Thursday, November 5, 2009

OPINION: Miracles are what you make of them

Straight Shot
by Jess Hardin

I remember well, back in the late 1970’s, the excitement generated by what many considered to be a modern day miracle. A short order cook in the tiny mountain village of Taos Junction had flipped over a tortilla that he was frying, only to come face to face with a sepia-toned portrait of a sorrowful but all-forgiving Jesus Christ.
And apparantly a Jesus with earthy sense of humor. After rescuing it from the heat and saying the appropriate prayers, the perspiring chef showed it first to his envious coworkers and then to their astonished customers. Meals and conversations came to a halt, while all clustered around the breakfast apparition.
Of those there at the time, the already devout had the fires of their beliefs well fueled, their convictions confirmed, their faith rewarded and confirmed. One woman later claimed to have been cured of some unrecorded illness, and nobody contradicted her. The sole atheist, it is said, began to reconsider his position, and to have actually admitted in public that not everything in the world could be adequately explained by the rational mind, nor qualified and quantified by scientific method.
I was only one of the several thousand people who came to witness the miracle over the course of the following few weeks, on display there for all to see. There were up to 50 vintage pickups, family station wagons and low-riders parked there at any given time, as well as a smattering of chopped Harley-Davidson motorcycles driven up from Española.
The least persuaded about its holy origins were the bikers, ordering two plates of huevos rancheros each... and the most convinced were the local farmers and ranchers, who felt there must have been a special reason why the apparition had appeared in New Mexico instead of El Paso, say, or in the rural West instead of somewhere in the more settled and sometimes more disbelieving East.
To settle the matter of the tortilla’s divine origins, the interested parties brought in the Arch Diocese of Santa Fe, but in the end he decided it was better not make a proclamation one way or the other.
He was a wise man.
Who can say, after all, what is a miracle and what is not? The greatest mistake isn’t finding divine inspiration in the everyday, or holiness in the commonplace. The greatest mistake is to take things for granted, failing to see in the familiar people, places and objects around us the suggestion of something larger, numinous and blessed. We are surely all products of, and participants in, miracles, whether we are paying attention to them or not.
First, there is the miracle of life, no matter what you believe its cause.
What a tragedy, to forget even for a moment the wonder of each necessary breath, of our flesh and blood enabled somehow to move, to see, to know and better itself... to fall in love, to learn and to explore, to define and defend family and home, to serve something greater than ourselves alone, to paint pictures and write songs.
Some are big, like a precious little boy surviving a difficult brain operation.
Some seem smaller, but are still amazing, such as the way a cut heals itself until it disappears. Or the way a pokey caterpillar turns into a butterfly, and then flies away. It seems like a miracle to me, that we are allowed to outlast and potentially learn from our misjudgments and distortions.
That there are still exist rural communities like mine, in spite of the pressures of expanding world population and increased global regulation.
That there are still national forests, neither privatized nor subdivided, which all citizens have a right to and a responsibility for. That there still exist places that appear fashioned by a specially empowered hand, land still unpaved and undeveloped, a home for myriad animals and plants and a place where all citizens can go to be quieted, nourished, strengthened and inspired.
As for myself, I see reflections of the miraculous in the eyes of loving children and in the way the mirror-like San Francisco river turns the world upside down. In towns too touch too die and filled with frontier spirit, like Magdalena, Quemado, Reserve. In the ascendent arc of little birds when they make their first scary flight. In every gesture of caring or mercy, in these often uncaring and unforgiving times. In wildflowers that somehow make it through waves of both flood and drought, and in the smiles of neighbors that still wave! In the way that nature’s herbs can help heal you, and the way the most amazing plant begins its existence in the form of a most tiny seed. In everything, most likely, can be found some evidence of the miraculous and the marvelous when we suspend our preconceptions and open to their greater meaning.
Over time, the image of Jesus faded as its edible canvas its inevitable decomposition. Some say the short order cook and the faithful who flocked that followed were all mistaken in their interpretation. I think that the bigger mistake (and this is no jest), is to look into even the most mundane and shapeless tortilla – into what can be the revealing patterns of our wondrous world and everyday lives – and behold anything less.
Jess Hardin is the author of Old Guns & Whispering Ghosts: Tales & Twists of the Old West.

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