Confusing Serendipity and God

March 10, 2010

This past Saturday, I was at IRT (Indiana Repertory Theatre).  I had just walked there from CFI Indiana and was very thirsty.  I went up to the refreshment counter to get a coke but then remembered that I only had one dollar in my purse.  I asked the price of a coke and was told it was two dollars.  I asked if they took cards and the lady said no. 

At that very moment, I heard someone say, "Hi, Reba."  I turned and there was my best friend from my public school teaching days, Pat.  So, I said, "Hey, you came along at just the right time.  I need a dollar so I can get a coke."

Three years ago, when a couple of people at CFI mentioned that Indiana should be thinking about opening a center, at first I was not interested at all.  Where would be get the money to support it?   I didn't want the burden of being responsible for a center and especially the financial worries of finding the money to keep it going.  I had been retired for a couple of years after spending 31 years in a building with no windows.  I was enjoying my freedom and especially being able to hike with Indianapolis Hiking Club and enjoy the great outdoors.  I felt like a bird out of a cage.  Why would I want to go back to being cooped up in an office all day?

However, I began to think about a possible location in case we did take that "leap of faith."   Criteria:  Central location.  Near the IUPUI campus.  I remembered from hikes along the downtown Canal Walk that there were office spaces there.  That would be centrally located since our membership was spread over the Indianapolis metropolitan area and it was just across the street from the IUPUI campus which includes the Indiana University School of Medicine , and the Indianapolis branch of the Indiana University Law School. 

Probably way too expensive for us to afford even if there were one available, I thought, but worth a look.   I had been at the Indiana State Capitol building for a HAPA rally concerning reproductive rights. The Capitol building is about three blocks from the Canal Walk.  It was sub zero temperature, the sidewalks were covered with ice and snow, and I was on the verge of a very bad cold.  However, I decided to brave it and take a look anyway.  So, I walked from the Capitol building, through the passage between the state office buildings, down the stairs to the Canal Walk, crossed the pedestrian bridge that spans the canal, walked about a block, and lo and behold, there was a door with a "For Lease" sign and a phone number.

Turns out the rent was much less than I had feared and I fell in love it.  Now, were I an evangelical minister, I would say that God led me to it. Right? 

So how to explain the above two incidents and the thousands of similar experiences that everyone has occasionally?  God?  No self-respecting Secular Humanist would say that!!  Pure coincidence?   Probably not. 

My friend and her husband have season tickets at IRT and it was not likely that many of my other friends would have turned up there.   So, that cut down the odds of it being pure chance.  I had in mind some criteria for a center location, I had hiked the canal walk many times and thought of looking there.  So, it was not pure chance that I found the center location.

One word for this is serendipity which The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines as (1) The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.  (2) The fact or occurrence of such discoveries.  (3) An instance of making such a discovery.  Wikipedia gives examples from Economics, Chemistry, Pharmacology, Medicine and Biology, Physics and Astronomy, Inventions, etc.  Wikipedia says, "Serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally stumbles upon something fortunate, especially while looking for something entirely unrelated. The word has been voted as one of the ten English words that were hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company."  However, very religious people have a simple way to explain these types of experiences, "God did it."

Then there are those times in life, much more serious than needing an extra dollar to buy a coke, when someone just happens to come along at the right time.  The country song,  Angels Among Us [minus the religious references and viewing "angels" as a metaphor for a human being who happens along to be helpful instead of a supernatural being that swoops down from sky] is one of my favorites.  We can all think of individuals who were our human "angel" during trying times in life.

Oh I believe there are angels among us. 
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

They come to you and me in our darkest hours.
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give.
To guide us with a light of love.

When life held troubled times, and had me down on my knees.
There's always been someone to come along and comfort me.
A kind word from a stranger to lend a helping hand.
A phone call from a friend just to say I understand.

Now ain't it kinda funny at the dark end of the road.
Someone lights the way with just a single ray of hope.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

They wear so many faces; show up in the strangest places.
To grace us with their mercy in our time of need.


#1 KSH (Guest) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 11:32am

I was somewhat perplexed at this message. Someone who hikes drinks soda and not water? And what is the connection between the soda incident and the leap of faith described below it?

As an editor, I was more than a bit confused at what you were actually trying to say.

#2 Reba Boyd Wooden on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 11:39am

The “leap of faith” refered to opening the center not to the coke.

#3 Dan (Guest) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 11:55am

yeah i dont know what the point was and dont care for the story at all. I think a puerile child could have written somthing far more enlightening or that had some sort of substance that could relate to CFI.

#4 Michael De Dora on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 12:26pm

Dan, there’s no need to be so harsh.

#5 TERESA SPENCER (Guest) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 12:40pm

I enjoyed the story.  I often wonder at theists’ attribution of every little coincidence and bit of good fortune to a god.  It seems silly to me.

#6 Darcy Cowan on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 12:46pm

KSH, as an editor perhaps you could give some tips for clearing up the piece?
I know when I’m writing articles I will know exactly what I mean when I’m writing and then publish. A few days (or months) later I might re-read the piece with fresh eyes and think to myself “darn, that’s a bit confusing I should have put in more of a preamble to set the scene and explained a bit more over here”.

Help out the less informed?

#7 Harald Leinweber (Guest) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 2:14pm

There is a book by an american professor of Statistics or the like, which is published in Germany under the title “Der schwarze Schwan” (The Black Swan). It says there, that for a long time people thought, swans were always white, until they discovered black ones. The book centers around our perception of what is likely and unlikely, and it says that our presumptions of the likeliness of many things are in fact very inaccurate. Things we think very unlikely are in fact often not so rare as we think. This may seem very simple, but often it has vast consequences. Serendipity relates to that. We all should be careful with our presumptions about likeliness - it is a big universe and we know only the smallest part of it. Seeing the wonders of reality is not un-scientific or religious - it is a wonderful world, and we should be humble. Being able to be impressed is a part of what makes us human, after all.

#8 Harald Leinweber (Guest) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 2:18pm

One thing I forgot to mention: Monster Waves. For a very long time until some years ago scientist were sure there are no such things as giant waves (like the ones which hit a Cruise Ship in the Mediterranean Sea (!) some days ago - 8 meters high! Know we know that this not just fancy stories of drunken sailors, but that there are waves up to 40 Meters high - in fact, in real life. Should I not be impressed, just because it can be scientifically explained?

#9 J. (Guest) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 11:14pm

Serendipity? No way. God was helping to find a home for CFI to test the faith of Indiana believers.

#10 Harald Leinweber on Thursday March 11, 2010 at 1:15am

That I believe.And in the same vein God made me an atheist to test the faith of the people around me. Gods ways are unfathomable.

#11 rokeefe on Thursday March 11, 2010 at 8:37am

Easily understood and interesting to me, Reba. A mathematician wrote a book on coincidence, many years ago, in which he listed some of the very complicated events that were claimed to be mind-boggling coincidences, that is, the coming together of several streams of events to a startling conclusion. His comment was that to a mathematician, they weren’t remarkable at all. What would have been remarkable is if so much randomness didn’t produce such coincidences. Only the unaware would be dumbfounded by complexity. The point is that we all experience happy coincidences, and sad ones, too. How easily we forget.

#12 Reba Boyd Wooden on Thursday March 11, 2010 at 8:58am

Rick, do you know the name of that book?

#13 rokeefe on Thursday March 11, 2010 at 9:50am

Sorry, Reba. It was back in the 60’s or 70’s. I can’t remember past last week.

#14 Joe Oliver (Guest) on Thursday March 11, 2010 at 12:10pm

Sad how rude people can be.

1.  What does it matter if someone drinks a coke and hikes?  Only health nuts hike?  Only out of shape people drink soft drinks? 

2.  The point was obvious to me.  I guess if it wasn’t so obvious to me, though, it would be my shortcoming.  Not Reba’s. 

3.  If the blog didn’t have a point, so what?  Address bar says ‘blog’.  Blogs don’t have to have a point.  They are web logs of thoughts, not news sources and encyclopedias.  Knowing what type of source you are reading might help you adjust your expectations.

4.  The coke incident wasn’t about coke.  It was about desiring a drink, going to a place she didn’t expect to meet a friend at, and met an old friend there that was able to fix the problem of not having cash for a drink.  Religious people would say God provided for the friend to be there.  How is that so hard to connect?  Didn’t need an editor to make that clear for me.

#15 Edwardson on Friday March 12, 2010 at 5:54am

I think these anecdotes of serendipity from nonbelievers are great if only to give religionists a shot of cognitive dissonance.

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