Do you believe in miracles?
All my life, I’ve caught myself asking this question while on a balance beam that seemingly has reason and religion on opposite ends. I never abandoned one for the other, but there have been many times when the distance between them had me walking farther along the beam.
Reason and religion seem so intertwined yet distinguishable all at once. We have faith that the reality we test is true, and we use reason to try and rationalize the things we cannot see. So it seems inherently true that the scientifically assertable and supernaturally astonishing cannot simply sever ties. Yet the facts of our understood reality often do not easily coincide with the faith I have in God, in society and in myself.
I was raised with Bible verses telling me of a merciful God, one who wouldn’t give someone more than they could handle. While this sounds good on paper, when it comes to society and myself, I feel my footing waver on the beam of reason and religion.
This shakiness comes from constantly questioning what I believe and what I see. Yes, I am someone who believes in God and practices my faith. But at the same time, I have eyes to see and a mind to know what pain and suffering continually plague our world. I also have senses to feel the pain that plagues my body every single day in varying degrees. Calling all this mercy would prove anything but merciful.
But I believe in miracles.
Maybe this belief only comes from some social influence I’ve been exposed to. Sociological theorist Émile Durkheim explored this phenomena with his notion of “collective effervescence,” which he considers “a certain delirium” that people experience when gathered in the similar mindset of a thought or action.
Have I felt this when I’ve gathered at a mass, with decorations strewn up everywhere and people singing in collective harmony? Absolutely — and I probably was feeling extra faithful in that moment too.
Perhaps a contradictory aspect of my experience with religion and faith has been the way moments alone impact me more than times when I feel affirmed by the presence of others. That’s not to say that I don’t believe religion can foster collective effervescence. As someone studying sociology, I recognize some of the validity behind Durkheim’s observations. However, it is during individual moments that I witness what I can only describe as miraculous.
Years ago, I found myself in the perfect setting for collective effervescence to build: church. While not every pew was packed, just enough people and lit candles were there for attendees to feel connected — except for me. Everyone had Bibles to reference in case we needed them, but looking around, I saw no one else interested in opening theirs. Perhaps if I was listening to the speaker at the time, I wouldn’t have found a need to open mine either.
Even so, I felt compelled to turn to a random page and find a verse — something other churchgoers probably would frown upon for the lack of thoughtfulness in selection.
In the King James Version of the Bible, there are 31,102 verses, meaning I was reading only 0.003215% of the text at the time. The statistics made it irrational to think I would unknowingly choose the exact verse which the speaker in front of me would later recite.
Maybe that’s why I was moved to tears minutes later when he spoke the same verse I chose at random.
I didn’t suddenly think I could make a parlor trick of my guessing ability — but at the same time, I didn’t think it was just mere effervescence or coincidence either.
That same verse has traveled in and out of my mind now for 21 years, and while I have no tangible evidence of what happened that day in the pews of a church, I do feel more certain that not everything in this world comes down to empirical explanation.
There are other moments in my life that have also felt harder to explain with logic.
When I was very little, I was in just the right place at the right time to grab my brother’s arm and prevent him from falling down a flight of stairs. When I was a teenager, my mom had an intuition to take me to the emergency room, where I was surprised to find I had a brain bleed. And while this might be the least believable of all these, more than once in my life, I have dreamt of events in exact detail before they happened in reality.
Walking the line between reason and religion doesn’t get any easier the more inclined you are to believe in what some consider unreasonable. And if neither reason nor religion feel worth believing in, at least believe in yourself and the things you witness but cannot fully explain.
In a world that makes it easy to have faith in nothing, believing at all is a miracle itself.