Sunday, 1 March 2015

How does God speak to us? Signs, tokens - coincidence?

This is such an important question. Does God show us signs, tokens? If so, how should we interpret them?

There are people who believe in all kinds of signs - does the mysterious disappearance of the Southern Equatorial Band on Jupiter four years ago really mean the Age of Aquarius is almost upon us? Attributing significance to things we see or experience

Today, I saw a flock of five magpies - traditional birds of omen - fly overhead. "One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver..." Does this mean I'm about to come into wealth? And even if I do - would there be any connection with seeing five magpies today?

A Serious Man - the Coen Brothers' best, most meaningful, film - examines the this question in detail. Larry Gopnik, a Minnesota Jew, finds his comfortable life unravelling about him, and seeks answers from three rabbis. The first offers nothing but banality "It's about perspective." The third refuses to see him. But the second rabbi, the Rabbi Nachtner, offers tall tale to illustrate how God speaks to us. Best we see this - one of my favourite scenes from any film I've ever seen.



We are biologically conditioned to seek patterns in the world around us, to seek meaning in coincidence. But is there meaning in coincidence? Is this how God speaks to us?

Mankind has a tendency towards superstition. Black cats crossing our path, avoidance of the number 13, breaking mirrors etc. A superstitious mind sees an object of ill omen; should something bad then actually happen, the relationship between the two unrelated events becomes causal.

Good luck is also believed to be brought on by unrelated factors - placing a lottery ticket under a 'lucky object' is not going to shorten the odds on winning. Wearing an item of red underwear while sitting the matura (final school exam) will not improve the scholar's results.

Causal links between actions and events that aren't justified by reason and observation boil down to wishful thinking or superstition.

And yet, and yet. I have often felt that the Universe is held together by a web of coincidence; that there is meaning to be found in the relationship between events. Is it? Should we seek it?

On the basis of my experience, I see it this way: if you see a rare occurrence, it lodges in your consciousness. See it again, and it should be a call to thought, thought that can prevent disaster (dis-aster - from the Latin word for star and the prefix for 'to split' or 'to reverse'. Disasters are unforeseen; causing "loss, upset or unpleasantness."

Seeing meaning in coincidence should not be taken as an omen that something bad will happen - it should be seen as a wake-up call to shake us out of complacency, to consider that the ways things are right now will pass; to a better state or worse state. Coincidences may be read as flashing beacons that warn. (Read the post Balancing on the Edge of Chaos.)

Previous post in the series: dealing with good and evil

Next: speaking to God, listening to God.

This time last year:
Spring makes itself felt in Ealing

This time two years ago:
Waiting for the warmth to return to Warsaw

This time three years ago:
Remembering Poland's 'Accursed Soldiers'

This time four years ago:
Getting the balance right between work and play

This time six years ago:
Sublime Jeziorki sunset

This time seven years ago:
Sunrise getting earlier

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