At our weekly Soul Space meditation in the lovely church of St Mary in South Zeal, Devon this morning, someone said 'I don't believe in miracles. Maybe they happened in Jesus' day but they don't happen now.'
They do. Please trust me, they do. Miracles happen every moment. Most of the time we don't realise that they are miracles because we don't know that without them we might have been dead, lost or compromised. These are the 'nothing happened whens something dreadful could have happened' miracles. But there are also the miracles that shine their light so brightly on issues that may mean nothing except to the person who was open to being helped.
We have all experienced miracles. The trick is to remember, realise and appreciate them, especially if we are looking for another one. Miracles love company.
My first wedding -- a quarter of a century ago -- was in the Seychelles. This was before package weddings abroad became popular but my fiancé Henry and I both worked in ITV travel documentaries and we loved adventures. Henry, wasn't interested in a church wedding and I wouldn't consider a register office. Both his parents were dead and all that was left of his family was a brother with whom it would only be polite to say he had 'issues' so, if we had been married in the UK, my side would have outnumbered his by about 100-1.
Running away to a tropical paradise seemed to be the best bet. My folks didn't mind. My Mum was agoraphobic and my Dad probably heaved a sigh of relief at how much money he would save. Before the Internet, it was all arranged via our family's travel agent. I was quite satisfied because all the wedding documents referred to a 'minister' and Henry thought it would be wonderful to be married on a beach.
Then, three weeks before we were due to leave, I discovered that 'minister' on the travel documents meant 'registrar.' This will come as no surprise to anyone who has got married abroad in the 21st century but to me it was a bombshell. As a fully paid-up Armchair Christian who subscribed to St. Augustine's prayer of 'God grant me constancy, chastity and patience -- but not yet' I wanted to be married by a priest. It was the first wedding for both of us after all so it wasn't as though I was asking too much.
There was an alternative: we could have had a swift wedding at my family's church where my Mum still went but I didn't like the vicar and hadn't been for years apart from at Christmas time. It felt hypocritical and it would all have to be horribly rushed. Suddenly it seemed that this just wasn't going to be the wonderful, romantic wedding that I had hoped for. I was devastated.
I'd found out the disappointing news on a Friday and, by the Sunday afternoon as Henry left my house in Birmingham for a late-night shift in London, I was a complete mess. I waved him goodbye miserably and, as his car turned out of the road and I turned to go back into the house, I heard church bells tolling for Evensong.
They were the bells of St. Peter's in Harborne, just down the road and, almost without thought, I grabbed my coat and bag and got into the car to drive straight there. I wasn't even sure exactly where the church was located; I'd been there just once for my brother's wedding years before. Hah! That seemed horribly ironic, at the time, but something just made me drive me directly to that church that evening. It never occurred to me that it might be an incredibly selfish thing to do to turn up at a strange church and pray for a miracle. It didn't register that I'd been the agent for my own karma in deciding to marry far away from family and friends and choosing the un-trodden path. I just knew I had to go and I had to pray.
So I stood and sang and knelt and prayed all through Evensong at St. Peter's. I prayed for any kind of miracle that would mean that I could be married by a priest in the Seychelles in less than three weeks' time.
Just before the end of the service, the vicar, Rev. Michael Counsell, said this:
"And prayers for the Church throughout the world, particularly our sister Church St. Paul's in Mahé, Seychelles."
At the end of the service he must have thought he'd been attacked by a wolverine. I introduced myself by saying 'You don't know me from Adam, but I'm getting married in the Seychelles in three weeks' time and I desperately need your help.'
He listened kindly as I explained the problem and invited me round for coffee the next day when he would discuss the matter with me further. He thought he could help, he said.
The next day I tumbled over myself trying to explain the miracle that had taken me to St. Peter's to hear him speak. Michael listened patiently to my inarticulate apologies for not having been to the church before and how much I wanted to be married in the sight of God even if I didn't actually go to church.
'I suppose you say those prayers every week,' I said, finally tailing off.
'No,' said Michael. 'Not at all. In fact I don't think I've ever prayed for St. Paul's in church before. It just came into my head to do it. That's why you're sitting here today. I said it for you to hear. That's how God works.'
Michael gave me the phone number of his old friend from seminary, French Chang-Him in the Seychelles.
'You phone him and tell him that you've spoken to me and ask him if he will marry you,' he said.
I went away with my heart pounding. Oh dear God, you have given me this chance, please let the vicar in the Seychelles agree!
I telephoned the vicarage in Mahé the very next day and Rev. French Chang-Him answered the phone in a beautiful well-modulated voice with a strong French accent. He listened to my garbled story and my plea. He thought for a while and asked me a couple of pertinent questions. Then he answered:
'If my friend Michael Counsell has recommended you and, if he will give you and your fiancé pre-marriage counseling, then I will marry you. Come and see me for tea on the day after you arrive in Mahé and we will arrange it.'
'Thank you so much! Where do we come?'
'The Bishop's Palace. Everyone knows where it is.'
'The Bishop's Palace? You work there?'
'Yes, didn't Michael tell you?' said French Chang-Him. 'I'm the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean.'
Three weeks later, Henry and I were married in St. Paul's Cathedral, Mahé. A year later I was a widow.
I look back now at those pictures of a happy man in a suit and a woman in the so-1990s apricot-coloured dress, wearing her grandmother's pearls and with a wreath of frangipani on her piles of tumbling hair, both posing for the photographer on the beach after our wedding. It seems a very long time ago and I am so glad and grateful that the short time we had was crowned by a miracle.
It was the first and it wasn't the last.
It's one of the reasons that I am a priest--once the miracles start coming you have to begin to believe in something greater than you that is all love.
May your life too be a life of miracles.