sister Briege McKenna, an Irish nun renowned for restoring health in even the most terminal of cases. Here's a passage from their conversation:

" We often act as if we can manipulate God into doing what we want him to do - by saying the right words, or making promises, or having sufficient faith. But God teaches us through prayer that he doesn't do anything to suit us. In prayer and through prayer we change to fit into God's will.

...whenever we can say yes to God, we will never be hurt. He is a God of love and you should never put limitations on him. It is only in our resistance and pulling away and saying no to God that we get hurt."

This principle is probably the strongest foundation of Christian belief ( I'm not differentiating between Catholicism and Christianity here ), and I'm aware of many who struggle with it on a daily basis ( my mother being one of them ). Of course, I've never been in the hot seat - i.e. being struck by long-term illness myself - and I sincerely hope I'm never thrust into such a position. But I'm a fan of the Bible's Chapter of Job, with its famous verse "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away". Ultimately, it all boils down to an issue of trust ( and I disagree with those who maintain that such a relationship with God is "child-like"; if anything, it requires maturity, not blind acceptance ).

The last section titled Powers Of Darkness fell short of my expectations, but I suppose Cornwell had his reasons for keeping this bit brief. It is, however, no less disturbing, with reports of rampant Satanism throughout the world going unchecked. A firsthand account of a cult ritual is absolutely blood-curdling. Beware of the morning 4 o'clock hour, brrrr.

I had a personal encounter which I can only attribute to a paranormal origin when I was 7 years old. I'll spare you the specifics, but in short, it occurred at home in a bedroom, and involved a disembodied voice calling my name. I still remember it vividly to this day, and have no idea how I managed to stay in that house for the next 20 years without further incident. Maybe that crucifix hanging next to my bed worked after all.

I'm returning this book tomorrow, so if you're a TC member, go look for it. :)

No comments: