A month and a half after the Ascension, many followers of the subtly subversive Jesus were gathered together and no doubt wondering what their world was coming to. Tongues of flame appeared hovering over the heads of the faithful, and many miracles were experienced by those present – what Christians recognize as the Day of Pentecost was born.
This day commemorates a miracle of the expression of miracles, it’s part of the Easter Season, but it also applies (can apply) to everyone. It is celebrated as an explosion of the Holy Spirit – a Personage of the Trinity for Christians, and for other faiths the medium through which the Creator expresses His will. Either way, the Pentecost is a symbol for the miracles which can and do happen by/through Divine Will.
“Miracle”, Voltaire suggested, is a word we have invented to describe the known effects of unknown causes. Which is a great way to say something which really doesn’t say anything. For many, a miracle is something truly impossible which happened anyway (the accomplishments of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity comes to mind). For others, miracles are wonderful things which happen inexplicably, or with weirdly serendipitous timing. I think miracles are both of these and more.
All of us have expectations for the world, how things happen, when they happen, and what happens. And all of this can be seen as tragedy, mundanity, or a series of miraculous events. What makes things a miracle?
All of us have something called a reticular activating system. Every moment, anywhere from 300,000 to 4 million (that’s million) bits of information come into our immediate awareness. However, we would most likely go insane or be frozen into inactivity if we tried to consciously process all that, so our survival as a species has been blessed with the development of a device in our brains which immediately “weeds out” all the relatively unimportant bits, and accentuates the bits we’ll find the most useful in the moment. For example, how do you think you understand the conversation with that special someone you meet at a party when everyone else is blathering on, too? Or what happens when you’re driving down the road and finally focus on the one sign your Garmin told you to look for? Or here’s another example – How does your left knee feel? Your brain is, incredibly, receiving all this information (sound, sights, feelings from your body) constantly, but it funnels what we think we need or what we concentrate on (your left knee) when we focus on it – and we are able to process that tiny portion of information while everything else is ignored.
Have you ever been enamored of a new car, and suddenly it seems everyone’s driving it? Or have you ever been driven bonkers by those incredibly stupid habits your roommate just seems to have developed? Those are examples of your reticular activating system at work. What relevance does this have to miracles?
Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with teaching the idea that the only thing which can grow is that to which energy is given. This is the idea that our attention on something causes it to expand. The nature of reality around us hasn’t necessarily changed, but the focus and direction we give to our reticular activating system causes our perception or experience of reality to change. And what we focus on expands – if we pay attention primarily to the good or bad, that expands until it fills our experiential horizon. This hyper-awareness of a distortion (for good or ill) of reality can’t help but affect our decisions, and very quickly – through the choices we make as a result of our decision on which to focus our reticular activating system – we start molding our own reality. If negative, we will turn down or push away positive things because we know they can’t help; if positive, we look for the good in situations until we creatively find it, and we take advantage of opportunities because we feel on some level they will turn out well – and we change our perspective until we see the benefit in anything.
As Dr. Bernie Siegel observed, even if the pessimist’s view is closer to fitting facts, the optimist will lead a happier life. In a very practical way, we are making our own futures as a reflection/result of our pessimism or optimism. Again, what relevance does this have to miracles?
I believe we bring into our awareness more of what we want to see. A minister I admire teaches that gratitude is the principle which activates, or makes alive, the principle of faith; when we act with gratitude (an attitude which benefits people of every faith, and even those who feel they don’t have faith), every experience becomes a wonderful thing. Rather than diluting and dulling our senses, this seems to have an invigorating effect. If we constantly look for things to complain about, that sense of lack expands until it taints all of our experience; however, if we constantly are filled with gratitude satisfaction and happiness accompanies almost anything, and the world feels expansive and wonderful.
All things being equal, I much prefer this second view. When Mother Teresa started out to found the Missionaries of Charity, she only had two cents. Here Abbott reportedly asked her what she thought she could do with two cents and she answered, “Nothing, but with two cents and God I can do anything.” And she did. She lived a life filled with miracles – not necessarily because more miracles happened around her, but because she used the grateful, expansive attitude to affect and transform everything in her life – and the lives of millions of fortunate people as a direct result of her actions.
The miracles of Pentecost were astounding, and the miracle of reality it symbolizes is truly transformative and amazing. How incredible the world will be when all of us teach ourselves, our children, and those around us to see the miracles around us every day.