Bernoulli’s principle explains how heavier-than-air machines defy gravity: the air moving across the top of the wing, helped by the rounded shape, flows faster and is therefore less dense than the air flowing along the flat underside. As a result there is greater pressure on the bottom of the wing, and the craft is lifted skyward. But this fact of physical reality, known to my brain, is ignored by my senses. I stand on the observation deck at the airport gazing onto the miracle of a Boeing 737 preparing for take-off. Loaded with luggage and humans, the monstrous ship whistles across the runway, then jumps gently into midair where it will hang for hours. I stare in credulously. I’ve seen barn owls swoop noiselessly over treetops, Martins play tag in the wind, jeweled hummingbirds maneuver in and out of small openings in the bush. I’ve looked down at endless squares of neighborhoods from the seat of a single-engine Cessna. I’ve even flapped my arms in dreams, lifting my delighted body higher than smokestacks. But not once have I calmly comprehended the sight of a 50-ton jet soaring away from Earth and into the clouds. This is no hollow-boned bird. This is 50 tons leaving the ground. Gracefully.
Ocean liners evoke a similar awe. In 280 B.C. Archimedes calculated the law of the proportion of weight displacement of water by floating bodies. Cruising the lake in an aluminum canoe I can comprehend, both rationally and intuitively, how the metal beneath me stays afloat. But boats were made of wood in 280 B.C. What would Archimedes have thought of a luxury liner carrying 2,000 passengers and weighing thousands of tons? Again, my brain understands how the hull-shape displaces the weight of the water causing the ship to float, but to witness all that steel gliding onto the ocean — or flying into the sky — is for me a miracle.
I ponder the flight of planes and the floating of ships because their functionings are not, in the proper sense of the word, truly miraculous. Big ships float and big planes fly, both within the realm of explainable phenomena. But strictly speaking, a miracle is an effect in the physical world which transcends that explainable realm, surpassing the known natural laws. We think we know a lot, but by this definition alone we are everywhere confronted with miracles, particularly the inscrutable miracle of life. On closer examination of reality we are more challenged to find something which isn’t a miracle than something which is. The oddest miracle is that we perceive so few miracles.
It’s not that we’re inherently blind to the miraculous. We simply see with tired, conditioned eyes. Our tendency is to either overlook the daily world, or examine it as if it were graph paper. We probe, divide, and name the aspects of reality, hoping to discern patterns and consistencies which will lead us to uncover the “natural laws.” But as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle demonstrates, those laws often tell us more about our minds than about the world. By lending a certain finality to our world views, they might even take us further from the truth. Fortunately our book of natural laws is dreadfully incomplete. Like a threadbare shirt it can’t hide the naked fact of our ignorance.
Back on the deck, mesmerized by the whine of the jet engines, I realize that although the 737 is a man-made miracle, it is nonetheless a miracle of the natural world. Man is part of Nature, and his inventions are inescapably natural. The miracle of flying steel, thanks to Bernoulli, is not one of supernatural agency, and is therefore not a genuine miracle. But to my dim eyes it is miraculous. To my dim eyes there is nothing but miracles.
Johnson City, Tennessee
Miracles? Ah, how easily we forget, in our conceit, that it’s all a miracle. Just a few evenings ago I was reading in Miracle of Love some of Ram Dass’ stories of the loving powers of Neem Karoli Baba. Putting the book aside, I closed my eyes and started wondering about the differences between this miracle worker and myself. Why can’t I feed hundreds of people from eight oranges? Why can’t I heal the sick and lame (including myself)? Or why can’t I be in two places at once? Then, really getting into it, I thought, “Lord, I’m available to do your good work; I’m ready, willing, and able. Just give me a sign!” After a pregnant pause, my sense of humor — that trickster inside my brain (my soul) — gained ascendency and asked, “Well, Benjamin, how about the sun coming up tomorrow? Will that do?”
The way I see it, there are but two choices: miracle or illusion. Have you ever wondered what dies during a rebirth? I can’t accept that it’s some “bad” part of myself that I’m better off without. God didn’t make any bad parts of me. Neither did I. What, then, dies to be reborn? (It feels like something’s dying!) Illusions die. Only illusions can die. As we surrender illusions, miracles become commonplace.
Miracles are a part of the culture here in Peru. A friend walked all night in a religious procession petitioning for a baby which she had been unable to bear. She had a baby sometime after the procession and claimed it to be a miracle. Interesting? Perhaps.
Twisting and turning the laws of the physical world is not my idea of a miracle. A true miracle is something not unlike the change of heart that occurred within the character of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. The old miser changed into a generous and loving friend overnight. That is a miracle! To change the color of the atmosphere from a peaceful blue to a blood red is a simple technological task in this age of war but to change the heart filled with fear and hate to one pulsing with love and understanding is truly a miracle.
As a young man in his early twenties I was arrogant and despondent over unemployment. Enclosed in a shell I refused to listen to my counselor but with her care and persistence I opened up to my responsibility for my own life and the happiness that exists within the moment. That was a miracle! Miracles are not “happily ever afters” but deeper understandings and appreciations of the mystery of life.
We often comment, “It would be a miracle if. . . .” and then cite some relatively mundane occurrence, such as passing an algebra exam, finally getting a real boyfriend, becoming more consistently organized. We overlook the minor miracles which altogether compose the larger ones that can make a positive difference in our lives. Something as simple as knowing what you really want, and then taking the right small steps one at a time to attain it. Miracles aren’t always the Chariots of the Gods, winning a lottery, seeing a UFO; there are often rational explanations for these. Miracles to me now are just making a new friend (which seems harder as I grow older), succeeding in something important, unexpectedly getting noticed and treated kindly and with real interest, and being moved to notice, be kind, and really interested myself — things I formerly took for granted when my world and myself were younger and more tender. Vulnerability and openness are qualities we remember — before we defensively froze and grew numb.
Just cultivating more of a genuine, not nosey, interest in others would be a miracle for me. And finally giving up booze, sugar, caffeine for good, to become a working-out “health nut.” It would be a miracle to break free of my rigid rut of moderately depressed paralysis, so I can actually renounce and perform all these desperately longed-for things. My life may be such, right now, that what seems a miracle to me is just a normal, everyday happening for you.
One afternoon ten years ago in a roller-skating rink in Tucson, Arizona, I had an encounter with a small boy. It was and ever shall be a true miracle, so real that for all these years I have held it in silence, as if to protect it for myself and from the watery corruption of language.
During a family reunion at Christmas, I had taken my niece and nephews skating. We were getting ready to leave the skating rink, gathering hats and jackets and changing back into shoes that didn’t float when a skater whizzed by. I stepped back a few inches to regain my balance. The heel of my left boot came down, hard, on something soft and yielding. Even as I looked, I fell to one arm, my weight grinding my heel into a boy’s hand. A tiny brown-haired boy tying his shoes.
I was horrified, the elation of a few moments earlier now gone and before me instead this crying child. I sat beside him, touched his crushed hand with one hand and pulled him to me with my other hand at his neck in a wrestler’s hug. I sought only redemption, forgiveness for my inadvertent blundering. Oh God, help me.
It was as if the depth of my feelings passed into the boy. It was over in a matter of seconds. I let go of him and he lay on his back, pale and sweating. His eyes closed, then opened. He sat up, smiling, tied his other shoe, then stood up and ran off with his skates, one in each small hand.
My world stopped.
For nearly ten years I have quietly lied to myself about that moment. A genuine healing? Yes! And ten years of living has shown me that not only the boy was healed in that awesome moment.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Miracles are elusive, sometimes camouflaged, and sometimes just plain invisible. Often, caught up in their own misguided thinking, people do not recognize a miracle when it happens. I offer an old story to illustrate.
A long time ago, in a distant land, there lived an old man who had devoted his life to faith in his God. A savage flood beset the country, and the old man moved to higher ground. As the water reached his knees, a boat came by. The driver called out, “Sir, get in our boat and we will take you to safety.”
“No thank you,” the old man replied. “Search for someone more needy. I shall be saved by a miracle from my God.”
The water soon reached the old man’s waist, and another boat came by. The driver called out, “Sir, get in our boat and we will take you to safety.”
“No thank you,” the old man said. “Search for someone more needy. I shall be saved by a miracle from my God.”
As the water approached the old man’s chin, yet another boat came by. The driver called out, “Sir, get in our boat and we will take you to safety.”
“No thank you,” the old man called back. “Search for someone more needy. I shall be saved by a miracle from my God.”
Soon after the old man had drowned, he was in Heaven and ran into his God.
“Excuse me, God,” the old man spoke with a genuine curiosity in his voice, “but why did you let me drown, after I spent my entire life in your service?”
“You allowed yourself to drown, my son.” God said softly. “I sent the boat three times.”
Elk Rapids, Michigan
My first real experience of being in love with someone who loved herself — and losing that love because of my fear — brought me to a crossroads.
I am reminded of a feeling image — a man living as a ten thousand storied building, only aware of the top floor. With acceptance of a loss, my pain crashed down through the floors of each story. Heavy in mass this shaft of emotion never ricocheted like other false emotions. Pure and powerful, no bulge, no quaver, straight down it surged. It became one solid force that centered me. The I of me was the honesty of feeling the truth.
There was no anger to trick myself with, no jealousy to blur my sight, no excuses diluting myself. With all of the pain came the miracle of real grief.
I have slyly fooled myself so I can fool others so they can fool me about what I am not. This game of denial kept me alive as a child and as a young man, protecting me, burdening all of my relationships. But at 35 I had risked enough, opened up enough, to have been given love. But the more I had the more needed and wanted. The fear of loss and my inexperience with trust brought the prize of pain.
My loss is felt so greatly I am learning what it is to let life come in and touch me. I am learning to let my soul dance and stretch to make room for the risk of feeling pain — and the miracle of growth.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
There is a miracle with us, next to us, inside of us everyday, and we rarely if ever notice it. That miracle is existence itself. There is something about the “normal” human brain that doesn’t, won’t, can’t see the wonderful impossibility of the universe.
I think the ultimate aim of consciousness is to attune oneself with the miraculous nature of everything: birth, death, trees, building, sex, space, pimples, warts, toenails, emotions, everything. Right now only a very few seem to break out of the trances of their everyday bored routines and obsessive ego building. As a species, we have deeply forgotten the happy absurdity of it all. Wordsworth says, “Getting and spending, we lay waste our power.” The Bible says it thus: we have sold our birthright for a mess of potash.
It is so rare that one comes clean with life that an honest existence could be called a miracle in itself. Especially since we are given such puzzling and often contradictory messages from those who have crossed over to the other side; for example, that one can’t get “there” without effort, yet our efforts are perhaps the biggest blocks to our attainment. We seekers are often left in the uncomfortable position of trying terribly hard not to try so hard — and we are left ultimately waiting for the “miracle” that will shake us loose.
However, in spite of the impossibility of getting “there” from here, I am convinced that some people do, and this conviction leaves me, with the rest of us seekers, struggling not to struggle, trying like mad to trick myself into spontaneity, shaming myself for how ashamed I am of myself, hoping for light by even making love to the darkness, and playing every angle I can on these paradoxes until I find the invisible trigger that will explode me into truth.