From the start, I will admit that getting into the story of Will Wonders Never Cease required something of a miracle and a wonder for me. It’s not that the story is bad – it is very well-written and most of the time quite compelling. Rather, my problem was that this story was that it is told from the perspective of a 15-year-old. I’ve never really liked 15-year-olds, even when I was 15. (Especially not when I was 15.) But it is precisely this aspect of the story, the part that I initially liked the least, that reveals something interesting and, I think, important.
When the protagonist of this story, Kyle Hooper, finds himself and his car buried in an avalanche, he actually embarks on two separate but linked plot lines. He determines that he needs to dig himself out of the snow to escape to freedom, and in so doing undertakes another journey without really intending to. In something that is more akin to “deathbed repentance” or possibly the Kübler-Ross model of grieving than it is to religious conviction or soul-searching, Kyle begins to call on God for assistance in his efforts to escape. Normally quite a miscreant and troublemaker, as Kyle reveals through his own memories, Kyle makes promises to the God he is not certain that he believes in, to be a better and reformed person if he survives.
Now, seldom, if ever, does real conversion occur from a moment of epiphany, and even less so through “deathbed confession.” Though many may be tempted to believe otherwise, true conversion requires some amount of faith that precedes the miracle. That, and a desire to change, and patterns of behaviour that build up a new nature in that person.
And this is where the protagonist’s 15-year-old mindset is so instructive.
While many – even in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – believe that conversion, or of gaining a conviction of the truth, is some kind of colossal or quintessential one-time event, many will be able to tell you that this is not generally the case. Another work that we have studied in this semester, the play “A Burning in the Bosom” by Melissa Leilani Larson, gives a very honest look at what the true process of conversion is like. In that play, the protagonist is in church, trying to be attentive to what is going on, in spite of how her mind constantly wanders. She mentions – through internal monologue – how she has been struggling to obtain a testimony, a sure witness that this faith of hers is the truth. And in the midst of this struggling, a small and spontaneous impression, rather than a monumental and quintessential manifestation, comes to her, really only capping the process of conversion that she has already undertaken.
And it is the same, shown perhaps even more strongly, with Kyle in Will Wonders Never Cease. Through Kyle’s recollection of his memories in this story, we hear a lot of conceit and self-obsession, romanticized views of the future, and confusion about beliefs and values. But all of this is typical for a teenager, and he is no exception.
Yet in the midst of his thoughts about himself and the sadness he feels over a life he may never get to live, we can also examine Kyle’s memories and see a long trail of experiences and actions that have been working on him. The death of his brother, the course of events that slowly help Kyle to realize that no person can or must be perfect in his or her life, the goading of his family, his best friend’s desire for spirituality, and even the simple “going through the motions” in his own religion have all brought Kyle along his road of conversion. When we consider Kyle’s frame of mind – namely, that he is a teenager, and quite a rebellious one at that – and compare that to the prayers that he offers throughout this story, it becomes clear that his growing conversion is not resulting from his trial of facing death. Rather, being trapped by avalanche and asking God to help him in his efforts to escape is just another trial of faith, one that happens to culminate all of the other small acts of faith in his life. If Kyle does have a shining, grandiose moment of revelation or conversion, it is only because of a long pattern of action and behaviour has been leading him here the whole time.
In the first Hobbit movie, Gandalf struck a chord with the world when he uttered this quote that is just as applicable to the process of inviting light into one’s life:
And it was especially powerful to me, as it caused me to remember the words of a prophet who had once testified of a truth I have come to know for myself:
"Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass... And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes." (Alma 37:6-7)