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A Practical Guide to Divine Intervention
By Carolyn Godschild Miller
New World LibraryCopyright © 2006 Carolyn Miller
All rights reserved.
Are Miracles Really Possible?
Fail not in your function of loving in a loveless place made out of darkness and deceit, for thus are darkness and deceit undone.
— [A Course in Miracles
National headlines recorded a miracle of deliverance even as I was writing this book in the spring of 2005. Nothing but more death should have followed the slayings by an escaped prisoner at the Atlanta Fulton County Courthouse in March, but as authorities searched for the killer, something remarkable occurred.
Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols: Pancakes at Dawn
On Friday, March 11, defendant Brian Nichols was being escorted to his trial for rape and aggravated sodomy by a female deputy. When they reached the holding cell, the deputy uncuffed one of Nichols's hands, at which point the former college linebacker knocked her down, grabbed her gun, and beat her unconscious.
Although he could have simply escaped, Nichols instead crossed the bridge to the courthouse, where he hunted down, shot, and killed the judge in his case — Justice Roland Barnes — and the court reporter, Julie Brandau. He then ran back across the bridge and down a stairway to the street. On the way, he shot and killed Deputy Sheriff Hoyt Teasley, who had pursued him as he fled the building. Nichols then carjacked a string of vehicles, murdering a customs agent named Rick Warren in the course of stealing his pickup truck later in the day.
Around 2 A.M. on March 12, Brian Nichols stuck a gun in the ribs of thirty-three-year-old Ashley Smith as she got out of her car in the parking lot of her apartment building. Nichols told her that if she screamed, he would kill her, but he added that if she would just do as he said, he would not hurt her. Smith assured him that she would do whatever he wanted. Nichols made her take him to her apartment, where he tied her up with electrical cords and duct tape.
Smith lost no time in beginning a conversation with her captor. She informed him that her husband had been stabbed to death four years earlier and had died in her arms. She said that if Nichols killed her, her five-year-old daughter wouldn't have a mommy or a daddy. She told Nichols that she was supposed to meet her daughter at church at 10 A.M. the next day and asked if he would let her go. He said no.
After searching the apartment and taking a shower, Nichols sat Smith down on her bed, and she asked if it would be all right if she read. When he said yes, she selected The Purpose-Driven Life, and she began reading aloud where she'd last left off, at Day 33: "How Real Servants Act." Nichols asked her to repeat a passage, and they began discussing the role of purpose in their lives, which led to talk of God.
Smith later explained that she had been intent upon reaching out to Nichols at a human level, encouraging him to see her as a real person. Throughout their encounter, Smith talked about herself, her family, and things she had done, in an effort to establish a relationship with her captor. She repeated her request to be allowed to go and see her daughter Sunday morning, and Nichols's "no" gradually changed to "maybe" and "we'll see."
As they talked, Smith quietly exchanged the role of hostage for that of confidant. They discussed their faith, their families, and the massive manhunt going on outside. At some points they watched the coverage of the escape on television, and Nichols said that he could hardly believe that that was him they were talking about. Over the course of the night, Nichols untied Smith, and at his request, she showed him pictures of her daughter, as well as other family photos.
Eventually, Nichols asked Smith what she thought he ought to do. "If you don't turn yourself in," she replied, "lots more people are going to get hurt." Nichols called her "an angel" and his "sister in Christ," and he said God had led him to her door so that she'd tell him he had hurt a lot of people.
Ashley asked her captor if he believed in miracles. "You got out of that courthouse with police everywhere, and you don't think that's a miracle?" Smith demanded. "You don't think you're supposed to be sitting right here in front of me? Your miracle could be that you need to be caught for this. If you go to prison, then you need to share the word of God with all the prisoners there."
As Smith explained to reporters later: "He needed hope for his life. He said, 'Look at my eyes — I'm already dead.' I said: 'You're not dead! You're standing right in front of me! You're here in my apartment for some reason.'"
Before dawn, Nichols told Smith that he needed to ditch the pickup truck he'd stolen from the federal customs agent he'd murdered. Smith agreed to follow him in her car and to bring him back to her apartment after he dropped off the vehicle. Although it might have been possible for her to escape at this point, she said she followed through on her promise because she believed that if she abandoned him, he might have killed her and he would almost certainly have gone on to kill others. Besides, she had an idea that if she hung in there, she would be able to convince him to surrender.
Back at her apartment, Nichols quietly put his guns under her bed as if he were finished with them. He said that he'd rather have Smith shoot him than the people hunting him. Ashley Smith replied that she didn't want anyone to be hurt, not even him.
When morning came, Nichols was "overwhelmed" when Smith made him pancakes with real butter. He told her he "just wanted some normalness to his life."
Eventually he asked her, "What time do you have to go?" and Smith told him she had to meet her daughter at their church at ten o'clock, and so she would have to leave by 9:30. She thinks that by this point he understood and had accepted the fact that she would summon police, although nothing was said about it.
"He gave me some money when I was about to leave. Just kind of like he knew. I said, 'You might need this money.' And he said, 'No, I don't need it. I'm going to be here for the next few days.'"
Nichols asked if there was anything he could do for her while she was gone. She had just moved into the apartment two days earlier, and he offered to hang curtains for her. Significantly, before she left, he asked her to visit him in jail.
"I know he was probably hoping deep down that I was going to come back," Smith said, "but I think he knew what I had to do — that I had to turn him in."
Smith called 911 as soon as she got into her car. A SWAT team quickly surrounded her apartment building, and Nichols surrendered peacefully, waving a makeshift white flag.
The police were extremely impressed with Ashley Smith's handling of the situation. "She acted very cool and levelheaded," said Gwinnett County Police Officer Darren Moloney. "We don't normally see that in our profession. It was an absolutely best-case scenario that happened — a complete opposite of what you expected to happen. We were prepared for the worst and got the best."
"I believe God brought him to my door," Smith said afterward. When asked why she thought Nichols didn't kill her, she responded, "Because I didn't judge him."
In late September 2005, Ashley Smith's personal account of this incident hit the bookstores, and some readers were shocked to learn that, at the time of these events, Smith was a drug addict. Although she initially didn't share this detail publicly, Smith admits in her book Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero that when Nichols asked if she had any marijuana, she gave him her stash of crystal methamphetamine, but declined to join him in taking some.
"I chose not to do the drugs and he did," Smith explained. "It was a huge step for me because it was the first time I had said no to them." She said, "If I did die, I wasn't going to heaven and say, 'Oh, excuse me, God. Let me wipe my nose, because I just did some drugs before I got here.'"
In her book Smith says that she had lost custody of her daughter because of her addiction. However, she'd been working hard to turn her life around for months before her encounter with Brian Nichols. Further, having refused drugs that night, she says she has never had a desire to touch them since.
"It's hard for people to understand the miracle of the story," Ashley said when her book came out. "This was totally a God thing, to me in my life. This was God getting my attention, going, 'I'm going to give you one more chance.'" At the time of the events, Ashley proclaimed, "My life is testimony that God can use us even in the midst of tragedy, and miracles do happen."
Many in law enforcement and in the media also called Brian Nichols's peaceful surrender a "miracle." However, it's likely that most people used the word as hyperbole. When something really bad is about to happen, and then it doesn't, it's handy to say, "It's a miracle!" It doesn't necessarily mean the speaker really thinks that divine intervention was involved.
But I think it was.
I've been studying miracles for the past twenty-five years, and what I see that others may not is that Ashley Smith did everything a person is supposed to do in order to make a miracle possible. If you fulfill the necessary conditions for making divine intervention possible, and then something seemingly miraculous occurs, you have good reason to suppose that it isn't a mere coincidence.
Smith's extraordinarily skillful handling of Brian Nichols may seem absolutely unique, but I will show you many more instances where someone in grave danger did much the same thing, only to have a volatile situation end harmlessly. You see there is a procedure for accessing miracles. I believe that when we do our part, God, and enlightened beings acting on God's behalf, take care of the rest.
Could This Be a Miracle?
Admittedly, when we see Ashley Smith's story standing alone like this, there is no particular reason to suspect supernatural involvement. The same thing can be said of all of the narrow escapes we'll be exploring in this book. Taken individually, each of them appears to represent nothing more than a lucky break. Danger threatens, but things turn out all right. "Big deal!" some may cry. "Why should we drag in miracles to account for something that can be understood perfectly well without them?"
My case for miracles centers on the strange emotional reactions displayed by people who experience narrow escapes. Like Ashley Smith, they all seem to slip into an extraordinarily peaceful, loving — even carefree — state of mind, behaving as though they were oblivious to danger. Of the people who described their experiences to me, not one said they thought of themselves as fearless or heroic, yet they amazed themselves with their sense of well-being while facing death.
This surprising equanimity reminded me of the peaceful detachment one experiences in meditation. I couldn't help wondering if perhaps these fortunate survivors had actually entered a meditative state. This idea was all the more intriguing because I was aware that going into meditation is precisely what spiritual traditions throughout the world say you ought to do if you want a miracle. Again and again, people reported that they had done the very thing mystics claim will make miracles possible, only to find a highly dangerous situation taking an unexpected turn for the better.
I believe that there is a technique for accessing miracles, and that anyone can learn to defuse life-threatening emergencies by doing just what Ashley Smith did. Let's look at another miracle story. As it happens, this story also involves a "Brian."
Brian: Showdown At High Noon
Brian had just received his doctorate in psychology and had been working at his first professional job in a maximum-security prison for only a few months when violence broke out. Prisoners seized weapons and hostages, occupied the library building, and began issuing nonnegotiable demands. Tension mounted throughout the day as the National Guard arrived to surround the prison. Everyone waited breathlessly to hear the governor's response to the prisoners' demands.
Late in the afternoon, the warden stormed into Brian's office and shouted, "Goddamn it, you're the psychologist! You go in there and convince those prisoners to surrender!"
Brian could only conclude in retrospect that he must have been more afraid of his boss than of the rioting inmates. Minutes later, he found himself headed for the library to tell a group of armed and desperate murderers that the governor had rejected all of their demands and that they had just better throw down their weapons and release their hostages, or else!
"Or else what?!" Brian wondered, uncomfortably aware of what traditionally happens to the bearer of bad tidings. "Or else shoot me, I guess."
Brian was conscious of guns trained on him from every direction as he took that long walk across the yard. The silence was so profound that he could hear the blood pounding in his ears, and it seemed as though everyone in the prison was breathlessly waiting to see what would happen to him. Obviously, whatever occurred, Brian was going to be right in the middle. It seemed largely a matter of whether he would be shot accidentally by the guards or intentionally by the prisoners once the fireworks began.
Unable to see how he could have gotten himself into such a situation, Brian experienced a growing sense of unreality. A few minutes before, he had been a nice, middle-class young man trying to earn an honest living. Now, all of a sudden, he was Gary Cooper in High Noon. How, exactly, did something like this happen?
Despite his overwrought mental state — or possibly because of it — Brian found himself drifting into an amusing fantasy of himself playing this preposterous role in the best Hollywood tradition. He began to see himself as the Gary Cooper character in a Western — the lone figure of justice, warily moving down the empty main street of a frontier town. The prison guards became the townsfolk who watched from hiding as Brian went forth to fight their battle for them. That's right — Sheriff Brian, who would fearlessly confront odds that could only be beaten in a screenwriter's fantasy. Because a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do!
The next thing Brian knew, he had begun to parody himself and his absurd fantasy. Pausing dramatically, he squared off against the library, hands flexing over imaginary six-shooters on his hips. He began to stalk toward the building in a ridiculous burlesque of the classic gunfighter swagger. Feeling the need for a little musical accompaniment, he shattered the tense silence by loudly whistling "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling," the theme from High Noon.
For a few moments, guards and prisoners watched Brian's bizarre performance in stunned silence. Then they began getting it. Brian as Gary Cooper. People acting as if this goofy kid was going to be able to face down a gang of armed killers. Suddenly everyone could see how absurd the situation had become.
Laughter rang out from all sides. Fed by the tension that had been building all day, it rose to hysterical heights. Guards and prisoners alike became helpless with hilarity as their anxiety poured out of them in foot-stomping, knee-pounding guffaws. People laughed until they cried — until they could barely stand up.
When it was over, Brian strolled into the library and explained the governor's response and the hopelessness of their position to the prisoners, who by now regarded him as a hell of a guy. Minutes later, he presided over their peaceful surrender.
What Are Miracles?
If I'm to make a case for the idea that Ashley and Brian both created miracles, it might be well to begin by clarifying what I mean by that. Author C. S. Lewis defined a miracle as an instance in which a supernatural power interferes in the natural world, and this is the definition I will be using here. But notice that this is not an operational definition of the type required for scientific inquiry. It captures the essence of what we mean when we call something a miracle, but doesn't specify exactly what observations or measurements would allow one to determine whether an event is miraculous or natural. I believe it is impossible to specify such things, since what truly allows us to differentiate a miracle from a piece of good luck is not anything inherent in the event itself, but rather the inner process of the person experiencing it.
Excerpted from Creating Miracles by Carolyn Godschild Miller. Copyright © 2006 Carolyn Miller. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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