Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Where Your Shadow Falls: Miracles Aren't Always Spectacular Events Caused by Great Men and Women of Faith

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Where Your Shadow Falls: Miracles Aren't Always Spectacular Events Caused by Great Men and Women of Faith

Article excerpt

"Did you remember to bring the recipe?" the elderly woman asked, clutching my hand so I wouldn't get away. "Yes, I did, Gladys," I assured her, handing her the paper bearing my secret for the very best chocolate chip oatmeal cookies in the universe.

I knew, of course, that Gladys had decades on me and had baked hundreds more cookies in her lifetime. Surely she knew more culinary mysteries than I could ever pretend to reveal. But the request that I give the recipe to her--after the last parish supper at which the plate of cookies had disappeared as if inhaled--was never about hidden ingredients or esoteric processes. It wasn't about cookies at all, but rather more intangible things. Gladys wanted to know if I was the sort of woman who "shared" or one who "guarded her victories," as her initial request had been phrased. She also wanted to be entrusted with a matter she considered a great prize.

But mostly, Gladys wanted to be remembered, to be visible to me, so that I would look for her the following Sunday. When I did, her face radiated a sense of feeling special, of being acknowledged as important. I had surrendered the recipe to her and to her alone--but mostly, I hadn't forgotten her.

On another Sunday morning, a 10-year-old boy came back into the church auditorium after the rest of the religion class had cleared out. We were on the verge of a holiday and would not meet again for a few weeks. He stood for a moment uncertainly as I put away our class materials and tidied up the space. "I'm leaving now," he said to me, somewhat unnecessarily. Thankfully, I glanced up in time to see the hope in his eyes. "Oh, goodbye, Jason!" I called in my warmest voice. "Enjoy the break. I'll miss you guys. See you in two weeks."

Jason's eyes sparkled with pleasure. He was homeschooled and didn't have much interaction with a teacher who wasn't Mom. Though our group had only been meeting a short while, our relationship had become significant to Jason at a depth I hadn't noticed until then. As he waved and turned away, I resolved to pay a little more attention.

Such vignettes are, of course, commonplace. But are they also remarkable? Both occasions felt thrilling at the time, and I suspect were more vital than we think. The little ways we touch other lives are the mortar of society. The tiny details of our interactions are also the living stones of which church is made. The merest exchange between strangers in the pew at the sign of peace could be the make-or-break moment in a person's experience of faith. We can never be sure, so can we afford to miss the opportunity?

I'm reminded of these little moments when I read the story of Peter's shadow in Acts. Keep in mind, this story takes place in the exciting days of the resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost. Disciples are boldly delivering proclamations of the new gospel in the streets. Apostles are imprisoned, only to escape to freedom again by angelic means. Jerusalem is humming with news of wonders. Folks don't want to miss a single word of what Peter and his associates are saying. They lay their sick loved ones on mats in the street so that not even the shadow of Peter passing by might be wasted. We envision these sick family members lying out in the open, like rain barrels catching drops of precious water, waiting on that ribbon of Peter's shadow to move across them, with its whisper of divine authority.

Of course, Peter's shadow contains no magic. But that doesn't exclude the possibility that something miraculous might happen when the happy intersection of trust in God, faith in Jesus, and an apostolic shadow occurs. …

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