Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

The Rules of Serendipity

An on-line friend proposed to me the idea of a religion of Serendipity. This caused me to research the origin of the term serendipity.

This term has a literal origin in one creator, Horace Walpole, who based it upon the Persian tale of the three Princes of Serendip. These princes, as it happens, kept making discoveries in what we would now call serendipitious ways, although a strict grammarian with a logic fixation might accuse me of
improperly using the thing being defined in mid-definition when I say that.

I am not so sure that we need speak of a "religion" of serendipity, although serendipity arguably has a spiritual angle, and, after all, religions are made of things ranging from sports stars to NASCAR to the evening star. I believe that if I were to meet a follower of the religion of serendipity, I would believe that she or he would be entitled, as with all people, to a detailed recognition of his or her worth and dignity as a person.

Science put a lot of dents in various visions of religion--dents so severe that some people cannot manage to even abandon ship, being unable to convince that their particular ship is sinking. Science could also threaten this new order of Serendip. Perhaps events happen due to casuality we do not yet understand--or we interpret events in patterns we have not yet unscrambled. Yet I fancy that serendipity and science do not truly clash, because so many scientific discoveries, from penicillin to usable rubber technology, resulted from serendipity.

I do not propose to posit detailed rules of serendipity, nor to provide Biblical proofs of how it descended from Adam through the House of David, with each coincidental miracle begat upon coincidental miracle. I notice that serendipity is a catch-all term, anyway--is it truly serendipitous that I saw western kingbirds in our area soon after I learned to identify them on a bird walk? The term is actually something besides serendipity--but "awareness" sounds a bit less musical.

So many times people use matters of belief or skepticism as bludgeons, to emphasize the differences between people. Perhaps this is a bit forgiveable--the differences, like so many yogurt flavors, add a little variety to living. Yet I like the idea that life can be more than about doing serendipitous superiority sermons when others prove less enlightened than ourselves.

I like the story about a Wellesley Engish professor who tode with a party on a mule ride atop Pike's Peak.
She saw the wide open splendor of the view, and soon wrote a poem. The poem became the basis for the patriotic song we now know as "America, the Beautiful".

The first draft of the poem was a simple, spiritual eight lines of wonder. As the years advanced, though, she revised the words. She reshaped the words to include cautionary advice as well as words of triumph. One verse reads:

"America, America
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!"

In this time of mis-judgment and failure to follow the law by , as well as disrespect for human rights, we can be grateful that a serendipitous mule ride led to a patriotic song which emphasizes not only the country's beauty, but its need to improve.

Ms. Bates was anything but a jingo in her concern for our country. She was not a "conventional" person in a lot of ways, which, I argue, may make her in fact a very conventional person. If one goes to, one can find her 1905 book on spiritualism. Although spiritualism is not among my day-to-day obsessions, I did like this passage:

"This is the reason why all Truth must be born into each world through a
fight and an agony; for it always comes as an advance upon normal
conditions, no matter in which sphere it may be. And it is through the
struggle that the Victory comes and the Light is born".

Was it serendipity that this Massachusetts poet and English professor, living with a fellow female professor, and writing verse after scaling mountains by mule, wrote one of America's most vigorously sung July 4th hymns?
I prefer to think that instead it says something about the real America, a place more varied and interesting than the revisionists who re-tell history with the life squeezed out of it like factory-processed orange juice. I personally prefer the pulp, the serendipity, and a faith that recognizes that correcting one's flaws and self-control is one key way to making anything in this world better.

I like meaningful coincidences, and coincidental meanings. I like the way that chance cures disease and inspires disparate ideas to germinate. If serendipity is not the sum and substance of my own religion, I must admit that it is nonetheless a prominent part of the hymnbook and the liturgy.

I believe that people spend a lot of time about the rules of the game, and not even time playing the game.
We all become students of the game--when the struggle is before us, and serendipity awaits, sword in hand, to bring us to discovery--and perhaps, one day, transcendence, equality and peace.

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