TV miracles usually consist of putting one hand on the body part that ails you and the other hand on the TV set and “ya jist baaaalieve.” If this were radio, I’d do my Oral Roberts impression.
So it was a surprise this week to see “Miracles” become the subject of a new ABC drama. Starring a skeptical investigator who confronts the paranormal, the script reads more like a book in the “Left Behind” series if “X Files” agents Mulder and Scully were to join forces with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
ABC has great timing. Under the stress of current events, we’re all praying for miracles. Our faith threatens to dwindle and it’s tempting to echo the sentiments of the series hero that “we’re all alone down here.”
People have different definitions of miracles — a fact demonstrated one afternoon when the manager of the intensive care unit asked me to intercede between hospital staff and a patient’s family.
In a tone short of the quality for which she was named, Grace asked, “Chaplain, what are doing at 2 p.m.?”
“We have an end-of-life conference with a family. Can you make it?”
Impatient over the lengthy use of an ICU bed, Grace called the conference to discuss continuing life support for a 75-year-old male stroke victim who had no brain activity for 60 days.
“Life support” is a misnomer. At times like this, it should be called “mechanical maintenance.” This man wasn’t being “supported,” he was being preserved, yet, literally decaying.
Typically, most TV-watching Americans describe the process of discontinuing life support as “pulling the plug.” They picture a nurse yanking 20 tubes from every orifice.
Actually, it’s a far less dramatic, involving the slow turning of a few knobs. Done properly, it should be peaceful.
This family was present in our meeting, but their hearts weren’t anywhere in the vicinity of our discussion. This family was “claiming a miracle.”
They didn’t care what anyone said. They were claiming that their brother would rise from his deathbed in three days.
That was their definition of a miracle — defined and customized. That’s the problem with miracles and, when truly a miracle, it can also be their beauty.
Shifting the conversation, I asked them what it might be like if they redefined what the word miracle means in this situation. I asked them to consider what a miracle might look like if they allowed their picture of God to be without borders.
Redefining miracles can be uncomfortable because it can feel like going against what the Bible teaches.
However, on occasion, even Jesus could be uncomfortable with the use of miracles. He told one group of scoffers that even if he were to raise someone from the dead, they’d not believe. His refusal was telling his hearers that miracles aren’t for proving our definition of God.
In fact, it was his avoidance of miracles on certain occasions that might give us a teaching point about miracles. For instance, on the cross, he was taunted by people who were demanding more miracles: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself.”
There was a miracle in progress that even his closest followers couldn’t see, despite the fact Jesus had told them he would return.
Like those disciples, we, too, overlook the real miracles.
Maybe the true miracle isn’t always going to be that dad walks away from cancer, but that the prodigal children come back into his life and make things right.
Maybe the true miracle isn’t always going to be that the baby survives, but that the baby would introduce a presence of God.
Maybe the true miracle isn’t always going to be about getting something back but finding a fuller appreciation for what you have left.
Maybe the true miracle isn’t always going to be about saving the world as it is about saving a piece of it.
Later that week, as we discontinued life support, I saw at least two miracles. I saw three sisters find agreement in prayer as they united at their brother’s bedside and gave him permission to walk into the arms of a waiting God.
Their brother didn’t walk out of our hospital, but the other miracle would be that the sisters discovered an infinite God they could not control with prayer formularies. Knowing a God you cannot control is the first step toward knowing God is in control.