Personal Moments or Everyday Miracles? You Decide!

May Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.  Rule of Benedict

"I don't believe in them, I rely on them to get through each day!" – Ron Rollheiser quoting Karl Rahner on miracles

As a powerful tornado bore down upon her home outside Oklahoma City on May 20, 2013, an elderly woman cowered in her bathroom, her small schnauzer on her lap, waiting and praying that they be spared. In seconds, their home was smashed to the ground. Now on the floor and covered with debris, the woman not only was alive, but was unharmed.

Her schnauzer, however, was gone.

Standing with a TV reporter amid the rubble a short time later, the woman recounted the story, motioning to where the dog must still be buried. All of a sudden, a voice off-camera called out, “The dog!” There, under a hill of twisted metal, the little gray schnauzer moved slightly. As the TV crew helped the woman dig him out, the microphone caught her praying, “Thank you, God.” She stroked her companion, looked at the camera and said, “I thought God just answered one prayer to let me be okay. But he answered both of them.”

Was it a miracle? Surely it was to this woman and her dog. And it – as much as any Church-verified miracle – no doubt confirmed and strengthened the faith of all who saw the report on YouTube.

The purpose of miracles

“A miracle is a sign of God’s activity in the world,” Sr. Jackie Walsh, OSB says. “Whether an event is really a miracle depends on your definition of miracle. I’ve had what I call ‘personal moments.’”

Personal moments occur for us all, whether we recognize them as signs of God’s activity in and around us or not. Close calls, amazing coincidences and sudden epiphanies are often cited as personal experiences. Sr. Jackie offers her own examples.

“One time I fell asleep while driving on a highway and woke up on the rumble strips. I pulled off right away and walked around. It made me so grateful to be alive. Another time, a hunk of ice broke off a truck in front of me and hit my windshield. I had glass in my mouth, my purse, everywhere.  The tow truck driver said that if the ice had actually come through the window, I’d be dead. How it didn’t, I’ll never know.

“Those experiences felt like miracles to me; like I was being watched over. I’m very grateful for them.”

Paying attention

For those who, like the theologian Karl Rahner, rely on miracles “to get through each day,” attentiveness is key. That is, it’s up to us to notice, and appreciate, the special moments that surround and grace our lives.

“The birth of a baby is the greatest miracle,” Sr. Marlene Miller, OSB says. “But I also think getting up every morning is a miracle. Greeting a whole new fresh day to write upon is a miracle. This is something you have to be aware of. You have to look, listen, pay attention. Don’t take things for granted.”

Moreover, Sr. Marlene advises, we are called to “cooperate” with God’s miracles.

“We get signs from God all the time,” she says. “We have to pay attention to them. The budding trees, the flowers. These are miracles of nature that happen every moment.”

Resurrection and less-showy miracles

When we think of resurrection we think of the miracle of Jesus’ rising from the dead. Yet nature, too, experiences a resurrection every spring. Every blade of grass, every flower and every tree bursts with new life.

“The lesson is, when something looks dead, life is still there,” Sr. Sheila McGrath, OSB says. “In the case of nature, it happens year after year. But even so, the appropriate response is wonder and awe.”

Which is the point of God’s activity in the world: to invite us to enhance our faith through wonder and awe.

Citing work from John Cavadini, an associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and the author of Miracles in Christian and Jewish Antiquity, Leslie Scanlon writes, “Usually miracles are not showy. A real miracle involves conversion and transformation; it points not to itself but to God. … The miracle, in other words, is not an end unto itself. It’s part of the ongoing story of God.” (U.S. Catholic, June 2009)

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB recounts a story from the Ancients when asked about miracles. “The disciple said, Tell me, does your god work miracles? And the master said, It all depends on what you think a miracle is. Some people believe it is a miracle when God does the will of people. We believe it is a miracle when people do the will of God.” (Inspiration and Spirit Web Channel)

When miracles are not granted

We love the stories of found puppies, miraculous cures and superhuman rescues. Yet miracles often don’t happen.

“So why are some granted miracles and others not?” Scanlon writes. “Why does God heal some and let others die?

“When healing is granted, ‘The miracle is not primarily for the person healed, but for all people, as a sign of God’s work in the ultimate healing called ‘salvation,’ or a sign of the kingdom that is coming,’ Cavadini says.”

In other words, as Sr. Sheila notes, such physical miracles may be unusual. The miracle we might urgently pray for, instead, is for spiritual healing.

“As a hospital chaplain, family members would often ask me to pray for a miracle,” she says. “I would always lead a prayer for healing, but that can mean healing the heart.”

Making miracles for others

We toss around the word “miracle” all the time: It’s a miracle that I found my glasses. It’s a miracle that it didn’t rain. It’s a miracle that I didn’t fall on the ice.

Yet, God’s action is clearly present in our lives – and discernable when we open our eyes to see. Finding our puppy after a devastating storm, avoiding a near-fatal accident, experiencing sudden and acute joy at the sight of a newborn baby: God’s hand surely is in evidence.

And, who’s to say that a prayer to God to find our glasses won’t be answered? If we live in communion with God, our every thought and act will reflect God’s presence. Perhaps that presence will keep us calm so we can more easily recall where we last saw them.

This is not to trivialize miracles. It is to normalize God’s interaction with us, to bring awareness of God’s presence and activity into our daily lives.

We are also called to ask what God wants of us.

Mahatma Gandhi’s answer was, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Sr. Joan’s is, “I think you’re it, in the miracles you make, as you are impelled by grace.”

Whether we respond to a stranger’s call for help, encourage reconciliation of conflict, or simply respond with wonder and awe to God’s creation, we participate in and cooperate with God’s miracles.

“How grand do miracles have to be?” Sr. Jackie asks. “If deer show up across the pond at dinner – it doesn’t matter how often it happens – you’re going to have Sisters lined up at the window, watching. Deer are part of the miracle of creation. They’re beautiful. We respond with awe.”

As we should, every moment of every day.

“Because remember,” Sr. Cabrini Real, OSB says, “you’re looking at a miracle, and so am I."