Every summer, my parents would pack us kids into the red station wagon (yes, bright red) and take us on a pilgrimage. We’d visit a couple of shrines in northwest Ohio – pray in the church, eat in the cafeteria, buy holy water in the gift shop.
It was a Catholic thing.
I mostly remember the desserts in the cafeteria and the discarded crutches in the shrines. One of the shrines had a designated place to pray for healing, and people who hobbled up and evidently got their wish would walk away and leave their crutches behind.
Reminders of miracles.
That’s how I was taught to think of miracles: Something that defies the laws of nature. Something extraordinary. God waves the divine magic wand and something disappears – the limp in your walk, the cancer in your brain, the dysfunction in your family.
Ask for the magic, and you shall receive it.
Well, maybe sometimes. Or, maybe not at all.
Most often, it was the not-at-all. And that was quite disturbing. Why did God choose to wave away other people’s problems but not mine? Maybe the problem was with me. Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough. Live well enough. Believe deeply enough.
Isn’t that still a prevalent view of miracles? Pray for one and if you don’t get it, it’s because you’re lacking somehow. That’s why your dad didn’t quit drinking, why your kids are still doing self-destructive things, why your broken-down car won’t start one more time, why the cancer is still ravaging your brain.
Pray harder. Pray better.
After a while, I started thinking: That way of looking at miracles makes God out to be a real ogre. Maybe that viewpoint is all wrong. Maybe miracles don’t work that way. Maybe they’re something else.
Some people label those questioning moments as a crisis of faith. I prefer to think of them as moments when faith gets real. I stopped praying for tuh-duh! miracles. When I have a problem now, I don’t ask God to wave the wand and make it go away, but to help me get through it.
And to recognize that no matter what I’m going through at any given moment, life is always a grand miracle.
Miracles aren’t things outside the norm. Miracles are the norm.
There was a television show a few years back called “Joan of Arcadia.” Joan is a teenager visited by God in the form of a hot young guy. He tries to convince her that he’s God, and she wants proof. So she says: If you’re God, show me a miracle. He stops and tells her to look at a tree right in front of them.
“OK, how about that?” God says.
“That’s a tree,” Joan says, dismissively.
God’s response: “Let’s see you make one.”
Joan hadn’t thought of it that way. What about us?
We think that cancer unexpectedly vanishing from our brains is a miracle. The truth is, our brains are a miracle. And so is cancer. And the immune system that tries to fight it. And the people who help us get through those terrible treatments _ yeah, all a miracle.
The dog that licks your face. The cat that purrs on your lap. The child that grabs the leg of your pants and demands attention. The friend who texts to find out how you’re doing. The stranger who smiles at you on the street. The one who cuts you off as you drive down the highway.
Miracles. All received without asking.
Sunrise. Sunset. Summer. Winter. Birth. Death. Laughter. Disappointment. Joy. Pain. A hug. A snub.
And love. Especially love. Love is an open-ended miracle.
And us. Each of us, too. Just as we are.
Do you remember the scene from “Bruce Almighty” where Bruce gets his divine powers and plays around with them, parting his bowl of soup like the story of the Red Sea? Morgan Freeman as God uses that moment to teach Bruce how miracles really work.
“Parting a soup is not a miracle, Bruce,” God says, “it’s a magic trick. Now, a single mom who works two full-time jobs and still finds the time to pick up her kid at soccer practice? That’s a miracle. A teenager that says ‘no’ to drugs and ‘yes’ to an education? That’s a miracle.
“You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.”
As I see it now, a miracle isn’t about God suspending the laws of nature to grant a personal favor. It’s more about us recognizing that we’re already part of a miracle. And that we’re invited to embrace it, celebrate it, and participate in it.
The miracle is that we’re here, that any and all of this exists.
And if we need to use crutches to get along, that’s fine. We don’t need to pray for the crutches to go away.
There’s a miracle in the limp.