Keeping Faith: A thin line between belief and doubt

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“They say that there are moments that open up your life like a walnut cracked, that change your point of view, so that you never look at things the same way again.” – Jodi Picoult, Keeping Faith.

One day when Picoult’s oldest son was five, he asked her “Mommy, what’s God?” When asked further she admits “that was a loaded question.” Like most of the people from her generation “faith was a tricky road” for her as well. She had herself been raised by a non-practicing Jewish family. She had married a WASP. They neither went to temple or church. She turned to Kyle with a more secular explanation. She told him that God was a kind of a baby sitter who took care of everyone on the planet Earth. But what Kyle said intrigued her more. “But all of my babysitters”, he said, “are girls”. She was a bit taken aback by the distinction. She said, “In spite of the nurturing aspect that is often attributed to the God, there I seemed to be very little connection between femininity and divinity. I started to mull over this – and came up with the story of Faith White- a little girl who may or may not be seeing God, but who definitely envisions her special friend as female.”

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Somewhere between belief and doubt lies faith. Keeping Faith unfolds a story about the Mariah White, who for the second time in her marriage catches her husband cheating on her and Faith, their seven year old daughter, witnesses every painful moment her mother has to through from very close proximity. In the aftermath of a sudden divorce, Mariah struggles with depression and Faith seeks comfort in her new friend- who may or may not be a figment of her imagination.  Faith begins to talk to her ‘Guard’, also she begins to recite passages from the bible, a book she’s never read. Being concerned about Faith’s mental stability, Mariah sends her to various psychiatrists. But when Faith develops stigmata and begins to perform inexplicable healings, Mariah doubts whether her daughter, a girl with no religious background, might be seeing God. As people get to know about this, controversy reaches its peak. Maria and Faith are besieged by believers and disbelievers alike, caught in the media circus which seems to threaten the little bit of sanity that they are left with.

Picoult touches upon a very sensitive issue in this book of hers and we have to say she deals with the subject beautifully. Questions like whether Faith is merely a troubled child, conjuring up images and hallucinating the presence of her “guard” or if she is really a prophet? Is Mariah a good mother facing an impossible crisis or a charlatan using her daughter to reclaim the attention her disloyal husband withheld? As the story builds up into the climax of the custody of Faith, Mariah discovers that spirit is not something which necessarily comes from religion, but inside oneself.

Picoult’s book does not aim at any particular religion. She wanted to look at faith. She wanted to explore the grounds upon which a person could be spiritual without being religious. In an interview she said, “It is awfully hard to talk about religion without drawing a line in the sand, classifying “us” and “them” based on belief- but that’s exactly why I thought this book was so important. What if what you believed wasn’t as important as that you believed?” In spite of carrying out an extensive research she admits she till date didn’t manage to get all the answers, but then again I don’t think any of us will ever manage to reach a conclusion regarding this subject. Entertainment Weekly said it was, “Addictively readable, raising valid questions about religion without getting maudlin. For a novel, that in itself is a miracle.”

Fascinating, enchanting, mysterious and thought provoking. Keeping Faith, lives up to all these adjectives being used to describe its uniqueness, of content and the manner in which it is portrayed. The book explores a family plagued by the media, the medical professionals and organized religious institutions. It exposes to its readers a world, where everyone has an opinion, but unfortunately no one knows the truth. We are introduced to a Winnebago arriving, bearing the infamous Ian Fletcher, an atheist with a television pulpit who has come to prove that Faith is a hoax while on the other side we have a cult which takes up residence on the front lawn to uphold Faith as the new Messiah. The two contradicting and natural reactions are captured in the most realistic manner by Picoult. At her controversial and compelling best, the author masterfully explores the moments when boundaries break, illusions become reality and when the only step to take is a leap of Faith.

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