The Gore-Tex Benediction

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Reading Joceline’s ‘Life of Saint Kentigern’, I was struck by the description of a rather unusual miracle that was interpreted as a sign of divine favour on the saint.

“For as all bear witness who knew the man, as well as did those that conversed with him, that never in his life were his clothes wetted with drops of rain, or with snow or hail pouring upon him and falling to the ground. For often, standing in the open air, while the inclemency of the weather increased, and the pouring rain flowed in different directions like bilge-water, and the spirit of the storm raged around him, he from time to time stood still, or went whither he would, and yet he always continued uninjured and untouched by a drop of rain from any quarter.”

My instant response was a half-smile of bemused incredulity.

I mean that kind of stuff in the lives of the saints is so obviously just hagiographer’s excess, isn’t it?

But as I read on, Joceline, seemingly expecting his readers to doubt the veracity of his account, challenges his readers about their disbelief.

He reminds his readers of the biblically attested miracles of the Exodus – the people of Israel’s shoes and garments did not wear out in the 40 years of their desert wanderings.

If God can protect a whole nation’s garments from wear, surely He can protect one man’s garments from the weather?

Seemingly reminded of the Exodus story with the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night which accompanied and guided the Israelites, Joceline recounts that there were times when Saint Kentigern was also accompanied by a divine light.

“…so often, when a cloud covered the whole earth, bringing on a darkness that might be felt, a light shone around himself, the place, and the inhabitants thereof, where the saint was preaching.”

Joceline’s challenge gave me pause for thought. Why was I so unwilling to believe a miracle in the life of a saint, when I wold readily believe those in the Bible?

Has God changed?

Is God less capable of miracles now than before?

As a theologian, I know this cannot be true. Unchangeability being a key attribute of God, inherent in His divine perfection.

So why my seeming predisposition to disbelieve post-biblical miracles?

It seems that I need a better balance between credulity – believing everything – and incredulity – believing nothing.

There are few things more stupid and dangerous than credulity.

I remember a scene from some comedy with Rowan Atkinson, when medieval peasants were descending into frenzy and panic because of people recounting having seen portents and ill omens. One man tries to join in, “And I saw a horse with two heads and eight legs!”
To which someone reposts, “Could it just have been two horses, one standing behind the other?”
Uncomfortably shifting from foot to first the first admits, “Well I suppose it might have been.”

So we are wise to avoid being uncritically credulous, discernment is the key gift in Christian community.

But we are wrong to become incredulous, to disbelieve everything miraculous. The Christian God was and is a God of the miraculous. Most of those miracles are unseen, the miracle of faith burgeoning in the human heart, the miracle of divine forgiveness pouring forth from those who have been sorely wronged etc.

But some miracles are visible, they are signs of God’s favour and they are given to spur on faith and encourage the faithful.

They are to be welcomed as a grace.