- The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Seven Types of Everyday Miracle by Donald A. Crosby
Two prominent questions come to mind when I think of readers likely to pick up a book with this title. Those attracted to a study of miracles will probably ask, "How can miracles be 'everyday'?" And those who eagerly anticipate Donald Crosby unfolding another dimension of his religious naturalism might well ask, "Why do we still need to be talking about 'miracles'?" In The Extraordinary in the Ordinary, Crosby weaves a gracious and expansive argument that brings both kinds of readers to the same existential meeting place, a space where we take time to stand together in awe and wonder at the inexplicable mysteries of even the most seemingly mundane aspects of our daily lives—mysteries that draw us irresistibly toward something MORE in the depths of our experience.
This book continues to develop the Religion of Nature Crosby has been writing about for some time, but with increasing intensity in recent years.1 In this latest installment of his project, he aims to cut across the particular conceptual and doctrinal beliefs that divide us and evoke something deeper in our nature that's common to all of us, regardless of religious tradition. His purpose is to encourage "a radical shift of attitude and receptivity," "a revolutionary shift of heart and mind," enabling us to perceive "the abundance of stupendous miracles that already pervade the so-called ordinary world" (70). Crosby defines "miracles" quite broadly as "powerful inducements to wonder" (xiv), a wondrousness that evokes profound reflection on our participation "in the majesty of the world," which in turn kindles a sense of focus and urgency "to make the most of our brief lives, especially with respect to the effects for good our lives can have for others, both human and nonhuman" (xiv).
As the title of the book indicates, Crosby's thesis is that these extraordinary dimensions of our experience inhabit the ordinary events of daily living. From a religious naturalist perspective, miracles are not alien occurrences that break [End Page 63] into this earthly realm from some Other reality, but rather are readily available to everyone whenever we perceive the intrinsic sublimity, sacredness, and mystery at the heart of our everyday experiences. Crosby's goal throughout the book is to awaken us to this awareness, creating "an attitude of wonder and an outlook of thankfulness, as well as an aspiration toward goodness and contribution to the betterment of the world" (150).
In his first chapter, he compares and contrasts the popular, conventional religious conception of miracles with his naturalistic view. Traditionally conceived, miracles are treated as unique acts of a god who intervenes in the ordinary course of events in some extraordinary (and naturally inexplicable) way to disclose the divine power, presence, character, purpose, and will. Crosby briefly traces evidence of this conception of miracles in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Mahayana Buddhism. However, Crosby is not content with a simplistic bifurcation of naturalistic versus supernaturalistic forms of faith. He also draws our attention to other familiar stories in these religious traditions that reflect the sacramental view of natural phenomena and events that he is promoting here. One example he gives is the story in I Kings of the Hebrew scriptures, in which the fugitive prophet Elijah finds God's voice not in wind, earthquake, or fire, but in a seemingly ordinary "still small voice":
This still small voice, I suggest, can be construed as a symbol of a contemplative, openhearted spirit that is able to attend to the natural, everyday events of the world—not just those of a highly unusual or unfathomable character—with empowering religious insight, faith, and conviction. Experience of the authentically miraculous can in such cases lie in keen discernment of the profound religious significance of commonplace things and occurrences.(4)
Crosby's purpose here is neither to negate the role that conventional notions of miracle may play in various religious worldviews, nor to claim that quotidian miracles...