Somewhere at the bottom of my purse is a small drawstring bag that holds something precious: a number of small pewter hearts. These little charms — part of Mexican folk religion — are called milagros, the Spanish word for miracles. Each milagro represents a particular prayer, and much like our own prayers, milagros come in all shapes and sizes. For example, if your abuelito (grandpa) is lame, you might get a milagro in the shape of a leg or a crutch. A cow-shaped charm might symbolize someone’s prayer that a beloved milk cow recover from illness. A heart-shaped milagro suggests a prayer for the heart, either literally or figuratively — it might represent a prayer for someone recovering from a heart attack, or perhaps a prayer that a relationship be repaired or that an unmarried child find a spouse.
As someone who is intrigued by meaning and metaphor, the heart shape offers me many possibilities. For a friend who had lost his father, the milagro became a prayer of consolation. For a crying teenager, it was a reminder that she was truly loved. For the stranger confiding in me during a plane trip, it was a symbol that God knows the deepest desires of our hearts. I once gave out milagros at the end of a retreat I facilitated for board members — those milagros became the heart of service. Over the past ten years, I’ve given close to six thousand of these little hearts … one by one by one.
While these prayers are offered for others, I must confess that they are also meant for me. It is my constant prayer that I experience myself in the heart of God in each moment. Every time I place a milagro in someone’s hand, the reality of that connection becomes a little bit clearer.
Sometimes, when I am feeling a bit lost, I take one out and hold it in my hand. The slight coolness feels good. Looking at the milagro’s surface, I see that it is rough, worn, imperfect — a lot like me. And just like that tiny heart in my hand, my presence also can be a prayer.
It never fails that when I give someone a milagro, a connection is made. The person’s eyes might light up or grow moist with tears. He or she might grab my hand or give me a hug. Invariably, the people to whom I give a milagro hold their little heart close and promise to keep it in a special place. They need not worry; they are that special place.
Funny, isn’t it, the impact these little hearts have?