No siblings of Little, Brown editors. Not even second cousins. But the Adult Learning session I led at Temple this morning, which incorporated this article from the London Daily Telegraph, gave me something more important: A self-aware and literate view of miracles.
No one at the session, after reading the article - which quotes reputable scientists on how climate change in Egypt and the Santorini volcanic eruption about 3,500 years ago might have caused the Ten Plagues described in the book of Exodus - had a sense that their attitudes towards either the Hebrew Bible or its composers were affected by it. But there was a good deal of thoughtful discussion about the nature of God's role in our lives (if any; I work for a Reform temple).
Ultimately, the group came to the conclusion that a miracle, if there is going to be one, has to involve our free choice in some way. We have to deliberately put ourselves in the path of the miraculous in order for it to happen; we have to make decisions in order to allow them to be affected by inexplicably fortuitous outside events.
I was only the facilitator of the group, so I was asking the questions to draw everyone else out. I'm still chewing on the conclusion, and I'm not sure I believe it.
I'm thinking now about Catholic stories of miraculous conversions of sinners, all of which, of course, are predicated on the personal choices made before and after the encounter with divinity. And in some of the Hebrew Bible tales that are more familiar to me, Abraham's choice to sacrifice Isaac led to the miracle of the ram; and Israel's choice to follow the Commandments led to the miracle of survival.
I'll have to think more about this as I continue plotting the next Jacob and Leah book. But another favor I did for my boss this morning led to something even better than the insight from the Adult Learning session.
I had agreed to hang out in the children's room of the library for a half-hour and supervise the youngsters until their parents came to pick them up. A copy of Escape From Goshen that I donated to the library almost a year ago was displayed prominently on the shelf, and a young man (actually, the 10 year-old son of one of the adults who had been at my session) picked it up and read the back cover blurbs. I could tell from the way he flipped it to the front and then back again that he was interested.
His father walked in. "This looks like a cool book," the young man told his dad.
It was quite the moment, to watch that kid decide he wanted to read my book. Visual artists who hang out on Fifth Avenue in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art have this experience all the time, I guess; writers, not so much.
A miracle? I hope not. But maybe.