Wednesday, August 04, 2010

On one's knees

There are two sorts of people in the world. Those for whom seeing is believing. And those for whom believing is seeing.

There's a fellow here in Ireland, apparently in the latter category, who says he's in touch with the Virgin Mary. Yes, her. The Mother of God and Queen of Heaven. She talks to him on a regular basis. For a while it seems he had a bit of a following, but most folks nowadays pay little attention.

Then -- according to what I read in the papers -- Our Lady told yer man that she would prefer to talk to him at Knock, the famous Marian shrine in County Mayo where in 1879 the Virgin, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist appeared on the gable of the local church to a whole bunch of people. Today, thousands of pilgrims flock to Knock, a Hibernian Lourdes. The place even has its own international airport.

It seems that the Church authorities at Knock aren't too happy with the freelance channeler. They dismiss his claims of celestial communication as inauthentic. There are real, honest-to-goodness visitations of the heavenly Consort, and there are the imaginings of the credulous.

Which brings up the old issue of parsing miracles.

All believers in the supernatural draw the line somewhere.

Does the Mother of God talk to Bernadette, but not to the Irishman? Does she choose to appear lantern-slidelike on a church gable in Mayo, but not on a water-stained church wall in Brooklyn? Did she ascend bodily into Heaven? Did her Son? Was he born of a Virgin? Did he rise from the dead? Will you live forever?

We want our miracles, but we have a dickens of a time deciding where to draw the line. Especially when so many different religions have their own rosters of the miraculous.

The naturalist, at least, doesn't have the problem of knowing where to make the cut. Everything -- everything! -- happens according to the order of nature. We may not fully know the order, but we assume it is inviolable. The concept of miracle is redundant.

Or perhaps it would be equally accurate to say everything natural is miraculous -- miraculum, object of wonder. Better on one's knees in the grass examining a spider spinning its web than in the basilica at Knock.