One of my favorite books, a novel written by Zadie Smith called White Teeth, includes the story of an immigrant family in London. The mother and father were born in Bangladesh, which used to be East Pakistan, which used to be India, which used to be Bengal. These parents choose to raise their family in London out of a desire for stable opportunity, theoretically anyway, coming as they do from a place where tragedy happens even more frequently than the battles that cause their country’s name to change so often. They choose London, instead of that land of “random disaster, of flood and cyclone, or hurricane and mudslide…” where in the first 14 years of my own lifetime, Smith writes: “more people died than in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden combined. A million people lost lives they had learned to hold lightly in the first place.”
My own experience is that we are not a people who hold our lives lightly – not our own lives, not the lives of those we hold most dear. Given the accidents of our birth and talents and upbringing, we get to be…here. And we tend to live with certain assumptions about how the world works: that it is benevolent (bad things aren’t supposed to happen), and meaningful (things are supposed to make sense) and that people are worthy (the stuff of our lives is supposed to correlate with some logic to the good or the bad that we do).
Who among us has not cried out to God for some kind of a miracle?
Who among us has not railed against God – or wanted to, at least – with the charge that a compassionate God would not make us suffer?
Who among us has not lived in some kind of fury or devastation when we realized those lives we cherish and hold most dear, are lives that we must also learn to hold lightly?
The first reading and the gospel passage that are today’s lessons are beautiful stories about generosity and hospitality and compassion and care.
In the first, from the first book of Kings, a starving widow hosts Elijah in her home, she feeds the prophet from the little she has left for herself and her son. God rewards her for her generosity, as the little that she has does not run out – she does not starve, her son does not starve, thanks to God’s provision. Later, when her son becomes sick to the point of death, Elijah intercedes with God on their behalf. God restores the son’s life and breath to him.
In the second story, from Luke’s gospel, a widow grieves the death of her only son as his body is carried away. She mourns with the particular grief of a parent who has lost her child. She is particularly vulnerable herself, now, as a widow with no one left to care for her. The passage tells us that Jesus sees her and has compassion for her. Jesus restores the widow’s son to life. Then Jesus gives that only son back to his mother.
These are beautiful stories of generosity and hospitality, of God’s compassion and care. And they are excruciating stories, too. Because not every child’s life is restored, in the same way that these sons’ lives have been.
Who among us has not cried out to God for a miracle?
And what do we do, when the miracle that comes is not the one we have asked for?
Most of the time, for many of us, those deep and fixed understandings about how the world is, tend to work. Education really does make a difference in our own lives and in the community. The vaccines our children receive mean they don’t contract deadly diseases. The plane touches down safely in spite of some turbulence. We see the person walking in our rearview mirror before we back up the car.
Most of the time, it all works. But what about those times when it doesn’t? If we live with the understanding that this world is benevolent and meaningful, if we live with the assumption that the events of our lives correlate to the things we’ve done or left undone, then what happens when the ground shifts and it all goes sideways? What are we to do, when the surgery doesn’t go as the doctor expected, or the cancer is too much, or the addiction is too powerful, or the accident too swift?
Where is Elijah’s intercession then? Where is the Lord’s compassion?
We cry out for miracles when we know our need of God, when we realize that the lives we hold most dear, we must also learn to hold lightly. We cry out for miracles as signs in the hope that God’s compassion will realign things, and make the world right again.
Sometimes it happens. Sometimes, the great miracle we hope for unfolds as we have asked. More often, it doesn’t. And we find ourselves in chaos, in a place we don’t understand.
I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about our need to talk to each other. I’ve been thinking about God Sightings, about the actual vocabulary we have, and dare to speak, for what is holy and real in our lives. And I wonder if an important part of what we need in this journey of faith with each other is the chance to talk together about the miracles that surprise us in our everyday lives. Because I believe they are there. And I also believe that they are usually not what we expect, to the point that often we can’t see those miracles on our own.
We need each other, in this journey of faith as people following the way of Christ. We need people we trust who can tell us the truth that they have found, people who will listen to our truth even as we continue to sort it out. And we need words that fit with who we really are – not ornate, churchy language with lots of syllables that only a few people understand…but words that are hopeful and honest and gritty, sometimes, and sad.
Those crowds around Jesus at the time he raises the widow’s son are not immediately thrilled with the miracle that Jesus has done in their midst. First, they are terrified. Then they’re amazed. Finally, they start to talk about it. And only then does word of Jesus’ miracle spreads “throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.”
I wonder about the miracles of our own lives that surprise and even scare us just a little – maybe more than a little. I wonder where God calls us to stand in amazement. And I wonder how we can find language to tell about what we’ve seen. Perhaps the most important part is to hold it all lightly, to look for surprising moments of God’s compassion in ways we never expected, and to begin that holy conversation.
 Zadie Smith. White Teeth. London: Random House, 2000. 176.
 M. Jan Holton. “Proper 5, Luke 7:11-17, Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. 118.
 Holton, 120.
 Luke 7:11