Seeing miracles

Seeing miracles – Podcast #7

There are two ways to live your life—one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle. — Albert Einstein

What are miracles? Are they anomalies? That would imply they are exceptional and rare. But some people are regularly astounded and amazed by what happens around them. For these people, miracles are commonplace. What do these people know that the rest of us don’t know? What do they see that we don’t see?

For a period of time following my faith crisis, I eschewed the notion of the supernatural. In particular, I disliked the separateness it implied between the “spiritual” and the “physical.” It seemed to me that these must be different aspects of the same thing. Also, I was not at that point seeing what I considered to be miracles. I had let go of the idea of miracles altogether when I finally embraced mainstream science’s story of the evolution of our world and our species. The writings and videos of Michael Dowd (Thank God for Evolution) had a big impact on me. He eschewed the supernatural, seeing it as an unnecessary concept. I followed along.

But in the ensuing months, I started seeing miracles! It’s like God became most alive to me only after I let him die—when I was no longer trying to keep him alive. I now once again accept the supernatural as a useful concept. And I do believe in miracles, extraordinary events that seem to defy natural law. This has not been the result of an intellectual or philosophical investigation. This has been the result of direct experience—many, many moments of what SQuire Rushnell calls a “godwink”: “a direct and personal message of reassurance from God to you.” This, of course, is something I can’t prove to anyone else. The proof is for me and me alone. But once you do have these experiences and open yourself enough to see them in the first place, you too will know that you’re not alone—regardless of what you call that Presence: “God,” “the Universe,” “Cosmic Intelligence,” etc.

The natural is supernatural. A miracle is what happens when someone notices a miracle. The distinction is in our awareness, not in the nature of reality. Reality is of one substance. The “natural” describes what we can explain by our physical laws of science. The “supernatural” (or “paranormal”) describes the phenomena that we can’t explain by those laws, or perhaps that might be explained by more metaphysical laws, such as the Law of Attraction. The nice thing about this is that there is no investment in keeping the handcuffs on science. Science cannot do away with miracles, but it might explain some of them. There’s no contradiction here. After all, the revelations of quantum physics are nothing short of miraculous.

So I would not define “miracle” as something that won’t ever be explained by science. No. It has more to do with its impact on us. A miracle is an event that astounds us, surprises us, engenders wonder, hope, a feeling of being watched over, a sense of being cared for. A miracle awakens us to a larger reality beyond the conventional world we’re used to operating within. A miracle is a personal proof that Life is magical, God is real, that we’re not alone, that there’s a greater Intelligence to our lives and our world.

Today I love to hear stories of miracles, large and small. They help build my faith. Some of them might be made-up, but it doesn’t matter. That’s no less true with conventional, “non-miraculous” stories. Most of them are simply true stories. My experience of faith-filled people has been transfigured. The people who I used to respect less because of their faith are now the ones that I’m most interested in hearing from. However, the more “respectable” people—the ones who know a lot more about theology, for example—have become less interesting to me. They know what miracles “should” look like, but they haven’t necessarily received the gift of seeing them.

Some of the most faith-filled people at church used to make me blush, because I thought their examples of “miracles” could be easily explained away or seemed selfish or just trivial. But “God is no respecter of persons.” They’ve experienced the miraculous and they know it, whether it’s healing from cancer or the convenient appearance of a parking spot. The larger majority of us stand at arm’s length, in unspoken doubt and judgment.

But now, that arms-length stance looks so funny to me! So silly! It’s so clear to me that most of the time we walk around with blinders on. The world in which we live is absolutely brimming with aliveness and energy and magic and color. If we could just get a glimpse of who we are, we’d be utterly astounded! This is what was so maddening for Jesus: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (John 4:48) But even then it’s not enough. When our minds are already made up, it doesn’t matter how many stories we hear, or how many miracles take place before our eyes. The miraculous is hidden in plain sight. It’s like the emperor with no clothes, except the emperor represents all of us.

How can we cultivate sensitivity to seeing miracles? Faith precedes knowledge. It’s a different route than philosophical or theological speculation. It’s a reversal of the familiar, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Jesus understood that you’ll see it when you believe it. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23) Yes, there is a leap. But on the other side you can find true knowledge. Not rationally deduced or logically argued, but a deep, cellular knowing.

It’s not about joining a particular tribe or religious affiliation either. Now, thinking that it is won’t necessarily prevent you from seeing miracles, but it might blind you to the miracles God is performing among people of other cultures, religions, and walks of life. Every time we put a restriction on what God or Nature is “allowed to do,” we only limit ourselves. “Don’t put God in a box” is a Christian cliché. But every time we make a point of saying what we don’t believe, we do just that. With every denunciation or negation of what’s outside our understanding, we erect another wall. What we’re really doing, of course, is putting ourselves in a box, setting up a nice, comfy prison for our mind. Not only that, but we pride ourselves on just how small we can make it, giving it respectable labels like “orthodoxy” or “skepticism,” depending on our particular persuasion.

So what holds us back from believing? Undoubtedly: our preconceived notions about the nature of reality, whether they’re theologically, scientifically, or just plain culturally mediated. A theological straitjacket is no better than a materialistic straitjacket. Either way, God remains elusive. Even for Jesus! “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:5,6)

Truly believing is easier said than done. I spent most of the first 35 years of my life seeking after this knowing—desperately wanting real knowledge, not just faith. Things did not go as I planned. I became very sick (Lyme disease was among my diagnoses) and very depressed. The struggle between faith and doubt reached a breaking point, and all my faith drained out—and, with it, all my investment in any religion, let alone a specific one. But my despair lasted only for a moment. The world has become more and more magical ever since. God is both more real and more mysterious to me than ever before. Letting go of my theological preconceptions paved the way for God to truly appear to me. Now, joy of all joys, I am finding great meaning and truth in my own Christian faith tradition! Who could have ever predicted this?

What do you need to let go of? Or loosen your grip on? What leap do you need to make? Crack open the rusty hinges of your mind. Look around and begin to wonder. Look for evidence in your life that you are being guided. And imagine. Imagine that what I’m saying is true. Imagine that your life has great purpose, that you are here for a reason, and that you are known and dearly loved—even when you’re not aware of it. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Wake up! “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)