When Owen hits the baseball that kills Tabitha, the fatal ball represents a loss of innocence and the different ways people grapple with that loss, especially in the context of religious faith. Owen and John are no longer children, and life is no longer a game. To the novel’s characters, the deadly ball is proof of either life’s senseless chaos or God’s mysterious will at work. People like Chief Pike search for the ball because they want to restore order and understand how this tragic accident could have happened. Everyone thinks that Owen kept the ball in light of his role in Tabitha’s death, but Owen understands that God’s will cannot be known, and he does not take the ball. Instead, Rev. Lewis Merrill takes the ball, believing that he caused God to kill Tabitha by praying for her to die. Tabitha’s death prompts Merrill to completely lose his faith, and although he continues to preach, his sermons are laced with doubt. When Merrill later shows John the baseball, John accuses him of childishly believing in a self-centered religion and imagining signs from God instead of recognizing real miracles. John throws the ball through the church window when he tricks Merrill into thinking that Tabitha is sending him a message from the beyond, and the ruse ends up restoring Merrill’s faith in a God who speaks to him and forgives him his sins.
The Baseball Quotes in A Prayer for Owen Meany
“Your friend is most original,” Dan Needham said, with the greatest respect. “Don’t you see, Johnny? If he could, he would cut off his hands for you—that’s how it makes him feel, to have touched that baseball bat, to have swung that bat with those results. It’s how we all feel—you and me and Owen. We’ve lost a part of ourselves.” And Dan picked up the wrecked armadillo and began to experiment with it on my night table, trying—as I had tried—to find a position that allowed the beast to stand, or even to lie down, with any semblance of comfort or dignity; it was quite impossible…
And so Dan and I became quite emotional, while we struggled to find a way to make the armadillo’s appearance acceptable—but that was the point, Dan concluded: there was no way that any or all of this was acceptable. What had happened was unacceptable! Yet we still had to live with it.
It made [Owen] furious when I suggested that anything was an “accident”—especially anything that had happened to him; on the subject of predestination, Owen Meany would accuse Calvin of bad faith. There were no accidents; there was a reason for that baseball—just as there was a reason for Owen being small, and a reason for his voice. In Owen’s opinion, he had INTERRUPTED AN ANGEL, he had DISTURBED AN ANGEL AT WORK, he had UPSET THE SCHEME OF THINGS.
Because he’d wished my mother dead, my father said, God had punished him; God had taught Pastor Merrill not to trifle with prayer. And I suppose that was why it had been so difficult for Mr. Merrill to pray for Owen Meany—and why he had invited us all to offer up our silent prayers to Owen, instead of speaking out himself. And he called Mr. and Mrs. Meany “superstitious”! Look at the world: look at how many of our peerless leaders presume to tell us that they know what God wants! It’s not God who’s fucked up, it’s the screamers who say they believe in Him and who claim to pursue their ends in His holy name!