On the third floor of Ballantine Hall, at Indiana University there was a study room. At 11:00 AM I plopped my book-bag down near an open window. It was seasonably warm and uncommonly still for early Spring in Bloomington.
I began reading about the Enlightenment (that intellectual movement in the 1700’s that denied the miraculous) when the tree outside the window unaccountably twisted. Its branches violently shook in a sudden burst of near gale-force wind. I would have ignored this except that along with the burst I felt a simultaneous shock and heaviness. My heart rate accelerated and the back of my neck burned. I got up to “walk it off” as if I’d had the wind knocked out of me.
The experience seemed unaccountable. It was probably five minutes before my heart-rate returned to something closer to normal, and I was able to plunge back into my study of that sharp-tongued advocate of Enlightenment--Voltaire.
A voluminous writer, a champion of human rights and toleration, Voltaire was also a bitterly sarcastic philanderer and critic of Christianity. He died May 30, 1778 angrily dismissing the Catholic priests who tried to minister to him.
That evening, as I was returning home from class, I noticed dozens of cars in my grandparents’ yard. I stopped, and my Father, teary-eyed, walked toward me with the news:
“We lost Papaw this morning.”
It had happened at 11:00 AM.
March 24, 1987 was not just the day my grandfather died. It marked the death of the Enlightenment’s influence on me. However I might have construed my 11:00 AM experience that day, its exact synchronicity with papaw’s heart attack was too much to ignore. Voltaire simply couldn’t account for it. I concluded that mysterious powers were at work in the world, and they were not merely indifferent to my grief.People wonder how someone with an appreciation for hard science can believe that Christ’s body rose from the dead. One kind of answer is that I know that I’m not imagining things. My experience was real. Voltaire was wrong. That tree moved.