“There is a Sufi story about a man who is so good that the angels ask God to give him the gift of miracles. God wisely tells them to ask him if that is what he would wish.
“So the angels visit this good man and offer him first the gift of healing by hands, then the gift of conversion of souls, and lastly the gift of virtue. He refuses them all. They insist that he choose a gift or they will choose one for him. ‘Very well,’ he replies, ‘I ask that I may do a great deal of good without ever knowing it.’ The story ends this way:
“The angels were perplexed. They took counsel and resolved upon the following plan: Every time the saint’s shadow fell behind him it would have the power to cure disease, sooth pain, and comfort sorrow. As he walked, behind him his shadow made arid paths green, caused withered plants to bloom, gave clear water to dried up brooks, fresh color to pale children, and joy to unhappy men and women. The saint simply went about his daily life diffusing virtue as the stars diffuse light and the flowers scent, without ever being aware of it. The people respecting his humility followed him silently, never speaking to him about his miracles. Soon they even forgot his name and called him ‘the Holy Shadow’.” ~Rachel Naomi Remen
Gift of Miracles
This Sufi tale has one great flaw: in reality, the angels would have understood that the gift of humility was the greatest gift God could give the man, or that he could give himself. But then it is just a tale, a parable, intended to make a point. Like most scripture, it is not history and is not intended to be taken as literal truth.
God understood when he told the angels to ask the man if he wanted to be given a gift of miracles. The man did want to do good, as he probably had been doing for a long time, but he didn’t want to know he was doing it. The reason is humility. He knew that if the angels made him a miracle worker, it might puff up his ego and he would lose the important gift of humility. Virtually all spiritual schools teach that humility is necessary for any significant spiritual advancement. We must be doing it for the good of all, not just to give ourselves the idea that we are better than others because we have developed our spiritual facilities and gained in some way, the gift of miracles.
Three Specific Gifts
The angels offered the holy man three specific gifts: healing, conversion of souls, and virtue. This is a curious group of miraculous abilities. First, spiritual healing usually is just a matter of awakening in the other person the ability to heal themselves. Although there are cases of individuals having the ability to channel God’s healing energy through them and into others, it is rare. Further, it comes at a cost, like everything in the material realm. Those who do channel healing through themselves may find that they get the illness also, at least for a while. In other cases, channeling that energy may shorten their own lives. Because of that, those who truly have the gift to channel healing into other use it sparingly and only to help those who are truly deserving.
As for the conversion of souls, it is unclear what is meant by this. If it simply means getting people to believe in a particular faith or church, that is dealing more with the mind than the soul. The soul needs to be awakened, not converted, and that we must each do ourselves with the help of God. A spiritual teacher or holy person can only guide us to the correct path, not do it for us.
As for the gift of virtue, that is a vague one and includes the others. Certainly, spiritual healing is a virtue, as is the ability to help others awaken their souls. Yet the continuation of this Sufi tale gives more ideas about what is meant by this particular gift of miracles.
The Holy Shadow
When the angels give the man the gift of virtue in his shadow, we see that where his shadow touches, plants grow in bad soil, dry land becomes wet again, flowering plants burst into bloom, etc. This is way beyond what we generally think of as virtue. This gift of miracles is not just allowing the holy man to heal sick people, but to heal all of nature. This is indeed a great gift, one I have never heard of any individual having in real life. But then, this tale is an allegory for the importance of humility to live a truly holy life and have the real gift of miracles. For more about the importance of humility, click here to read an older post on the subject.