Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted June 21, 2011


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Thoughts on miracles and America

Tiny Glance at the Big Picture

by bhogg

Two years ago, I had a pleasant lunch with my Episcopal Priest, Jeff. We discovered that we shared a passion for writing. He was trying to get more involvement from the congregation in the monthly newsletter and asked me to write something for the July edition, hopefully something about the Fourth of July. Below was my contribution.

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Hopefully, someone will tell Jeff that at least one of his members is listening to his sermons. I remember well, his first time in the pulpit before this congregation last February. I've often reflected on his message, even now.

Without re-preaching the whole sermon, I can tell you the central theme. It dealt with the dwindling number of people attending church. Citing a study, Jeff mentioned that a common reason for the declining numbers was a perception by people of a lack of miracles. I found that ironic.

That particular day was cold, even for mid-February. As is my custom, I was at church early, standing in the commons, drinking coffee and greeting people. I don't ever recall people coming in with such heavy layers of clothing. We actually were running out of coat-rack space. As the appointed time arrived, I moved to my usual place. It's by a window, and this particular time of year, the morning sun creates a small warm spot.

Just as the service was about to begin, a movement outside the window caught my attention. There is a line of trees about fifteen yards from the window. Perched on the top of one of the trees was a Marsh Hawk. This is an endangered bird, one of the most beautiful of all raptors. A white band right below its head gives it an almost owl-like appearance. It has pronounced white streaks throughout its tail, with lush umber colorations on the balance of its frame.

The bird was beautiful, but so were the trees. I know it was the hawk that drew my attention to the trees. I sit at the same place every Sunday, but for the first time I noticed the trees differently. Generally, they are covered by green leaves, so as you look to the tree line, it is two dimensional, green against blue. Today, they were barren of leaves. You could see right through them. You could see the three dimensional structure. They were like bare appendages reaching upward to the sky. The sky was even more beautiful than normal. It was cold, but a day with bright sunshine. Perhaps because there's no pollen or other airborne particulate, the sky looked cleaner and crisper. It was a brilliant, blue on blue.

Maybe it's just me, but any day on this earth, even a bitter, cold day, is a miracle.

Jeff was into his sermon, when a couple of rows behind me, a baby began to laugh. The laugh made me smile. As I glanced at people around me, all were smiling. That little baby had a power over us. This baby was too young to have any life experience. I sat there wondering, what would make a baby laugh. If you're cynical, you might say that the baby just had gas, or burped, or did something else that made him laugh. I think the reason much simpler. It was an expression of pure joy; a joy that radiated out to all around him.

Maybe it's just me, but a baby's laugh is a miracle.

Later on during the service, a young lady in the row in front of me got up to go help with the children's service. I don't know her very well. She is a junior in high school. I've been told that she suffers from low self esteem. As she got up, she did nothing but smile and say, "Excuse me." What a smile! Just like with the baby's laugh, I looked around to see smiles beaming right back to her. I know she got one from me. After the service, I made a point of introducing myself and told her with sincerity, "You can walk into any room on Earth and light it up."

Maybe it's just me, but our ability to interact with people, even with a simple smile, is a miracle.

As is the practice in the Episcopal Church, at one point of the service, we stand up, and either shake hands or hug people near us as we share the Peace of the Lord. Two rows in front of me, a scene took place that will always be in my memory. One of our newest members, the five-year-old son of the priest, walked over to our oldest member, ninety five-year-old, Isabelle. Sticking his hand out and upward, he greeted her in typical fashion, "Peace of the Lord, Ms. Isabelle." Looking down, she responded, "Peace to you too." Across four generations, peace was shared along with a bit of love flowing in both directions.

Maybe it's just me, but love given freely is not only a blessing, but a miracle.

I didn't know Jeff very well then. Now, I would have wanted to stand up and shout, "There are miracles all around us. People just don't choose to see."

On a larger scale, something happened about three weeks prior to this sermon that demonstrates real world miracles. On January 15, 2009, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, took off with U.S. Airways Flight 15, from LaGuardia Airport. In less than six minutes, the flight ended in an unpowered ditching into a freezing Hudson River. He lost both engines soon after taking off from LaGuardia Airport. This was the only option available and Captain Sully made this decision in an instant. All the passengers and crew survived.

A well known television news anchor was severely criticized for calling this a miracle. The argument was made that it was more an issue of modern aircraft and training, certainly not a miracle. A crash several weeks later of a Continental commuter plane near Buffalo, NY killed all forty-five passengers and four crew. The naysayers pointed out that if there was a miracle on the Hudson, why not here.

I can't explain the latter crash and why the people all died. Maybe, it's just me, but flight 15 landing in the Hudson with no fatalities was a miracle.

Since it's the time of year, I would like to leave you thinking of one other thing. The United States Declaration of Independence is a statement that was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. It announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, were now independent. These upstart colonies were taking a huge risk. Great Britain had the strongest navy and the most experienced land force in the world. Fifty-six men applied their signature to the Declaration. In so doing, they were, in the eyes of Great Britain, committing treason. In that day and time, there was one punishment for treason. It was death.

As a country, we made it through that challenge and thousands more. From wars both small and global, equal rights for all our citizens and the protection of those less fortunate, we still have significant challenges to this day. There were many, many times when our country could have fallen in on itself. With all our struggles, we are still incredibly blessed.

Maybe it's just me, but for me to be sitting at my desk, writing this essay, in the greatest nation in the world, is a miracle.

As an open prayer, I would like to say, Thank you God for this earth you have given us. Thank you for miracles great and small. Thank you for the love and compassion that is there for us to give and take, and thank you God, for the United States of America.
















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I know this is an international site. This was written by me for a small church in rural America. I don't intend to denigrate other countries in any way. These are just some observations about my own.
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