- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

I’ve long been perplexed with the problem of unanswered prayer, so I was intrigued to hear of a book recounting prayers that God did answer.

When CNN correspondent Jennifer Skiff found herself miraculously healed of bone-marrow cancer at the age of 32, she began collecting stories of people who, like her, had received proof that God exists.

It had to be a definable moment or incident that could not ordinarily have taken place without divine intervention. She was open to hearing from anyone, no matter their religion or lack thereof. Stories began to pour in and her book, “God Stories,” was published Nov. 11. Eight weeks after its release, it was in its sixth printing. A television series based on the book is in the making.

What stood out about the anecdotes is that many of the writers weren’t particularly virtuous or deserving. Many were in a crisis and seeking God, but others were just plodding along when an epiphany hit them.

“You don’t have to be involved with a church to hear from God,” the author, now 47, told me when I called her in Australia (her second home) last weekend. “You don’t have to be a specific religion to have an experience of God or the divine.”

“God Stories” is very 21st century in that it shies away from anything absolute, as in set doctrines of belief, instead relying on pure nuggets of experience. There are lots of inspirational tales of people delivered from car accidents, failed marriages, suicides and all manner of illnesses. It has the same wondrous quality I’ve seen in books about angelic visitations.

“Basically, they’re testimonies,” Miss Skiff said. “Christians have been doing this for years. All I am doing is introducing this to the mainstream market.” She added she is a Christian “who thinks Jesus Christ is a really cool dude.”

What is it underlying the popularity of books like this — and media phenomena like Scottish soprano Susan Boyle, whose soaring performance on “Britain’s Got Talent” have landed her millions of Internet hits and legions of fans who watch her over and over?

Why do many of us weep a bucketful of tears as we watch her? Is it hope? Is it beauty? Is it some childhood hurt that never was assuaged? Is it the victory over rejection for all us plain Janes?

There’s so much human longing there. If I could only bottle Miss Boyle’s invincible spirit and the scent of God’s graciousness in “God Stories,” I’d be set for life. Both have that indefinable something people long for in this violent and tragic age that is open to the common person who seeks God but doesn’t feel worthy to approach Him.

So many of us feel like failures in the way we barely make it through each day, and it’s not news that for the most part, we’ll never measure up to greatness. So when we see one of us rise up from the mud and shine — or perceive a hand from heaven extended our way and our desperate prayers unexpectedly answered — we flock toward news of this light like rain-drenched creatures to a warm fire.

No conditions are attached to our coming and resting there. People don’t want to be judged or found lacking, Miss Skiff told me. They don’t want to be defined as religious, but spiritual. The idea of rules and obligations; the scent of “religion” repels these lost multitudes. But the scent of grace does not.

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at jduin@washingtontimes.com.

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