Last week a friend of mine’s daughter went through the temple for the first time. These are not ordinary friends. These are the kind of deep friends who you’ve been through a lot with. Friends who know your deepest secrets. The kind of friends that would stay back and help push your wagon out of the mud despite everyone else having gone on, leaving you to the arrows and elements. Friends who you know will always be there for you, and you for them.
It was a crowded session. We sat in the middle of the chapel waiting for the 10 ‘O clock session at the the Mount Timpanogos Temple. We were in a crowed of people, nowhere near our friends who came in much later, and nowhere near their daughter and her future husband sitting on the front row. I was sitting head down reading the scriptures. Suddenly, one of the workers made his way through the people sitting thickly on the edges of the benches and asked us to be the witness couple. Why us? My wife has too many earrings. There were lots of couples. Why us? It would have been a cinch to grab at least ten other couples more conveniently placed than us. No one knew we had ties to the only person going through for their first time that day. But one thing is clear. Being the witness couple could not have meant more to anyone going through that day. For various reasons other family relations were not there as couples. Only us. Somehow in that crowd of possible couples, the temple worker in charge picked us. This allowed us to to sit with the family on the first row during the session. It allowed my friend’s daughter to have someone who loved her represent our first parents. It was a deeply spiritual moment. I felt the hand of the Lord in allowing this blessing. It was a very unlikely event. I would estimate that the probability of picking us at random was about 1 out of 25. Much less likely given where we were sitting. Can I call it a miracle? I did.
Ok, here’s the rest of the story and question poised for this post. After the session my friend took us out for lunch. His daughter picked a place she liked in the middle of Provo. About 25 miles away from the Temple in American Fork. It was not a famous place. It was one of those semi-fastfood soup/salad/and sandwich places. Unremarkable really. A Place BYU students might take their date after a Basketball game. But who should be there? Two woman from the session. None of us knew them. The likelihood of that random event was staggeringly small. Given the number of restaurants between here and the temple, and the number of people in the session going out to eat after the session, the fact that we were now completely out of our temple district. The improbabilities just pile up one after another. When they saw us, like us, they whispered to each other, likely saying just as we were say, ‘Look who is here?’ Funny. Weird. Coincidence? Clearly. We didn’t say anything to each other. We didn’t know them, they didn’t know us. On with life and the meal.
But as we sat there eating I began to second guess myself. Was the first event as miraculous as it seemed? The second event was way less probable, nevertheless it happened. It made me wonder, what defines a miracle? Was it simply stacking up improbabilities or the seeming suspension of natural law?
But what role did the improbabilities really play in defining the first event as a miracle? What if there had been a 90% chance that we where chosen as the witness couple? Would that have lessened the meaning and miraculousness of the event? What role did the unlikelihoods play in the first event? Almost none. What made it meaningful, was the infusion of spirit into the event. Grace abounded. Love was manifest. Long time friends were able to share a sacred moment. It was the presence of love and grace that made it a miracle. It had nothing to do with outcomes. It was in the fullness of the moment and the attendant meaning found in the presence of God that made it a miracle. That’s why the second event, so much more improbable than the first, was nothing but coincidence. Coincidences happen. Everyday highly improbable things happen.
So I argue that grace and a sense of the holy presence of the Spirit are all that is needed for miracle status. The loved one who is not cured by the blessing. The child lost in the woods who is never found despite the prayers of thousands. Cannot grace be present in these events too? I remember a few years ago a boy lost in the Uintas had just been found. The parents, friends and relatives were (and rightly so) on TV thanking God for his rescue and return. Prayers had been answered. God’s hand had been revealed. But . . . just the year before another boy had been lost and never found. His disappearance had been complete. He was never located. Yet the same prayers had been offered. The same effort and faith petitioning of Heavenly Father had been laid upon the alters of the temples. Why one and not the other? I cannot say. But I would like to think that the parents of the missing boy never found had had God’s grace and presence in rich abundance. That a gift of Hope, born of the spirit, had graced their unimaginable sorrow and loss. That miracles were present in their life despite the terrible and tragic outcome that they faced. I don’t know. But I hope they had miracles in their lives too.
So is it not just that God is there, and makes His presence known, enough to bestow miracle-status? Isn’t this sufficient to call it a miracle even if we don’t get the outcome we sought? Too often we only count the miracles in which the outcome is improbable or the natural course of things is subverted. But I wonder if miracles have less to do with the ‘unlikely’ than with the grace that infuses the world and that bends and guides things to a sense of the presence of the Author of that grace.
If that is right my life has been full of miracles.