Guest Author: Hunter Fraley (@hunterfraley)
I have struggled with having faith before, as I am sure we all have. Stubbornness and fear of change are two of the very few things that we as humans do well. I believe one of Jesus’ greatest miracles is breaking down the barriers men and women have built around their hardened hearts. How many of us could say that only a near-death experience has saved us from our stiff-necked selves? That is exactly the case for the eponymous protagonist of 2008’s Henry Poole is Here.
Caring little about the logistics of the purchase, Henry Poole is more than willing to do anything it takes to close the deal, including overpaying for the property. His days are spent drinking and eating whatever junk food he shovels into his mouth. The monotony of his unhealthy lifestyle is only broken by his neighbors, a cavalcade consisting of a devout catholic, a struggling divorcee, and her mute 7 year old daughter. To make matters worse, his neighbor Esperanza (devout Catholic) believes she can see the face of Jesus in a botched stucco job on his patio wall. Much to the chagrin of Poole, she spends copious amounts of time sneaking into his backyard with her church friends to admire the stain. Poole eventually befriends the divorcee (appropriately named Dawn)and her daughter Millie. It is then that we learn that he has been diagnosed with an unnamed terminal illness.
To everyone but Poole, the stain seems to have a restorative quality, healing those who touch it. The first claims are easy for him to dismiss, however, when Millie begins to speak for the first time in over a year, we would assume this would be enough evidence for Poole to be willing to have faith and try himself. He struggles with the decision one night and when his fingers were a mere few inches from the stain, he lets the fall limp and slowly turns to saunter back inside.
A certain scripturecomes to mindas I remember this scene. Matthew 13: 14-15 references a prophecy of hard-heartedness being fulfilled. It speaks of hearing yet not understanding, seeing yet not perceiving; however, it is not because ability is lacking, but because the ears have been filled and the eyes taped shut willingly. These conditions are attributed to a heart calloused by indifference and doubt. Poole is a man who has lost hope, truly beaten to a pulp by life. He refuses to have faith in anything because he is terrified by the thought of being let down by hope
Things come to a head one day when Poole returns home to realize Esperanza has promised healing to hundreds of people congregated in his backyard. He promptly smashes through the face of the stain with an axe repeatedly. Moments after belittling the masses for their blind faith, the weakened structure of the wall allows the roof to partially collapse, crushing Poole beneath the weight of rubble and his own miserable existence. Poole awakes in the hospital, surrounded by his neighbors who tell him some startling news: his terminal condition had been misdiagnosed. His dismal outlook had left no room for him to get a second opinion. The stain may have not healed him physically, but it introduced him to people who go on to lead him on a journey to emotional and spiritual healing. Had his hard-heartedness allowed it, he could have started towards happiness long ago. What will it take for us to soften our hearts and allow ourselves to be healed?