(Published in the March 28th, 2011, issue of Christian Courier)
As I wrote last month, I’m cautious about imbuing divine significance to trivial matters. But I’m also deeply convicted that God’s divinity colours our world. He immerses himself in our lives and hears our prayers. Sometimes you are simply called to bow before the incomprehensible, whether or not you call it a miracle.
I have a friend, Rod Hugen, a pastor in Arizona. Recently, he had some health issues that required a major and delicate operation on his neck. I prayed for him the night before his surgery.
The next morning I went to London to visit my grandchildren. We did crafts and played in the park. Later, I decided to take Amara, the older one, to Adventures on Wonderland, an arcade located on busy Wonderland Road. Amara was talkative as we drove, so I shushed her. “Amara,” I said, “there’s a lot of traffic, and Grandma needs to pay attention to the road!” Suddenly a car switched lanes right in front of me, and I had to hit the brakes. Scared, I noticed the license plate … a flash of blue and red, a cactus, and Grand Canyon State. Arizona! Immediately I thought about Rod. It was 1:34 PM. I felt bad. His surgery had been scheduled for 10:30 AM. I’d been so preoccupied with the kids that I hadn’t remembered to pray. Still, no prayer is wasted, I thought. Maybe he’s in recovery. I took a moment to pray again.
This struck me as a remarkable coincidence. You don’t see Arizona plates in London every day. Was God reminding me to pray for Rod again? I had prayed for him the night before. God had heard me.
But believers are linked by way of prayer, too, gathered in that unity we confess in Christ. The Apostles’ Creed calls it the “communion of the saints,” a far-flung and precious inheritance. For me, it’s a kaleidoscope of holy images, flitting bits of cathedrals and sacraments, martyrs and icons, steeples and circuit riders, banana loaves and casseroles, chants and hymns, whirling mosaics spun with such fluid complexity that you can’t really fathom how they hold together.
Could God really have been speaking to me through a license plate, summoning me to Rod’s side at that particular moment?
The real adventure
I shared this incident with Rod. He wrote back to me:
I want to affirm the crazy license plate story. Those things often happen to me. I try to act on them because I think it is often how the Spirit moves. At 10:34 AM (1:34 PM your time) I recall being in the middle of a panic attack sitting in the room anticipating the surgery and having this intense desire to run away. For the moment I was scared. My wife had dropped me off at the door and my friend, David, was sitting with me while she searched for a parking place. He said something about it being 10:30 and wondering when the surgery would actually be performed. His question raised all my fears and I remember (sort of) jokingly saying, “Maybe I should just leave now and forget the whole thing.”
Here’s the plot twist: I wasn’t even aware of the difference in time zones. Humbling to admit, but true. When I prayed for Rod at 1:34 PM, I thought his operation was done, but he was just going into surgery. The timing was immaculate. As the myriad translucent chips in the kaleidoscope shifted into place, I had this briefest glimpse of the incomprehensible… a pinhole view of a luminous design that folds the everyday world, where I take Amara to Adventures on Wonderland to spend a bunch of quarters at the arcade, into the Wonderland that is God’s playground: Ontario, Arizona and every depth of time and space, where he spends himself in an epic adventure to show forth his glory.