There’s a lot I want out of life that in this exact moment I don’t know how to get. There is so much I want to do, so much I am capable of: finding happiness in my career, starting my own family, making the best pizza in the world, making new discoveries in my family history, traveling the world. I believe that it is within my abilities to accomplish these things. Moreover, I feel that some of these things are what God wants for me1. While I know how to inch my way forward in their pursuit, I don’t know how to achieve them with any sort of velocity2.
To accomplish any one of these items would be, for me, a miracle.
I’ve never not believed in miracles. I know they exist and I have seen plenty in my life and in the lives of those I love. I just have never taken time to pause on the nature of miracles until about a month ago when I came across the Stephen Tobolowsky story I wrote about briefly in the previous post. The questions he asks near the end of the story have caused me to ponder:
What happens if miracle and catastrophe are not these two events that happen on the edge of probability? But what happens if they are actually part of the same fabric? And that they’re not outside of nature but they are a primary element of nature itself? What if a miracle is an antidote to fate?
The LDS Bible Dictionary’s definition differs slightly from Tobolowsky’s succinct thesis ("a miracle is an antidote to fate"): "Miracles should not be regarded as deviations from the ordinary course of nature so much as manifestations of divine or spiritual power."
It’s interesting to look at what these two definitions have in common: miracles are "a primary element of nature itself," and part of "the ordinary course of nature."
If miracles are indeed a natural occurrence, how does one create a miracle?
== == == == ==
While recovering from a broken neck, Tobolowsky asked his doctor, "How do I heal?" The doctor explained that after a period of time the bones get sticky and eventually fuse together and are whole. Tobolowsky responded, "That wasn’t the question really I was asking. The question I was asking was, how does all that happen, not how long does it take me to heal, but how do I heal? And he said, 'Well, nobody knows that. That’s a mystery.'"
I’ve thought about this question—"How do I heal?"—in great depth over the past month or so in regards to mental illness, specifically depression. It’s interesting to juxtapose something like depression with a broken neck, or even with something more common and simple, like a broken arm. Suppose I break one of the bones in my forearm. I go to the doctor, he sets the bone and sticks my arm in a cast for eight weeks or whatever is normal for a broken arm. After that time, my arm isn’t necessarily as good as new but if the fracture was simple and cared for properly, it’s likely that my arm will function as it should.
It’s amazing—dare I say miraculous?—how the body heals itself this way. Sure, it takes some intervention on the doctor’s part to set the bone, but once it’s in a stress-free environment, the bone seems to take care of itself3. If I am depressed, how do I heal? What needs to be healed, my body, my mind, or both? Which of these, if not both, needs to be kept in a stress-free environment to foster healing? And once isolated, how do I set that healing in motion?
Perhaps the biggest question of all is, can I heal?
The other day I came across a short quote by Caroline Myss that simplified those questions: "The soul always knows how to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind."
If Ms. Myss is to believed and we assume that my depression4 requires healing of the soul5, then the what and how of healing take care of themselves, the same way the body does. So the question now becomes, how do I silence the mind?
== == == == ==
I’ve thought about Tobolowsky’s miracle—that the arthritis in his neck deflected injury to his spinal cord and saved his life when he broke his neck—and I’ve wondered, how do I produce that sort of miracle in my life? My life doesn’t need saving, at least not in a physical sense, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t use a miracle to help me accomplish what I desire, even if that miracle is more patience and a greater tenacity to plug away at what I have already set out to do.
Tobolowsky’s perspective is part of what interests me the most. Rather than bemoan the fact that he broke his neck and could have died, he gave credit to his arthritis—something he had referred to as a curse—as the means of his salvation. Others might not have the insight to recognize the miracles in their lives6. That means an important part of living a miraculous life is being able to actually perceive miracles when they happen.
While, yes, this recognition is important, it doesn’t explain the how or the why of the miracle, and it doesn't give me much help on how I can produce miracles for me. Other than declaring what I want and need out of life, and simply being open to them (in other words, having faith), I don’t know how to produce my own miracles. I can only trust God to give me what I need.
But what about producing miracles in the lives of others?
I love the quote by Spencer W. Kimball, “God does watch over us and does notice us, but it usually through someone else that he meets our needs.”
It can seem presumptuous or arrogant to think that I could be a miracle or produce a miracle for someone else. Yet, there are instances when something I have done or said was the answer to someone else’s prayer. And I know that others have been answers to my prayers. Even more significant, I know that people have been the answer to a question I wasn’t asking—a question that I didn’t have the words or experience to articulate—the question that God knew was deep in my heart.
== == == == ==
As I ponder miracles, as I consider with gratitude those who have wrought miracles in my life, as I search for strength, humility, understanding, tenacity, as I seek to silence my mind in order to give expression to my soul, Stephen Tobolowsky’s words of discovery become my words:
I started to get it. That the miracle I’ve been looking for was me, or part of me. … I thought all of my life that the great access to miracles I was going to have was either through telescopes, microscopes, I had no idea that all I really needed was a mirror. So then I ask this: if we are the miracle and the purpose of a miracle is to change the course of fate then it means the next question is, what’s going to happen today?
Notes, Asides, Post-Scripts, and Acknowledgements:
1I think God couldn’t care less about whether or not I make the best pizza in the world, but I know He does want me to have my own family, make discoveries in my family history, and serve those that I love (and don’t love).
2I realize that if these things are God’s will then they will be accomplished in His time. Patience might be one of the miracles I need in order to keep inching forward. Still, I can’t help but wonder, why do miracles exist, in addition to being the antidote to fate, if not to move life forward with velocity?
3I realize there is much of which I am ignorant in the medical process, and I might be mistaken on a few points (I've never broken a bone). The bottom line: the body the amazing ability to heal itself.
4Keep in mind that I’m not talking about depression as a whole here. I’m simply referring to my depression and that’s it.
5I don’t know how Caroline Myss defines the word "soul" but I like this definition, and it’s what I mean when I refer to the soul in this post: "And the spirit and the body are the soul of man" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15).
6It’s interesting that Tobolowsky’s doctor helped point out the miracle of his survival. How do others help us recognize the miracles in our lives?