Testimonies, Miracles, and Green Pastures

07_31_1_webSometimes guest speakers came to my church–missionaries who lived and worked in other countries. They showed slides of themselves in exotic settings among dark-skinned people and told many wonderful stories of living by faith. They spoke of miracles: instant healing in response to a prayer; an exact amount of money that arrived soon after a prayer for that amount; an urge to go to a specific place where they found someone waiting to hear what they had to say. I wanted to be like them, but the people I prayed for died anyway, I had to work for the money that I needed, and what I thought were divine appointments sometimes ended awkwardly.

Reportable miracles are the material of “testimonies,” a staple of old-fashioned Southern Baptist culture, but they seem incoherent in the narrative of a life that doesn’t report steady progress heavenward: twice-divorced, vain, intermittently unchurched, often confused. I have fewer answers to the really big questions than I did when I was nineteen.

I’ve experienced a few reportable miracles: doors opened to a university that seemed out of my reach; a life partner with faith greater than mine; material goods to supply specific material needs; an unexpected intervention from a person of power to solve a problem, but these reportable miracles recede against the backdrop of larger miracles: an invisible hand and a still, small voice of a shepherd much larger than I who has guided me, not skipping joyfully from sunny hilltop to sunny hilltop, but trudging through valleys of shadows of death and evil; the incredible journey of the earth around the sun every twenty-four hours; the exquisitely-formed human beings who grew inside me and who have survived to middle age and produced their own exquisitely-formed beings; sunlight and shade; water and food; trees and flowers; work and provision; family, friends, pets, and love.

I am not blessed because I have special spoiled-child status with the Almighty, but because I have been willed into existence and consciousness by a power that I cannot possibly understand. I am blessed when I stop insisting on comprehension and start to accept and experience the wonder and the terror of the Universe and its Creator.

My wishes to be a missionary or a pastor’s wife or the leader of some great ministry have not been granted. My life is not a running report of dramatic miracles and unmitigated progress toward heaven.

I sleep. I get up. I drink coffee. I eat. Most days, I read a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from the New Testament, and, more often than not, far from being instantly inspired and filled with wisdom, I find myself wondering what THAT was about. I worry about car accidents and climate change and epidemics and the economy and politics. I wonder if my life makes any difference. I wonder if I should do more and, if so, what I should do. But sometimes I think of a lamb, trembling as she walks through the shadows, trusting in a shepherd whose ways she cannot know, comforted by rod and staff and food and green pastures. ~Mary Ann Lesh

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