Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wonder full

I was scrolling through some photos yesterday and was struck by the juxtaposition of two pics in particular, side by side in my photo file.

The first is of a DC3 that went down in the brush a few miles from our house in a blinding rain storm as it made its approach to our little island airport. The plane was owned by an American missionary society and was on its way to Haiti. Rescuers had to hack a path to the scene of the crash. We arrived on the scene just as the first of the missionaries -- all of whom survived unscathed -- stumbled out onto the nearest road. One by one they said as they emerged, "It's a miracle we're alive."

They meant it literally. They were fervently praying as the plane went down. They credited their survival to divine intervention.

I don't want to be smug or smartass here. These were good people engaged unselfishly in good works. Their survival was remarkable. And Lord knows I was raised on a culture of miracles myself. But if God intervened to keep the plane from breaking apart on impact, I couldn't help but wonder why he let it go down at all.

"Miracle" derives from the Latin word "to wonder." In its most general sense, it refers to any wonderful thing. And the tough little Douglas DC3 is indeed a wonderful thing, many of them still winging their way around the world 73 years after the first one took to the air. But the sort of miracles I was raised on -- "when the effect is of such a kind that no natural power could bring it to pass in any manner or form whatsoever" (Catholic Encyclopedia) -- well, yes, that would certainly incite wonder, but I've yet to witness my first.

Meanwhile, the next photo over, a hummingbird nest, the size of my thumbnail, with two tiny eggs. And I think of something the British cartographer (long living in Ireland) Tim Robinson wrote in one of his books: Miracles can be explained. It's the explanations that are miraculous.