I'm looking for a word to describe the dramatic moment when, after being pushed to the limit, someone drops to their knees and turns to the sky/God/universe. In other words, this is the moment when humanity confronts their own powerlessness in the face of greater powers.

There might be different words for this idea, when it is an act being performed, vs. when it is a moment in a performance. I am curious about both of them, as well as any religious interpretations of it you might know about.

I was trying to say to a friend yesterday that Christianity as a religion has really done a good job of capturing this feeling in the popular imagination. Yet I suspect this idea of humanity being overwhelmed by fate has been around since Greek tragedy, or even might be fundamental to humanity. That is why I want to find as many words that have attempted to describe this as possible.

  • 1
    I think it's Unclear exactly what experience you're talking about. Only the last generation or two (and not many of them) have lived in an age where it's even possible to envisage a universe not ultimately created/controlled by the supernatural. Intellectually (and probably emotionally), submitting to the will of God isn't the same thing as accepting that you can't turn back time (or the tide), that the universe is big, and that you are very ephemeral and small.. Dec 22, 2014 at 2:03
  • Though you question is not specific to any particular religion, you might get better response from christianity.SE only because they may be more familiar with the situation you describe and so more likely to have a word (if one exists) for it.
    – Mitch
    Dec 22, 2014 at 2:39

11 Answers 11


I believe the act is called invocation. The verb is to invoke. A more dramatic version would be a desperate cry (for help).

Etymonline: late 14c., "petition (to God or a god) for aid or comfort;...

  • The act or an instance of invoking, especially an appeal to a higher power for assistance.

  • the act of invoking or calling upon a deity, spirit, etc., for aid, protection, inspiration, or the like; supplication.


enter image description here

It is also mentioned as praying as a last resort out of desperation. For example, Tvtropes explains the "Prayer Is a Last Resort" trope as below:

Nothing seems to be going right. The character is continuously failing to make any progress, despite constantly trying. But eventually, they reach a point where they've exhausted all avenues for success and there are no other options.

Now is a good time to pray.

This trope is an observation about the use of prayer in fiction. Praying is seen as a sign that the character is giving up and acknowledging that they have no control, and so for a character to pray as a first response is almost always a sign of weakness. As such, works will typically portray prayer as a last resort or an act of desperation after the character has tried and failed to resolve the conflict on their own.

  • Invocation is the word I need for the act. Thanks. I will leave the question open for a few more days in the hopes that someone has a technical term for the use of invocation as a climactic plot point in drama. In other words, has anyone building on Greek poetics break down climaxes into different types, with invocation being one of them?
    – szxk
    Dec 22, 2014 at 12:47

To get as many synonyms as possible find a good one and then use a thesaurus.

Epiphany is a common expression for this event in one's life.


A moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.

Then, as if we all have an epiphany at the same moment, we simultaneously yell out.

But I have to believe my epiphany was the decisive moment in my adult life.

In a sudden epiphany, he had remembered that he still had Krillir's guns, silver weapons with eagles engraved on the handles.

In a sudden epiphany, he had remembered that he still had Krillir's guns, silver weapons with eagles engraved on the handles.

Translations of the biblical account of the Prodigal Son use several phrases:

"He came to himself" KJV

"He came to his senses" NIV

We often turn these phrases,

"He came to the end of himself."

"He met God."

  • These are moments when people are begging for epiphanies, or mad at being denied them, but not epiphanies themselves. If they receive a response, that is the epiphany.
    – szxk
    Dec 21, 2014 at 23:37

In it's most general sense I believe you are referring to a


A point where a difficult or important decision must be made:

"Our arguments and conflicts have brought us to this crisis."

A synonym could be crossroad.

Some people refer to this as "hitting the wall."

In reference to God, your crisis will produce either bitter hatred or grateful love for God


humanity confronts their own powerlessness in the face of greater powers

This is known as an Existential Crisis.

The introduction to the Wikipedia article reads as follows:

An existential crisis is a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether their life has any meaning, purpose, or value.


In, "The Dark Night", Saint John of the Cross documents the soul's journey from its Earthly and bodily home to its union with God. In this work, Darkness represents the hardships and difficulties the soul meets in detachment from the world and reaching the light of union with the Creator. The main idea of the work concerns the painful experiences people endure as they grow in spiritual maturity toward union with God. The poem is divided into two books that reflect the two phases of the dark night. For Saint John the first phase is purification of the senses, and the second and more intense is the purification of the Spirit. Dark Night of the Soul was written between 1578 and 1579, while John of the Cross was imprisoned by his Carmelite brothers, who opposed his reformations to the Order. The term "dark night (of the soul)" is also used in Roman Catholicism in reference to an individual's spiritual crisis.


I think you are referring to an act of resignation: ( from TFD)

  • unresisting acceptance of something as inescapable; submission.

  • a submissive unresisting attitude; passive acquiescence

    • to meet one's fate with resignation.
  • Thanks, but that's not quite it. I've edited my question to make my intention clearer. I am curious about the moment of confronting one's powerlessness. It is much more active than resignation.
    – szxk
    Dec 21, 2014 at 23:19
  • @szxk - Catharsis ? :a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension.
    – user66974
    Dec 21, 2014 at 23:24


a sincere turning away, in mind, heart and action from self to God.

Peter told the People in Jerusalem:

Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.

Acts 3:19

  • Unlike repentance, these can be moments of anger or fury toward God as well. It is just the moment of turning. So in the same vein, I wouldn't call it conversion either.
    – szxk
    Dec 21, 2014 at 23:56

Adding "total," "final," "absolute," or "unconditional" to most of the other answers (and to "surrender," too) might get you closer to what you're looking for, but the act and moment of


has the "total/final/absolute/unconditional" sense already built into it to my ears.


Obsequiousness - "I am incapable of either achieving or abandoning my goals, but if I surrender my moral compass to something significantly larger than myself then perhaps that greater entity will give me what I want but can't get."


You might try Combining religious and contemporary words.

Apocalyptic crisis. Existential revelation. Psychological woe. Cognitive peril. Dire crossroads. Spiritual catastrophe.

  • While these might summon up the concept of reaching one's limit, I'm not sure that they all convey the idea of turning to god etc. Sep 17, 2019 at 9:16

Prostrate; prostration (noun)

lying with the face down and arms stretched out, especially as a sign of respect or  worship.

It's an act of worshipping God, submitting everything to Him, in the way of the Islamic Sujūd.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.