We faced each other during coffee hour after worship, and swapped stories of our miraculous healings. His story was... well... more miraculous than mine. His life-threatening meningicoccus vs. my bilateral knee surgery: no contest.
Two lections (II Kings 5:1-14 and Mark 1:40-45) of the three for the Sixth Sunday after The Epiphany tell of miraculous healings of lepers: Naaman the Syrian, with seven dips in the Jordan River; and a desperate fellow in Galilee, with a touch from the hand of Jesus. We story-swappers made no reference to the Bible. Nor did we reflect upon the issue miracles, ours or the lepers', pose for a modern sensibility, conditioned as it is by the scientific mentality which emerged during the Enlightenment. (That may be heavy stuff for some reading this essay; but I can put the scientific view this way: that everything in the universe can be explained eventually by natural causes.)
Including dramatic cures.
So when my coffee hour conversationalist describes the penicillin cure of his infection and the later very delicate surgery to remove brain scar tissue; and when I joke about my titanium knees clanking but not hurting as I peddle the stationary bike a few miles Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; I can almost hear the dismissal of the term "miracle" (except figuratively) by naturalists and supernaturalists alike. The former point to the physicians' minds and hands, very mortal instruments; and the latter point to the absence of details of Biblical proportion, a clear divine reference and an instantaneous recovery.
Our (the coffee conversationalists') miracles, to my way of thinking, are the confluence of wonderful discoveries of the past seventy years; contributing, for instance, to Bob Howard's ability at seventy-seven to walk without limping, to eat sausage without clogging an artery, and to type a keyboard with his misshapen fingers without the aid of Tylenol . The other guy is just happy to be alive and able to go to work.
Why, I wonder, does a miracle have to be unattended by any vestige of human causation... except, of course, prayer?
Why does a miracle have to be, almost by definition, something extraordinary, exceptional, and very, very rare?
Does the hand of heaven intrude in human affairs only at that point where human agency is frustrated?
The other afternoon at the work-out room (many of my most serious conversations occur there!) the Baptist preacher unplugged his I-Pod long enough to discuss with me the Holy Spirit's activity, or lack of it, when a colleague recently stood in the pulpit to deliver, he hoped, a truly spiritual, uplifting oration, which he boasted earlier would depend entirely on the momentary inspiration of the third person of the Trinity. Apparently the Spirit had other more pressing things to do and was not inclined to blow in his direction in that hour. His presentation was a windy and Windless flop. Which comeuppance led the Baptist and the Methodist to agree that in our experience the Holy Spirit usually touches down in the often arduous process of reflection, study, and writing a manuscript of what we shall say. That is, divine activity is almost always disguised as human activity.
If so with preachers, why not doctors too?
My orthopedist agrees... that his skill with flesh and bone is as much art as it is science. And that human enterprise "art" - in which intuition and imagination, mysterious abilities no amount of brain scans will ever fully decipher - is most susceptible to divine intrusion. At least, so artists and others engaged in creative endeavors report.
What we didn't speculate over coffee was "why." The lucky ones don't ponder the reason for good things happening to them; not in the first blush of relief. But after you've lived a while with a miracle, and have clanking hinges to remind you, you do tend to ask that same question, why me?, voiced incessantly when unhappy circumstance knocks on the door. Sure, we know we are rescued for more: more time, more life, more days in the sunlight, more smelling the roses and the coffee, and more sharing the love and joy for which dust was first transformed into flesh in Eden. Grace and gift, a reminder of the incredible good fortune, some name it mercy (or Love), which brought us to life and sustains us through triumph, tragedy, and great stretches of tedium, while the rest of the time we are having a ball. Somewhere in there lurks an important if secondary purpose for me, a raison d'etre post miracle, namely, being useful to others... especially to a couple of young souls pressing for their moment in the sun.
I'll have to ask my compatriot in miracles next Sunday what he concludes is Providence's purpose in his miracle.