A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Little Miracles

8 Little Miracles
The following scripture refers to the first public (notice I say public) miracle of Jesus, the turning of water into wine at the marriage of Cana.

John 2:11
11This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

We have spoken of miracles before. I believe in them--I watch for them every day. Recall my statement to ACS when I signed on there:

"I have be honest--I don't really CARE about the whole evolution controversy: my whole life is a stream of little miracles, one after the other, such that it is no problem for me to accept the possibility of creation in a moment of time. In a supernatural world, created by a supernatural God, what DIFFERENCE does it make whether six days is an allegorical expression or a literal expression? The miracle is there regardless of how you think about it, and it defies us to achieve any rational apprehension of it. Faith is the evidence of things not seen, and yet it takes no faith to see the world right there in front of us--right now. Thank you God!"

Furthermore, it must be observed that the insistence of Creationists on the chronology given in the Bible does not take into account the fact that miraculous events involve a slipping through time. With a miracle, we leave time behind, and approach the Throne in a timeless eternal moment. Once again, in an eternal moment, who cares if the earth were created in 6 days or 6 eons? Within the context of a timeless miracle, 6 days and 6 eons are the same.

If a miracle can be said to be the projection of divine power and intelligence into the stream of daily mundane activities, then it may be fairly said that miracles are my stock in trade; all week I guide people into higher dimensions of themselves by helping them assimilate various levels of consciousness into a single heightened level of consciousness. These flights bring the student into contact with miraculous, or at least superhuman feats of concentration and transformation. This is what I mean when I say above, "my whole life is a stream of little miracles, one after the other." They may not be water-into-wine, but they are magical events that can claim as much solemnity and reverence as raising Lazarus.

Now, the attraction I had to the scripture this week had not to do with the Walt Disney side of miracles, but the clause:

"manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him."

The implication here is that miracles are a key to faith; in fact many mainstream, fundamentalist Christians base their faith almost exclusively on the evidence of miracles--whether they happened in historical fact is less important than the mythologizing of the events into spiritual eternity. Belief, then, is participation in the miraculous manifestation of Divine Glory; the question is which comes first, the belief or the miracle? If the belief comes first, the miracle may be thought of as a manifestation of the belief; if the miracle comes first, then faith is merely the evidence of things not seen. It is a question, always, in my mind, why people place so much importance on miracles? Why do they need miracles to believe? I guess most people are not as surrounded by miracles as I am, so a miracle is an unusual and exotic thing; maybe the belief in some impossibly big miracle makes all the other smaller miracles more believable. When Yoda lifts up Luke Skywalker's  space ship out of the swamp with his will, he says that picking up a space ship is no different than picking up a twig--the quality of the miraculous, the intersection of the eternal with the temporal, is the same.

Wikipedia always has some interesting historical trivia to offer; today we will trim it down because we have reviewed some of this before.

"A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that God may work with the laws of nature to perform what people perceive as miracles. Theologians say that, with divine providence, God regularly works through created nature yet is free to work without, above, or against it as well.

In casual usage, "miracle" is seen as any event that is statistically unlikely but beneficial, (such as surviving a natural disaster), or simply a "wonderful" occurrence, regardless of likelihood, such as a birth. Other miracles might be: survival of a terminal illness, escaping a life threatening situation or 'beating the odds'. Some coincidences may be perceived to be miracles."

[Sidebar: There are several pregnant phrases in that paragraph:
1. interruption of the laws of nature, and
2. God may work with the laws of nature to perform what people perceive as miracles.

Clearly, we are invited to conceive of nature as one vast miracle, the creation of which, (according to John and his claim that in the beginning the Word was with God), was the first, the single most important a prior miracle of them all. We have discussed this many times, and have come to the conclusion that it is the intersection of the divine with the physical, the Word made flesh, that is the model for all miracles worked between our two worlds since the beginning of time; thus, belief in miracles begins with belief in the very ground upon which we stand. And yet, there is something about miracles, this INTERRUPTION of the laws of nature, that is the attraction to the Disneyland mind set; it is this that seems to inspire belief.

Why do we need miracles to believe in the supernatural? Why do we need God to perform parlor tricks so that checker brains can understand? Well, maybe we don't need miracles, maybe miracles are merely a fact of life the presence of which we have, in general, underestimated rather than overestimated.

Like synchronicities, miracles are all around us waiting to be appreciated; every time life springs anew into the physical plane, we are reminded that every single moment of our lives is imbued with the miraculous; we are merely more or less aware of it, more or less engaged in the process of it.

And process it is--all sequential time orders events into processes which index the change from one physical state to another. The fascinating thing about spiritual practice is that you can witness the free exchange of energies between various planes of existence.

On with Wikipedia:

Explanations for miracles
Supernatural acts
A miracle is a phenomenon not fully explained by known laws of nature, or an act by some supernatural entity or unknown, outside force. Some scientist-theologians suggest that miracles are not violations of the laws of nature but "exploration of a new regime of physical experience".

Criteria for classifying an event as a miracle varies. Often a religious text, such as the Bible or Quran, states that a miracle occurred, and believers accept this as a fact. Many conservative religious believers hold that in the absence of a plausible, parsimonious scientific theory, the best explanation for these events is that they were performed by a supernatural being, and cite this as evidence for the existence of a god or gods. Some adherents of monotheistic religions assert that miracles, if established, are evidence for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God.

Events planned by God
In rabbinic Judaism, many rabbis mentioned in the Talmud held that the laws of nature were inviolable. The idea of miracles that contravened the laws of nature were hard to accept; however, at the same time they affirmed the truth of the accounts in the Tanakh. Therefore some explained that miracles were in fact natural events that had been set up by God at the beginning of time.

In this view, when the walls of Jericho fell, it was not because God directly brought them down. Rather, God planned that there would be an earthquake (or some such other natural disaster) at that place and time, so that the city would fall to the Israelites. Instances where rabbinic writings say that God made miracles a part of creation include Midrash Genesis Rabbah 5:45; Midrash Exodus Rabbah 21:6; and Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot 5:6.

Nonliteral interpretations of biblical accounts
Biblical literalism is not rigidly believed by all scholars: Non-literal interpretations of some scripture are held by both classical and modern thinkers. This may include the use of figure of speech, allegory, and exegesis.
In Numbers 22 is the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. Many hold that for miracles such as this, one must either assert the literal truth of this biblical story, or one must then reject the story as false. However, some Jewish commentators (e.g. Saadiah Gaon and Maimonides) hold that stories such as these were never meant to be taken literally in the first place. Rather, these stories should be understood as accounts of a prophetic experience, which are dreams or visions. (Of course, such dreams and visions could themselves be considered miracles.)

Joseph H. Hertz, a 20th century Jewish biblical commentator, writes that these verses "depict the continuance on the subconscious plane of the mental and moral conflict in Balaam's soul; and the dream apparition and the speaking donkey is but a further warning to Balaam against being misled through avarice to violate God's command."

Religious texts
Hebrew Bible
Descriptions of miracles (Hebrew Ness, נס) appear in the Tanakh. Examples include prophets, such as Elijah who performed miracles like the raising of a widow's dead son (1 Kings 17:17–24) and Elisha whose miracles include multiplying the poor widow's jar of oil (2 Kings 4:1–7) and restoring to life the son of the woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4:18–37).

New Testament
The gospels record three sorts of miracles performed by Jesus: exorcisms, cures, and nature wonders. In St John's Gospel the miracles are referred to as "signs" and the emphasis is on God demonstrating his underlying normal activity in remarkable ways. In the New Testament, the greatest miracle is the resurrection of Jesus, the event central to Christian faith.
Jesus explains in the New Testament that miracles are performed by faith in God. "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'move from here to there' and it will move." (Gospel of Matthew 17:20). After Jesus returned to heaven, the book of Acts records the disciples of Jesus praying to God to grant that miracles be done in his name, for the purpose of convincing onlookers that he is alive. (Acts 4:29–31). Other passages mention false prophets who will be able to perform miracles to deceive "if possible, even the elect of Christ" (Matthew 24:24, 2 Thes 2:9, Revelation 13:13).

Miracle in the Qur'an can be defined as a supernatural intervention in the life of human beings. According to this definition, Miracles are present "in a threefold sense: in sacred history, in connection with Muhammad himself and in relation to revelation." The Qur'an does not use the technical Arabic word for miracle (Muʿd̲j̲iza) literally meaning "that by means of which [the Prophet] confounds, overwhelms, his opponents". It rather uses the term 'Ayah' (literally meaning sign). The term Ayah is used in the Qur'an in the above mentioned threefold sense: it refers to the "verses" of the Qur'an (believed to be the divine speech in human language; presented by Muhammad as his chief Miracle); as well as to miracles of it and the signs (particularly those of creation).

To defend the possibility of miracles and God's omnipotence against the encroachment of the independent secondary causes, some medieval Muslim theologians such as Al-Ghazali rejected the idea of cause and effect in essence, but accepted it as something that facilitates humankind's investigation and comprehension of natural processes. They argued that the nature was composed of uniform atoms that were "re-created" at every instant by God. Thus if the soil was to fall, God would have to create and re-create the accident of heaviness for as long as the soil was to fall. For Muslim theologians, the laws of nature were only the customary sequence of apparent causes: customs of God.

The following is taken not from C.S.Lewis's book, Miracles, but from an online analysis of C.S.Lewis's book, Miracles; it is kind of like a Cliff Notes outline of the book. This section is from Chapter 3, and reveals a side of C.S.Lewis we only encounter in his most academic writing, the true philosopher following in the rationalist footsteps of Des Cartes:

“The movement of one unit is incalculable, just as the result of tossing a coin once is incalculable:  the majority movement of a billion units can however be predicted, just as, if you tossed a coin a billion times, you could predict a nearly equal number of heads and tails. 

Now it will be noticed that if this theory is true we have really
admitted something other than Nature.  If the movements of the
individual units are events ‘on their own,’ events which do not
interlock with all other events, then these movements are not part
of Nature.”

The knowledge we have of any information is observation + inference, thus all possible knowledge depends on the validity of reasoning.
i.  our observation demands that we recognize something outside ofourselves
ii.  when we recognize that which is outside of ourselves, then we arereasoning
iii.  “It follows that no account of the universe can be true unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be real insight. 

A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court.  For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished.  It would have destroyed its own credentials.  It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound—a proof that there are no such things as proofs—which is nonsense.”

            e.  If nature is explainable in terms of the whole system, it must, by definition, imply a cause & effect universe—cause and effect all of the way back to the beginning
            f.  In this view, then, reasoning must be nothing more than “one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time.”
            g.  Thus, mental events are caused by previous mental events and nothing more—“knowledge” plays no role in the progression of these mental events—also mental events came into being in the same evolutionary way that physical events came into being—mental events to the naturalist, then are nothing
more than responses to stimuli.
            h.  Yet, the experience that things are always connected (fire burns you) is only of animal behavior, Reason comes into play when you infer something from the events
            i.  Nature cannot show how one turns sub-rational, animal instinct, into rational thought, thus a break in the chain occurs
            j.  Knowing is more than mere remembering what happened last time, but of inferring that what happened in the past will continue to take place in the future.  Inference, then is determined by genuine knowledge, not by cause and effect.
            k.  Inference and reason are the means by which we know and understand nature and how we explain nature and cannot be explained by nature."

The miracle of music is the brand of eternal moment that I prefer. Music puts me in touch (I SAY TOUCH) with supernatural realities every day. Music is an alchemy of transformation, a process by which abstract ideas appearing, on the mental plane, are given form in the material world. Remember, I didn't always think this--I used to think music REPRESENTED something. I no longer think this; I now know that music is a channel through which divine intelligence manifests itself, and touches us, and moves us.

Who has control of the miracle is an interesting question. I have made a case for the idea that epiphanies, ecstatic or intuitive episodes, or recognitions of a prophetic or synchronistic type, are governable by acts of will--that there are ceremonies, rituals, routines that the individual may enact that will promote the occasion of an epiphanic experience. However, most of what we call miracles, by any standard, come as a complete surprise--hence the intensified glamour of a miraculous event.

Miracles are generally felt to take place at random, not part of a chain of material causality, (possibly because each ascent into the spiritual dimension is experienced as an anomaly); but I suspect that there is large-scale cosmic clock that is keeping time to God's idiosyncratic rhythm. As we just read in the C.S. Lewis quote from above:

"The movement of one unit is incalculable, just as the result of tossing a coin once is incalculable:  the majority movement of a billion units can however be predicted, just as, if you tossed a coin a billion times, you could predict a nearly equal number of heads and tails. 

Now it will be noticed that if this theory is true we have really
admitted something other than Nature.  If the movements of the
individual units are events ‘on their own,’ events which do not
interlock with all other events, then these movements are not part
of Nature.”

In this paragraph, there is made a clear connection between nature and time; there is also the glaring implication that miracles exist outside of time. And yet, if a billion occurrences of heaven coming down reveal some kind of pattern, like great cosmic ocean waves, then it is possible to infer something else about the timetable and relative weights of miraculous events.

Let's look at these big miraculous waves and then consider the principle of fractals, one of the most important contributions, to human knowledge, of the so-called "new science. The idea of fractals simply states that the largest form in a piece of material is echoed down to the smallest sub-atomic level; the smallest part is the same as the larger part, for instance:

a a
a a
a a a a a

or, like a big tree seen from 50 feet away looks exactly the same as a small tree seen from 5 feet away.

So, I say, if we look at a big miracle as if it were a big rock thrown into a pond, we can see the rings spreading out in an ever-expanding circle from the center. Do not all these little waves, these echoes of the rock's big wave, share the same source and thus the same form as the the big wave? Certainly, the size and shape of the wave, taken at any two points in time, will be proportionally identical. Therefore, as we have already suggested, if the essential quality of all miracles is the same, then all these little miracles we can experience every day must be identified with that first big miracle, the miracle of creation--the Word made flesh. You cannot rationally go any further than this.

So, when all is said and done, it is a foregone conclusion that if there has ever been a miracle, EVER, it is only reasonable to suppose that smaller miracles may be (and probably are) happening all around us all the time. I believe that paying attention to these little miracles is one of the duties, nay, pleasures (notice how duty and pleasure are linked in the Christian system)--paying attention to these little miracles is one of the intense pleasures of the spiritual path.

Let us pray: Jesus, thank you for revealing your Divine Intelligence to us through miraculous events. Thanks for reaching out and touching us, across the bridge erected on the power of your ultimate sacrifice. Thanks for raising yourself from the dead so that all men could see and believe. Thanks for the wine, too. Amen.

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