Miraculous Thinking (#772)

My son Oliver and I were taking a campus tour of Boston College this past week when I came across an interview with Father Michael Himes, a Catholic priest who is a part of the theology faculty there:

“Father Himes says that he long ago determined the futility of trying to direct a particular message at the diverse needs of his listeners. ‘So I ask, What do I need to hear from these readings? I talk to myself, and the people are eavesdropping; they each hear whatever they need.”

I loved this, as it in some way explains how I go about deciding what to write each week – thinking about what’s relevant for me in the moment and trusting that it will be of use to the vast majority of readers.

So what do I need to hear this week?

Well, a distinction came up for me this week as part of an ongoing conversation with a client as to what it takes to be open to the miraculous. Here’s a bit of what I wrote:

To create the space where miracles happen with you, I would request the freedom to blunder about in some conversations about what I call “the spiritual”. Not God, not religion – whatever it is that exists outside of our personal, subjective experience and interpretation of life.

I will not ask you to agree with me or come to the same conclusions as me – but if the topic is off limits, the miraculous is hard to come by.

1. First distinction – Formless miracles vs. Miracles in the world of form

In my experience, miracles have a greater capacity to change our lives when they show up in our experience of life than when they show up in the world of form.

If I have been terrified of something for many years and then one day I wake up and I am no longer scared of it, nothing’s changed but everything’s different. This is a “formless miracle” the experience of which is mine to keep.

If the circumstance itself has changed (i.e. what I was scared of simply disappears), that is a miracle in the world of form – and if I am not open to the miraculous, I will find some way of explaining it away.

It’s like the old joke about the psychiatrist and the corpse…

A man goes to a psychiatrist and the psychiatrist asks him what’s wrong.

The man says “Isn’t it obvious? I’m dead – I’m a corpse.”

The psychiatrist says “But you walked in here – can corpses walk?”

The man says “Haven’t you ever seen a zombie movie? Of course corpses can walk.”

So the psychiatrist says “But we’re talking – do corpses talk?”

The man says “What kind of a question is that? Of course corpses can talk!”

Finally, the psychiatrist gets an idea. With a crafty look in his eye, he asks the man “Do corpses bleed?”

The man thinks for a moment, and then says “No, no, corpses don’t bleed. After all, we’re dead, so we can’t bleed.”
Before the man can react, the psychiatrist reaches over and pricks him on the hand with a needle and a small drop of blood emerges from under his skin. The man stares at the blood in amazement.

“Well I’ll be damned,” the man says. “Corpses do bleed!”

2. Second distinction – Miraculous thinking vs. Magical thinking

Einstein said “a problem cannot be solved at the level of thinking that created it.” For me, this is at the heart of miraculous (as opposed to magical) thinking.


  • To say because I think a positive thought about something I want I will then suddenly get it is magical thinking and is not, in my experience, the way the universe actually works


  • To be open to the possibility that in any moment I could see something brand new about my life that allows me to live more practically and impersonally without fear, blame, urgency, or shame is “miraculous thinking” – that is, thinking in a way that increases the likelihood of formless miracles.


The reason the two are so easy to confuse is that when I have shifted to a new level of thinking, things that looked like insoluble problems don’t appear as problems anymore. It looks like magic – only the trick was that we believed we had a problem in the first place.

The miracle wasn’t in some outside force or entity eliminating the problem or challenge for us. It was in the clarity of seeing that allowed us to see there was nothing that needed to be eliminated.

I used to want to believe in an external universe that could be bent to my will and would do what I told it to (if only I could learn to speak its language). This is magical thinking at its most basic – the idea that through affirmation or vibration or positive thinking, the Santa Claus in the sky will always deliver what we want.

Life has a way of disabusing us of that notion, although for some, hope springs eternal.

But to reject the idea that there is any power beyond our own in the universe seems to be throwing the baby out with the bath water. And what I have seen time and again is that when people look beyond the personal and in the direction of that power (whether they call it spirit or energy or God or life or nature)with the intention of seeing it more clearly and understanding it more deeply, the space where miracles happen comes alive.

Why did these words have such impact for me when I wrote (and then read) them?

Simply as a reminder that I am not alone in the universe – that beyond the shifting sands of circumstance, there is something out of which I arose and into which I will one day dissolve.

I find an odd sort of comfort in these words from the mystical poet Rumi:

If I die, don’t say that he died.
Say he was dead, became alive, and was taken by the Beloved.

With love,


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