Thursday, October 08, 2009

Everyday Miracles

My newsletter article this week:

I don't often make note of the feast days of Catholic Saints, but September 25 was the feast day of Saint Finbar, an Irish monk who lived as a hermit on a small island at Lough Eiroe, off southern Ireland. According to Catholic tradition, many miracles were attributed to St. Finbar upon his death in 633, among them the sun not setting for two weeks. Finbar's hermitage locale remains a pilgrimage destination to this day.

Finbar's own Christianity, though, was apparently rooted as much in local druidic tradition as Catholic teaching, and was likely grounded not in supernatural miracle but in the everyday miracles of the natural world: "the early Irish texts suggest a God who is immanent in every part of creation -- in Sun, Moon, stars, wind and wave -- indeed , inseparable from the creation, even as the unutterable mystery of the universe confounds our understanding and perception."

I have recently been re-reading Elaine Pagels' book Beyond Belief. Pagels is one of several scholars who think that the Gospel of John was written in conversation with the Gospel of Thomas, or perhaps to correct and combat the teachings of the community of Thomas. Whether Pagels is right about this is a matter of much dispute among scholars and is as we are fond of saying these days "above my pay grade" to know.

What is indisputable, though, is that the message of the Gospel of John that Jesus is God, and that Jesus came to save us, and that we are in need of salvation, and that this salvation is not possible apart from believing in Jesus became the orthodox position within Christianity and was eventually incorporated into the creeds and remains an essential element of Christian teaching to this day. Pagel's book tells the story of how this came to be.

The notion that God is within us, that we don't need salvation so much as illumination, as taught by the Jesus found in the Gospel of Thomas, isn't orthodox. The orthodox position holds that we can't save ourselves or help ourselves because all vestiges of the immanence of God within us were obliterated by original sin and now we need divine help from the outside.

I don't agree with this for a moment. Neither did Finbar, and neither did a host of Christian mystics who would follow through the centuries and keep alive within Christianity the notion that the divine spark is present in each of us and in every tree, flower, wisp of wind, and ray of the sun.

We don't need Jesus to save us. We do need to be reminded from time to time, though, that the divine spark is there within us and around us. If we listen. If we are attentive. What we can learn from Jesus is that there is a way of living that puts us in touch with the God within and around us.

For many Christians, of course, it is the miracles of Jesus and the miracle of his resurrection that make the difference, just as it was the miracles attributed to Finbar that made him worthy of being a Catholic saint. But I will settle for the everyday miracles of friends and community and the beauty that is everywhere we look, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

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