I was culling through old e-mails this morning, and ruefully wishing I could just post some of the exchanges I've had with readers and fellow bloggers. Iron sharpens iron, and many of these bits of back and forth have a quality and frankness that greatly exceeds what gets posted here.
I wouldn't do that without seeking permission first, of course. But I also hesitate because the intimacy of exchange is an element that gives weight to the content. Make it public, and *poof*: some of the significance disappears.
Instead, I'll post a link to an old story that I heard on CBC radio a couple of years ago, which I promptly shared with Mary Scriver, to get her thoughts on the matter. It plays like something out of Dostoevsky: aboriginals, and a few others, flock to the site of an old residential school in British Columbia, where they gather round the grave of a young woman who died of TB or pneumonia in 1949. The girl, Rose Prince, was the daughter from a line of chiefs of the Dakelh First Nation — a hunchback, remembered for being gentle and in a near-constant state of prayer. Nothing especially remarkable about her life's story, really, but when her grave was moved a year after her burial, it was reported that her coffin fell open to reveal a perfectly uncorrupted body — and a powerful scent of roses.
Cut to the turn of the millennium, and dirt from her grave is said to have miraculous properties (typically enough, some people are more blessed by this than others). A Catholic priest organizes a yearly pilgrimage to this site, and thousands gather for the Eucharist and a blessing, then take a baggy full of dirt from the site for ailing family members.
Betsy Trumpener, the woman who crafted this documentary, is of course keenly tuned in to the discordant ironies of this scene: Indians volitionally flocking to a site where they were once dragged and tormented throughout their formative years, in order to receive a blessing and . . . be healed. I found the experience of listening to it quite powerful and not a little disturbing. You can hear it here: just head to the upper right-hand corner and click beneath “Related” for the audio.
Speaking generally, there are several aspects common to most miracle stories that usually intrigue me. The first is the outrageousness of the miracle (assuming we take the story at face value). The obvious question that occurs to any listener is, “Why does one schmuck get the benefit of supernatural interruption, and not another? Why not me?” The second aspect is the politicization of the miracle: “Here's why. Now go and do likewise — or else.”
The third aspect is its tangential benefits. In the radio documentary we hear a skeptical woman's thoughts before she takes mass, then after. She believes something has happened to her — chiefly an unanticipated emotional release — and she believes it to be beneficial. That it occurred on this historically vile location is very significant for her.
Just outlining it like this can make it all seem unremarkable, but the details do provide a portrait of human frailty that I find rather endearing — so long as the politicization aspect doesn't piss one off too much.