By Erik Walker Wikstrom
Unitarian minister, author
The people I know don’t seem overly excited about the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. No one is talking about Lindsey Vonn, or Apolo Ohno. The greatest athletes in the world are gathered in one place doing astonishing things yet they seem to barely be registering.
And the other day I was startled to hear a casual report on the news about U.S. astronauts doing something on the International Space Station. Six people joined a crew who were already working in orbit some 200 miles above the earth. This news was delivered rather matter-of-factly.
When I was a kid, we were glued to the TV during the Olympics, watching them and talking about them with enthusiastic disbelief. No one could be that fast! No one could take risks like that! No one could be so graceful! It was amazing. We were amazed. We also paid attention to each and every space launch. We watched the skies when the astronauts were up there. We strained our eyes to look at the moon, and strained our imaginations to embrace the idea that another human being like us was wandering around up there.
Today we live in a world with an overload of astonishment. We are regularly bombarded with imitations of the incredible – think “Avatar” or “2012”. Perhaps it’s getting harder to notice the real thing.
One of my Unitarian Universalist ancestors, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once decried the way the Christian church of his day used the word, “miracle.” He wrote: “[Jesus] spoke of miracles; for he felt that man’s life was a miracle, and that all man doth, and he knew that this daily miracle shines, as man is the diviner. But the very word Miracle, as pronounced by Christian churches, gives a false impression; it is Monster. It is not one with the blowing clover and the falling rain.”
Maybe we need a walking-on-water, parting-the-seas kind of miracle to catch our attentions today, yet aren’t we surrounded by miracles enough? Women and men – creatures of the earth just like us – are looking down at our common home from 200 miles in space. One of the lugers ran the course in practice hitting 95.69 miles per hour.
And then there’s that spectacular sunset at the end of a spectacularly lousy day. The surprising sound of a friend’s voice on the other end of the phone when you’re feeling especially alone. Your child, sleeping. Any baby’s smile. And, of course, the blowing clover and the falling rain. The Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “The true miracle is not walking on water or walking on air but simply walking on this earth.” What will it take for us to remain mindful of that?
Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom is a Unitarian Universalist minister and the author of “Simply Pray: a modern spiritual practice to deepen your life” and “Teacher, Guide, Companion: rediscovering Jesus in a secular world” (Skinner House Books)