I believe in miracles. I’m a scientist, but after Hurricane Katrina, I believe in miracles.
As a geologist, my thought process tends toward the analytical, structured by testable hypotheses, experiments and conclusions. Although we have access to the concept of eons of time, geologists don’t hold with miracles. Amazing things, unlikely things? Yes. Things we don’t understand? Yes. Miracles? No.
As a parent and reluctant Sunday School teacher, I’ve skirted around the issue of Biblical miracles on many a Sunday morning and kept my thoughts to myself. The parting of the Red Sea? Probably some unique interplay of hydrology and earthquake. Jesus raising the dead? Surely attributable to a rudimentary understanding of medicine.
Houston is the home of the largest medical center in the world, and I see remarkable recoveries here all the time. But I know that amazing outcomes are the result of dogged research and medical skill. Remarkable medical breakthroughs in modern life? Yes. Medical miracles? I’m doubtful.
So when teaching Sunday School, I’ve addressed Biblical miracles as metaphors, and as stories with lessons to teach about human nature and the nature of faith. When we learn about Jesus feeding thousands on two loaves of bread and five fish, I’m always willing to avoid analysis and details.
This is where my universe was in mid-August, 2005, before Hurricane Katrina:
The world was burdened by strife and famine; our nation was divided by war. Texas was struggling with a failing educational system, and Houston was grappling with a medically underinsured population, and always with traffic. My church was debating whether scarce funds should first support charitable missions or a failing air conditioning system; and at home, we are always spending too much on gas and saving too little for college. If you’d asked any Houstonian if we could take on a major project, we’d have honestly said that our hands were full, our pockets were empty and we couldn’t possible do more.
And then Katrina hit. A disaster in New Orleans of Biblical proportions, perhaps, but surely the result of human fallibility. Scientific logic dictates that humans should not build below sea level, particularly on a sinking delta. The disaster of New Orleans was entirely predictable to geologists.
After the hurricane came the miracle. Local officials opened up the city and welcomed evacuees, without public wrangling, hand-wringing or self-aggrandizement. Doctors, nurses and disaster relief workers streamed in to provide medical treatment. People from across the city came to help. They came without being asked, without appointments or liability waivers. Food, clothes and supplies arrived from all over the world: from mosques, temples and churches, from school children, from people with little else to give.
Thousands of strangers were fed, clothed and cared for, apparently spontaneously. Support seemed to just appear. And it stayed, until just about everyone who needed help, got help. From a time and place that seemed to have little extra to offer, there was enough for a city of strangers.
Not that we’re done. A year later, the world and our country remain torn by war, the Texas school system still needs help, Houston always has traffic, and the air conditioning in my church isn’t getting better. The evacuees will soon see the end of Federal assistance, and not all of them are on their feet. There is still a lot to do.
But for a moment, a city with no topography was a shining city on the hill. The miracle of the loaves and fishes? I believe it; in Houston, we were a part of it.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.