THE Hiding Places of God Hardcover – 31 Dec 1993
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
John's true life journey of discovery begins, like so many spiritual encounters do, with a vivid dream. While it is written from a Catholic perspective there is no black and white conclusions within these pages, no dogmatic statements of undeniable truth the reader is expected to embrace. It is an intelligently written, provocative and thought provoking quest for spiritual proof of the existence of the Divine and our understanding of the ultimate consequences of our personal belief system.
The book is divided into six parts, each part consisting of between four to six chapters;
Part One: Small Mysteries
Part Two: A Spiritual Disneyland
Part Three: Real Presences
Part Four: Wounds and Healing
Part Five: Saints, Angels and Prodigies
Part Six: Powers of Darkness
As in anything some chapters are more enthralling than others, I guess what chapters you gravitate to depend on what you are primarily interested in. My personal favorite two chapters are;
Chapter 13- "The Reluctant Prophetess" which contains an absolutely fascinating meeting with Conchita Gonzalez-Keena, the recluse Marian visionary of Garabandal, Spain.
Chapter 26- "Victim" containing one man's personal encounter with Satan.
Whatever spiritual persuasion you adhere to you'll enjoy and appreciate the honesty and candor of John Cornwall's experiences.
My Highest Recommendation!!
English literary scholar, biographer, journalist, and freelance writer John Cornwell has provided a thoughtful approach to the question of “miracles” in contemporary religion, including the possible relevance of parapsychological explanations, in “The Hiding Places of God: A Personal Journey into the World of Religious Visions, Holy Objects, and Miracles” (New York: Warner Books, 1991). Cornwell's “The Hiding Places of God” is a first-person investigation of "miracles" (mostly Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) around the world from a Jungian perspective, arguing against both scientific materialists and religious fundamentalists.
John Cornwell (1940-) is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, a former editorial staffer of “The Observer”, and the author of two novels, of a literary biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, of “A Thief in the Night: The Mysterious Death of John Paul I” (1989), an investigation into the rumors that the short-lived Pope John Paul I (1978) had been murdered, and of the highly controversial “Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII” (1999), alleging Pius’ pro-Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitic prejudices. He was a lapsed Catholic who studied for the priesthood in his teens in the 1950's, lost his faith in his late teens, left the seminary and became a professed agnostic. Then, in the 1980's, found his firm unbelief undermined when he experienced an eerie, prophetic religious dream that prompted him to reconsider his agnosticism and start a globe-trotting search for earthly signs of Divine--and demonic-- intervention. During a publishing business trip to a number of American cities, Cornwell had a recurrent nightly, uncannily vivid dream in which he met black-robed men on what looked like a college campus. He was mugged by a gang of teen-age thugs on a dark street near his hotel in New Orleans. Convinced he was going to die, made a desperate bargain, silently praying "God, please spare me and I'll believe in you!" He survived the mugging unhurt, but the very next day, lost on a strange road, Cornwell stopped at a picturesque location--and found himself stepping into the very setting of his recurrent dream, meeting the Benedictine monks of St. Louis Abbey on the pathway! The experience left Cornwell awed, perplexed, and obsessed with a need for explanations. It prompted him to start his world-wide journey in search of the miraculous and even the demonic.
Cornwell began with a visit to the Yugoslav town of Medjugorje (now in Bosnia and Herzegovina), where for years three local peasant children has supposedly conversed daily with the Virgin Mary. Just before leaving for Medjugorje, he happened to meet the eminent English Jesuit philosopher Frederick Copleston at London’s Jesuit house. On hearing of Cornwell's intention to visit Medjugorje, Fr. Copleston remarked that "the universal mystery of dependent or contingent being" was "something we can all ponder, irrespective of our religion or lack of it," and "you certainly won't have to go to Medjugorje to think about it" (p. 31). Listening to Fr. Richard Foley, S.J., an enthusiastic English Jesuit advocate of Medjugorje at the Jesuit house salaciously discussing nasty, supposedly sex-tinged intrigues among Yugoslav Catholic Medjugorie supporters and skeptics, Cornwell felt “vaguely uncomfortable,” finding “the austere talk of Father Copleston” on philosophy and theology “preferable to this sort of cranky gossip” (p. 32)
When Cornwell reached Medjugorje, he was repulsed by the commercialization of the phenomenon, with souvenir vendors and millions of tourists by the unending busload creating a tawdry, tacky, vulgar "veritable spiritual Disneyland" (p. 79). He was also troubled by the politicization of the visions by the local Croatian Catholic clergy in their feuds with the Eastern Orthodox Serbs and the Yugoslav Communist authorities. He deplored the "fundamentalist tendency at Medjugorje, with its authoritarian and exclusivist program based on primitive fear and propitiation," as "clearly at odds with the post-conciliar model of the Catholic Church, which had committed the faithful to a middle ground of pluralism." He felt that "nothing so strengthens a strident, fundamentalist agenda as apocalyptic revelation accompanied by evidence of the miraculous." (p. 78). The "principal means of manipulation out of Medjugorje," Cornwell thought, "involved the amplification of folk religious experience (the ancient Mediterranean tradition of local Marian apparitions) via the skillful use of publishing and the pilgrim-tourist business, into a species of designer pop-religion"(p. 78) However, he also found the sight of the children "speaking silently" to the invisible Virgin "truly astonishing," with one girl's eyes seeming to "shine with an unearthly light."
On subsequent journeys, Cornwell visited Dublin, Rome, Naples, Sicily, Montréal, Toronto, and even Queens and the Bronx slums in search of the miraculous. Tracking down Conchita González, the young Spanish peasant girl who as one of a group of visionary village children had supposedly received a prophecy from the Virgin Mary in the Spanish village of Garabandal in the 1960's, Cornwell visited a somewhat weary and reticent Conchita in her present-day quiet publicity-shy happily married American adult obscurity in a modest Queens home where she shunned any probing into her past rôle as a religious celebrity. In Toronto, he interviewed Josyp Terelya, an exiled Ukrainian nationalist activist and religious zealot who had been one of the visionaries of a series of appearances of the Virgin Mary to Ukrainian Catholics in Hrushiw, Ukraine, in the late 1980's. He found himself "both suspicious of and disturbed by" Terelya's "highly combustible blend of dubious mysticism and fanaticism" mixing Ukrainian ethnic nationalism with Ukrainian Catholic sectarian particularism. It was a blend of religion and politics Cornwell saw as "ominous" against the "background of burgeoning ethnic and religious rivalries in Eastern Europe." Terelya seemed to be “playing an extremely dangerous game" amidst those religio-ethnic rivalries, "with all the violent potential of Beirut" (pp. 117-118).
Cornwell was variously awed, perplexed, troubled, and intrigued by many other "miracles" he investigated on his travels. He personally saw the wounds of Georgette Fanielle, an elderly French Canadian recluse in Montreal with Christ's stigmata on her wrists and feet. He met Briege McKenna, a Dublin nun with an apparent gift of healing. He checked out the miraculous self-liquefaction of the dried blood of St. Januarius (San Gennaro) in the cathedral at Naples. He saw the devotion inspired by the alleged miracles of the 20th century Italian parish priest and mystic Padre Pio (including stigmata, healing, and bilocation). He investigated the legends of assorted 17th and 18th century Italian saints, mystics, visionaries, and wonder-workers (such as the "flying monk" Joseph of Copertino, a famous alleged levitator). He checked out the Black African Archbishop Emanuel Milingo from Mozambique who conducted voodoo-style exorcisms in the Vatican. He investigated a statue of the Virgin Mary in Siracusa, Sicily, that had shed tears in the early 1950's, mentioning some similar cases of weeping or bleeding pictures and statues. Cornwell was rather turned off not only by the commercial exploitation of many "miracles," visionaries, pilgrimage sites, etc., as "spiritual Disneylands," but also by the politicization of many of the miracles by clergy and Church bureaucrats eager to score ideological points off agnostics, freethinkers, Protestants, rival Christian sects, Communists, liberals, etc., and by the tendency of many clergy and popular religious writers to use allege miracles as "proof" or "evidence" of the truth of their theology and of the error of unbelievers, heretics, and more broad-minded Christians with a less dogmatic, absolutist, apocalyptic "spin" on Christian belief and Christian morality.
"At the very second" that seeming empirical "evidence" of the "miracle" of the liquefaction of San Gennaro's dried blood was "presented incontrovertibly" before Cornwell's eyes in Naples Cathedral, he "could only wonder" whether he was "observing an exhibition of magic, a clever material trick developed by some smart aleck in the fourteenth century and surviving to the present day" (p. 242). And, even if he indeed "were witnessing a marvelous manifestation of God's intervention," the "significance," it seemed, had "less to do with God's mercy, his action in the world, than with procurable and primitive emotions of superstition, propitiation, and manipulation" (p. 242). Witnessing Mozambiquean Archbishop Emanuel Milingo's African-style exorcisms in the Vatican "reinforced" Cornwell's "view" that "Milingo's cosmology of demons against the powers of light encouraged a dualistic, fundamentalist approach to the world" ( p. 262). If "every misfortune in life," Cornwell felt, "from a lost purse to the measles," could be "put down to the presence and activity of demons," then "there was little room for alternative interpretations of the world's ills." In the meantime, for Cornwell, "routine public exorcisms and sprinklings with holy water only served to strengthen the view that fear and the powers of darkness hold the center stage of life, rather than the love and mercy of God" (p. 262).
An unexpected meeting in Rome with Irish visionary nun and healer Briege McKenna, whom he had visited and interviewed in Dublin, reminded Cornwell that he had "heard it said that people who are getting close to religious experience begin to encounter peculiar coincidences fast and thick" (p. 174). Carl Gustav Jung and Arthur Koestler, he noted, were "so astonished by the incontrovertible proliferation of such ‘synchronicities' in some people's lives that they speculated that there might be some sort of quantum theory explanation" (p. 174).
Cornwell sought psychological, physiological, or, at most, parapsychological, explanations for the miracles he investigated. He yet also found himself profoundly moved by the "symbolic" power of these "miracles." He declared that the significance of "prodigies" lies not in whether they offer "supernatural 'evidence,'" but in their power as living "symbols" of the "religious imagination." The allegedly levitating "flying monk" Joseph of Cupertino (1603-1663) may just have been an excellent acrobat like some modern ballet dancers (pp. 226- 227). Many late-mediaeval and 17th century Italian visionaries may experienced "altered states of consciousness" under the influence of herbs habitually added by famine-struck Italian peasants to their flour and bread in those days, like ergot, darnel, and hemp-seed (pp, 227- 228). This recalls Claremont Graduate School philosopher David Ray Griffin mentioning the conversion of Leibniz's noble patron Duke John Frederick of Lüneburg and Hanover to Catholicism as a result of seeing some of Joseph's levitations. Griffin wondered how the intellectual, cultural, and religious history of Europe might have turned out if Duke John Frederick had instead happened to hear of and witness a similar miracle among Hindus in India!
Speaking of healing miracles, Cornwell suggested that if there are indeed such things as miracles of healing, he felt that "something more gentle and subtle was at work than counters to be used in religious polemic" or "crude attempts to force the skeptical into submission" through "evidence" and "proofs" (p. 184). He felt that "before they could be fully understood, miracles of healing, perhaps like apparitions, must be "read," almost as one would ponder the meaning of a poem, a narrative, or play" (p. 190). The "more one concentrated merely on the power, the proof, the manipulation and the magic, the more one scrutinized the purely medical and scientific data," he believed, "the less one was capable of understanding the spiritual implications" (p. 190). Cornwell pointed out that we still in fact know very little about the possibly quite extraordinary further reaches of psychosomatics, the autonomic and immune systems, the control of pain and spontaneous remissions, endorphins, etc. Thus, mere "inexplicability" in terms of current medical knowledge was question-begging, that quite possibly a lot of quite remarkable "cures" or "healings" might ultimately have a quite "natural" explanation (p. 190). Cornwell criticized the churches'"attempt to institutionalize the quality of 'inexplicability'" in miracles, which he felt "smacked too much of magic as opposed to *mystery*."(p. 191).
It is enough and significant, Cornwell felt, that "the cure should be unusual, surprising, or mysterious" even if not strictly inexplicable, that "the cure follows prayer or religious ritual," as "it is the context, the narrative of the cure that matters" rather than its literal absolute strict inexplicability in terms of existing orthodox medical, physiological, psychological, and psychosomatic-medicinal knowledge (191-192). Cornwell confessed that he "could not see, from a believer's point of view, why there should be any contradiction involved in grace or spirituality building on natural processes," but, he sadly admitted, "this does not satisfy the literalists who condemn such an approach as 'subjectivist' and 'rationalist'" (p. 192). The "more one puts limits and rigorous criteria on the meaning of miracles, or apparitions, or any of the other physical phenomena of mysticism," in the manner of Catholic Church bureaucrats and theologians trying to set up "scientific" criteria for incontrovertibly, undebunkably "inexplicable" miracles that would unanswerably over-awe atheists, agnostics, skeptics, freethinkers, Protestants, Communists, liberals, abortionists, birth-controllers, family-planners, feminists, gays, and non-supporters of the Religious Right, "the more, it seemed to me [Cornwell], the value-laden, nonmaterialistic significance of these events seems to recede and elude us" (p. 192).
Cornwell's "reluctance" to be "impressed" by "weeping Madonna" stories "stemmed" from his "unhappiness about the implications" (p. 286). It seemed a "crude, unaesthetic exhibition," and to "focus merely on the lack of explanation" was to "put the phenomenon within the realm of magic, and at the mercy of some scientific explanation in the future." What, he wondered, "would be the purpose of such a miracle? To demonstrate the power, the legitimacy of the cult which had laid claim to it?" (p. 286). If he "heard of a Hindu or a Buddhist statue that wept," he asked (pp. 286-287), would he "immediately accept that it lent credence to Hinduism or Buddhism?" He "rather" thought that he "would not". In fact, he would "tend to be annoyed that somebody should attempt to offer ‘evidence' for a creed or philosophy of the supernatural in this way" (p. 287). This, of course, recalls David Ray Griffin's wondering about how the intellectual, cultural, and religious history of early modern Europe might have turned out if Leibniz's patron the Catholic convert Duke John Frederick had happened to investigate a Hindu miracle comparable to St. Joseph of Cupertino's levitations!
Discussing supposedly "miraculous" cures and healings like those at Lourdes, even if declared "inexplicable" by doctors, Cornwell felt that "such ‘evidence' can be extremely annoying for those who have set their minds against the possibility of divine intervention of this sort and who associate such ‘proofs' with crude attempts to force the skeptical into submission" (p. 184)
In his conclusion, Cornwell argued that "a crucial key to understanding the nature of popular, or folk, mysticism involves an acknowledgement of the power of the imagination," and that "through a deeper understanding of the nature of imagination, both artistic and religious, we may reclaim a wide range of religious experience from scientific debunking and religious fundamentalism" (p. 291). He wishes to "elevate religious imagination above superficial fantasy and make-believe on the one hand, and fundamentalist magic on the other," opposing "imagination" to "fantasy" as "disinterested originality and creativity" versus "shallow, vicarious figments of hallucination and ego-centered daydreaming" (p. 291). He approvingly cited Samuel Taylor Coleridge's definition of imagination as a shaping power that "dissolves, diffuses, dissipates in order to recreate," extending our consciousness by providing a new unity to our perceptions, in an "echo" of the imagination of God Himself in his "eternal creation." (p. 291). Cornwell interpreted Coleridge as suggesting that we can perceive God's action in the world through language, images, nature, and human relationships, that God is to be apprehended "not as an object competing for our attention with other objects in, or outside, the world, but wherever the imagination expresses itself in the opening up of the human heart." In this way, he interpreted Coleridge as saying, we can discover "transcendence" in "the incidents and situations of common life" (p. 291).
Religious symbolism, for Cornwell, is "not so much true or false, accurate nor inaccurate, nor is it amenable to any of the measurements we would bring to material phenomena"--rather, symbols are "weak or strong, depending on the extent to which they participate in the reality they exemplify" (p. 292). Symbolism "yields not to probing and measurement, but to sensitivity, tact, and acquiescence." (p. 292). Imagination and symbolism play "a crucial role in many forms of religious practice and experience; in the reading of scripture, in prayer, in acts of faith, in liturgy; and in the highest mystical states" (p. 292).
In "the milieu of popular mysticism, however," Cornwell conceded, "there is a tendency to ignore the role of the imagination and to emphasize literalism" (p. 292). Still, he felt, in the context of Marian apparitions, prophecies, healing miracles, etc., we "surely should be prepared to interpret the externalization of the phenomena--the reported images, the iconography, the narrative and theatrical elements--as forms of interior and transcendental truth rather than as concrete descriptions," so that our "intention should be to *understand*, as we would understand a poem or a piece of music, rather than to *explain* and *control*" (p. 292). The Medjugorje and Garabandal apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Yugoslav or Spanish peasant children are "unfolding stories in the context of the folk religion of Mediterranean communities," stories "about the motherhood of God, the caring presence of her mediation, her assent to God exemplified in the gospel of Luke" (p. 292). Such apparitions "could be said to be the language, the theater, the liturgy of folk mysticism, the authentic imaginative perceptions of people steeped in traditions of local spirituality." (p. 292). Fundamentalists, Cornwell noted, would naturally ask: "What of the *reality* of Mary's presence? Is she *really* present in a spatio-temporal sense? And if she is not, how are we to distinguish genuine apparitions from make-believe?" (pp. 292-293).
Such questioning, however, Cornwell felt, showed "a lack of trust in the authenticity of the religious imagination of the child seers, as well as a lack of confidence in the discernment of those pilgrims who have made their journeys and experienced what they believe to be a sense of God's amnesty and mercy." (p. 293). This, Cornwell felt, is "not to evade the central question, for at the heart of mystical experience, poetic or religious, there seems to lie a deeply felt impression of *real presence* that goes beyond superficial literalness," a sense of real presence that, quoting and following Thomas Merton in a letter to Aldous Huxley on true and false mysticism, he defined as "a direct spiritual contact of two liberties, a kind of flash or spark which ignites an intuition," which "is not the kind of intuition that smacks of anything procurable" as it "is a presence of a Person and *depends on the liberty of that Person."* (p. 293).
The Medjugorje, Garabandal, Lourdes, and Fátima apparitions of the Virgin Mary, in Cornwell's view (p. 293), may well involve such a "contact of two liberties" between a child visionary and the Virgin Mary (whose presence, in Catholic understanding, is rooted in *God's* presence). He felt that "to interpret the narrative and theater of her visitations as *symbolic*, rather than literal (in a procurable, spatio-temporal, concrete sense) is to enhance that presence rather than to diminish it" (p. 293). This argument, he believed, could be “extended” to many “experiential phenomena" like "visions, divine healing, religious dreams, stigmata, prophecy, even, alas, in a negative and antagonistic sense, oppression and encounters with the so-called powers of darkness" (p. 293).
Seers, mystics, stigmatics, healers, and religious dreamers, for Cornwell, were "special people, artists of the popular religious imagination, endowed with a more than usual sensitivity to the rhythms and archetypes of the transcendental, who are capable of perceiving a sense of the presence and love of God in vivid images and even physical symptoms," who "may apprehend, exert a mastery over unconscious archetypes (in a Jungian sense) and the physical workings of the body's autonomic and neuronal systems" (p. 294). They were"not magicians, nor do they exert power in a dualistic realm of matter versus spirit." Rather, they "inhabit *our* world of flesh and blood and people and human relationships, and work through *them*." (p. 294). Cornwell then concluded:
<<The principal opposition for such a view will come not from scientists, nor even from theologians, but from the religious fundamentalists who seek to subject "supernatural" encounters to management, exclusive ownership, and manipulation. For the fundamentalist, the religious imagination is too inclusive, too open to religious pluralism, too liberal, too available to rival denominations and religions, and even to agnostics and atheists. It may come in various guises and in various degrees: through love; through poetry, music, art; through nature; through compassion for those who suffer or who are in need; through scripture, prayer, and ritual. For some it may take the prodigies of folk mysticism to kindle, or rekindle, the jaded religious imagination.>>
<<The awakening of religious imagination does indeed open the transcendental to all, for it is surely part of what it means to be fully human.>>(p. 294).
are the two best spiritual books I have read in years!