Happy Birthday, Serendipity

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February 2, 2013 by Pastor Ben McIntire


The word, “serendipity” turned 259 years old this week. I bet this landmark date passed you by unawares. It would have for me too, but luckily I heard about it on Writer’s Almanac. You can listen to the podcast here: http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/www_publicradio/tools/media_player/popup.php?name=writers_almanac/2013/01/twa_20130128_64

The following comes from Writer’s Almanac:

On Jan 28, 1754 the word “serendipity” was coined in a letter by writer and parliament member, Horace Walpole, to an English friend. Walpole wrote that he came up with the word after a fairy tale he read, called “The Three Princes of Serendip,” explaining, “as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” Serendip is the Persian word for the island nation of Sri Lanka.

The invention of many wonderful things have been attributed to “serendipity,” including Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Charles Goodyear’s vulcanization of rubber, inkjet printers, Silly Putty, the Slinky, and chocolate chip cookies. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin after he left for vacation without disinfecting some of his petri dishes filled with bacteria cultures; when he got back to his lab, he found that the penicillium mold had killed the bacteria. Viagra had been developed to treat hypertension and angina pectoris; it didn’t do such a good job at these things, researchers found during the first phase of clinical trials, but it was good for something else. The principles of radioactivity, X-rays, and infrared radiation were all found when researchers were looking for something else.

Serendipity is defined as the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. The surgeon and medical man, Julius Comroe said, “Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.”

I loved this segment, which is why I’m sharing it again in this post. Etymology has always fascinated me, and the history behind “serendipity” was not only interesting, but also surprising to me. The last definition I want to share comes from the “Serendipity Bible,” published by Zondervan. “Serendipity is what happens when two or three get together and share their lives and the Holy Spirit does something beautiful when you least expect it.”

Few things open our eyes to the work of the Holy Spirit as serendipity does. But maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised… As St. Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”


Heavenly Father, thank you for all the amazing and wonderful things that have happened to me in my life that have made me the person I am. Help me remember to praise you with a grateful heart each and every day.  Amen


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Pastor Ben is now a post-bacc student at University of Nebraska-Omaha, taking pre-med classes and working as an ER medical scribe and science tutor.

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