Let’s start here: You are not an accident. You were put here for a purpose. But even if you cannot allow yourself to believe that, let us together try to entertain the notion that the seeming “accident” of your life—in all of its very real complexity– is a happy accident. We are not talking about how your parents welcomed or did not welcome your coming into this world. We are talking about the totality of your existence here—and not just one moment that has been selectively isolated from the rest. You know that moment of which I am speaking? It is the one time that you did or didn’t do something that you feel you should have or could have, but didn’t. It is the one moment to which you tend to return from time to time when you consider your life in the wee hours of the morning, the moment of dread or of failure, of blazing success, or of incrimination. That moment—that time—which tends to overwhelm and diminish all other good moments in your life. We are not talking about that moment. We are talking about the totality of your existence, both before and beyond that moment. We are also talking about the time before you even knew you were a conscious self—distinct and different, with attributes or liabilities, and the time after when you first realized that your mortality is looming. Let us, for the next few minutes that we are together, entertain the notion that the totality of your being is not an accident. The totality of your being is a happy occurrence—one in which the Universe and the Divine is for your being, and not against it.
Do you remember the 1970’s commercial for Reese’s peanut butter cups? Two people walking on the street—one stumbles into the other. “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter.” “No,” the other says, “you got your peanut butter into my chocolate.” And yet, after the two strangers tried it, they discovered the happy accident or occurrence of something that is unique and special. They discover something that was more wonderful than the actual stumbling around and the destructive belief that a cosmic mistake had somehow been made.
Both youth and adults can carry the subconscious idea that their birth or belonging in this world is some kind of great cosmic mistake, even if intellectually, they admit this isn’t rational. Some children are taught that their very being and becoming were a “mistake” and some adults, because of disability or some visible difference, may be treated by others as defective, deficient, or imperfect, no matter how loving their parents were.
Beloved by many, Psalm 139 from the Hebrew Scriptures refutes this kind of thinking.
It is part of our human condition to need to feel known, understood, validated, and affirmed. We have a desire to belong—to both ourselves and to the larger community, even if we consider ourselves to be proverbial loners. A deep loneliness can occur when we do not feel understood by anyone, much less ourselves. And this existential pain of not feeling understood is not limited by gender, race, creed, or age. “No one here understands me,” complains the middle-aged worker on his shift. “My parents just don’t seem to ‘get’ me,” cries the youth. “My partner knew everything about me—more than anyone else—yet wanted more than I could give. She didn’t understand that I just didn’t have anything left inside and she left.”
In “The Need to Be Understood,” Michael Schreiner writes, “Most of us are desperate to be understood, to have that sense of isolation shattered by finding people in our lives who really get us on an intimate level. The unconscious fear that seems to always be lurking in the background is that if we aren’t understood it will be as if we never existed.” Which is why some of the most devastating betrayals are from people to whom we have revealed our vulnerability or our whole selves in trust that what we have said or done will NOT be held against us in some future time.
We need to address the part of the psalm which you did not hear today and that from which our lectionary tries to protect us. In this difficult part, the writer prays, all too humanly, for God to kill the wicked. Then the writer asks somewhat rhetorically, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?” No wonder why our lectionary chooses not to include those lines! It may seem strange that words of comfort and understanding are interrupted by a vent on God’s enemies. But actually, this is a psalm about relationship and intimacy with the Divine, and the vitriol that is directed to God’s enemies is fairly typical of the human response to feeling threatened. When we feel threatened by others, we tend to lash out. We lash out towards those we love and those we hate when we feel that we have been misunderstood or mistreated. In addition, we tend to demonize or oppose what we do not understand or what threatens our way of being in the world. In so many words, the writer who feels so known, understood, and connected to God wishes to be vindicated by this same God in the presence of those who are bloodthirsty and seeking his life.
Now, tradition has said that this psalm was written by King David, but scholars have their doubts about that. What does matter is that this psalm is prayer—a prayer that acknowledges God’s ability to know us, often better than we know ourselves. More importantly, this God loves us despite our many faults, issues, and non-loving thoughts about each other and to ourselves.
In the psalm, God truly knows the writer. The writers feels that God has searched his heart; God knows when he sits down and when he rises up, searches out his path, his lying down, and “is acquainted with all [his] ways.” This God even knows our words before we are able to even utter them, with a distinction. This God does not choose to finish our sentences or our thoughts for us, like a difficult conversation partner would, but invites us to finish our thoughts for ourselves.
To be known in such a way might be an understandable terror for some of us. It is one thing to know our virtues and good deeds, and quite another to know our secret thoughts, our hiding places, our unspoken desires, our mixed motives, and our problematic behaviors. To be known in such a way means also knowing our mistakes, sins, and sorrows. That can be frightening because most of us quietly believe that if our full selves were to be known, we would be deserted in an instant by the people we love, admire, or trust. For some of us, this experience of being known and being vulnerable, while deeply human, has proven disastrous. Some people did leave us, once we confided our true selves, some people did judge, and some people may have even disowned or turned against us. And yet, Psalm 139 affirms that God will still stand by, that the God who sees will not leave us abandoned on some proverbial doorstep, and that this God is on such intimate terms with us that we are “held fast” within a Divine embrace.
Peter Gomes once said, “Well, there is good news, and that is why they call it the gospel. The news is not that we are worse than we think, it is that we are better than we think, and better than we deserve to be. Why? Because at the very bottom of the whole enterprise is the indisputable fact that we are created, made, formed, invented, patented in the image of goodness itself….Self-worth, self-esteem, self-value…[are]…the stuff of goodness and godliness itself, and it is that image that provides security and serenity in the world. People may take everything away from you…but they cannot take away from you the fact that you are a child of God and bear the impression of God in your very soul. You cannot be destroyed, and that cannot be denied.”
Which brings me to Natalie Goldberg. An author and speaker, she has said, “Life is not orderly. No matter how we try to make life so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, drop a jar of applesauce.”
We get this. No matter how careful we are, our jars of applesauce fall and break and spray applesauce over anything and everything in their path. Unhelpfully, people tend to remember the way we dropped the jar, the way it broke, and the mess that it made. We tend to forget why we were carrying the applesauce in the first place, or how the applesauce may have freed us to discover something different or special in the process.
My two boys have no preconceived notions of how applesauce is to be used or eaten. To their minds, applesauce comes in jars as well as lunch cups; they may use their fingers just as easily as spoons and the occasional fork. Furthermore, it can be combined with various other things to their unending delight: pretzels or cereal, bananas or Ritz crackers. It was by happy accident that we discovered the yumminess of Ritz and applesauce—a bit like the discovery of penicillin.
In 1928, Scottish scientist, Alexander Fleming left for a holiday and, as was typical, his laboratory was untidy. He stacked some cultures of bacteria in a corner of the lab and when he returned from vacation, some mold had contaminated one of the cultures. He noticed this and also noticed that the bacteria had not grown on the contaminated specimen. He famously remarked, “That’s funny.” The discovery of penicillin was both a happy accident and the result of further studies by other scientists building on Fleming’s work.
“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” So declares the psalmist to God in his prayer. Imagine believing that you are fearfully and wonderfully made in a culture that objectifies you, enslaves you, oppresses you, tries to define or limits you, targets your race or your status, belittles your importance, or antagonizes your orientation or gender identity. Can you imagine how freeing it would be to understand in your very bones that your mold is God’s glory? Can you trust that God does not abandon God’s creation and that God will see this thing thru with you, and not against you? Can you imagine a God whose thoughts are so vast and so weighty that a jar of spilled applesauce is seen as a Divine opportunity for transformation, a happy accident among other happy accidents that does not ultimately define you or determine your worth but might ultimately save you?
If you can come close to imagining such for just a few minutes today, then you have a taste of the peace that the psalmist has uncovered in his prayer. If you can come close to imagining such and practicing such a belief, then you might come to the conclusion that you are not, and never been, an accident, but part of the intentional trajectory of a holy and Divine consciousness acting within a broken world.
 Michael Schreiner, “The Need to Be Understood, April 22, 2015, https://evolutioncounseling.com/the-need-to-be-understood/