The Greatest Miracle – Minus the Hocus Pocus

Magician's Hands and Hat

Copyright © Africa Studio/Shutterstock

by Robert V. Thompson

It’s no overstatement to say that children love magic. Kids love to see rabbits pulled out of hats, people being sawed in half, and birds flying out of the magician’s sleeves. When I was a kid I loved magic too. My parents gave me a magic kit one Christmas. In it was a little tube of gooey salve that made smoke when I rubbed between my fingers. This little trick made me feel powerful because of the way it amazed my friends.

Then it happens. We learn that what seems like magic is nothing more than illusion, sleight of hand, mere manipulation. We find out that this sort of magic requires trickery and sight gags.

In his book The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, John Dominic Crossan says that Jesus regularly performed magic. By that, Crossan does not mean that Jesus was an illusionist. In Crossan’s view a real magician is one who makes “Divine power present through a miracle.”

In the Gospel miracle stories Jesus restores sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and makes the lame walk. These miracles are an outward sign of Divine favour at work in Jesus. Miraculous cures, however, only last for so long. Even if you get the miracle eventually you die. Every cure is at best temporary.

Nonetheless, miracles, extraordinary magic – Jesus was and is known for them.

Crossan says Jesus practiced an even greater magic that was natural, ordinary, and even more astounding that the appearance of a supernatural cure. People who carried their disease to Jesus sought the inexplicable miracle but gave no thought to healing beyond the cure. Being restored to their families and communities provided them with healing beyond the cure. Ordinary magic.

Jesus’ greatest magic was ordinary. Sharing a meal with the religiously unclean. Breaking bread with the maimed, the lame, the blind.  Practicing Pure Presence – non-judging, open-hearted presence. Loving the unlovely. Announcing grace.  It was all ordinary magic.

When Jesus performed extraordinary magic, everybody was amazed. But it was the ordinary magic that so alarmed the religious and political authorities. Those in power knew that nothing has the power to change people’s lives and reorder the world like ordinary magic. Extraordinary magic may change the appearance of the world around us but ordinary magic changes the world within us.

One day, that Sufi character Nasrudin decided to start a flower garden. He prepared the soil and planted the seeds of many beautiful flowers. But when they came up, his garden was filled not just with his chosen flowers but also overrun by dandelions. He sought out advice from gardeners all over and tried every known method to get rid of them, to no avail. Finally he walked all the way to the capital to speak to the royal gardener at the sheik’s palace. The wise old man had counseled many gardeners before and suggested a variety of remedies to expel the weeds. Nasrudin tried them all, but nothing worked. They sat together in silence for some time and finally the gardener looked at Nasrudin and said, “Well, then I suggest you learn to love the weeds.”

Ordinary magic.

When we learn to love the weeds in our lives, everything else changes. It’s magic – ordinary magic. Extraordinary magic has to do with what we see. Ordinary magic has to do with how we see.

We learn life’s most important lessons of life when we come up against our limits.

Pema Chodron says that when we are forced to face our limits it is like looking into a mirror and seeing a gorilla. The mirror is there showing us our life, and what we see looks bad.  We try to angle the mirror so that we look a little better; we still look like a gorilla. “That’s being nailed by life,” Chodron says. “The place where you have no choice except to embrace what’s happening or push it away.”

I will never forget a cartoon that appeared many years ago in The Atlantic. Two Zen monks are sitting cross legged in meditation. They are wearing robes and their heads are shaved. One is young, the other is old and the younger  is looking somewhat quizzically at the older one, who is turned toward him saying, “Nothing happens next.  This is it.”

The moment we begin to feel some discomfort or pain (physical or emotional); the moment we realize that now is not what we expected, the mind says let’s get out of here and races ahead to the future or back to the past. When life becomes unpleasant the first impulse is to look for a way out. But the deeper spiritual question is whether we can open up to this moment and allow it to teach us not how to think ourselves into a new way of living, but how to live ourselves into a new way of thinking.

In my experience ordinary magic is the greatest miracle.

Have you experienced this ordinary magic?

A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Bob Thompson graduated from Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (Graduate Theological Union) and was ordained an American Baptist minister in 1973.  He served American Baptist Churches in Kansas, Ohio, and for 30 years, as Senior Minister of the Lake Street Church in Evanston, Illinois.  He retired in November of 2010. Over the years he has contributed articles to periodicals including The Christian Century, The Chicago Tribune (op-ed), Sound Vision (a Muslim outlet), and others. He is the author of A Voluptuous God: A Christian Heretic Speaks (CopperHouse, 2007), and a contributor to the book for preachers, Feasting On the Word, Westminster John Knox Press.


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Categories: Creativity, Inspiration and Meditation, People, Robert V. Thompson, Spiritual Growth

Author:Wood Lake Publishing

At Wood Lake Publishing we are passionate about supporting and encouraging an emerging form of Christianity, which is rooted in ancient wisdom and attentive to the movement of spirit in our day. Visit us online at


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