Thanking God for All the Miracles

Back in April, Jon Batiste won the Oscar for the score to Soul. He is one of the sunniest people I know of and is a pleasure to see and hear. His acceptance speech (which you can see a piece of below) took the Oscar he received as the “culmination of a series of miracles”:

It got me thinking. I know other people like Jon Batiste, people who seem to have a gift for happiness and gratitude and joy in their lives. I think part of the reason for that (at least in all the people I know who are like this) is that they really do receive their lives and the universe as a gift and indeed as a series of gifts.

Seeing everything as Gift can be a hugely healing discipline if it is not native to you (as it certainly is not to me). If left to myself, I naturally gravitate toward seeing life as either chance or something indifferent or vaguely hostile to me, with good things as happy accidents and bad things as Normal. That is my room-temperature unreflective emotional posture. It is Revelatory (as skeptics and those hostile to my Faith jump at the chance to assert). It simply shows the imprint of my particular upbringing and environment. You may as well call weather revelatory. It is the clay God has to work with. And one of the ways of working with clay is to mold and shape it in some other way, in union with my will.

What my will, under the direction of my reason and faith, does is accept the truth that the universe, is, in fact, a gift given in love, by a God who loves me personally as he loves all personally–a God who knows my name and sees me in all my particularity, not as an ingredient in a statistical average.

Some think this is megalomania–and it might be if I thought it were true only of me. But the same God who assures me of his personal love and that my life is a series of miracles says the same of every other person who has ever been, is now, or ever will be. He loves each of us particularly, not just me. We are all Chosen Ones, as Paul says: “chosen in the Beloved”. We are all special, but the specialness is, itself, Gift and not something we earned by being More Awesome than Everybody Else but simply by being loved by God. We are unique and gifted, but the paradox of the gifts we have is that they are given to us for the sake of those who do not have them. In the Christian worldview, the Chosen are chosen for the sake of the Unchosen. Your talent for math that I radically lack is so that your abilities will help me or some other math-illiterate. Her ability to dance is so that we left footed clods may have the pleasure of seeing her dance. Jon Batiste’s gifts as a musician are so that the rest of us can enjoy his music.

When I practice the discipline of seeing life as a series of miracles and put my mind to it, the wonder of things emerges. It is not amazing that I got wet when it rained. But it is astonishing that any particular rain drop should fall from the sky and into the palm of my hand. It is not unusual that a baby is born, but it staggers the intellect that out of all the sperm and eggs ever shed by the human race down all the generations, precisely that combination of DNA should have resulted in me. It is common for people to live to adulthood, but the incredible number of chemical reactions in my body and blessed arrangements of matter and energy all around me for 62 years that have kept me alive till now are so stunningly vast and improbable that only gratitude for a series of miracles is a fit response.

And that’s not counting the special moments of grace: the moments God has spoken to my heart and given me light and understanding, or worked miracles of healing, or intervened on my behalf in sometimes startling ways, or done straight up miracles like saving the life of a little girl, or revealed himself in a Eucharistic miracle, or shown me love in quiet earthquake ways known only to me, just because I needed it and he was thoughtful. Were I to count them all, I would never come to the end of the steadfast love he has shown me.


3 Responses

  1. Sorry, but I can’t resist that:
    “Were I to count them all” No! You can’t! You just wrote a few line above this that you are “math-illiterate!

  2. This is so beautiful.

    There is this spot on the freeway leaving Marin County that always inspires me to pray for safety. As you exit a tunnel, the cars barrel down about five lanes of freeway toward the Golden Gate Bridge. The huge panoramic view of the city, the East Bay and the Pacific ocean to the right gives you this feeling of smallness and fragility, gratitude and wonder. “Look at this!” we say to the kids. And if it’s the beginning of our annual migration down south, we cross ourselves asking God to give us safe passage, to bless us and to bless everyone who is most in need.

    I’ll be honest, getting older, and having witnessed how the weak suffer, and the needy are often the victims of injustice, gives me a tiny pang of doubt that God will actually intervene on the behalf of my family, when other perfectly good families suffer accidents. …Migrant families suffering death and treacherous circumstances made me realize that I shouldn’t expect any miracles. God doesn’t owe me anything. But still…We pray that prayer anyway, and I recall the time we were without a doubt miraculously saved from a terrible wreck on the freeway. There is no other way around saying that a disruption in the laws of physics occurred. Who knows, maybe one of our five kids in the car will discover a cure for cancer. There is no explaining it.

    Regardless, I feel better after entrusting our lives to God, and specifically asking for special protection. Yesterday was no different.

    A couple of hours into our sojourn, we came to a spot where Caltrans is endlessly working on the freeway. The road narrowed to a single lane with no shoulder, and only concrete barricades on both sides. A small cramp on right side of my knee started to hurt more and more. I decided that I should move my chair up a bit so my leg wasn’t stretching so much to reach the gas pedal. What I hadn’t bargained for was the sheer amount of stuff, including a three gallon jug of water which had been tightly packed behind my seat. The car I was driving doesn’t have an electric button to change the setting. In essence, what happened as I released the bar under my seat, is the pressure from the stuff behind my chair literally slammed the seat, all the way up, with my body touching the steering wheel. I slowed the car, as I struggled to move my body away from the wheel. There was nowhere to veer off to, just a long corridor of concrete partitions. That’s when I saw the car behind me in my rear view mirror. “He’s going to hit us!” I shouted to the kids. We braced ourselves to be hit. It came with a sickening thud.

    It’s weird to put your car in park on the only lane of the 101 going south. The lady who hit me suggested that we drive on to an off ramp in the distance, so we wouldn’t block the road. I agreed, taking my chances that she might speed off instead. She had about thirty tattoos all over her body–looked like a tough chick.

    Thankfully she pulled up behind me on the off ramp. I got out of my car to survey the damage, looking at both cars. Nothing–there was nothing there. I was incredulous. Four years ago a car hit me from behind on a crowded city street, and their car crumpled up like an accordion. My towing hitch was completely bent to the side. This hit had been every bit as hard. But there wasn’t even a single obvious scratch. We exchanged information, wished each other well, and got back on the freeway.

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