In 2010, the book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, was released. At the time, I believe I gave this news about 0.3% of my attention. 0.1% was spent lamenting terrible theology prevalent in popular Christian book market. I don’t believe we die and are snatched up to heaven, but that is subject for another post – or better yet, go read N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. Another 0.1% of my energies went towards flinching and cringing at the way this boy was IMO being exploited for book sales. In hindsight, I should have spent more time praying for him and his mother, whose cries for truth has been silenced by the powerful machine of the publishing industry. The last 0.1% was energy exerted to shaking my head at the allure of sensationalism.
It came as no surprise when last week The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven retracted his story.
We have such a ferocious appetite for the supernatural. It’s as if our belief in God, a supernatural Being, is dependent upon our testimonies of supernatural sightings. I get it. I believe in miracles, and I also marvel when I hear stories of exciting, extraordinary happenings in our communities. But honestly, I also find it very problematic the way we herald these stories, not the least because it is susceptible to blatant lying and exploitation, to embellish a story in order to sell, convert, and manipulate. My biggest concern is the way it steers our attention away from the miracles in the ordinary.
If God wanted us to long for the supernatural, God would have made us into demi-gods, like in the Greek mythologies. Or came to us flashing down a red carpet, complete with an impressive motorcade and paparazzi to boot. Instead, we have plain Jesus, born to plain peasants in a plain stable. Jesus came to show us the immeasurable value we have as ordinary human beings. Jesus’ first miracles were hushed, ordering his disciples to not make a big show out of it. He simply cared for the ordinary needs of his beloved, quietly helping: here you go, make sure there’s enough wine for the party.
In seeking after dramatic healing, the large tumor that magically vanished, the unlikely reversal of a devastating diagnosis, we miss reveling in the slower but equally miraculous natural process of healing. Like the way our immune system fights off viruses, or how our skin smooths over abrasions.
In looking for the BIG answers to prayer, we neglect to celebrate the small answers for our everyday, ordinary prayers: give us this day our daily bread.
In publishing the story of the boy who came back from the afterlife, we took the spotlight away for children all over to tell the stories of their right-now life: delightful, vibrant, no less filled with the Divine imprint of God.
I’m not saying we should forgo interesting and settle for mundane. The Resurrection calls us to a sacred duty to create new things, discover new stories, find new angles, make new life. We can and should tell interesting stories. But just as tabloids aren’t considered legitimate publications because the content is cheaply derived, stripping instead of adding dignity to the people featured, so we must take care to guard the art of telling stories.
Most of our lives are ordinary, this is a fact. Most of us won’t have memoirs published or movies made of our lives, also fact. But we all have stories worth telling, and a writer who pays close enough attention, a photographer who is patient enough for the right moment, an artist who does the laborious work of asking the right questions and listening intently, will produce a stunning portrait of every ordinary last one of us.
As followers of plain Jesus, we must care enough about plain people. If you need a rush of adrenaline from a Divine gesture, a miraculous event, don’t look to sensational stories of Boys from Heaven, turn to your neighbor. Notice her expressions, consider his posture, respect their dignity, but ask for their story. Have them tell you about their loved ones and watch their faces light up. Listen to the battles they fight and feel that stress on their shoulders, the extra wrinkle on their forehead and that small twitch bearing witness to the brutality of life. Look into their eyes and you’ll discover a twinkle as they recall experiences of joy, and maybe a tear or a torrent betraying an avalanche of pain.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t long to see God in miracles. I am saying the best miracles are found in the ordinary. It takes work to excavate beauty from beneath the plain surface, but what better way to spend each day?
To marvel at the miracle of our earth, faithfully rotating day after ordinary day on its axis, bringing forth the miracle of our one sun, distributing rays of gold across oceans, mountains, and cities,
to shine unfailingly each morning, and not leaving until another display of wonder at dusk.
To spend the time in between honing our skills of noticing extraordinary love in ordinary people.
To breathe gratitude for simple gifts, to honor the voices of the unassuming.
Therein lies the true miracle: we thought we had to go to heaven and back to find God, when all along, God had been everywhere in our midst.