I do not throw the word miracle around lightly. In fact I generally get irritated when I hear people calling things miracles that are no such thing such as giving God credit for the screw ups or successes of people. I heard of a case recently where someone’s loved one had a preliminary test that showed possible cancer. Of course the person was upset and asked people to pray. A second confirmation test was done and it turned out that the first was a “false positive.” False positive tests are a part of the whole medical package, people and machines make mistakes. The person sent an e-mail out to announce that the test had been a false positive and then proceeded to say that it had to be God healing the relative in question, not a mistake. I think that to makes such a claim actually cheapens the term “miracle” and does God a disservice. God at least to my understanding does pretty well on his or her own. It is like in baseball where an infielder commits an obvious error that is glaring and the official scorer scores the play as a hit. Now I rejoice that this person’s loved one did not have cancer, but the fact was that they never had cancer to begin with and thus to call the event a miracle is rather silly. The same is true when a medical team works their ass off to save someone from death, does everything right and makes the save only to have people give all the credit to God. Once again I have no doubt that God can be involved but to simply write off the efforts of dedicated people is to do a disservice to God. I think that God is okay with people that he or she created getting credit where credit is due.
Miracles are rare and not everything is a miracle. So when I say that I am experiencing a miracle I am certainly not doing so just to make me look deserving or extra spiritual. Anyone who knows me knows that such a claim would be fraudulent. I think that miracles related to one’s spiritual and psychological condition are rare and since there is no lab test to prove that you are all better that they are difficult to quantify. When I hear people talk about being completely “healed” in such matters I am a wait and see kind of person, as Ronald Reagan once said: “Trust but verify,” especially in regard to anything to do with me, simply because I don’t want to look like an ass or by my claims make God look stupid when they do not pan out.
The past couple of years have been the hardest of my life. I have talked about the effects of PTSD, issues with my father’s Alzheimer’s disease, my own sense of alienation and isolation, anxiety, depression and the crisis of faith that I experienced quiet a few times so I will not rehash them in this essay. The reality is that they are a reality that I have had to try to come to grips with. For most of this time I have existed in a world where everything hurt and I struggled to believe. Imagine having to pray for people when you are wondering if God even exists at times. To put it mildly it sucks. That has been my world, despite my expertise at what I do and the pent up knowledge that exists in the gray matter mounted in my bald brain housing group it has been a struggle to keep going.
While PTSD, anxiety and depression are major issues I think the thing that made them worse was how alone I felt and how it seemed that God had abandoned me. I think that was actually more frightening than the nightmares, insomnia, fear and everything else associated with my experience in and return from Iraq. I believe, at least from my experience that a crisis of faith and feeling alienated and abandoned by God is one of the most frightening and dehabilitating things that can happen to a Priest or any other minister. In fact I am pretty sure that when you ask ministers who have left the ministry that somewhere in their experience is a crisis of faith. That might be hidden by other circumstances but I’m pretty sure that it is there.
The past 22 months since returning from Iraq have been a terrible ordeal in an emotional and spiritual sense, however something has begun to happen and I cannot place my finger on it but somehow I am beginning to feel touched buy the grace of God again. It actually began quite unexpectedly. I came home from a disastrous trip to visit my parents in November completely wiped out and depressed. It seemed that I had crashed yet again and I expected that this Christmas would be no different than that of last year where I left Mass before it began and walked for an hour in the dark and cold wondering where God had gone. So when things started to happen, beginning ironically with the experience of performing the last rites for a patient in our ER and experiencing a number of other situations where I again felt part of something bigger than me I was surprised. Lo, even astonished at events that I couldn’t explain were happening as well as the fact that people care for me, all kinds of people, co-workers, friends from baseball, friends from Gordon Biersch and friends from church. I think that is where I began to realize that God might just care and maybe that there was hope for me again that maybe what I did mattered.
Today was a busy day as I walked about the medical center. I saw the work of my physician, nurse, corpsmen and technicians of various sorts as they fought to save the lives of people. I spent time with our staff as they worked to stabilize a very sick child for transport to another hospital in a last ditch attempt to save the child’s life as the child’s mother looked on. I watched our ER team assisted by one of our anesthesiologists from the ICU work to save the life of an elderly man and get him to the ICU. I saw surgeons and neurologists evaluating and working with a fairly young man who is in dire straits. For all of these folks Christmas Eve and Christmas day are days that they are “in the fight.” They are days where the miracle is real, but not evidenced to all. I am amazed by the skill, dedication and care of all of these folks who are attempting to ensure that Christmas does not end badly for others, both the patients in their charge as well as their family members.
Mid afternoon I was walking down the hall and I experienced a wave of emotion flood over me, and unlike the majority of emotions that I have felt in the past couple of years this was different. It was a feeling of grace and I guess the presence of God. I went up and talked with Elmer the shrink about what I was feeling and the experience was awesome, I was in tears as I shared, not the tears of sadness, but of grace. I am beginning to re-experience the grace of God, something that has been so long absent that I did not expect it, at least right now. I didn’t do anything differently; I certainly was not working extra hard to pray more, get more spiritual or pack my brain full of Bible verses. I was too far gone to do those things. It was all I could do many mornings just to get out of bed and come to work.
Now I know that I still have some hurdles in regard to my PTSD and that I am still not a “full up round” spiritually, but I have hope again. I am not the same Christian or Priest that I was before Iraq. I have changed in a lot of ways, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I know I have a long way to go, but for the first time in this see that I might actually get there.
I guess that is the miracle. Last year I dreaded the very thought of Christmas and this year I look forward to the Advent of Jesus, the Christ. That in the middle of life and death, experiencing pain, alimentation and all that I have described that something has touched my life and I have hope again. Tonight the Abbess is singing at her 5 PM Mass while I attend the 6 PM Mass over at Saint James Episcopal on my way home from work. When we get home we will have dinner together, open presents, watch Molly open her presents and probably if I have my way watch funny Christmas movies and specials as we spend the night together.
I pray that you will experience some measure of grace this Christmas, or whatever you celebrate. I do pray that God will protect us all and that we will be able to experience together the grace, mercy and peace of God.
Merry Christmas my friends, thank you for being there for me this year.
As Tiny Tim said at the end of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: “May God bless us all.”