‘Miracles from Heaven’ puts faith to the test

“Miracles from Heaven” (2016). Cast: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson, Queen Latifah, Brighton Sharbino, Courtney Fansler, Eugenio Derbez, John Carroll Lynch, Kelly Collins Lintz, Brandon Spink, Rhoda Griffis, Erica Allen McGee, Wayne Péré, Bruce Altman, Hannah Alligood, Zach Sale, J.M. Longoria, Gregory Alan Williams, Suehyla El-Attar. Director: Patricia Riggen. Screenplay: Randy Brown. Book: Christy Beam, Miracles from Heaven. Web site. Trailer.

When our lives are challenged, it’s easy for our faith to get tested. So it is for a kindly, spiritual young mother when her 10-year-old daughter becomes gravely ill. But there’s always hope, and sometimes help arrives in the most unusual and inexplicable ways, as long as we believe in the possibility, circumstances detailed in the new faith-based family drama inspired by true events, “Miracles from Heaven.”

The Beam family of Burleson, Texas leads what appears to be a happy, contented, storybook life. Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner), a young mother lovingly devoted to her three daughters, Abbie (Brighton Sharbino), Anna (Kylie Rogers) and Adelynn (Courtney Fansler), tends to the needs of her kids and the family homestead, while her veterinarian husband, Kevin (Martin Henderson), works long and hard to meet the demands of his newly expanded farm-based practice. They’re grateful for their many blessings, success they attribute directly to their devout Christian faith.

This idyllic life changes drastically, however, when Anna becomes seriously ill with a mysterious digestive disorder. Despite the severity of her symptoms, early diagnoses suggest that she’s merely suffering from severe bouts of relatively innocuous conditions like lactose intolerance and acid reflux. But, when one of Anna’s physicians, Dr. Burgi (Bruce Altman), looks into the matter further, he discovers she is suffering from a rare digestive disorder that prevents her body from processing the food she ingests. And though stopgap measures may help her in the short term, her long-term prognosis is bleak, with few viable treatment options available.

In light of this, Dr. Burgi recommends that Christy contact one of the leading specialists in the field, Dr. Samuel Nurko (Eugenio Derbez), a renowned researcher based out of Boston. However, when Christy tries to schedule an appointment, she learns that Dr. Nurko is in such demand that there’s a nine-month waiting list just to get an initial consultation, and all attempts at seeking to get her request fast-tracked go unheeded. Hope seems so close and yet so far.

Needless to say, these circumstances prompt Christy to seriously question her faith. Why, she wonders, would a supposedly loving God put her and her child through something so devastating as this? She prays intently, asking for answers and solutions that seem to go unaddressed. For the first time in her life, she’s on the verge of abandoning the spiritual beliefs that have sustained her so well all these many years, and there’s little that others can do to convince her otherwise. Even the reassurances of her husband and pastor (John Carroll Lynch) offer little comfort. And matters grow even more troubling when allegedly well-meaning parishioners (Rhoda Griffis, Erica Allen McGee) chime in with observations that perhaps Anna’s illness is attributable to sins that she may have committed, with her condition being the result of some sort of divine payback, a suggestion that positively outrages Christy.

With Anna’s body weakening and her treatment options running out, Christy decides to take matters into her own hands. She and Anna travel to Boston, where she makes an impassioned plea for her daughter, a tactic that, though initially seemingly futile, results in an appointment and the beginning of a long-running relationship with Dr. Nurko. But, even with his committed and compassionate care, Anna fails to improve, and, before long, she essentially goes home to die.

Still, where there’s life, there’s hope, and that’s true for Anna as well. While spending time with her sisters, Anna and Abbie decide to climb an old tree on the family’s property, an activity that had often given her great joy. Unfortunately, the tree’s hollowed-out trunk can’t support the weight of the girls when they reach one of its upper branches. The branch cracks, causing Anna to plunge 30 feet within the trunk, trapping her inside and necessitating a Herculean rescue effort. Remarkably, Anna survives the fall, but that’s just the start of the miraculous events that are about to happen. Thanks to a near-death experience, Anna undergoes a transformation that not only changes her, but also her family and even others far removed from her circumstances – and all for the better.

So what exactly is at work here? How does such a dramatic turnaround come into being? Is it a case of divine intervention? Or is it due to Christy’s determined efforts to secure the assistance she and her daughter need? For those who practice conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents in conjunction with our divine collaborator, the answer is both.

In many regards, when devoutly religious followers pray to a Supreme Being, they’re stating an intent for what they would like to see materialized. In essence, though, how is this any different from conscious creators forming beliefs and putting forth notions of what they would like to see made manifest? Even Christy’s pastor muses about this during one of his sermons, when he observes that what happens or doesn’t happen in our lives often depends on what we are or aren’t doing, and, while he’s addressing this point in a religious context, it’s fundamentally based on the same underlying metaphysical principle that conscious creators use in their manifestation efforts.

Given the foregoing, it seems we may very well be dealing with two sides of the same coin here. Indeed, whether one intends to engage in a religious practice or a metaphysical pursuit, the sought-after results in both cases are virtually identical. And, even though some may be intent on going out of their way to draw a distinction between these practices, it may ultimately be little more than a question of semantics.

To appreciate this, look at the elements that drive each process. In both cases, practitioners base their intentions on beliefs that certain outcomes will materialize, and the strength of their faith in those notions is what drives the likelihood of their manifestation. Whether we’re talking prayer or intention, the underlying mechanics are virtually indistinguishable.

Understanding this concept is crucial for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important of these is that, the sooner we realize we’re all essentially relying on the same principle for how we conceive of and create our existence, the sooner we’ll realize that we’re all in this together and that the artificial distinctions we draw about what we call it or how we go about it are fundamentally irrelevant. The implications in many endeavors, such as religious wars, should be obvious.

An awareness of these ideas is also important for understanding how our reality comes into existence. For example, when we realize that we partner with the divine in the creation of our world, we gain a new appreciation for what’s truly possible. Given that our celestial collaborator is capable of materializing anything, we shouldn’t mistrust its capabilities. Therefore, we also shouldn’t allow undue influences like doubt or fear to creep into the beliefs and intentions we put forth, for they’ll ultimately undercut what we hope to achieve. In fact, by doing so, we send a mixed message that our manifestation partner is incapable of interpreting accurately, leading to materializations that are distorted or stillborn. Why would we want such results?

Christy’s experience also illustrates that the manifestation process is a joint effort between us and All That Is. For instance, when she prays to God for assistance, she states her intent. And, then, when she takes the initiative to travel to Boston to obtain an appointment with Dr. Nurko against all odds, her actions yield results because her divine collaborator has cleared a path to make that happen once she decided to take the appropriate action.

Skeptics might look at the foregoing example and contend that it was coincidence, that things just happened at random. But those who practice conscious creation (or whatever comparable term one considers appropriate) realize that this is the process of synchronicity at work, the materialization of “meaningful” coincidences that are so perfectly tailored to what’s needed at the time that they easily defy the qualities of happenstance occurrences.

This phenomenon is apparent throughout the film, and all the members of the Beam family benefit from its effects. Just when things seem potentially hopeless or impossible to overcome, circumstances arise to overcome the prevailing difficulties. This can be seen in the unexpected kindness of one of Anna’s classmates (Brandon Spink), the good-natured generosity of a waitress (Queen Latifah), the intervention of a sympathetic receptionist (Suehyla El-Attar) and the unforeseen altruistic acts of an airline ticket agent (J.M. Longoria). All of these seemingly arbitrary and insignificant occurrences pop up out of virtually nowhere but have tremendous impact. Though they may seem trivial at the time of their appearance, they play integral roles in how circumstances unfold, a sure sign that they bear the mark of the divine at work.

Of course, recognizing these influences is critical to fully appreciating their significance. This is where the role of intuition comes into play. This nebulous perceptive ability that we all possess is often dismissed as “irrational,” because it frequently defies logic. But its influence is something we ignore at our peril, for it often steers us in the right direction, no matter how seemingly absurd, unreasonable or illogical it may appear.

This, too, is apparent in the film, such as when Kevin seeks to reassure Christy that everything in their lives will turn out fine, despite appearances to the contrary. And even Christy comes to realize this, such as when she decides to go to Boston to secure an appointment with Dr. Nurko, even though everything suggests such a move would be utterly fruitless.

Thanks to the impact of intent, synchronicity and intuition, the seemingly impossible suddenly becomes entirely plausible. Results that seemingly come from out of the blue emerge and take root, flying in the face of expectations and producing the outcomes hoped for. And, if that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

When such events occur routinely, we have an opportunity to adopt a new outlook for our lives. Indeed, miracles become a way of life, characterizing our reality as something that happens almost matter-of-factly. Miracles no longer seem like unbelievable, inaccessible phenomena that only make their presence felt in the pages of ancient religious texts. And, when we see life from that perspective, it becomes enriched, giving us a greater awareness of, and appreciation for, our existence.

With a focus that’s more spiritual and metaphysical than religious, “Miracles from Heaven” delves into some rather heady topics through its refreshingly candid writing, backed by fine performances and appealing special effects reminiscent of films like “What Dreams May Come” (1998). Even though the narrative is fairly predictable and has a distinct point of view, it tells its story without relying on overly simplified dialogue, blatant evangelizing or one-dimensional characters who look like they’ve just stepped out of Sunday school class. It’s definitely a cut above most of the trite, formulaic, dogmatic offerings typical of this genre.

Interestingly, “Miracles from Heaven” doesn’t hesitate to take some potentially controversial stances, another way the film distinguishes itself from its counterparts. For example, during Christy’s tense encounter with her parishioners, the script readily calls them out for being the holier-than-thou, know-it-all busybodies that they are, something most other faith-based dramas would never do. The picture also incorporates an almost-unheard-of scene involving children freely discussing the prospect of death, as depicted in an amazingly thoughtful conversation between Anna and her hospital roommate Haley (Hannah Alligood), a terminal cancer patient. Such elements take this film to a level not generally seen in this genre.

With Easter right around the corner, “Miracles from Heaven” makes a fine movie choice for the holidays, especially for family audiences. But even cinema buffs who aren’t especially religious might find this a surprisingly good option. Don’t let the cynics or the subject matter steer you away from this one; give it a fair shake, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Faith often requires much of us. It means setting aside our need for apparent certainty and putting our trust in something far more tenuous, a decidedly uncomfortable prospect for those who depend on verifiable assurances in all of their daily dealings. But, when we learn how to set aside such matters and give ourselves over to the joys that come from seeing our faith fulfilled, we can attain a sense of satisfaction that defies logic – and our expectations.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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