In Miracles: Wonder and Meaning in World Religions (New York University Press), David L. Weddle examines miracle stories from Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, explaining their significance in the context of those faith traditions and why they play such a pervasive role in religious belief.
Greeting-card sentiments to the contrary, not all happy events count as miracles: “To take a sensitive example, some folks gush over a birth as ‘the miracle of life,’ but there are reasons to be more reserved,” says the scholar, a professor of religion at Colorado College. The arrival of “another helpless resident” on a crowded planet is doesn’t qualify as miraculous, he says, unless the bundle of joy is destined to be a prophet or saint.
A miracle, he stipulates, is a rare and transcendent event—not necessarily involving a deity—that invokes wonder. Often it reflects the political situation of the storytellers, and because it disrupts the course of normal life, it tends to stoke revolutionary desires. In Tibet, for example, “the belief that the Dalai Lama is a divine incarnation, a living miracle, supports a sense of national identity under his leadership and encourages resistance to Chinese rule.”