Magnify the supernatural

detail It’s one thing to rip a routine or bad story. It’s another to criticize an excellent story with one flaw. The exercise can seem, and perhaps often is, pedantic. So if the criticism is to be convincing, it better be valid.

With this proviso in mind, I bring to your attention a Baltimore Sun story about former Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett.

Everett was paralyzed after suffering a life-threatening spinal cord injury in a football game last year, but he recovered, to the point that he can do most any physical activity except play professional football again. His recovery has been called a miracle. Sun columnist Rick Maese, to his credit, wrestles with the nature of miracles.

I ask him what he thinks a miracle is.

“A blessing, a gift from God,” he says.

… [T]oday, six months later, he walks. A miracle man. Those aren’t my words. That’s what Oprah Winfrey called him on her show last month. I don’t know what a miracle is. Is it something that defies reason? Or merely explanation?

Maese’s questions suggest he is open to a supernatural explanation. Indeed, Maese asks Everett the right follow-up query:

Can Everett credit both God and doctors? Is the fact that he walks today a miracle of faith or a miracle of science?

“Both,” Everett says.

In the following paragraph, Maese reveals that Everett is no dumb jock; he’s a man of uncommon honesty, openness, and wisdom.

What continually impresses me is Everett’s demeanor. There’s not a hint of remorse or regret. At 26, he essentially had spent a lifetime preparing for one thing: to play football. Now, as he is starting over, he refuses to allow his story to become one of despair or disappointment.

I tell Wiande Moore, Everett’s college sweetheart, that I’m simply amazed at the upbeat attitude Everett and everyone around him has maintained. There must have been some bad days in there, though.

“No, not really,” she says. “We just stayed positive.”

Everett interrupts. “Let’s quit with the lies,” he says. “I was sad, depressed. I couldn’t go on …

At this point, Maese’s story was promising indeed. He asked Everett about his faith; was open to the possibility of a supernatural explanation; and revealed Everett’s character. Few stories achieve that trifecta.

But after this point, the story disappointed somewhat. Maese failed to probe Everett’s explanation of God’s role in his recovery. Instead of detailing Everett’s supernatural rationale, he kept it general. Here are a few questions that Maese might have asked Everett: Why do you believe that God played a role? How, exactly, did God play a role? Did you pray to Him for His help?

Those questions are — pardon the pun — completely in bounds. Watch the video of Everett’s injury. After he is paralyzed, players from both teams met in the middle of the field and began to pray; a couple of players even sprinted there. Doesn’t Everett think that their prayers helped?

I don’t make this point lightly. A decade ago, a Roman Catholic priest in Baltimore was stricken with a debilitating heart problem. But he prayed every day to then Blessed Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun. Behold, one day at a church healing service, the priest fell to the floor for minutes and suddenly leapt up, astonishing the crowd. The priest was healed; Church authorities verified the miracle; and Kowalska was canonized.

Reporters should never discount such a possibility. Sure, a supernatural miracle is unlikely. And Maese was right to detail the medical side of Everett’s miraculous cure. But why not detail the possibility that God intervened?

Alas, even this fine story reflected an unjustified imbalance between natural and supernatural explanations.

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  • Marty Levine

    Just one question re “Church authorities verified the miracle”

    What does that mean? What *could* that mean?

    Thanks.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    Have mercy on the guy. He’s a sports writer, not a religion specialist. If he wrote about this sensitive subject without hitting a wrong note, he’s doing very, very well.

  • http://www.infrontofyournose.com Mark

    Marty Levine raises a good question. A better word than “verified” is approved. The Catholic church has a council that examines whether scientists can explain an event or happening and if they can’t, the council approves it as a miracle. That’s the gist of the process anyway.

    Ann Rodgers’ complaint strikes me as scrupulous. I thought my post was fair to Maese; it praised his story repeatedly. Also, I disagree with her assumption that only religion specialists can ask questions about miracles. Is it not natural to ask questions about the possibility of the divine?

  • Mike Lambert

    Just wanted to mention the link to the priest’s healing is currently pointed to the video of Everett’s injury

  • Marty Levine

    Thanks very much for clarifying, Mark. And hello to Ann, across town.


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