Mirabile Dictu

Having not posted for over a month, it seemed high time I did.  But one cannot rush these things.  All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I really do exercise self restraint and editorial judgment; several times I’d embarked on what seemed inspired journeys only to run aground on the shoals of my own (depressingly low) standards.

Sometimes, however, it is clear sailing.  I performed my first miracle today.  That seemed worth posting.

Those even casually familiar with the Bible will know that it is given to the most righteous, faithful people to work miracles by calling upon the Lord.  Moses comes to mind, parting the Red Sea and so forth; in the New Testament, Peter, previously not the brightest bulb, gets the knack of raising folks, e.g. Tabitha, from the dead.

One imagines that if Peter could make the jump to miracle-worker, the requirements might not be all that steep.  I have been leading a not-terribly-evil life for some decades now, and more recently I’ve served on the boards of my church, led a not-for-profit educational and social group, started doing my own laundry, and refrained from snarling at people who can’t complete a simple cash transaction when they’re in front of me in the supermarket line.  Also, I don’t smoke.  Taking all this together, it seemed brimming with righteousness; if not quite at the Albert Schweitzer level, then surely close enough for some miracle capability.  But of miracles there were none.  (I don’t count my loving wife and wonderful children, my health and theirs, our relative affluence, citizenship in America, good friends, love of learning, and baseball; these are what we call “taken for granted” and therefore by definition don’t count.)  I was starting to question whether all my arduous do-gooding was even worthwhile if there was no payoff, but I realized that was just the sort of question that could scotch the whole deal, so I put it out of mind and resolved to carry on in sullen beneficence.

And then today it happened.  I was teaching Sunday school (did I mention that I also teach Sunday school?  Greater love hath no man…) and this week’s topic was the Twenty-third Psalm — a fortunate choice among the Psalms as it’s the only one I know.

My third graders were reasonably attentive as we went through what a psalm is, what this one is about, and how “the Lord is my shepherd” can be seen as a metaphor.  This led to talking about what a metaphor is, as it’s always good to learn something about English along with what the third-grade curriculum laughingly calls religion.  We discussed what it means to ‘anoint’ someone.  We also talked about the different translations in various versions of the Bible: the kid-friendly New Revised Standard Version that we use in class refers to walking through ‘the valley of fear’ or some such, which I felt, and showed them, was rather watery compared to texts like my (not-new) Revised Standard Version, which says ‘valley of the shadow of death.’  The kids liked that one better – it was scarier.

When I felt we had about ten minutes more before class would end, I brought out the box of Munchkins I had kept hidden, as a reward for their being (reasonably) well behaved and to spur their enthusiasm for the last push.  I know they like them – one boy’s first words on entering the classroom today were ‘Are there any Munchkins today?’ which I had declined to answer at the time.  I had just four students today and I told them they could each have two to start.  Three dug in; one girl declined, saying she preferred cupcakes.  In fact, she said “I eat five cupcakes a day.”  I let that pass; some things it’s best not to know.

As we continued with the text, they continued to eat more, with my permission.  And I had some myself.  When the bell rang, I asked each of them how many they’d had – I knew the two boys were making a banquet of it.  One (who shall be nameless so his parents don’t kill me) had had eleven, and the other, seven; the non-abstaining girl had had three; I had eaten two myself.  I wrote the numbers on the blackboard and, never missing a chance to do some math work, asked them for the total consumed.  They all could do that: twenty-three.  I wrote it on the board — and said, “And which is the Psalm we’ve been talking about today?”

I must say the reaction was gratifying.  Their jaws literally dropped and their eyes stared.  He who had eaten eleven was the first to speak – sugar must help your reflexes – and he said “How did you do that?”   Ever modest, I told them that I hadn’t done it, and pointed ceilingward.  They left the room as if in a trance.

I would like to think that, as the future years unfold, the courses of these children’s lives will have been profoundly altered, for the better, by this event.  Alternatively, they’re set for a quicker fall into cynicism when they decide the whole thing’s a humbug.  Or most likely, they won’t even remember the event a month from now.

But I will.  So it’s not the Red Sea, or even the loaves and the fishes.  But as I turned off the lights and closed the classroom door behind me, I said, to no one in particular, thank you.  And about time, too.

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