Frederick Buechner, Patrick Murray, Carl Jung: Synchronicity

Frederick Buechner, Patrick Murray, Carl Jung: Synchronicity

“I remember sitting parked by the roadside once, terribly depressed and afraid about my daughter’s illness and what was going on in our family, when out of nowhere a car came along down the highway with a license plate that bore on it the one word out of all the words in the dictionary that I needed most to see exactly then. The word was TRUST. … The owner of the car turned out to be, as I’d suspected, a trust officer in a bank, and not long ago he found out where I lived and one afternoon brought me the license plate itself, which sits propped up on a bookshelf in my house to this day. It is rusty around the edges and a little battered, and it is also as holy a relic as I have ever seen.” —Frederick Buechner in Telling Secrets (HarperOne, 1991).


Frederick Buechner so beautifully relates this incidence of synchronicity, or coincidences, or serendipity. Many believe such an experience is an occasion when the unconscious speaks to our consciousness. How this happens is a mystery that Jung and Patrick Murray describe as “a relationship between an inner psychic experience and outer physical event.” A synchronicity is “a meaningful coincidence that contributes to one’s sense of wholeness.”

In spiritual direction, we talk about looking for times of synchronicity, the occurrence of meaningful coincidences, being aware of them and pondering them—not letting them just slip by. Patrick Murray calls these “moments of transformation, embracing us with a profound sense that life is ultimately purposeful.”

We sense a holy connection. A friend happens to call just when we needed it. We turn on the radio and hear a musical piece that brings back pleasant memories of a time we heard it when we were with a loved one or dear friend. We feel peace. There are moments like that every day if we just step out of our routine to be aware of them.

At our food pantry I usually stand in a certain place inside and talk to those coming by for food. Today we came a little late and there were people sitting outside already, just waiting for the bags filled with their orders. For some reason, I decided to go outside and greet people there. Suddenly I saw a friend I had worked with for thirty-three years, who had just lost her job. We hugged and she told me about her struggles finding another job. I saw courage and faith as I have never seen before. She had a plan and was not giving up, and she still felt very cared for by a loving God. For me, this was synchronicity—that we ran into each other and could support each other just for a few moments.

I will put this visit in the memory book of my imagination and hope to remember to be on the lookout each day for times like this—when the Holy calls us and offers to us an opportunity to share the Christ in each other.

[See Patrick Murray, “Jung’s Concept of Synchronicity,” The Haden Institute, December 2002.]