A few weeks ago I came across an article titled “What’s Wrong With Asking For a Miracle?” It sounded rather click-baitish, but it grabbed my attention so I took a look. I assumed it would be some Catholic or Evangelical telling readers why they should just have faith that things would work out. Instead it turned out to be an atheist chiding Christians for refusing his demand for proof that miracles actually happen.
I have no interest in stepping into the middle of an argument between atheists and Christians. But I can’t help but think about the original question from a Pagan perspective – why shouldn’t we ask to receive a miracle? We are magical people (for the most part), whether we are casting spells, crossing the hedge, dealing with spirits, or refining our souls. Aren’t miracles part of what we do all the time?
Let’s look at the definition of a miracle. Is a miracle something generally considered impossible, or does it include things that are possible but highly unlikely? If you’re arguing over the existence of miracles, the difference is important. Winning Powerball is almost impossible, but people do win. On the other hand, winning without buying a ticket is truly impossible – that really would be a miracle.
In normal conversation the word is used both ways, and in practice it makes little difference. If you need a large sum of money, the fact that you could theoretically get it by “investing” in Powerball is of little help. I’m a practical Druid, not a theoretical Druid.
Asking for a miracle, praying for a miracle, working magic for a miracle – whatever your approach, it’s not a good idea. It’s not an effective use of your time and energy.
Are you’re still with me? You didn’t stop reading because I didn’t tell you “miracles are out there if you’ll just believe!”? Good. Then you’re mature enough to know that trite sayings like “work harder” and “keep trying” are unhelpful things said by the privileged who don’t have to deal with your reality and who just want you to shut up and go away. Industriousness and perseverance are virtues, but the idea that hard work alone will fix complicated problems is both naïve and callous.
Fortunately, there are more helpful approaches available.
Reframe the problem. Magic can’t help you walk through walls, but it can help you find a door. Or make a door. Magic can help you prepare yourself so that when a previously unseen door opens unexpectedly, you’re ready to jump through it. Magic can help you hone your will so that when a door opens, you’re willing to jump through it and not hesitate because your prison cell is familiar and what’s on the other side of the door might be dangerous and scary.
I’ve found that once I start preparing to walk through doors, I start to see doors – and windows, and cracks that can be expanded – in places where previously I saw only solid walls.
Break the problem into bites. If you toss a fair coin, you have a 50% chance of getting heads. But you only have a a 0.1% chance of getting ten straight heads. Trying to throw ten straight heads falls into miracle territory – it could happen, but it’s not worth your time and effort. Instead, break the problem into manageable steps – work on throwing one head, then another, and so on. One huge problem is insurmountable. Multiple small problems can be solved one at a time.
To put it in baseball terms, if you’re down 5 runs, remember that there’s no such thing as a 5-run homer. Get one run, then another, then another. And change the pitcher, so your 5-run hole doesn’t turn into an 8-run hole.
Try multiple approaches simultaneously. In the mid 1990s I found myself in the job from hell. The details would take far too long to list, and in any case they’re not relevant to this post. Suffice it to say I tried working harder and working smarter and giving it time, but eventually I came to the inescapable conclusion I needed OUT. I needed out so badly I made finding a job my primary job. I called every recruiter who had ever called me. I called former bosses and co-workers. I bought out of town newspapers and went through the job ads (does anyone advertise jobs in the newspaper any more?). I even called some relatives who had business connections – I can’t begin to tell you how much I didn’t want to do that.I didn’t need all of those approaches to pay off – I just needed one. But the more approaches I used, the more the odds of finding one that would pay off went up. Gordon White at Rune Soup calls this shoaling – his blog post on it explains the process better than I can.
After several months of nothing, I ended up finding a magic newspaper: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of March 30, 1997. I sent off five resumes from ads in that paper. I got four call-backs, three interviews, and two offers. The offer I accepted eventually brought me to where I am now.
Was there privilege in many of those resources? Of course there was – and I used every bit of it I could. If you need a miracle use everything you’ve got.
Embrace the half loaf. Progress is often incremental. If you can’t get everything you need, take what you can get. Problems requiring miracles can rarely be solved in an hour with time left over for commercials. Some things take a lifetime – or multiple lifetimes. If you can make things a little better, those who come after you can make them a little more better, and eventually things will be where they need to be.
A current TV commercial makes fun of “settlers” – people who settle for a supposedly inferior product. We’re told “go big or go home” and “hold out for The Right One.” Our pursuit of unattainable perfection keeps us dissatisfied… and ready to spend more money to try to buy what we can’t find. Some things shouldn’t be compromised, like ethics and values. But for everything else, take the half loaf, then work on getting the other half.
Meditate. So, where does one go to find these hidden doors, smaller bites, multiple approaches, and half loafs? Inward. Sit in silent meditation and clear your mind of all your worries and busyness. My favorite technique is to go for a long walk outdoors. Don’t even think about listening to your iPod. Let Nature clear your mind, then let it go where it will. The natural world has a way of opening your eyes to connections and possibilities that is truly magical.
While you’re at it, pray and make offerings. You have allies in the world of the Gods and ancestors – ask for Their help too.
Die valiantly. Eventually we all die. Perhaps we’ll live on in the Otherworld or perhaps we’ll return here via reincarnation. We don’t know. But we do know we will all die some day, and that day may be closer than we think. We can’t choose if we’ll die, but if we are wise (and a little lucky) we can choose how we die.
What does it mean to die valiantly? For some, it means a quiet, peaceful acceptance of the inevitable. For others, it means tying yourself to a standing stone so you can continue to swing your sword and die on your feet. I think about this from time to time and I don’t think I can know what I’ll do until I’m faced with it. But I accept that death is inevitable, and it may not wait till I’m 105 and I’ve done everything I want to do.
Far too many of us expect miracle after miracle and we end up dying a death that is slow, painful, undignified, and expensive. Or we inflict such a death on family members because we’re afraid to let them go. Read this post titled How Doctors Die – those who know the most about death and who have access to the best life-extending treatments mostly refuse them. Sometimes asking for a miracle can be worse than doing nothing at all.
The limits of magic. Magic can make the improbable more likely, but it can’t do the impossible. It can’t violate the laws of Nature (or more precisely, I’ve seen zero evidence that it can). Rather than asking for a miracle, let’s use our considerable skills to reframe problems, expand our efforts, work incrementally, and when necessary, to show the world the meaning of valor.