What is a miracle? Is it hocus-pocus or truly something supernatural? To some it can be either, but more often than not a miracle is something ordinary but yet unexpected.
One dictionary defines miracle as "a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency."
A dear friend who is deeply passionate about their faith says there are no such things as coincidences, but there are God-incidences. I tend to agree, although if truth be known, I am not always in touch with God and more often than not completely miss the small miracles that occur right before me.
Miracles come in big packages with neon signs and in small ways that may be missed until someone points it out. Each of us define and recognize miracles differently.
A few months ago both our adult children were traveling to the other side of the world, two different countries, traveling independently of the other. One was in Switzerland and the Netherlands, the other in the China mainland. We prayed for their safety. Sure enough, they made it back without a hitch.
Was that a miracle? In spite of the fact the "odds" favored them returning home safely we chose to accept the miracle of their trips.
But for some people, in the last stages of life, a miracle can be as ordinary as watching the sun come up the next day.
What follows is a story of a miracle that is both ordinary and yet totally unexpected.
Is That All There Is?
Oliver Hart, age 11, knows his Bible stories. A few days ago, the school captain of Christ Church Grammar School in South Yarra (Australia) helped re-enact the Easter story - there were the 30 pieces of silver, the crown of thorns, the Crucifixion and resurrection.
The school says many of its parents aren't even believers, but they still want their children to know the critical stories of the Bible. As for 11 year old Oliver, "Easter symbolizes there is always hope … you don't have to believe in God, but I think the message in the story is a good one''.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard would agree. An atheist, Ms Gillard believes Australians need to understand the Bible because it ''has formed such an important part of our culture''.
Yet Oliver Hart is in a minority. Ms Gillard may have learned to recite scripture at her Baptist Sunday school, but many young Australians have no clue about the Good Samaritan, the Great Flood or even Easter. When Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed to God that he might be spared the horror of the cross, he might well have added that ''by 2011, most kids won't even know who I am … they'll be more concerned about why chocolate eggs are delivered by a rabbit''.
Many Adults are Equally Ambivalent About Christianity.
A psychologist who writes poetry and fiction, has reconsidered the Bible's value as a store of ''rich and beautiful language and evocative imagery''.
''The story of the Good Samaritan, and the many instances of Jesus challenging the cruel orthodoxies of the time, were good and powerful stories.''
But is that all they are? Good stories that might as well be fiction for all they know.
Bible stories about children, especially about the baby Jesus, still have resonance in the non-church community.
Jesus is The Problem
''It's the adult Jesus story that's in trouble,'' Professor Carroll says. ''The story of Good Friday and resurrection is floundering badly. If we lose the tragic Jesus story from the culture, we lose a lot. That symbol of the cross sits on top of Western civilization.''
He says the loss of biblical stories from the culture is a direct failing of the Christian churches, who have a responsibility to ''tell those stories in a way that is engaging today''.
In essence, Prof. Carroll is saying the stories don't capture our attention and draw us in, literally and figuratively, to the story of Jesus' life and death. In this short attention span world, the Easter story, the TRUE Easter story just doesn't resonate in today's glitzy, fast paced world.
In other words, it would take a MIRACLE to capture the attention of adults and children, compel them to set aside their electronic devices and unplug their ear buds, and listen to a history lesson about faith.
Are Moral Lessons Enough?
For the non-religious, stories that impart moral lessons are more appealing if they avoid religious overtones.
Amanda Cox, 38, a mother of three boys, gave up Sunday school for swimming club. ''The way they told the stories was boring,'' she says. And although Ms Cox found the religious angles ''off-putting'', she is sad the stories with their ''fantastic morals and lessons'' aren't as prevalent now.
As one raised in a family that attended church regularly, I can still recall being fascinated by the stories taught to us in Sunday School. It never occurred to me that building an ark that would hold all the animals as well as family members was a humanly impossible task. Or that Moses could wave a stick over the Red Sea and the waters would part so the Israelite's could escape Pharaoh's army. I did wonder why Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, arrested and crucified. Why would they do that to a man who had helped so many people?
One person suggested ''I do agree that some of the stories display great interpretation of good values, but the same thing could be said about Aesop's fables or even Shakespeare.''
Is that all that the Christian faith has to offer these days? Stories with good moral values?
Who Has Made a Lasting Impression in History?
Sadly for many that is true. I heard someone say that Jesus was a good man but so was Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
But did Dr. Schweitzer perform miracles that cannot be explained in human terms?
No doubt, Dr. Schweitzer made great contributions to the world and awarded a Nobel prize, but how many people today know what he did, or even know his name?
This Sunday many will attend church for the first time in months, or even years. Their motivations for attending on this particular day are varied. Some may attend out of obligation. Others may come to take their kids. Some will come hoping to reconnect with their faith.
Still others will attend, and never come back because the church was too crowded.
Whether you worship in a corporate setting or privately in your home, take a moment to reconnect with your past. Reflect on all that has happened in your life and how, through it all, you have had a good life so far. Maybe not perfect. Perhaps not the way you wanted, but you had a good life overall.
And maybe, just maybe, that is your miracle.