Unmiracle

A miracle is, by definition, unlikely to happen.

When our daughter was ten, I lost her in the woods.

She was ten, and actively honing her skills in defiance, contrariness, and flouncing. It was our first visit after moving away, over the ocean, and we had met up with friends for a picnic and playtime, and it was sunny. The afternoon was drawing to a close. We said goodbye, set off, we for our temporary home, they for the permanent nests we left behind. Daughter walked with them.

I had learned, by wearying trial and error, to pick my battles. Let her walk with them a while, then, pretend for a moment longer that this was home. At the brow of the hill, the emptiness of the field sweeping down to the edge of the woods took my breath away. She was gone.

I ran along the edge of the woods as well as I could with her siblings in tow. I dared not enter: if she was on one path and I chose another, we would never find one another between the thick darkness of the trees and brambles. I hurled her name as hard as I could between the branches, knowing that it was being swallowed before it was even out of sight by the thickets. I bellowed, over and over.

When they were three, we found a friend of hers walking away from his own front door, weeping with the all of the grief that only a three-year-old knows. “What’s wrong?” The words were hard to make out, but we divined that his parents had left him, left home, and that he had set out into the world to find them.

“That seems a bit unlikely,” I told him, and rang the doorbell. Mother came. Father had returned from work and gone upstairs to change; she had followed with a few words about their day; he had been playing in the living room beneath the stairs that, open-slatted, wound right out of there; but he hadn’t noticed them go. Looking up, he leapt straight to abandonment and set off to find and, if necessary, avenge them. We just happened to pass by.

A man came out of his house and looked at me strangely, bellowing like a bereaved milk cow at the woods, at the trees, into the dusk. I had no time nor breath to stop and explain.

After a nondescript division of time, she wandered out of the woods to our right. Until she saw my face, she had no idea that she was lost. We wept together.

I prayed for a miracle then, the other day, scanning the edges of woodland and scrub, for a child to wander out with all of the insouciant innocence of one who doesn’t even know that he is lost.

A miracle is, by definition, unlikely to happen.

I preached yesterday on the miracles of Elisha, who proclaimed to a woman a child, and who returned him to her from the lip of the grave; who assured her by word and by deed that God is good, that God’s mercy is not retractable, nor insufficient, nor thwarted by death. And I believe it; but even as I spoke, I knew that there were some who hated me, if only for a moment, for saying so.

Where is our miracle? they murmured. Why not one more? Why not for us?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

It is the prayer of ordinary, everyday life, ex deus ex machina, lived in the empty, rolling wilderness of unmiracle, whose natives spend the rest of their days snagging on the edges of briared thickets, searching for signs of hope.

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