I had lunch the other day with an elderly friend of mine whose health is failing. He knows that he doesn’t have long to live but has a very strong faith, so we talk about this process of living and dying quite openly.
He told me a very personal story about his first wife, which I won’t repeat, except to say that, at one point, he told her that he no longer loved her and was leaving her for another woman. He immediately left her, and drove to the other woman’s home in another city but discovered to his dismay that she wasn’t there. Disappointed, he began to drive back to the city where his wife lived, intending to stay in a hotel. It was late at night and the roads were deserted. Suddenly he saw something in the road ahead and hit the brakes. It was an enormous white rabbit, larger than any rabbit could possibly be! It was just sitting in the middle of the road, calmly looking at him. After a few seconds, it slowly hopped off the road and disappeared. He was shaken and decided to go home and tell his wife about this strange occurence. When he knocked on her door it was very late but his wife answered the door fully dressed. She calmly asked him if he’d like a cup of tea, and he realised in that moment what a fool he was. He remained married to her for another twenty years until she died.
What is the White rabbit?
When strange coincidences or events happen, where do they come from and what do they mean? In his famous story A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens has Scrooge’s dead partner Jacob Marley visit him as a ghost. Scrooge attributes this vision to something he ate. That is our usual first response — “I must have done something to cause this strange event to happen.” Perhaps that is correct, if you are a heavy drinker or regularly smoke Marijuana. Or perhaps, you may be experiencing the first sign of a psychosis; that is also possible. The brain can do funny things.
But what if, like my friend, you are certain that your vision of a white rabbit was caused by none of these physical explanations? What then? Understanding a “white rabbit” takes us into the region of the unusual, mysterious and unknown. Our well-ordered explanations for reality don’t work anymore. There is only one way forward. We must evaluate using our basic rule for what is true. Either we are a “seeing is believing” person– we require facts and scientific explanations — or a “believing is seeing” person — we allow our beliefs to help us see beyond the rational, physical explanations for our experiences. If we are a “seeing is believing” person, there is no explanation other than some kind of hallucination triggered by unknown causes. If, however, we are a “believing is seeing” person, we still need to examine the white rabbit to determine what meaning, if any, to ascribe to this unusual event.
Does God send white rabbits?
The great saints and spiritual writers were deeply mistrustful of apparitions. They believed that God doesn’t need ‘white rabbits’ or other strange things to attract our attention. They were concerned that Satan used these devices to mislead people. So, we shouldn’t jump too quickly in interpreting such events. [My recommendation would be to discuss it with your priest or pastor.] But, I have also experienced a “rabbit” in my life which helps me to see my friend’s experience in a different light.
Once I made a silent retreat over a weekend in a beautiful old house on the Potomac River in southern Maryland in the USA. The priest who was guiding me that weekend suggested that I not spend my time reading (which was my normal way to fill in time on retreats) but to simply relax and “be present” to whatever happened. On Saturday morning, I was walking slowly around the gardens and suddenly there was a little grey rabbit sitting on the path looking at me. I stopped to watch him. He just sat there and looked at me. We stood like that for maybe 30 seconds. I then detoured around him, onto the grass, and left him sitting on “his path.” I laughed out loud with an experience of amusement! I hadn’t felt such pure joy in my stressed life for many years. God didn’t send the rabbit — He sent the grace of recognition, of what happened in my heart when I detoured around that rabbit.
I don’t know what kind of animal stopped my friend on the road that night, but I’m sure it wasn’t a ghost or a supernatural spectre. But both of us are certain that something happened in his heart due to that encounter. My belief (and his) is that God touched his heart, so that he returned to his wife. And God also touched his wife’s heart, to welcome him back without rancor, with a cup of tea.
The ability to see such things as commonplace is also a gift from God. That’s why I call this blog “Grace Filled World.” I hope that you will begin to notice such things in your life and, with the mindset “believing is seeing,” know that God is touching you with love and gifts many, many more times than you realise.