I recently made a podcast (http://ccoincidence.rnn.libsynpro.com/ ) with Dr. Bernard Beitman, a psychiatrist with a lifelong interest in coincidence, who has written a book I heartily endorse, Connecting With Coincidence (2016). We talked about certain kinds of coincidences that are thought to involve divine intervention. Dr. Beitman noted that many stories in the Old Testament (like the parting of the Red sea) may have been natural coincidences that were seized upon as miraculous.
A more recent example is from the biography of St. Joseph of Copertino. This story has no eyewitness testimony to back it up, but involved a coincidence. The story is that during a terrible hailstorm several sheep were struck dead. In a panic the shepherds rush to the scene and desperately call out to Padre Giuseppe for help. Wonder of wonders, one by one, the sheep get up, move around, and display all the symptoms of life. No doubt knocked down, stunned, incapacitated, but surely not killed; this was a coincidence, not a miracle.
You don’t have took far to see how coincidences may seem divinely inspired. People who barely escape death, in a train wreck or mass shooting, typically thank God for saving them. The feeling is natural enough, a psychic reflex, especially if one is a believer. On the other hand, the arbitrariness might leave a bad taste. Still, there’s no doubt that throughout history all sorts of coincidences were viewed as signs and portents of divine origin.
For an account of the superstitious fear of comets, look at Pierre Bayle’s masterpiece of philosophical therapy, Various Thoughts on the Occasion of a Comet (1682), edited and translated by Robert Bartlett. Bayle destroys an irrational fear that gripped the minds of countless people for centuries, showing that comets are natural phenomena and nothing more.
No doubt that some coincidences may be misread in self-destructive, self-deluding ways. But Beitman’s approach to the world of coincidence is wider and more subtle. The reason is that sometimes a coincidence is based on a real connection, which could be telepathic or psychokinetic. If I think of you three times in a row, and each time the phone rings it’s you, coincidence blends into causation. If a disturbed neighborhood kid steps into your house and crockery starts to break for no reason, coincidence may start to look like a poltergeist.
Learning to pay attention to the coincidental fabric of our lives may attune us to matters of importance that need to be noticed. Connecting with coincidence is a way of connecting with meaning, with ideas and possibilities we need to consider. Some coincidences may sometimes inspire confidence in a benign providence, and even belief in the Almighty.
An example we discuss in the podcast is the strange coincidence I experienced one frigid Christmas Eve when a tropical plant flowered overnight and left my apartment in the morning filled with a fantastic fragrance. We discuss the apparent meaning of this impossible event in the podcast. It certainly looked and felt like something far more profound than mere chance. (See post, Ocular Proof of the Impossible.)
If you think about it for a moment, all experience is coincidental. Life is a continuous flow of incidents colliding, juxtaposing, converging and diverging. From this endless stream if incidents that makes up our lives, we find and we fashion patterns of meaning, from which we create our world and our identity.
If so, it follows that we can get proactive about inducing creative coincidences. We can set our mental radar on detecting them. If we find ourselves in short supply, there is one reliable remedy, one way to stir them up-- and that is to fling ourselves into new and even chaotic situations.
The kind of chaos must be suitable to our needs and sensibility. For some people, creative chaos might be induced by driving a different way home from work. Another person might need to hook up with a revolution somewhere. The point is that there may be important messages from the deep mind of the world that want to break into our consciousness. Everything depends on the shape of the receiving apparatus—on what we are attending to and what we are shutting out. In a split second a meaningful coincidence can shift the direction of our life, open a gate to heaven or to hell.
Stories of creative (or destructive) coincidence are welcome.