Saturday, November 3, 2012

What Do I Do with Miracles?

My mom always says that if God is going to speak to her, He should use English, and I've always agreed with that sentiment. Subtlety leads to ambiguity. If God is going to tell me something important, I want the message to be completely clear so I can't mistakenly ignore Him. I want burning bushes and winged seraphim, something obvious. That's why I've never really known what to make of miracles. In general, I believe they occur, but I don’t like labeling what is or isn’t one. My skeptical side tends to believe there is most likely a reasonable explanation for a seemingly unreasonable occurrence. But I realized recently that deciding whether something is or isn’t a miracle is not my real problem. My problem is how to respond.

I experienced two instances which I was hesitant to call miracles, but I have decided they are. Even if I can find solidly logical explanations for them, I still consider them miracles. While the most common definition of miracle means that it transcends scientific explanation, that doesn’t have to be the only definition. From “miracle: …2. such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God. 3. a wonder; marvel.” God can send messages and marvels through events that have explanations. If I receive the message, if I’m stopped in complete awe trying to process the magnitude of what’s happening, it’s a miracle in my eyes. 

I guess it would be unfair to keep going and not mention what these miracles actually were. I’ve never shared them before because I feel protective of them. Yes, they can be dismissed quite easily as not miraculous. But they are part of my personal experience. It doesn’t matter if anyone else wants to consider them miracles, and honestly, I’d be a bit skeptical if anyone did. The miracles occurred more in my reaction than the events themselves. 

The first was almost two years ago. It was Lent, and I had just started having those inklings to look at Catholicism, but I was still a far way from picturing myself actually converting. I had gone out of town to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I wound up at another friend’s apartment where I intended to spend the night, avoiding a long drive home, but we stayed up talking for hours and hours. At 7 a.m., I looked at the clock and realized that there was no point in going to sleep now that it was light out; I might as well head home and make it to church. I got home, showered, and made it to the 10:30 service on time. I sat in the pew I always sat in, surrounded by the people who always sat in the same pews around me. Other than it being Lent, I don’t recall anything particular about the service. But that was because I was distracted. The gold cross that hung above the altar didn’t look like a cross to me; it was a crucifix. I could see Christ’s outstretched arms, his pierced feet, and his hanging head bearing the crown of thorns. I knew it was a trick of the sunlight, but the sun had never made it look like this before, and I was in the same position as I had been for years of Sundays. I knew it was because I hadn’t had any sleep, but the illusion didn’t go away. I spent most of the service blinking, leaning one way then another, trying not to see a crucifix where an empty cross should be, but the image wouldn’t go away.

The second occurred just yesterday. It was All Souls Day, so I drove over to the Church of the Brethren where my grandparents were buried to say a prayer as part of gaining an indulgence. I had between three-quarters and a half a tank of gas when I got there. I didn’t bother to park in the lot behind the church; I just pulled a bit off the drive. It was a pretty day, so after my prayers, I wandered around the small cemetery for a bit. When I got back in the car and turned it on, I had a full tank of gas. I just stared at that little red arrow for a long time, trying to figure out what it meant. Was it just the meter malfunctioning or was there actually more gas in the tank? My car is pretty new, and a malfunction is unlikely (but not as unlikely as extra gas appearing). I knew a logical explanation was that parking on an incline off the road might angle my gas tank, triggering it to read as full. After about 15 minutes of driving, the meter dipped back down the level it had been at previously. But that didn’t shake the feeling that such an odd occurrence had happened at that time on that day for a reason. The experience was sticking in my chest. There was some sort of message I was supposed to be getting.

I say supposed to, because I have no idea what that message is. I don’t know what seeing crucifixes mean (although the whole converting to Catholicism thing is probably related). I don’t know what an arrow pointing to full means. It’s like I’m reading a language I don’t speak. I can recognize symbols and gleam context from pictures, but without translation, I don’t know what I’m reading. I can see God reaching out to me, but I don’t know what He wants me to do. I can freak out, tear up, and ask God what this is, but then the moment passes, and I don’t know whether I just accept the event for the personal encounter it was, or if there is accompanying instruction that I’m ignoring.

So that’s it. No interpretation. No conclusion. Because I don’t know what those would be.

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