What Maketh a Miracle?

November 2018

A few weeks ago I played recorder on a Sunday morning, the first time in fourteen years that I’ve played with a church band.  Such a pleasure, but I wondered where so many years had gone; playing guitar, flute or, best of all, clarinet had once been part of every weekend. Long, long ago I used to take my clarinet to conferences, even big ones, and ask the band if I could join in. Times do change! 

My Sunday gig was another joyful offshoot of the dramatic change brought about by a small white tablet in June this year. As I wrote in Back to Bach my ability to breathe improved immediately and dramatically.  Very soon afterward I knew there were three things I wanted to do:  Play again with the recorder consort I had left 18 months ago; play with the musicians in our church, and try (for a fourth time) to join the chaplaincy team at the Public Hospital. More on that another time, but here I want to relate a curious experience on that Sunday in church, when I first played my renaissance recorder alongside the traditional electric guitars, piano, drum kit and so on. 

As we finished our quiet little acoustic bracket and were leaving the platform, the speaker for the morning had taken his place and began by saying how glad he was that I had been playing, and doing something new, having received a “miracle of healing”. Now, whatever you may think of it, that language is familiar enough in many churches. But on that morning I found myself oddly averse to it, and as I’ve thought it over for a few weeks since my unrest has only increased. As a result I’ve been feeling somewhat like a pagan ever since.  What is this about?

For a start, I dislike being pigeonholed. The dreadful phrase, “confined to a wheelchair” is one that I’ve encountered infrequently, thank goodness, but it is a potent example. In addition there is the fact that if there is a story to be told about me, I want to be the one to tell it.  Prideful, I’m sure, but there is a lesson there: in subtle ways I think we often tell other people’s stories, sometimes with words, sometimes as private musings in our secret mind.

But most significantly I don’t want the label “Miracle”. A miracle, in Jesus’ time, was rescue for the overwhelmed: the demon possessed, the crippled, the oppressed. If you were beyond hope, you could be rescued nonetheless.  While I am joyful in having this second wind, and deeply grateful, I still can’t call it a miracle. The word is too pat, too simplistic. The word ‘miracle’ conveniently overlooks the wonder of modern science and medicine – and it truly is a wonder. And ‘miracle’ has an uncomfortably arbitrary feel: why this, and not that?  Why me, and not them? ’Miracle’ also requires Divine Intervention: God must come down. Yes, God indeed has come down, but that’s the very point: God has not left.   

I have come to think instead that my second wind is yet another experience of the abounding providence that has filled the last ten years of my life, since a day in 2008 on a wintry beach where I first found myself running unaccountably slower than top speed as I raced with my daughters on the sand. (I still won though, in case you were wondering).

I am sure that as my reader you may vehemently disagree with my conclusion; or you may be bored witless by this essay, and quite possibly you will not have read this far anyway. Or you may be wondering what the fuss is about, concluding that I am simply playing with words and definitions. To me, though, this matters very much, and Rejoice! has long been a well of clarity for me, if not for any other. In order to tell you, I have to know what I think. You are my critic, my sounding board and mirror. 

image1As I conclude this page I am by the shore of Lake Hume.  My Favourite Wife is a yellow dot, her kayak way out on the water. I’ve been practicing Bach Cello Suites on recorder, naturally, for a lesson coming up. A day like this is easy to embrace, obviously! But I think the miracle I most desire in life is to have grace enough to embrace every day that comes to me; especially those days most unlike this one.  Not sufficient grace, but an abundant, overflowing love for life, and for everyone we share life with, on every day. And to that end, I am resolved that the gifts of faith and gratitude are life’s true miracles.