This is one of those stories that you probably won't believe.
Frankly, if it hadn’t happened to me personally I do not believe that I would be able to accept this story as true. So, when telling a story like this, one is often tempted to make all sorts of declarations, swearing to the heavens and to God and to the Universe. However, Jesus admonishes us to make no oaths and to simply let our “yes” be yes and our “no” be no.
In that spirit, I simply offer that everything that follows is absolutely, utterly true.
It was March 2005. It could be said that I was going through a rather tough patch. We all have times where it seems like everything in life is bunching up against us: storm clouds at home, problems at work, health issues – I was going through one of those patches. The details of it have nothing to do with this story, but let’s just say that personally, professionally and physically, I was there, and it wasn’t pretty.
I was called to a business meeting about 45 minutes away from my home. All during the drive to the meeting, I had one song playing on my CD player on auto-repeat. That song was “Silence” sung by Sarah McLachlan from Delerium's album “Karma.” This was not exactly a top ten selection, either song or album, especially in March 2005. In fact, I doubt that most of your have ever heard of it, let alone heard it.
This song had come to mean quite a lot to me over the previous year. Very simply, the song meant to me that my ultimate problem really was me; that it was my anger and my frustration about the circumstances of my life that kept me from experiencing the true joy and happiness which most of the religions of the world teach us are our true birthright. In other words, God wants us to be happy. The true saints teach us ways that we can find the happiness that transcends happiness, leading to joy. Happiness is connected to the earthly life; true joy is not of this world. Happiness is what we feel when we buy a new car or get a surprise check in the mail…joy is the state of spiritual bliss that resides in the heart of the believer regardless of external circumstances – or so they tell us, and I believe this to be true.
The challenge is to be able to live that way. It is one thing to read about true joy in a book and it’s another thing to preach it to someone else, and yet, my friends, it’s an utterly different thing entirely to be able to live in that joy yourself.
Sarah McLachlan ’s “Silence” touched me deeply.
Give me release
(c) 1997 Delerium, used respectfully, but without permission
It seemed (and still seems) to resonate with the deepest part of my heart. If I could overcome my anger, then I know that I would be able to see much better the truth of the Universe and its bliss, love and joy. But how do I do this? How do I actually make it real? One of the ways (for me at least) is to listen to songs like “Silence” over and over, so that’s what I was doing as I made the 45 minute trek to my business meeting, a cause and source of some of my anger and frustration. Since the song is about six minutes long, I listened to it eight times as I was driving. I parked the car, walked in to the restaurant where the meeting was to take place, and... playing on the restaurant’s public address system... was...
Sarah McLachlan singing “Silence” by Delerium Karma.
The gentleman I was to meet was ten minutes late but I was glad, because I needed about ten minutes to stop crying and wipe the last of the tears from my eyes.
What is one to make of such an event? How is one to react to such a thing?
The easiest response is to say that it was “just a coincidence.” That would be, on one hand, the most comforting and rational explanation. I chose one of my CDs to listen to on my drive, picked one song in particular to play, and the restaurant I “happened” to be going to just “happened” to be playing the very same song at the very moment I walked in. But then, the amateur mathematician within me kicked in, and I started to add up the shear random mathematics of it all.
I started by thinking about how many CDs I have in my collection. My hobby since 1985 has been music, so at the risk of sounding like a materialist pig, I have some 2,000 CDs in my collection. Rather than snorting cocaine or gambling or any of the other entertaining addictions we Americans “enjoy,” it has been my budget to procure approximately two CDs a week for the last 20 years. For a variety of reasons, in 2005 I resigned from that hobby, but I digress.
My point is that I chose one of the CDs that meant a great deal to me, and out of the ten songs on that CD I picked this one song to listen to on auto-repeat. Since I had approximately 2,000 CDs with approximately ten songs on each CD, that would equal a one in 20,000 chance of selecting this particular song.
How many songs, then, did the restaurant have access to? Maybe the restaurant was only playing that one CD that day. What are the odds of that? One in how many tens or hundreds of thousands of CDs available on the market in March 2005? Maybe the restaurant had a subscription service that played different songs throughout the day? I cannot say. But even if the restaurant only had access to a hundred songs, the chance of my one in 20,000 songs matching their one in 100 songs is going to get you a very, very large number. The exact details don’t matter, but let’s just say it’s a REALLY big number. And then, for that song to be available during the hours of the restaurant’s operation, for that one in countless songs to be played at the very moment I walked in, well... I’m sure that different statisticians would argue about the exact mathematical probability, but I will tell you that in my status as an amateur mathematician that I think the number would be really, REALLY high.
Put it another way. Grab a CD from your collection, or pick a song on your iPod, or whatever. Listen to that song on auto-repeat for 45 minutes as you drive to a restaurant. How many years would you have to repeat that process in order for the song you picked to be playing on the restaurant's stereo the moment you walked in? Decades? Centuries?
In other words, how many coincidences add up to more than a coincidence?
I’ll give you two more examples. I can make these brief.
Skipping ahead to April of 2006, I had gone through a number of changes. I was living in a new state with my new wife and new son. We had just closed escrow on our new house so we had the key, but it would be a couple of weeks before we would actually be able to move in. We decided to bring a blanket to have a celebratory dinner on the floor to commemorate our first day with our new home. I brought my little iPod and put on Leon Russell’s first album, called simply “Leon Russell.” There is a song on the album about resurrection and new life and I wanted to hear it. I had forgotten that the very first song on the album is “A Song for You,” which is, basically, a love song Leon sings to his wife to remind her that when he’s dead to think back to when they were alone together in their new life. Well, for a variety of reasons, this song was much too intense for me to handle in that moment, so I got up and turned off the iPod. We spent the rest of our wonderful dinner in marvelous silence – not the “Silence” of the Delirium Karma song, but real silence as in no music.
After dinner we returned to our old place, the house we would leave in two weeks, and did as most true-blue Americans do on Tuesday nights: we watched “American Idol.” “Coincidentally,” I watched, incredulous, as Elliot Yamin came onstage to sing Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” the very same song I had deemed too intense for today’s events and had jumped up to turn off a mere hour earlier. I looked at my wife and she looked at me, our eyes exchanging a stunned “wow.”
As we prepared for bed, I said “You know, honey, when things like that happen it reminds me of Vander Graff Generator’s song called “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” off of their “Pawn Hearts” album. Yes, I know, this is about the most obscure band and album and song to every one of you, but trust me, it does exist, and here is the link to it. In the song, Peter Hammill sings “…you begin to wonder if the points of all the ancient myths are suddenly directed straight at YOU.” I told my dear wife that I didn’t want to feel like I was guilty of hubris, but when things “coincidentally” happen I do start to feel really strange, as if the lyrics are true for me.
I reached over and turned on the satellite radio for a little nighttime music, and the first thing to come out of the speakers was Peter Hammill singing “…you begin to wonder if the points of all the ancient myths are suddenly directed straight at YOU,” from “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers,” from the “Pawn Hearts” album by Vander Graff Generator
It was a sleepless night.
Now my dear friends, like I said at the beginning, if I hadn’t personally experienced these incidents, I would not, honestly, believe any of it. Like I said, without taking any oaths, all I can do is declare that the foregoing is absolutely, utterly the truth.
What does one do with experiences like these? Forgetting about the mathematics, again I will ask: at what point does a coincidence become more than a coincidence? I think I could fill several megabytes of the World Wide Web with similar experiences. I’ve attempted to recount many of them in my spiritual autobiography which you can find here.
If the coincidences are more than coincidence, then something else is going on. I can be comfortable, really comfortable, believing and experiencing a world where God is in control. But all of this has to do with the other part: when God at least appears not to be in control. When people die of diseases, families break up, tyrants who are the very opposite of the Prince of Peace claim the name of the Prince of Peace as they murder tens and hundreds of thousands. The times when it appears, regardless of what is going on globally, that your personal life is just out of balance – your body is a wreck, your mother just died, your children are sick, your finances are screaming – the point of this little piece is to ask one question:
It is now March 2008, three years since the business meeting at the restaurant and two years since the events at and after our personal housewarming party. The top questions I get in my emails from you are “Where are you? Why haven’t you been writing more? Where are the new posts?”
The best answer I can give you is that I’ve been working on me, to make sure I can know and experience, for me, in my own life, the answer to the question I just posed. If there are times that God is unmistakably incomprehensibly mathematically impossibly creating circumstances beyond all probability... to the extent that the Hand of God cannot, by any rational person, be denied, what do we think, how do we feel and what do we do when it looks like God is gone?
I’ll put it another way. If God can perform the one out of x-million coincidence for the little song routine now and then, why do I still have to go through times where God can’t be found anywhere?!?
And folks, as shocking as it sounds, I have come to a point in my life where, at least for me, I have the answer to that question. The idea or claim that I could even answer such a question is probably the most preposterously unbelievable aspect of this entire little piece, but nevertheless, here it is.
When the coincidences otherwise known as synchronicities stop, then it’s our turn.
I will try to explain, and I’ll explain it by showing you where I learned it. My son is in sixth grade. He’s working on fractions in his math class; all manner of fractions, adding them, subtracting them, multiplying them and most dreaded of all, by the end of the school year he’s going to be dividing fractions. He has found fractions, despite his naturally gifted mental powers, to be quite challenging at times. So, my wonderful wife and I have taken to tutoring him in mathematics. For the first weeks that my wife worked with Isaac, she would walk him through all 20 problems and guide him to the answers. She would tell him to put this number here, perform this operation, and lo and behold, there’s your answer. You could look at those operations and answers as really small "coincidences" – it just so happens you put the number here, it just so happens you perform this operation, and it just so happens that reciprocals work the way they do.
After a few weeks of this, I suggested to her that she do the first problem and then without any word or any comment of any kind, let him struggle through the second problem. That way, we could find out if he really had internalized all of the help that she had given him.
In other words, when the little coincidences stopped, it was his turn.
I cannot tell you with certainty what it is that God is trying to teach us with coincidence and synchronicity. As a Christian, it looks to me that really what I’m being called to do is be like my “math teacher,” Jesus, who still stands as the most remarkable testimonial to love, compassion, understanding and forgiveness that I have ever known. When I really need it, God is there to help, just like when our beloved sixth grader really needs it, his Mom and Dad are there to help. But if all we ever do is help him, then Isaac will never develop the math abilities that he himself will need for the rest of his life. If we continually help him, we handicap him. As long as we are guiding him step by step through the process, he is not mastering math.
When guys like me get stuck, God tends to talk to me through song, through coincidence, and through synchronicities so astounding I cannot, as an amateur mathematician, deny their power.
But when it looks like God is no longer talking, that’s only because He’s sitting there beside me, observing how I do, because it’s my turn. Because one way or the other, He’s helping me to grow and to become my own version of the master musician, Jesus Himself.
Through the years that TCoY has been on the web, due to the thousands of emails I have received from you, I know that the ministry of this website has for many of you been the “song” you needed to hear at that particular time in your life. And I am deeply honored to be a part of your pathway.
Like me, you want more songs, more guidance, more encouragement, more God.
I’ll be here to help.
But if it seems like I’m being silent... if it seems like God is gone... if it seems like the wisdom and the revelation and the magic and the music have become muted... that’s because... my darling brothers and sisters... it’s your turn.
Peace and love,
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