In response to last week’s post about setting aside the phrase, “God protected me” when surviving a natural or human-made disaster, a reader wrote: “Do you have any ideas about what I could say when someone tells me a miracle story like, ‘God saved me but all my neighbors were blown away?’”
This reader hit the core of my plea: let us stop suggesting that God has shown special favor to those who survived while ignoring the frantic prayers of those who perished or suffered life-changing injuries.
Certainly it looks miraculous when people emerge alive from a tornado or fire or plane crash or terrorist attack, especially when many don’t. Is this explainable outside naming it of “God’s special protection” and therefore a miracle?
Well, what is a miracle? Probably most define one as a supernatural intervention into the normal course of existence.
I find this definition limiting. Personally, I think life itself is a miracle. That we breathe, think, love, create, give birth—all seems utterly miraculous to me.
As a gardener, I never get past the astounding moment when a seed sprouts. Seriously. The main reason I garden is simply to see that happen.
I survey those dead- looking small, hard shells, or oddly shaped bulbs or feathery light centerpieces of spent flowers and say, “How? How can it happen that this tiny piece of nothing can break apart and something alive push its way to the surface? How miraculous!” What looks like death gives way to life .
Far more seeds don’t sprout and reproduce than the ones that do. Those that don’t may be eaten by birds or mammals or float away and land on inhospitable ground slowly decomposing, giving life in the process.
Well, how about believing in the miracle of death? Consider instead amazement at a body seeking to say, “My time is ending; the best gift you can give is the gift of peaceful acceptance and willingness to let this form of life go so I may enter into a different form of life.”
Just as I was preparing to write this column, I was called to the bedside of a dear friend who is in her last days. Peace, family and friends surrounded her, gently caring, graciously letting go. This, too, is a miracle.
Of course no one wants untimely deaths. To hear of infants and children dying so breaks my heart that I can hardly hold the pain in. Surely God weeps with us. The fact that death is part of life brings no comfort or appeasement of grief here.
But even so, I ask, “Where would we be if the miracle of death did not accompany the miracle of life?” The seasons themselves tell us that without the death of winter, spring cannot come forth.
Still, I know of no adequate answer to those who claim that the Holy One has granted special privilege of physical life to some above others. The idea springs from our sense of special privilege. We may say there are equal opportunities, but we all know some people are far, far more “equal” than others. Yes, in the world we know, privilege is rationed–and most are left out.
But in the Kingdom of Heaven? Surely not. Surely, all special privilege disappears in the Holy Presence when we all see ourselves fully—and fully in need of grace.
Even so, may God have mercy on the souls of those who affirm their own special protection from God. They know not what they do.