Recent festivals or fiestas over here in the Philippines where the mass outpouring of faith and devotion cannot be ignored have given me much matter for reflection of late. The celebration of both the Black Nazarene and Santo Nino that happen in Manila and Cebu respectively occur within 10 days of each other and are huge events with millions of devotees thronging the streets hoping to catch a sight of or better yet, touch the images of Jesus, believing that these are strong sources of miracles. I’ve always looked upon such festivals or celebrations with a slightly jaundiced eye and just tell myself that it takes all sorts of people to make up the church. To each his own. But being here made me ask myself a question: Why not me? Dislike of crowds notwithstanding, am I too credulous to believe in the possibility of miracles?
I might, for a start, blame my analytic and scientific background that makes me see hard empirical evidence as necessary for belief. Scientists (and analytic philosophers for that matter) tend to look for evidence and strong logical foundations for all knowledge and for many of them, the idea of the existence of miracles is ludicrous. For one coming out of this context, even the act of faith in God where one acknowledges the presence of an omniscient and all-powerful Being is difficult. I believe I’ve made that step but am, at the moment, only there. Miracles are another step and I’m not quite there yet, or so I think.
The mention of miracles conjures images of lepers being healed, lame people walking, the blind seeing and the dead hopping out of burial caves still wrapped in their funeral shrouds. Dramatic are the miracles portrayed in the Gospels and perhaps that’s my other problem – these are the miracles I expect when someone mentions miracles and when they don’t occur, the possibility of miracles in all forms begin to fade from one’s consciousness.
Which brings one back to the twin celebrations that occurred over here in the Philippines. Both were huge celebrations of faith and apart from the huge spectacle and the crowds, there were many testimonies of miracles happening during the festivities as well as after. Most of them followed a similar schema – a prayer to Jesus in the particular form that was celebrated was said in faith and very soon after that, a cure or a much hoped for event was gained. God’s intervention was praised and the event was called a miracle.
The scientific part of me screams ‘But correlation does not imply causation’ yet I have no explanation for why so many of these things happen at one go. I’m not sure if miracles still happen but I’m pretty sure that I’m not seeing them because of my credulity and lack of faith in them. My scientific-leaning self that’s expecting big shows of miracles does not leave room for real miracles, big and small, to occur. Small events can be easily explained away as coincidences and even the more significant ones can be looked at as ‘good things that happen to good people’. Have people like me who have become so pragmatic and empirical left no room for miracles?
I found this reflection highly instructive on two levels. The first has to do the place of my faith in my life. If I allow my scientific-leaning self to dominate and in so doing shunt the possibility of miracles into a dark corner of my consciousness, I’m doing myself a grave disservice. Not recognising the limitless possibilities of God and trying to shoehorn that into a tiny box of scientific possibilities is akin to building idols in the name of science. The second has to do with my own openness to grace and the transcendent in the world. Leaving space for miracles is leaving space for the transcendent, the infinite realities that transcend the limited horizons of my humanity.
One is both amazed and humbled by this whole process. Amazed that something as innocuous as the scientific method can take on such a significant role in one’s faith development. Humbled by the fact that I’m unable to fully fathom even a small bit of the forces that go on around me and hoping to understand them will lead to me trying to bigger than I really am. One grows in faith each time one realises how small one’s faith really is – and that is in itself a miracle.