Love comes in many forms. Technically, the Summer of Love was back in 1967 and though I was just across the Golden Gate Bridge from the action, I was too young to fully understand or partake. "Love" took on new meaning that summer: Free Love and Make Love Not War became the battle cry of flower wearing hippies. The Greeks differentiate types of love and talk of Eros and Agape; Shakespeare writes of love's incalculable value in his Sonnets. Most of the world's faith traditions elevate Love to the highest of virtues, even to proclaim as John does in the New Testament that God is Love.
2014 is hardly the Summer of Love. ISIS is so horrific that even
leaders of Al Qaeda have distanced themselves. Boko Haram, with the kidnapping
of nearly 300 school girls, has reigned terror in Nigeria. My younger daughter
Allie called several days ago to say, "You can stop worrying Mom,
we've decided not to go." She and her husband were headed to the airport
in a few hours on their way to Israel. My son-in-law had emigrated as
a child and he still has many friends and family there. Their difficult
decision was in the wake of the murders of three Israeli teenagers, the
subsequent murder of a Palestinian boy and the constant barrage of rockets
from Hamas extending their reach to Tel Aviv with retaliatory strikes from
Israel. How terribly sad this world can be.
At the end of our talks we often quote Willa Cather: "Where there is great love, there are always miracles." But where is God and Love and Miracles in all of this mayhem and suffering? This is not a new question. In fact, it is the question for anyone whose faith is shaken by the state of the world.
The day after Allie called about her change of plans, I went with friends who were visiting NYC to the newly opened 9/11 Memorial Museum, a powerful experience I highly recommend. I wasn't expecting to chase any miracles there, but at the end of our formal tour, I asked the guide how many people were in the twin towers when the terror began to unfold.
"There were 17,000 in the buildings at the time. So, roughly 14,000 were able to escape."
But then, he added, "The amazing thing is there was an unusual combination of factors that day that meant thousands of people who would normally have been in the buildings at the time weren't. The night before, the NY Giants played on Monday Night Football and lost badly to the Denver Broncos. People are up late on the east coast for these games and some of them either came in late or not at all. It was also Primary Tuesday. Some went to vote first and also arrived late. And, it was the first day of school, so some parents dropped their children at school that day. They didn't arrive on time either."
My husband Jim was supposed to be at the towers that morning, but wasn't. His was a story like so many others - of choices that seemed innocuous and turned out to be about life and death.
After the tour, we went to the more difficult parts of the museum. We saw the faces of those murdered that day, heard the voices of loved ones from hijacked airplanes and towering infernos, the tragedy made personal at every turn. We saw a movie that spoke about Hope and Strength rising from the ashes, and heard about First Responders going up as others were coming down, about ordinary citizens like a young man with a red bandana who stayed behind so others might escape. At the intersection of hate and terror, Love triumphed.
Going 7 stories down into the wound of 9/11, I expected a painful reminder of a tragic day. I didn't expect to come away with a better understanding of how in moments like this humanity connects, transcending barriers of culture, language and even religion. If God is love, then striving to love "greatly" is our highest calling as many on 9/11 were able to do.
Maybe that is what Willa Cather meant, that miracles relate to Love because Love relates to God, that this ideal pushes us to be more than we are, transforming us and others, leaving a lasting testament. No wonder her words of wisdom resonate whenever we gather and consider how a miracle experience alters who we are. (Katie)
Until the night he died peacefully in his sleep, my father believed he led a charmed existence. Born in a rural mountain village in southern Italy at the start of World War I, his father soon became a POW, held in N. Africa for the next two years. With the war finally over, Italy was in shambles; by the time he was 7 he and his mother left Italy for America to join his father now a shoe worker in Massachusetts. From his diary written some seventy years later, he describes his first day of school, walking from the cold water flat in the brickyard: NO English, straw hat, short pants - a caricature certain to be mocked. By the end of his high school years he was class president, basketball captain and a star in debate. Driven to learn, his parents thought him crazy to stay up late studying and working to excel. Though Harvard accepted him, it was not to be. There was no way with a piece work seamstress and a shoe maker for parents, even with his own $1/day job at the butcher shop and the radio ads he did with his resonant voice long since devoid of any accent. Fortunately, Boston College still catered to the area's large immigrant population and allowed payment in arrears, so off he went and was forever grateful.
When World War II intervened, smart enough for flight school, he learned he was colorblind, and instead became an on the ground radio man with a heavy bomb group in England. He rarely discussed the war, but was forever changed, an Anglophile for life, full of respect for the hardships they all endured. Motivated by what he had seen, he strove for diplomacy and via the GI bill studied the law at night and later represented veterans rights.
Always passionate and a thinker, he wrote letters to presidents and popes, even medical researchers who graciously wrote back commending his wisdom, offering their blessing and considering his ideas. Married to the love of his life for 47 years, living in a house they built together, he labored as a staff attorney to send his 4 children to the college of their choice. He was proud I followed him to BC where Eagles soared.
He was full of advice and admonitions. We had rules, curfews and he worried about each of us (though admittedly I probably gave him the most to worry about). He cautioned us not to be self righteous, to recognize the frailty as well as the power of the human condition. He insisted that we know when to ask for help: a little inconvenience was never worth a trade off leading to true trouble, even if it meant he would have to get out of bed to be at our side. He signed on wholeheartedly to the Jesuit credo of being men and women for others and encouraged us to do the same. He believed in being happy...it was our job on earth, to make the world a better place and enjoy doing it. As part of the "greatest generation" he was about service and duty and providing for others. Forget Superman, he was my first hero.
In later years he wrote plays, books and poems where the true depth of his feelings burst through. He would sit at his desk for hours, occasionally with pipe in hand, committing his thoughts and fears for the world to paper. I loved watching and soaking in the aroma of his thinking. As the ravages of dementia took over, it was painful to lose him in pieces, though his faith in God and love of his family never wavered.
People tell me I am too optimistic, too positive, too Pollyanna-ish. I wonder how I could be any different. You see, I was touched by a charmed life. (Joan)
Every time I have to do a presentation, an interview, facilitate a meeting or simply "sell" an idea to my boss, I get butterflies in my stomach. Some of us grew up thinking that to make a mistake is a bad thing, so we ratchet up every type of life "performance" to include the possibility of some dire consequence should things not go as planned. I've had years of practice at overcoming these butterflies, but I cannot seem to get over the fear of possible rejection, being dismissed, or the thought that I could make another bad mistake.
Science is now telling us that this type of fear, a form of perfectionism, actually stifles creativity. Apparently, the ability to succeed requires a kind of mindfulness about fear that includes both the ability to accept that mistakes will inevitably happen and the ability to actually learn from them.
Recently, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, an American Theravada Buddhist monk in San Diego commented, "Several years ago, a sociologist studied students in a neurosurgery program to see what qualities separated those who succeeded from those who failed. He found ultimately that two questions in his interviews pointed to the crucial difference. He would ask the students, 'Do you ever make mistakes? If so, what is the worst mistake you've ever made?' Those who failed the program would inevitably answer that they rarely made mistakes or else would blame their mistakes on factors beyond their control Those who succeeded in the program not only admitted to many mistakes, but also volunteered information on what they would do not to repeat those mistakes in the future.
One of the points he makes is that mistakes are not inherently bad. Life is full of mistakes and they can be viewed as personalized learning opportunities for growth and transformation. It's this part about how mistakes can inform transformation that intrigues me. If being alive means we must inevitably fail and fall, then let's keep falling forward.
So what does all this have to do with miracles? It seems to me that miracles are quite unpredictable and often messy. Those of us who like neat edges can become very challenged by a miracle's sudden appearance!
Take, for example, Katie's encounter with Ted Bundy that she shares in The Miracle Chase. In the beginning of our miracle journey, Katie was not sure she wanted to share publicly how she survived because of a miracle; even though she could admit to Joan and me that she had. She didn't trust herself. But every time she shares her story, it gets easier. Now you can read another miracle story by Katie on Guidepost's Mysterious Ways Lunch Break Miracle Blog. http://www.guideposts.org/blogs/lunch-break-miracles/the-miracle-that-woke-me-up-to-god Becoming a Miracle Chaser changed Katie. She's been called a "miracle expert" and she confidently shares her miracle experiences and her truth as a writer, speaker and leader.
Miracles take place in an imperfect world and in imperfect lives. My challenge was to learn to love the miracle. While I could see that God had provided a miracle in Elizabeth's recovery from Shaken Baby Syndrome, her blindness continued to present challenges that seemed overwhelming and unfair. It was hard to trust that the occasional light at the end of the tunnel was truly a light and not a train. Finally, I was able to understand that whether the light at the end was a train or not didn't matter; what mattered was that I be the light in the tunnel. To do that, I face down my fear that something bad can happen again every day. Gradually, I am learning that by fully feeling the fear and taking the next step anyway, I build up just enough trust to take the next step. And that's all I need to do. As Confucius says, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Which brings me back to butterflies. We all know that butterflies hatch from cocoons, that the caterpillar attaches to a branch, spins a cocoon, and at some point, the butterfly emerges. What really happens in that cocoon is that the caterpillar is being broken down to absolute caterpillar DNA in caterpillar goo; from this primordial slush - Transformation! - the butterfly emerges and flies high. When you look at it this way, my butterflies are miraculous signals of Transformation; they remind me that, even from my worst mistakes, I can fly.
What is one thing you can do today that stretches you enough to make you feel a tiny bit afraid, forces you to step-just one step - out of your comfort zone, that encourages experimentation, curiosity and newness? In the words of Anne Lamott, do something that gives you that "big, juicy Zorba" moment. Changes almost always make us feel uncertain and uncomfortable but Transformation doesn't happen without change. Let the miracle take you where you need to go. (Meb)
Mirari is the Latin word for miracle, meaning to wonder. As a miracle chaser, it is an occupational habit for me to wonder and it is no surprise I was drawn to an article in the NY Times a few weeks ago entitled, "Is that Jesus in Your Toast?" In addition to learning a new word - pareidolia (seeing something significant in ambiguous stimuli), I learned that someone sold a ten year old grilled cheese sandwich on eBay for $28,000 because it bore a striking resemblance to the Blessed Mary. The old adage that truth is stranger than fiction comes to mind, but the article also got me, well, wondering...
A few years back I met a woman after one of our talks, who told me about a strange experience she had one day when she was at her lowest point, lying in bed hoping to recover from ovarian cancer. Staring at the light on her ceiling, something she had done countless times before, she suddenly recognized the image of Christ in the contours of the crystal chandelier. Though she was not religious, she decided to pray. Later, she saw the same image in the grains of wood on her oak closet doors. Since her recovery, she has been unable to see the images again. To me, this is such a beautiful illustration of a miracle as a sign: of help for the asking, of Divine connection for the taking.
Frederick Buechner said that "A miracle is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts...when one plus one equals a thousand." Our word of the day, pareidolia, if used in this story might reduce a miracle to its lowest common denominator, a state where the concept of miracle is lost, where one plus one equals zero. It is true, one must look beyond the cold, hard surface of a chandelier or a closet door, add the observer and her experience to the mystery of Divine presence, in order to find the miracle and then add what happens next: faith with a new dimension, an altered perception of what is possible, even the forging of a new spiritual journey. As we learned in our own journey, miracles go on, creating anew. The idea that a miracle is a thousand times greater than what you start with speaks to why a personal miracle changes who you are, continuing long after the experience is over.
Years ago as the three of us sat on Joan's living room floor, sharing the most recent miracle minutia and jewels we had discovered, I announced I had read that maybe St. Paul had frontal lobe epilepsy, which caused his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Meb's response is one I will never forget, "Given he was the most prolific writer in the early church, does that make it less of a miracle?"
Her comment was an epiphany to me because I was guilty of dissecting miracles, stripping them of mystery, reducing them to the sum of their parts. No surprise, it also got me wondering... why wouldn't God use the tools at hand, chandeliers, wood doors, even epilepsy? Natural explanations for famous miracles throughout history can be found, the parting of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds as some say) or the Star of Bethlehem. Like the woman in the story above, maybe she saw what she needed to see, but does that mean it wasn't really there? Does that make it less of a miracle?
I wonder if there is a miracle language available to us when we are at our most desperate or afraid, a "sign" language, so to speak. Lately, we've been hearing about miracles that come in the form of words (literally) clear commands to STOP at an intersection to avert a tragic car accident, a "healing dream" with specific instructions to cure chronic pain, the message "to love" in order to save a troubled marriage...I wonder if this is like God saying prayers for us when we don't know enough to say them for ourselves. Or, if our "spirit guides" alert us to danger or give us direction in order to heal.
I've been chasing miracles now for nearly fifteen years and still, I wonder. Each new story someone shares adds to the miracle conversation and connection enriching the stories we've heard before.
The grilled cheese sandwich, by the way, was purchased by an online casino that planned to use it to raise money for charity...one plus one equals a thousand? I wonder...(Katie)
I admit it: I am addicted to all things Roman. Some might think it is because of my deep Italian roots, or perhaps it is tied to the relative safety of reading, instead of living, some of the world's best real life adventure stories, or maybe it's my fascination with the level of political intrigue and espionage that would make even House of Cards addicts blanche. Regardless of the reason, I become completely engrossed in books detailing the history of the Roman Empire even though it fell more than a millennia ago. I am always struck by the reality of how fear and jealousy coalesced on that fateful day, the 15th of March 44 BC, to wreak havoc on the future of Rome. The take away for me is not only the changing of the guard that transpired, but Caesar's fateful words, "Et tu, Brute?" challenge me to think about relationships in a new way. Brutus was a friend, a political rival perhaps, but none-the-less someone Caesar trusted (in as much as Caesar trusted anyone). Brutus knew Caesar well: his foibles, eccentricities and ambitions, but also his passion and commitment to expanding the glory and grandeur of Rome. How horrifying it must have been for Caesar to see his friend among his murderers.
For Caesar and Brutus there was no going back. For most of us though, the dissolution of a friendship is not quite so absolute or final. Perhaps it was a thoughtless comment or a series of slights or even a misunderstanding (hard to rectify since each party knowsthat they understood exactly...) that causes a relationship to unravel. There is certainly no benefit to continuing an abusive relationship or trying to befriend a narcissistic (seemingly epidemic at the moment) or selfish person. Life is too short. But not all dissolved relationships are quite so black and white, some just die of neglect or take someone-for-grantedness.
In writing The Miracle Chase, we had opportunities where it seemed easier to take our marbles and go home. Sometimes our feelings were hurt when one of us lacked the understanding or ability to communicate with each other in a sensitive way. As we think about what made our venture successful, we recognize that the notion of Generosity of Spirit was the secret sauce that kept us on track. In writing about miracles, we knew the subject was bigger than we were, so we had to be bigger too. Instead of giving up or taking our wounded ego home, we checked it at the door. We stayed and spoke honestly to each other about how we were feeling and why we reacted a certain way to work though the hurt to find a new understanding. As a result we were able to forge a deeper relationship with one another. Our friendship has gone on to sustain us, not only in our ten years of writing, but now, in the three plus years of speaking and writing since the book was published. It has not always been easy to continue to grow in our relationship with each other; life is busy with demands of work, family and the myriad of activities of our daily lives. And yet, I know making this effort has resulted in the survival value C. S. Lewis envisioned.
It seems ironic that those we love and care about are the only ones who can truly wound us and it is here that exercising Generosity of Spirit sometimes seems hardest. Whether it is our patience that wears thin or we become trapped in seeking a warped view of loyalty or perfection, our human flaws can get magnified instead of smoothed over. While it is too late for Caesar and Brutus, perhaps we can learn from their drama. As we look to the rebirth of spring, I hope to be brave enough to take the chance to rekindle a lost relationship, to go deeper in a current one, or to simply "reach out and touch someone" (harkening back to a gentler time than "Can you hear me now?") By being more attentive to my words and actions, by checking my ego at the door and by being full of a generosity of spirit that is honest and non-judgmental, I'm hoping I just might resurrect a dead relationship or find a new one. I bet you could too. (Joan)