“The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.”-GKC
Twice today I had experiences of the surreal nature of reality that can only be called miraculous. Every once in a while, the true colors of our Divinely created universe shift into focus and blind us with their intensity. Science, when taken as merely a form of study, often numbs us to these colors, yet reason itself confirms that numbness is a sign of a distortion from reality. A numbed mind, like a numb finger or blurry eye-sight, may indeed come in contact with reality, but because it fails to connect with reality in its full spectrum, rendering our experience false before it can even try to be true. And perhaps no one knows this truth better than the person who’s numbness is taken away from them to be replaced by a sudden and vivid sensitivity. Such was my experience today.
It is dreadfully hot in New Orleans. Cruising from one side of the river to the other, my mind began to fall into that perilous lethargy that Southerners associate with the month of August. I was leaving the school where I hold classes to pay a bill at another school where I take classes. I walked through the cool halls on my way to the financial office, walked through the door, and was shocked into a state of consciousness beyond hot or cold. When I had come to this office three years ago, I could distinctly remember a diet coke sitting on the desk next to the computer. Certainly there was a new financial aid person behind the desk. It was clear from the boxes and bags littering the office that she had recently moved in. There was a new computer, new decorations, new paint, but the same diet coke sat in the same place I remembered it being before. After all, one does not forget the petty details of so oppressive a place as an financial aid office. Rarely does a student find themselves in such a place without fear. On my visit three years prior, I had sat nervously trying to finalize my information before the semester deadline. In the midst of my turmoil, I remember contemplating the cool perspiration on the diet coke. And here it was again, gloating like the face of fate. I could see the fresh carbonation rising from its sneering mouth, laughing at me.
And my mind, awoken with a strange suddenness to the vexing twists of reality, grappled to make sense of it all. Had, for three years, the world spun dizzily around this one can of coke? Did paint dry, people pack, papers fly, all the while this coke remaining unmoved? Was this round metal the true axis of the universe, on which we all spun. I imagined a time-lapse in which the desk was emptied, the room cleaned, furniture replaced, and all the time this on can of diet coke remained fixed in the center of it all. If the desk rotted into ruin, I wondered, would the coke remain hovering in midair?
I am not a superstitious man. Some might argue the point, however, when they read what I did next: I ran to the chapel. Once inside the stillness of that room, I approached the Tabernacle, but once more awoke with a new horror. This was the same Tabernacle I had seen early today when on the other side of the river! Inside was the same host, the same True Presence, that I had felt early today but in a totally different location. Now two uncanny thoughts swirled in my mind: that of an ever-fixed can of coke that waited for me in the other room and of an ever-loving God who relentlessly chased me across rivers and bridges.
I said I am not a superstitious man, but for a moment I felt on the verge of becoming one. Lightheaded, I prayed to God, then saw these mysteries in their true light. Superstition, a wise man once told me, is not when man thinks too much of God’s place in universe (a logical impossibility) but when he thinks too little of his own place here. The superstitious man forgets in whose image he is made and thus lets the trivialities of nature make sport of him. Made in the image of God, it is totally possible, nay even likely, that two totally different people might take different can’s of coke and place them in the same place. Human beings like regularity and order. We make all cans of coke the same for the same reason that God makes all trees different: creative efficiency. Taking into account the fact that we willfully choose to drink coke at our desks, it would only make sense that I might see two such objects in the same place. Coffee stalls at airports, benches on street corners, Walmarts at Interstate Exits: these things indicate not a mythic quality in the universe but the material mysticism of man. Man, whether praying or building, always likes to be regular.
God made us so. The image of His order and goodness haunts even our sin. Therefore, when He became man (and then became bread) that we might be saved, he left us evidence of His own will by placing himself in all the places we might want to be with Him. Yet He knew that we could not handle the strange solidity of idol worship. Had he become a statue, His Presence would have haunted us like the Immovable Can of Diet Coke, perched ominously in a single Temple like the pagans of old had envisioned. Yet, had he merely given us a symbolic representation of Himself, then how could our hearts recover from the bitingly real enigmas and separations of the material world? That is to say, lovers are never satisfied with representation. We like regularity.We need to be close. We like our coke in the afternoon on the middle of our desk. We like our spouses in our arms at night. A simple “symbol” of His love would never “do the trick.” Only a True Presence would satisfy us. To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if the Eucharist is only a True Symbol, then to Hell with it.
“The incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.” In a universe where the food and drinks we desire appear with such regularity, shouldn’t our miraculous God be willing to appear with an even more regularity. The Almighty could not have His show stolen by cans of coke! So, in ways never foreseen and never guessed at, He made His Presence among us known in flesh and blood and bread and wine. According to Aquinas, the power by which He did this was greater than any of the mysteries of creation. Still, the greater mystery is why His love would go through such trouble, why He would bother to leap over a river and mount a cross, just to be with you and me.