“Then we got a strange feeling and sat up. There, floating in the doorway, was a figure the size of a three-year-old child. It stayed there for about 45 seconds and didn’t say anything. And then it was gone. My husband just said, ‘Before you do anything, tell me what you saw.’ We’d seen the same thing.
“Two weeks later we found out I was pregnant.”
Neugent terms her experience a miracle, though it’s also quite likely she and her husband continued to do the things that would under normal circumstances result in a baby. And that’s the healthiest way to approach the idea of miracles, according to Rabbi Harold Kushner, bestselling author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Schocken).
“It’s okay to pray for a miracle as long as you’re also working to deal with your problem, rather than leaving it all up to God,” he says. “A miracle is something unusual that happens when it need not have happened, and by happening, sustains people’s faith in God and the world.”
Although 29 percent of our poll respondents say they’ve witnessed divine healings, the types of miracles people experience can embrace everything from medical healing to a miraculously timed call from a loved one to economic deliverance. On his website The Burning Bush, Pastor Ed Wrather of the First Baptist Church of Sweetwater, Oklahoma, has collected stories of financial miracles reported by believers who’ve found themselves in economic crisis.
In one account, a writer tells of having a crushing debt due by a particular date, with no possible way to pay it. Four days before the deadline, he writes, a pastor from his church arrived at his door—with a check for the exact amount. “No one, not even my wife, knew how much we had to have,” he writes. “My pastor said that someone came to him and told him that the Lord had laid a burden on his heart to give this money to me. He didn’t know my name but described me to him.
“Well, I broke down and started to cry, and it is not a pretty sight to see a 300-pound, tattooed hippie biker, now saved by the blood of Christ, crying like a little kid.”
Judging from the responses to our poll, that Judeo-Christian concept of miracles—a personal God reaching into space and time to work remarkable acts—overwhelmingly dominates the American spiritual landscape. Virtually absent is a view held by 800 million people worldwide: the Hindu belief that miracles come from a far less definable source. I put the question of miracles to guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, one of India’s leading spiritual figures—and whose U.S. following is growing—at the Washington, D.C., office of his Art of Living Foundation.
In white robes and with a flowing, graying beard, he sat with his back to a window overlooking Meridian Hill Park one rainy afternoon. “Nature has many unpredictable instances happen, and we see the whole of nature as one living, very lively organism,” he said. “And in that sense, a miracle is a part of nature. It is the small mind connecting with the larger mind. You call it God; I call it universal energy. Many healings happen. Every day I hear of some.”
Foreign as the Hindu concept of miraculous energy is to most Americans, there may be a grain of it present in the Western belief in sacred places.