Bits and bites of everyday life

I don’t believe in miracles, I rely on them

'It is with the smallest brushes that the artists paint the most beautiful pictures'
True North Perspective
Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair is the author of The Neglected Garden and two French novels. Visit her website to learn more

I’ve added this saying to my fridge display, beside other inspirational ones and alongside my grandkids’ photos and artwork. I have always believed in miracles. One of our family stories is that my father had this baffling health problem when he was a child; he would have a reaction similar to epileptic seizures. Guesses are it was probably an allergic reaction to something that went undiagnosed at that time. As the story goes, Grandpa took him to Montreal to see Brother André. And Dad was cured. 

People are always skeptical when it comes to discussing miracles and healers. This is partly because there are charlatans in their midst. But real healers are recognized by the sheer number and complexity of the miracles performed. 

  Brother André, about age 70.

Let me tell you more about Brother André. Alfred Bessette (his real name) was born August 9th, 1845 into a large Catholic family in the Québec village of St. Grégoire. Alfred was a frail child who was orphaned as a boy. He tried his hand as a farm worker, a cobbler and worked in a bakery before joining the Congregation of the Holy Cross, an order of priests in Montreal.  

Partially because of his health, he became the porter and barber at a boys’ school for nearly 40 years. It was there that his reputation as a healer and miracle-worker took hold. Very modest, he never took credit for the miraculous cures and always counseled his visitors to pray to St. Joseph. His dream was to build a shrine to St. Joseph on Mount Royal. It started with a tiny chapel in 1904 but by the time Brother André died in 1937, it was a Montreal landmark and Brother André was the best known Canadian of his time, here and around the world. 

He explained the miracles of life in simple terms, saying, “It is with the smallest brushes that the artists paint the most beautiful pictures”. Brother André will be canonized on October 17th of this year. As Bishop Morissette of St. Jérôme said of him, “Brother André lived his life with great humility. Guided by a deep faith and devotion to St. Joseph, he dedicated his life to praying, serving the poor, welcoming strangers, healing the sick and comforting the suffering.” 

He truly deserves to be recognized as a saint! I first visited the Oratory when I was seventeen. No need to tell you I was impressed by this beautiful basilica with its innumerable front steps and domed architecture. But it was the sheer number of assorted crutches, canes, braces and more… that touched my heart. That and the modest room where Brother André would retire after endless hours of meeting people of all walks of life who believed he could cure them. 

Now science is getting closer to proving that kind of miracle is possible! 

Neuroplasticity (or cortical re-mapping) refers to the ability of the human brain to change as a result of one’s experience. Contrary to what was once believed, it has been proven the brain is plastic and malleable.  

The brain consists of nerve cells (neurons) and “glial cells” which are interconnected, and learning may happen through change in the strength of the connections and by the formation of new cells. “Plasticity” relates to learning, thus changing, by adding or removing connections or adding cells. 

In light of these findings, it was discovered that EXPERIENCE can actually change both the brain’s physical structure (its anatomy) and the functional organization from top to bottom.  

This new science is helping in the treatment of such problems as impulsive-compulsive disorder where the “worry circuit” gets jammed and the person repeats the action or thought endlessly and needlessly. Patients learn to “not believe everything that they think”. For example, “I am guilty… or I am unclean, therefore I must constantly wash…” Patients learn how to change the circuit, therefore changing their mind.  

Alain Brunet, a Montreal clinical psychologist and researcher at the Douglas Hospital Research Centre, also uses neuroplastic therapy in cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder where patients learn to detach and re-program their reaction to past trauma. Schizophrenics also benefit from this treatment where rebuilding the auditory cortex can correct the cognitive deficits and decline in cognitive thinking that are often linked to hallucinations. As the more normal brain functions are consolidated, social function can also be improved.   

This is all so exciting and points the way to miracles! Wayne Dyer, in his book “Real Magic: creating miracles in everyday life” offers fourteen keys for creating a miracle mind-set. The first one is: reserve your judgment and disbelief. He says that behind fear is powerlessness. That which you fear, you are fighting, and fighting always weakens you. Fear makes you impotent and makes higher levels inaccessible. But behind trust is empowerment and love. No judgment, no anger, no hatred, no fear and no need to fight. Love empowers you to higher levels. It is your choice always, and the choice begins in that amorphous inner world of the MIND. 

Isn’t this what Brother André offered: empowerment and unconditional love? Could this be part of new medical treatments where we start with the mind? I have always wondered if Brian would still be alive, if instead of dealing with a cold and calculating oncologist who told him he only had four or five weeks to live and to go home and “get his things in order”, he would have met someone like Brother André, or a therapist who would have worked with him to rid his mind of fear and given him the hope of a miracle. 

After watching the movie “Eat, pray, love” at the Rainbow Cinema last night, I concluded you don’t have to go to India’s ashrams or to Bali to find spiritual connection or a dramatic change in your life. Wayne Dyer assures us that we can create a world of real magic, and he quotes Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens (doctors, nurses, teachers, politicians…) can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. 

I invite you to believe in miracles. 

Namaste! “I honor the Spirit in you which is also in me.”

Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving to all!