I was listening fairly closely as the priest was working his way through the liturgy. It may seem odd that a Quaker participates so gladly in a much more liturgical worship than a silent form of worship which would be my normal fare. Sometimes I joke and say I am spiritually ambidextrous! That is not a bad comparison. To be able to shoot a basketball with either hand was an asset when I played ball. And to be able to participate and appreciate a highly structured worship approach or one rooted unstructured in silence feels enriching to me.
The good news for me is I feel comfortable in either setting. I have participated in liturgical worship situations fairly frequently, so I know what’s going on. I can play my role as a participant in the group. I like the fact that I will not be chosen to be up front and leading. I like the music, the prayers and the sacrament. But I also like those places in the liturgy where I won’t be able to guess what the priest might say or do.
There are the predictable unstructured places, even in the liturgy. The homily or sermon is one such place. There are other places where good priests have some liberty in what they will say or do. I especially like to be attentive at those places.
It was just in one of these open spaces that I heard the phrase that I knew was going to stick in my brain and become the focus of some reflection. I have no idea what the context of the phrase was. It was near the end of the worship experience. The priest said that “in some way to work a miracle.” It was an innocent little phrase. It was not intoned any differently that the sentence before or after it. In fact, I wonder how many people actually “heard” it in the sense that they could have shared it with another person? I am not even sure why it registered so clearly in my brain. But it was my take-away of the day!
I am sure that what grabbed my attention was that part of the phrase which says we should “work a miracle.” I wanted to say, “Yes,” to yell “Amen.” I am for working a miracle, but then I realized I am not sure what that means. This is where I need to reflect on the matter.
Doubtlessly, the issue is the meaning of the word, miracle. Work a miracle? Sure, but what does a miracle look like? At one level, I don’t like the word, miracle. It is used too loosely in our culture. There are miracles on baseballs fields and sundry other places. Sometimes it can mean as little as something special. I am not against special things, but I don’t categorize them as miracles.
At the other extreme is the assumption that a miracle is any kind of divine intervention. Again I have no problem thinking that God might intervene in some ways---although it is difficult to be specific. And it clearly raises some troubling questions why God would not intervene in other cases, i.e. seriously sick people?
I turned to the classical language and, as usual, found them helpful. I know the Latin and Greek words for “miracle” can also be translated “wonder” or “marvel.” This is helpful, but it is not conclusive. But I am not really sure you can be conclusive when it comes to miracles. That either disappoints us, or it might make us relieved. I am one of those that are relieved that we can’t be conclusive about miracles.
That means I might see or do a miracle that not every person would agree to be miraculous. That is ok with me. Let’s stay with the classical definition of miracle, i.e. a wonder or marvel. If I can do something marvelous, I am willing to say that is miraculous. It did not require God’s immediate intervention, although I am sure God would be happy with the miracle. And if someone else does not interpret that marvelous deed as miraculous, that’s ok; it’s still marvelous! The deed is what is important, not what we call it.
I think this is what hit me so positively about the priest’s phrase. In some way this day I want to work a miracle. Maybe I can manage a couple or three! And maybe you can, too? It does not mean we have to turn water into wine!
I do think we have all sorts of chances and situations in our normal day to be miraculous. They are not prescribed, but they can be performed in some way. Your way probably will be different than my way. Perhaps the way we all can look at it---as miracle workers---is to ask where in this day can I do wondrous and marvelous things? And maybe it is not always a matter of doing. Perhaps it can be as simple as being marvelous and wondrous.
If we all did this today, that would be a miracle! I am going to try.