Tuesday, June 10, 2014


“Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers* are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”  Matthew 11:4-5

“I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle.”  Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

There is a Hasidic tale of the Rabbi of Gur who escaped Nazi Germany and was called to meet with Churchill about his experience.  When Churchill asked him how he thought the Nazis could be stopped, the Rabbi answered, “There are two possible ways, one involving natural means, the other supernatural.  The natural means would be if a million angels with flaming swords descend on Germany and destroy it.  The supernatural would be if a million Englishmen parachuted down on Germany and destroyed it.”*
Last week was the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.  That story sometimes comes to mind when I think about WWII.  But it came to mind recently for another reason entirely.  This weekend I went to visit two friends in the hospital recovering from surgery – one the recipient of a life-saving kidney transplant, the other the donor.  So I got to thinking about miracles.
Questions surrounding miracles have perplexed people for a long time.  For many, they are a sign of direct divine intervention.  For others, they are an outdated answer to what science can explain.  But I suspect for many more people miracles are still a mystery that cannot be so easily pinned down.  I don’t know the particulars of Jonah's encounter with that whale, or what made an impression on the Shroud of Turin, or how the small child given no chance of beating cancer is now walking around as an adult. 
But I have been to the hospital twice in the last 18 months to visit two sets of donors and recipients of kidney transplants.  I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I’ve seen miracles happen.  Like the Rabbi probably meant it, something supernatural took place in the hearts and lives of some amazing people. 

I will never understand the intricacies of taking an organ from one person and making it work in another person, but I know the doctors understand it.  It is a wondrous and natural phenomenon that can be scientifically explained. 
But how about those two donors?  Or how about the twenty or so other people who also got tested to see if they could be donors in those two situations?  Ordinary people living ordinary lives, who out of some mysterious combination of love, grace, friendship and courage, defy the natural rhythms of life and the deeply ingrained instinct to keep all their organs inside themselves.  It was without a doubt a “calling,” and they answered.  They endured something heroically hard, and they selflessly gave.  Two answered calls and two recipients with supernatural resilience - and what was near death was brought back to life.  I can think of nothing more fitting to call that than “miracle.” 

Think on it, and maybe you’ll see little miracles around you.  People every day are selflessly giving their lives to each other in big and small ways – cooking a meal, sitting and crying and holding a hand, standing with the oppressed, running into a fire, giving when they see a need, staying up all night with a sick child, doing medical missions, being a foster parent, forgiving a wrong, helping a stranger, picking up the phone, loving the unlovable, being a friend. 
To the one reaching out, defying self-interest, it may not seem so heroic; it’s just what any parent or friend or good person would do.  But you know way deep down, don’t you, that you are answering some mysterious call.  You know the same way you know way deep down when you’ve ignored that mysterious call and missed your chance to help. 

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of an answered call and been helped along in a deeply trying time, you’re much more likely to see the miracle in it.  It’s how God works sometimes.  Maybe God does cure disease and despair and deadness of every kind all on his own.  But sometimes he uses donors and caregivers and friends and ordinary everyday people – you know, sometimes he uses miracles. 

"if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle.”

*Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, Yaffa Eliach, pg. 79, and Peter Rollins who also expounds on that story.