In The Hiding Places of God: A Personal Journey into the World of Religious Visions, Holy Objects, and Miracles John Cornwell ponders his findings after spending a year traveling the globe "in search of the scope and meaning of the paranormal element in religion." A professed agnostic, the author studied for the priesthood but left for a career in journalism.
Troubled by a religious dream, Cornwell decided to take a sabbatical and check out some of the many miracles, mysteries, signs, and wonders appearing throughout Christendom. He assesses the apparitions of the Virgin Mary appearing to three girls in the Yugoslavian town of Medjugorje as "a mix of impressive spiritual drama and obnoxious manipulation." He wonders whether the skepticism of some Catholic clergy over the events taking place there might possibly be based on their fear and hatred of women blessed with visionary powers.
As a tour guide, Cornwell is always alert to interesting details and the human side of seemingly inexplicable events. Although amazed by the stigmata of a Montreal recluse, the weeping statue of Syracuse, and exorcisms performed by priests, the author is most deeply affected by his meetings with Briege McKenna, a spiritual director of bishops and priests known for her gifts of clarivoyance and healing. She helps him understand the deeper spiritual meanings of the apparitions, prodigies, and miraculous cures he comes across in his travels.
In the end, Cornwell still clings to his agnosticism, but he pays tribute to some of the special people he met who are "the artists of the popular religious imagination capable of perceiving a sense of the presence and love of God in vivid images and even physical symptoms."