“A cancer inexplicably cured. A voice in a dream. A statue that weeps. A miracle is an event that strengthens faith. It is possible to look at most miracles and find a rational explanation in terms of natural cause and effect. It is possible to look at Rembrandt's Supper at Emmaus and find a rational explanation in terms of paint and canvas.
Faith in God is less apt to proceed from miracles than miracles from faith in God.” Frederick Buechner, Originally published in Beyond Words, Frederick Buechner Quote of the Day, August 6, 2018.
I believe in miracles. Once a week I go to a room full of people who are miracles. It is a 12-step recovery group of people who once lived a life in an addiction and now are “happy, joyous and free.” They talk about what it was like then and what it is like now. I have heard some of their stories hundreds of times, but each time I see a little more similarities in my story and identify with them. Sometimes their story is so similar to mine that I think they are telling my story. The differences between the similarities and the differences begin to blur. Everyone in the room is a miracle, and I realize that I am as well, and I leave that place profoundly grateful.
I see other miracles every day. Someone calls or comes for a visit. I just listen and listen. In my mind, I have no idea what to say. Sometimes something comes out of my mouth that seems to help my friend. I have no idea where that idea came from. I know it was a miracle not of my own making.
Some would call it the Spirit working in our lives.
I see people living many years through cancers that once killed in months in years past. These are all miracles. Indeed, people who find cures are miracle workers. Often, they have been inspired by seeing patients die of that disease, and they are inspired not to see it again.
I remember a conversation with my grandmother when I was a junior in medical school when we were riding in the backseat of a car together. She told me that she could not understand how people cannot believe in miracles when they see a newborn baby. I just smiled, but in my mind, I said, “Grandmother, I know how babies develop. I know all the secrets and the stages of how they come to be born. These are all facts of science.”
Now fifty years later, as I have seen so many sick newborns, I know my grandmother is right. The birth of every baby is a miracle.
I also know what Buechner is talking about when we see Rembrandt’s Supper at Emmaus at the Louvre in Paris. Rembrandt has captured the miracle. So many other works of art that are miracles as well. They connect us to the God of our understanding, Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus in the National Gallery in London, Georges de La Tour’s, The Repentant Magdalen at the National Gallery in Washington DC.
Buechner challenges us to remember the many works of art that speak individually to us and look at them today to see if we can see the miracle and our faith in art books or even better, plan a pilgrimage to see them for real.