Saturday night, I walked out on Zachary Taylor Street in Harpers Ferry beneath the night sky to look for the aurora borealis. Scanning north across the Potomac, there did seem to be a greenish cast to the heavens above Maryland Heights.
Much more spectacular was the “every day” night sky to the west, where Jupiter appeared to hover above a thumbnail moon, which in turn hovered above a rim of coral sunset fire along the western horizon as I walked out of the supermarket earlier in the evening.
So often, we go in search of the miraculous — and find the miracles in the “ordinary” — if we pay attention. Remember: it’s still Easter. As Wendell Berry, a Christian as well as a poet, would say, “Practice resurrection.”
That’s what Jesus was doing in feeding his disciples breakfast on the beach — he was practicing resurrection, doing the normal, everyday thing with the intent of using “breakfast” to search their hearts and save their souls. Jesus wanted to take them beyond the “every day” while he fed their hunger.
Perhaps he was thinking, “I am here, I am back from death and I am sharing the most important thing with you, so important that I am going to ask Peter about it three times —just as he denied me three times. This time, he does not deny me. He says he loves me. If you love me, live that love.” And then, Jesus does just that, by feeding his hungry disciples, who had been fishing all night, and who were about to give up, when he told them where to cast their nets.
They haul in the net and it is so full of fish that they can hardly move it. Jesus is working miracles, surely, but he is also the breakfast cook. He did it. He fed the sheep. Some say that the preparation of a meal was one more proof that he was actually alive. I think it was a manifestation of the love he was asking the disciples to share with others — an ordinary breakfast by the seaside after a night of hard work that had proved unexpectedly productive.
We are witnesses to daily miracles if the eyes of our faith are open. Little resurrections are happening everywhere. As Walt Whitman said while working in a Civil War hospital as a nurse, “A mouse is enough of a miracle to stagger sextillions of unbelievers.” With food, with love and with challenges, Jesus gives his followers what they need. They cherish the signs and wonders, the nets filled with fish after a night of fighting frustration, the children healed, the crazy man in the caves made sane, the beloved friend of Jesus answering his call to come out of the grave. Yet what does he ask of them: to feed one another as he has fed them fish by the sea. That is what they will do if they love him.
That is the “ordinary” task that the followers of Jesus are to continue. We feed the sheep. We love each other as he loved us. We share a meal in remembrance of him, and to celebrate his Living Presence among us. We work towards being whole human beings, even as we recognize that such wholeness is a long road, and that we need the support and encouragement of companions on the way. By the way, companion originally meant someone with whom to share bread.
We still search for signs in the heavens — who would not want to see curtains of diaphanous color in the northern night sky? Yet, if we look a little farther, in a different direction, we see the “regular miracles” that the universe offers every night — the sunset, the rising of the moon in its various forms, the buds pushing out into bloom, the gift of spring flowers.
On Saturday, my husband and I walked on one of the old farms that is now a part of the School House Ridge Battlefield. The houses there have collapsed from neglect, yet along the side of one yard narcissus flowers still rise amid their green blade leaves and burst into bloom. I picked some yesterday and thanked God for the woman, now long gone, who planted them there to celebrate the spring. Did she know that another woman would wander among her flowers and give glory to God for the wonders of creation, long after the house she had lived in returned to the earth? I thanked God for the sign from a woman who lived long ago, in an obscure place seen by few people.
Brennan Manning, the Franciscan monk who lived many different kinds of lives as a lover of God, died April 12, and I am sorry to say that I only discovered him because someone posted an obituary notice for him on Facebook. He wrote a book called The Ragamuffin Gospel. It is about the followers of Jesus and how we are empowered by Jesus only insofar as we answer his call to love.
He wrote, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
The best thing we can do for others is to live so that the Gospel of Jesus becomes believable for someone whose nets are empty and who wanders by the side of the sea, looking for nourishment. Such people are everywhere. We can lift them up and nourish them with the miracle of what Jesus has given to nourish us.
— The Rev. Georgia C. DuBose is the priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Harpers Ferry