This was not the first time I had experienced an atmosphere which is observably finer, as though the fabric of time is stretching to allow a subtler meaning to enter. I remember feeling it as a small child, at the Shabbat dinner table, with my father, who was, at that time, an observant Jew. As we sang “Shalom Aleichem,” the haunting invocation of peace, and he proceeded to recite the blessings over wine, bread, his wife, and children—I felt an ineffable dynamic stillness surround the table like the enveloping wings of an angel.
An experience of the sacred has an emotional quality, but also includes a heightening of awareness. At the Shabbat table I remember hearing the timbre of my father’s voice forming the Hebrew words. In this state I was more receptive to the symbolism of the Shabbat dinner ritual: There was meaning in the overflowing cup of wine, the small incision on the loaf of bread before the blessing, the dipping of the bread in salt before breaking and distributing to each person at the table… It is an experience Emile Durkheim translated as “collective effervescence,” though the term strikes me as too clinical. In the terminology of the esotericists this experience is called “a miracle.” By their definition a miracle is when the laws of a higher world find an opening to a lower world. This is not to be confused with the characteristically cockeyed literalist view of the literalists who are impressed by tales of the impossible—describing feats of water-walking, sea-parting, fish-multiplying, and making dead people walk. As with the clinicians they miss the deeper meaning in these parables, and in so missing, are excluded from themselves being miracle-workers.
As Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is among you”; meaning the higher world is here, now, begging for an instrument to channel it into the mundane world. We are that instrument and we can, firstly, perform the miracle in ourselves. This is the miracle of impartiality, in which we transcend an inner conflict and inhabit
the position of the active observer.
There is a Zen story about a farmer whose only horse escapes through a hole in the fence. His neighbors offer condolences. “Bad luck,” they say. His reply: “Maybe.” The next day his horse returns to the pasture—with a herd of other horses. “Good luck!” his neighbors cry. “Maybe.” The next day his son breaks a leg trying to ride one of the new horses. “Terrible,” say the neighbors. “Maybe,” the farmer relies. While his son is convalescing government agents arrive in their village to draft young men for war. Of course the son is unable to be called up…
The farmer’s equanimity is the type of inner miracle I am talking about. It is the ability to be impartial, whilst remaining engaged; to call nothing “good” or “bad” but instead take a more encompassing view that accounts for a larger pattern at work. This is a minor miracle.
A major miracle is when something is demonstrated. It is an event that opens a window to a heightened state and corresponding higher order of knowledge—a passion play. Though it might be as apparently prosaic as setting down a glass of water with sufficient mindfulness to communicate a profound way of being.
Whether the practice is secular or religious doesn’t matter. What matters is that there is a delicate balance of form and content that channels the substance of meaning. The Japanese tea ceremony is performed with this in mind. It is not a form that aims to please a bearded Jew on a flaming chariot in the sky. The ceremony
is an effort to demonstrate sublimity by doing one thing impeccably.
The ten guitar players return to the stage for an encore. Again they file on with great care, like monks doing walking practice. Instead of sitting as before, they stand at the front of the stage, in the interstitial twilight between stage and seating, guitars unplugged. After a few moments of complete stillness, they begin to play again, emitting an cascade of notes from one end to the other, and back. The subtle sound of ten acoustic guitars in an open auditorium was startling after the electric set.
The League of Crafty Guitarists finished the concert with a powerful rendition of King Crimson’s “Vrooom.” The driving polyrhythmic mandala of overlaying tones ended suddenly. The musicians were completely still for several moments, as though they had driven into a brick wall, unfazed, and then quietly filed off the stage. A space had been prepared and filled.