Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's a miracle.

Do you believe in miracles?

Christmas deals in miracles, in the unexpected, the implausible, the incredible. This is true whether we're talking about "religious" or "secular" Christmas (I put those words in quotes because, let's be honest, who can separate them at this point?). On the religious side, the idea is that a baby was born in the middle of nowhere to a couple with few prospects (supposedly by some kind of divine insemination), and that baby grew up to be...the savior of the world? Oh, and he died but came back to life, and hundreds of millions of people still follow and worship him today. The secular story isn't much better: a man who lives in the Arctic Circle with a factory full of elves packs up a flying sleigh once a year and manages to deliver toys to every child in the world in one night. And he tracks them all year to see who wants and deserves what.

Of course, the difference between these two is that we adults (the Christian ones among us, anyway) are supposed to believe the first story, but the second is pretty much limited to children under the age of, say, 12 (I was a late believer, but that's another story). So, can we? Do we believe in this miracle?

On my best days, I do. It's such a beautiful and creative and riveting story that I want it to be true, hope it can be true, maybe need it to be true. But this credulity, this readiness to believe the stuff of dreams can happen, doesn't often extend to the rest of my life. I doubt. This is a defining aspect of my personality: I am a doubter.

I'm not talking about doubting the kind of fantastical miracles we see in the Bible--seas parting down the middle, people coming back from the dead, water turning into wine. To be honest, I'm not too worried about those. I identify strongly with the sentiment of one of my favorite fictional characters, Father Emilio Sandoz from the novel The Sparrow: "He found the life of Jesus profoundly moving; the miracles, on the other hand, seemed a barrier to faith, and he tended to explain them to himself in rational terms. It was as though there were only seven loaves and seven fishes.  Maybe the miracle was that people shared what they had with strangers, he thought in the darkness."

Here's the thing, though: sometimes I can't believe in the kinds of miracles Emilio is thinking about here either, those personal human miracles like welcoming strangers we might find a bit suspicious or off-putting, not snapping at people when they've said that one thing that pushes our buttons, repairing tears in relationships that seem irreparable. Those miracles require some work from us, not unilateral divine action.

Then I think about the grace I've received from people who managed to muster up love for me when I didn't deserve it...and believe me, that's happened a lot. When I focus on my own individual ability to love others as I want to be loved, I'm skeptical. When I call to mind how others have loved me, though, that's when I start to believe in miracles again.

We're not always faithful or loving or trusting, we humans--we're human! But when we embody those good (dare I say divine?) qualities, we reveal that we are also imprinted with the image of a good, creative, beautifully mysterious God. If that's not a miracle, I don't know what is.

Merry Christmas.

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