She is motionless with swarms of hopeful believers waiting patiently nearby. Beads of blood and oil fall from the cheeks of Christian figurines while she lay in an unknown place where some say miracles can happen. She is a 15-year-old Worcester, Mass. resident from whom thousands seek to test their faith. Audrey Santo is a miracle worker, some have said. What bells go off at this statement? Beware-rejoice?
It is believed a girl who cannot speak and lies in a 12-year coma has come to cure our ailing. We have stumbled onto a land of tightrope walkers balancing on threads of moral judgment and individual faith. How should we take this sort of news? Do we give this kid the benefit of the doubt or do we ring the BS bell for all naive souls to hear? We should speak up against the exploitation of an innocent girl. After all, we are the level-headed youth of modern reality, right? We have corrected the misconceptions of generations before us. None of us actually believe in ghosts or demons or the healing hand of God working through crippled teenagers. We box these away with myths and legends, alongside firebreathing dragons and the Easter Bunny. Sure we accept them into our reason, but only as metaphors for intangible concepts we yearn to make more real. They solidify elusive abstractions like love, evil, compassion, and hope. None of it is really real, is it?
The Catholic Church doesn't think this girl can be classified as a bonafide miracle worker. The local Bishop Reverend Daniel Reilly among others so concluded. The Church appears less concerned with the actual existence of a blessed child passing out miracle candy from the depths of comatose. It is worried about image and the preservation of its prestige and security. As it should be. It has been forced, in modern times, into competition as just another brand name fighting for a following. It is no longer the one true word of God for the masses. Religion has to face billboard slogans, Hollywood sex scandals and Bill Gates. One slip and it could be pigeonholed alongside Jerry Springer, the Heavens Gate Cult and the latest McDeal. But this phenomenon touches something more basic than religious upheaval. It challenges how we choose to believe, let's say, the projection of light from a garbage can could be an omen from the Virgin Mary, or, on occasion, statues may weep the blood of Christ. Should we refuse to believe because we cannot be certain of truth or should we embrace belief because we cannot be certain of falsity? The latter makes for a much more enlightened existence.
Let's say none of it is true. Are we ashamed that some of fellow humans are running around believing in unicorns and pixy dust? Perhaps they are ignorant, foolish, naive or delusional. True healing may spawn from the power of heightened spirits and the faith that things will get better. What has been hurt save our rigid linear egos? The dilemma is not so much over truth as it is over when the benefits of hope and faith give way to the immorality of exploitation.
When does it become wrong to believe in this girl's gift? Is it when the miracles become too ridiculous to swallow? Is it when they indoctrinate too many people or when they cause harm or suffering or humiliation? Is it when they damage the church? How about when it challenges our beliefs or evokes some stereotyped conception in our minds? A conjured image of the evangelist shyster out to squeeze your dignity and faith for a buck. We must cast out religion marked with the Jimmy Swaggert brand.
Maybe we are all unconscious members of some flat-earth society, clinging to safe reason against an outlandish claim of supernatural energy running around curing cancer and repairing spinal injuries. Years from now our grandchildren will chuckle at our ignorance over how we could have ever doubted the existence of this quark of healing matter. Or perhaps they will chuckle in embarrassment at our silly grasping at invisible straws. Our own burning of witches. Likely they will continue to inhale the sweat fragrance of shadowed hope. They will hold the calming peace of faith in their hands and carry it into the night.
As for young silent Audrey; she sleeps outside the doubt and confusion while thousands long for a peak at her slumber.