(Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs, one every Monday, on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage)
At a recent book talk about The Long Walk Home, I started talking about miracles. Certainly, the miracles that are attributed to the Camino, primarily about St. James, (Santiago) and how he appeared miraculously to save in many situations. I also remember the miracles that others felt occurred on this ancient pilgrimage. So many miracles happened to Steve and I not only during the walk, but in our lives together, and even in the publishing process of this book.
The definition of a miracle has at least two distinct understandings:
- An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God.
- One that excites admiring awe; a wonderful or amazing event, act, person, or thing. synonym: wonder.
I have been wary of saying something is a “miracle” in the past. I think we all have reason to have a certain amount of skepticism in naming something a miracle, meaning “supernatural in origin or even an act of God.” We know how that has been abused and used to deceive and scam. Drugs, treatments, creams, pills– all purporting to work a miracle. I am hesitant to claim I’ve “seen a sign” or “heard God’s voice” since many have been led into beliefs that have harmed, betrayed or even killed others. So I tread lightly with this topic. I don’t want to be gullible either.
Yet, miracles have happened in my life. And I have heard a voice. I was nine when told on the authority of specialists at the Mayo Clinic that my two year old brother had a zero percent chance of surviving a rare cancer in his arm. He had a few months to live. I prayed on my knees in my bedroom that he wouldn’t die, and heard a voice by my right shoulder that said in a loud, strong voice, “He will not die.” And he didn’t. He’s now 64. That really happened. I’ve never heard it again, but I’m not as skeptical as some.
I was brought up in a faith tradition that told me all kinds of stories about miracles that occurred by God’s providence. The Israelites saved by the parting of the Red Sea, manna in the desert, water from a rock, a burning bush. And then the stories of Jesus walking on water, turning two loaves of bread and a few fish into enough to feed 5000. Touching a blind man’s eyes with mud and then he sees again. Casting out demons of mental illness. Healing leper, a cripple, a woman bleeding for years. Even bringing Lazurus back from the dead. The basis of the whole Christian faith is the story of a miracle: Jesus dies and then returns alive in new form that walks through doors, can appear and disappear at will and ascends to heaven. All fantastic miracles and I could doubt them, but somehow I don’t.
I want to regain the wonder of what can actually happen to us and by us as human beings. If I let skepticism and doubt govern my life, my ego will feel secure, but I don’t want to live where amazement at things that are beyond my comprehension can’t abide and inspire. And what do I do with the verse when Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20-21.
My small self is always afraid and lives with blinders on, keeping me from the deeper truth of human existence and how God works in this realm. I’ve glimpsed these wonders in many small and significant ways in my life–enough so that sometimes, I look at a mountain and contemplate moving it. It doesn’t matter to me if it moves or not. It only matters that I have the willingness to contemplate that God could do that through me. That keeps that grimy doubt from clouding my vision of life with despair and hopelessness, anger and hate–that’s my ego. It is not my essence that is of God.
Miracles are often explained away in today’s culture, unlike that of the Middle Ages when the Camino was at its height. Even I examine the origin of miracle stories and wonder about superstition or wishful thinking rather than reality. But I’d rather be a fool at this point, than miss “something that excites admiring awe, a wonderful or amazing event, act or person.”
So my ongoing little Camino is to play the fool, be open to mystery, transparent to wonder and believe in the possibility of miracles. That a mountain could move.