Not afraid of miracles

Miracles happen, because God is with us through everything.

By Amy Butler

I don’t really believe in miracles, at least the kind my siblings and I used to watch with fascination on Christian television when our parents told us to amuse ourselves and there was nothing else on. This was the stuff of discarded crutches and scary, sweating men in cheap suits, and I guess even as a child I was a bit cynical.

Further, though I am now a religious professional, I do not recall anyone addressing the issue of miracles at all in seminary. And since then, nobody has asked me to perform a miracle or even really to pray for a miracle to happen, except in vague, metaphorical terms.

If they had — I’ll just be honest — I’d be a bit uncomfortable.

The end result of this personal and professional miracle neglect is that I don’t think about miracles much at all. Even now, in the “season of miracles” as some television networks are calling it, I’ve not pondered them recently that I can recall.

Until the other day when I visited the nail salon I’ve been frequenting for 10 years.

The Vietnamese ladies who work in the shop have become friends over all these years. We’ve watched our children grow up, world events unfold, styles change, all set to the steady soundtrack of running water, buzzing electric nail files and chattering Vietnamese commentary.

Once when I was traveling to Southeast Asia they sat me down and made me a list of all the most delicious things someone would want to eat in that part of the world.

Staunch Catholics all, they are curious and probably a bit confused about a “woman priest,” as they call me. We’ve had many conversations over the years about my work, but those conversations weave in and out of exchanges centered smack in the middle of day-to-day stuff of life.

They are my friends.

The other day one of them posed a question as I sat soaking my hands in a bowl of warm, soapy water. In broken English she asked: “Amy, do you believe in miracles?”

I answered a bit offhand. “Sure, so many things in life are miracles: the birth of a child, the gift of a new day….”

She paused then repeated: “What I mean is, have you ever seen a miracle? A real miracle?”

“You mean like someone instantly healed or something?” I asked.

“Yes,” she nodded.

“Nope, I haven’t,” I said. “I don’t usually think of God as magical like that.”

She was quiet for a long, long time.

Later, my hands stuck under the dryer, she approached me again. With tears in her eyes she told me her sister, one of the other women who normally works in the shop, has a 10-year-old son who was diagnosed last week with an invasive, inoperable and terminal brain tumor. Today, she said, he was having surgery to relieve some pressure on his brain and make him more comfortable.

“I need to know about miracles,” she said again.

My stomach sank. This was not, in fact, a casual, theoretical question about magical miraculous things happening randomly. She was asking me for just a shred of hope.

Even though I don’t think about miracles much, I can usually recognize a pastoral care situation when I see one. And most of the time I have the good sense to use some of those skills I picked up in Clinical Pastoral Education.

This time I missed it, and I’m afraid in my lighthearted, off-the-cuff answer I didn’t say what needed to be said about miracles. I am so sorry about that.

When I heard the reason behind her initial question, I quickly pulled my hands out from under the dryer and gave her a hug. She cried. I cried. Everyone in the shop got silent and stared.

I said to her: “Yes, miracles happen. They happen in many, many different ways all the time. And they happen because God is with us through everything. God is with Ryan. And God is here.”

It’s what I would have said the first time had I been paying attention. But, turns out, it’s also what I believe.

Talk about miracles will always have a little bit of an Oral Roberts, be heeeeeaaaaled! tinge for me. I just can’t shake it. But I thought as I left the shop that day: here we are in the season of miracles, where the possibility of hope, peace, joy, even love are held out there for us to imagine. And where God breaks in to our human striving and imagines possibilities for us far beyond my cynical limitations.

So I’ve decided I’m not going to be afraid of miracles anymore. The next time I’m asked, I’m going to say yes, I believe in miracles. Because with all the pain of being human, we just can’t afford not to.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.