A Mountain To Climb Chapter 8: Involved

We last left off with Pearl about to have an operation to remove her leg. She school principal is in on it, one of the teachers knew about it before Pearl did, and now the whole school is about to find out.

That Sunday evening the teachers and students held a joint worship. Since the students usually had separate worship periods–the women in their dorm and the men in theirs–these students sensed that something serious was about to happen.

I can’t speak for Adventist colleges, but Adventist Academy in my day was exactly the same way.

We are told that a “Professor Smith” gets up and tells the students exactly what is going on with Pearl. I guess he’s the school principal, because he tells the students that

“This morning Mrs. Lindsay and I gave permission for the doctors to amputate her left leg at the knee. Gangrene has set in and will kill her if the leg isn’t amputated.”

Why did the doctors need your permission? Is this a sexist thing? Did the doctors need a man to sign the papers? There’s just no other reason I can think of for the school principal to be involved.

We are told that the surgery is scheduled for 11am on Tuesday. It’s currently Sunday night. If the operation is so necessary for saving Pearl’s life, why the delay? When I needed emergency life saving surgery, there was debate on whether or not they even wanted to wait 12 hours for me to digest my french fries. They did not make me wait two whole frickin days.

There’s some talk among the students, and Arthur Ward comes onto the stage to talk.

“Teachers and fellow students, a few of us have a plan. We’ve pledged that we will not eat, work, or attend classes until we have the assurance that God has heard and answered our prayers in Pearl’s behalf. That is, if the teachers are willing.”

I have had a similar experience to that of these students. One day, in an assembly, we were told that we were going to have a day dedicated to prayer and fasting for J, a student at our school who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. (Unfortunately, however, we did not get excused from work and classes.) Like these students, we were praying for a miracle. Did we get it? Maybe I’ll do a blog post on it sometime, if there’s interest. The main thing to note about this is that assemblies like this happen at Adventist academies. They happened to us. To J.

But this is Pearl’s story, not J’s. All the teachers readily agree with Arthur, so Professor Smith gives the students permission. All the students and teachers agree to join Arthur and his friends in praying and fasting for Pearl.

Which is a nice gesture… as an atheist Even as a Christian I usually found prayer to be a way of pretending (to yourself, not necessarily to other people) to do something when you’re actually doing nothing. But not all situations are identical, and in a situation like this, where there really isn’t anything you can do personally, I can understand why a Christian would pray like the devil himself was after them. Even though I don’t believe prayer actually does anything, I think it’s a nice gesture.

Professor Smith takes Arthur Ward to his office and asks Arthur to explain his plan.

“We want to form a chain prayer band in each dormitory tonight. That is, someone praying all night. When one room is finished, they could notify the next room, and so on until all who care to join have opportunity. Then the cycle will start over. That way the students would get some sleep. Then tomorrow we could form regular small bands for prayer. We could pray and study and search our hearts all day. Tomorrow night the chain cycle would start again, and Tuesday regular prayer bands. That way, between now and 11 o’clock on Tuesday someone would be praying all the time.

This is not how it was done at my academy, but set that aside. Essentially, Arthur is asking to have a day and a half off from school to do….well, a whole lot of nothing. No matter how sincere they all are, they can’t just cancel classes like that. It would be very easy to set up something like what Arthur is describing without canceling classes. Our academy managed.

It also doesn’t really portray that great an image of God. The implication is that they want round the clock prayer for Pearl… because otherwise God won’t listen?

And then he says this:

“We don’t believe it is in God’s plan for Pearl to be a cripple for the rest of her life.” Arthur paused.

I get that disability would have been viewed very differently in the 1930s… but seriously?

You know what, set that aside. This bothers me for another reason. Arthur, here, presumes to know what God’s plan is. Even as a Christian, while you can be reasonably sure you know what God’s plan for you is, you can not in good conscience say that you know God’s plan for someone else. YMMV, I think this comes across as arrogant.

It bothers me for another reason: If it isn’t in God’s plan for Pearl to lose a leg, then Pearl isn’t going to lose her leg, and all your praying won’t have any effect on it. By saying that you’re sure you know what God’s plan is, you’re pretty much admitting that all your prayers are useless.

And what if it is in God’s plan for Pearl to lose a leg? Then what? Are you going to have a crisis of faith? I’m not saying she is going to lose her leg, but I think that Arthur as a character needs to prepare himself for that eventuality.

The principal disagrees with me. He thinks that this is a brilliant plan, completely ignoring the fact that, logically, if it is not in God’s plan for Pearl to lose her leg, then there is no need to beg him to heal Pearl, because that is already going to happen.

In any case, Arthur explains all of this to the student body, saying:

“We want this to be at time of heart searching to be sure that everything is right between us and God. Then He will be able to hear and answer our petition.”

There’s this belief in Adventism that, if you have some sin you’re holding onto, that God won’t answer your prayer. So, you don’t believe it’s God’s will for Pearl to lose a leg, but God might allow Pearl to lose a leg just because someone prayed for Pearl not to lose her leg but had some secret sin they forgot to confess….

My brain hurts. I give up. Just accept that this concept exists, ok?

I do not remember this concept being brought up on the day of prayer and fasting for J, for what it’s worth. At no point did I ever feel like I was going to kill J if I didn’t confess something.

So the prayer chain starts with Florence. Florence reads Psalm 139:23 and 24.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:

24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Florence then says they should take a few minutes to pray and search their hearts for any, um, wicked way.
After they each silently pray individually, Florence starts talking again:
Remember that we’re looking for a miracle. We want the Lord to save Pearl’s leg if it could be His will. But we must  pray for His will to be done.
You hear this a lot in Adventist prayer circles. Nobody ever asks what would happen if, say, it was in God’s will that Pearl lose a leg, but then Satan intervened and she doesn’t lose a leg. Does that make Satan the good guy? Adventists would abhor that logic, but it does fit with this thing about praying for a miracle to be done, but only if it’s God’s will.
This way of thinking also gives you a  bit of a loophole that I never understood how to close: If we are praying for a miracle, but only if it’s God’s will, then it was clearly not in God’s will for a miracle to occur. And yet, you are also supposed to pray with complete faith, or you will not get a miracle. Just a smidgen of doubt is enough for you to not get your miracle. But of course you have a smidgen of doubt, because it might not be in God’s will.
It’s all very confusing and as a Christian I found it best not to think about it for too long.

 

We are told that this continued all night and straight on till morning, where they move the prayer groups to the river.

Toward noon Edith began to cry. “I must go and see Professor Hamilton,” she blurted out. “I cheated in one of his classes, and I don’t want to be the cause of God not hearing our prayers. I’ll be back.”

The author is presenting this as a good thing. I…. am not sure. don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Ethel confesses…. but I don’t like the fact that Edith confesses to the teacher because she is scared that if she doesn’t, God will kill her friend or cause her friend to lose her leg. That feels like some serious emotional blackmail. But I dislike this for a more important reason: Edith is not confessing to the teacher because she believes cheating is wrong. Edith is confessing because she is afraid of what God will do if she doesn’t. That is not morality.If that is your system of morality, you’re doing it wrong.

We are not told the outcome of this conversation. In some schools you can get expelled for this sort of thing. We are only told that Edith returned after a while and continued praying.

I can see why the author wouldn’t have wanted to go on eleventy billion tangents on what exactly each character did and the outcome –assuming that she herself even knew, but this still feels incomplete to me. I think this is one part where the book suffers from being a work of creative non fiction. Because if it was fiction, one might be allowed to have, Rosalind or Florence be the cheater. We have seen quite a bit of Rosalind and Florence so far, and it would give the author an opportunity for character development. But because this isn’t completely a work of fiction, Edith appears–and that’s the last we see of her.

We are then told that the men are praying in the hills near the school –because men praying with ladies is a sin? I guess?

Tuesday morning the boys again sought the hills, and the girls the river. Not much longer until zero hour.

The chapter ends here. Credit where credit is due: this was a really boring chapter. All that happened was that the students prayed for Pearl around the clock. And yet the author somehow manages to make it sound interesting.

If Ms. Maxson hadn’t been stuck on Planet Adventist, what might she have become? Would she have written a decent work of fiction? We don’t know. We never will. Oh how much potential this wretched church has stolen!

 

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