Pointing the way

Garvey, John

OF SEVERAL WIMPS John Garvey POINTING THE WAY FOR THOSE WITH EYES TO SEE There is a common assumption among modern, secular people that in ancient times people were more credulous than...

...From the beginning, our tradition has said that miracles can happen...
...One child healed in France, thousands of children macheted in Rwanda...
...Ancients could believe, for example, in a virgin birth because they knew less than we know today about what is possible or likely But this view of the ancient understanding is plainly nonsense The virgin birth, and the raising of Lazarus, and the healing of a blind man, were considered worthy of notice precisely because they seemed just as impossible to our ancestors as they do to us We shy away from the notion of the miraculous because it shakes up our sense of a predictable world, it challenges the belief that the realm of faith is subjective, private, and essentially sentimental We are right to try to understand the multivalent meanings in miracle stories, the symbolic importance of the doctnne of virgin birth, the fact that the forgiveness of sins which accompanies many of Jesus' healings is truly the greater miracle, though this is ignored by the witnesses...
...The Bible is full of anticipated things The bread and wine broken at the Last Supper point toward a crucifixion yet to come, and toward the Eucharist in which we celebrate Christ's continued presence among us The Transfiguration points forward to a Resurrection which had not happened yet...
...What are miracles for, if they happen so randomly and if they are, some might say bitterly, so unfairly distributed...
...OF SEVERAL WIMPS John Garvey POINTING THE WAY FOR THOSE WITH EYES TO SEE There is a common assumption among modern, secular people that in ancient times people were more credulous than they are nowó hence the belief in miracles We know better than to believe in them today...
...8...
...but I have some sympathy with the doctor What about all of those people who pray, whose children nevertheless die'' What about those dreadful fundamentalists who imply that if only those parents had more faith, or the right kind of faith, their child would have been healed...
...The child's doctor, an atheist, was no doubt convinced that this was one of those one-in-a-milhon odd cases where something just goes away I believe it was a miracle...
...but we tend to slide into an easy sense that these stories are "merely symbolic," with an accent on the "merely," and symbols reduced to the level of the metaphorical On the other side are those fundamentalists who regard the miraculous as a kind of proof Simone Weil once wrote that if Hitler rose from the dead any number of times she still would not think he was the son of God A miracle proves nothing Any phenomenon can be dismissed, or explained in some other way And alleged miracles can be faked The annual liquefaction of the blood of Saint Januanus can be duplicated scientifically, and there is nothing wrong with being skeptical about the motives of churchmen, especially where anything financial is concerned Here is the paradox If you truly have faith in God, you do not need a miracle as proof of anything If you do not have faith, no seemingly miraculous event will persuade you that faith makes sense Anything that seems miraculous might conceivably have another, entirely materialistic explanation But there is a converse to this Seemingly explicable things, apparently mundane moments, may have a miraculous depth A week before this was written the church celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration In the Orthodox icon of the feast, the figure of Christ transfigured is surrounded by a mandona, an almondshaped form which signifies, among other things, something that is visible to the eyes of faith It occurs to me that if an agnostic had been present on Tabor he might have been unable to see what was before him, or would have explained it away The conviction that miracles can never happen will make us impervious to them I know of a case where a child who was dying of a brain tumor was cured, after his parents asked a priest to anoint him X-rays showed no sign that anything had ever been wrong...
...Miracles "fix" nothing, but point forward to the age to come, the time when "death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain...
...There is another world," he wrote, "but it is in this one " Our ordinary perceptions are flat and two-dimensional Something must take us deeper if we are to understand and live as fully as we sense we can The miraculous is one way in which this deepening happens we are pointed to the real, to a world in which we are meant not to be sick, or dying, but to live...
...Elijah and Ehsha, Jesus, and any number of saints were healers But all of the people who were healed eventually died of something that wasn't healed What are healings, or any miracles, for7 A friend recently sent me an essay which contained a wonderful quote from the French poet, Paul Eluard...
...The miracles of healing point to a world to come The Kingdom which lies ahead but also, as the Eluard quote can remind us, within, is a Kingdom which is implicit now, and is revealed not only in the miracles that astonish us, but the daily miracles (forgiveness, the experience of great beauty, selfless love) that do not astonish us enough...

Vol. 121 • September 1994 • No. 15


 
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