I am interested in the experience of the miraculous, not as a way of proving the existence of miracles, and certainly not as a way of proving the existence of God, whom no amount of miracles would be sufficient to prove and whom no lack of miracles would be sufficient to disprove, but rather as a unique aspect of human existence. I am interested, in other words, not in miracles as such, but in how people perceive and describe and experience something that they can only call miraculous, even if this something is afterwards demonstrated to have an entirely mundane cause. What is significant for me here is the experience itself, how it determines how people act, how it comes to be spoken and written and shared, particularly in our current culture where speaking about these kinds of experiences is increasingly unacceptable. It does not matter, therefore, whether there are miracles. It only matters that miracles might be possible, that people might believe in them, that they might live differently because of this belief, and that they might share this belief with one another.
Part of what intrigues me about the idea of the miracle is that it is by definition unpredictable, unnatural, unreproducible. Despite the claims of faith healers and charlatans everywhere, our common experience readily tells us that no amount of prayer, no degree of faith, no focus of will, nor anything else for that matter, is capable of producing miracles on demand. If there are miracles, if such things do occur, they only occur quite apart from our desires and our wills, and virtually all scientific research on the subject, such as it is, has confirmed this, finding no substantial difference in populations who receive prayer and those who do not. Of course, if we could produce miracles on demand, they would no longer be miracles, and so part of what makes a miracle essentially a miracle is that it cannot be produced on demand, that it occurs, if it occurs, only where and when it we do not expect it.
The other intriguing part of miracles is that, also by definition, they can never be definitively verified. It is always possible to rationalize, explain, ignore, or otherwise reject any proofs that might be offered for miracles. Even if someone was to be raised from the dead, it would always be possible to claim that there had been no death in the first place, that a medical error had been made or that a hoax had been perpetrated. No evidence can really suffice for miracles. Because miracles lie, in their nature, entirely outside of scientific and experiential norms, because they cannot be replicated or reproduced, they can never be truly verified, and the very idea of a verified miracle should strike us as a bit bazaar.
Despite all this, many of the people with whom I speak, religious or otherwise, have admitted to experiencing things that have appeared to them as inexplicable, as impossibly coincidental, as unnatural, as miraculous, though they are often reluctant to admit to these kinds of experiences. They have encountered something that does not fit with their understanding of the world and that certainly does not fit with their rational and scientific culture, and they are not sure what to do or say about it. The experience has sometimes even come to play a central part in their lives, and yet it is not something that they can readily articulate.
This situation, where the experience of the miraculous has only a tenuous place in public discourse, is a fairly recent one. Stories of signs and miracles were standard fare in western culture before they were gradually displaced by scientific and rationalist discourses, and these kinds of miraculous stories remain significant in certain of our microcultures, particularly religious ones, but they no longer find any place in our broader public discourses, and I am curious to see how this experience of the miraculous would be expressed were it given an appropriate forum.
So, I am proposing a discursive experiment. What if were to use a second blog to solicit stories from people about where and how they have encountered the miraculous in one form or another, from the extraordinary to the banal. The stories would be submitted by comment on the static main page, and I would select from among them and publish them as posts. Submissions could be made anonymously, and they would not need to conform to any form in particular. The purpose of the project would not be to prove anything about miracles, but to open a space where people could begin to describe their experience of the miraculous within a culture that is no longer able to hear this kind of discourse. Its aim will be to explore how the phenomenon of the miraculous experience operates in our lives despite the fact that we are no longer able to discuss it openly. I am not sure how long I would give to let the project run its course, but I think it would be fascinating to read people describe their experiences.
What do people think of think of this idea? Is there any merit in it?