The following is a short excerpt from The Truest Story Ever Told. It comes from the Chapter labeled Call to Adventure in reference to that phase of the Hero’s Journey.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term “synchronicity” to describe coincidental events that on the surface have no explainable connection but seem to relate to some deeper reality. The following are some examples. You go to a bookstore and for no reason pick up a book, flip randomly to a page and see an answer to a question that you had been asking yourself when you walked into the store. You experience financial difficulty, but somehow money for basic living expenses shows up at just the right time and the bills get paid. You think about calling a particular person to ask for advice on something important, and in the midst of your thought, the person calls you. Almost all of us have had similar experiences. They are ones when we say, “What a coincidence!”
Jung believed coincidental “acausal” events, like the ones just described, couldn’t be explained by statistics. The probabilities didn’t add up. Jung concluded that many of the experiences perceived as coincidences reflected a deeper governing dynamic at work in the world, which he labeled “the collective unconscious.” “Synchronicity” was his term for explaining that the world and our personality manifest clues that direct our attention and actions. Most of the time, we dismiss these events as mere coincidence (a statistical anomaly), but according to Jung, this can’t always result from chance. Jung thought we should give credence to connected coincidental events because they might be clues that the universe and our own subconscious were working together to get our attention and to move us in a new direction.
In an interview shortly before his death, Joseph Campbell spoke about a similar concept by summarizing an essay by famed philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, called the “Apparent Intention of Fate of an Individual.” Campbell, speaking in the interview, said:
(Schopenhauer) points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. . . . The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. Schopenhauer concluded that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature. 1
What Schopenhauer labeled “fate,” what Jung labeled “synchronicity” and what Campbell labeled “consciousness,” I label “God’s activity in his creation,” which he initiates through the work of his Holy Spirit. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes: “The spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Rom 8:26 NIV) Even when we don’t know what we want or what is best for us, when we don’t even know what we should be praying for, “The Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”(Rom 8:27 NIV)
Even skeptics like Schopenhauer and Jung noticed that sometimes there seems to be an intention for what is happening in our lives. Events that seem random and unconnected may, in fact, be important and formative turning points. The Call to Adventure is constantly revealing itself, begging us to cooperate with the “single dreamer.” Some calls are hard to miss; others emerge through a trail of coincidental events and chance meetings. Some come as a manifestation of a deep desire, and some come out of disappointment. But the Hero has a choice—to heed the call to Adventure or not. God is always moving in the world, and his eyes “range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chron 16:9 NIV) Everyone gets the call but not everyone answers.