“A cancer inexplicably cured. A voice in a dream. 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.”—Frederick Buechner in Beyond Words (HarperOne, 2009).
I believe in miracles. Once a week I step into a room full of people who are themselves miracles. It is a 12-step recovery group of people who once were crippled by 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 few more similarities to my own story and identify more closely with theirs. Sometimes a person’s story is so similar to mine that I think: That IS my story. The differences begin to blur. Everyone in the room is a miracle, and I realize that I am as well. And so, each time, 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 words come out of my mouth that seem to help my friend. I am in the dark as to where a particular idea might have come from. I know that its flashing into my mind was a miracle not of my own making. Some would call it the Spirit working in our lives.
I see people living for many years through cancers that in the past would have killed them in months. These are all miracles. Indeed, people who find cures are miracle workers. Often they have been inspired by seeing patients die of a certain disease, and they are determined not to experience that again.
I remember a conversation with my grandmother when I was a junior in medical school and we were riding together in the back seat of a car. She told me that she could not understand how people aren’t convinced of miracles when they see a newborn baby. I just smiled, but in my mind I was thinking: “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 qualify as 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, D. C.
Buechner challenges us to remember the many works of art that speak individually to us and to look at them anew. Do we recognize the miracles offered to us in art books—or even better, might we plan a pilgrimage to go see these masterpieces for ourselves that we are learning are miracles?