The University Bookman


Fall 2015

Are Chance Acquaintances Providential Acquaintances?


Russell Kirk

Nowadays the idea of Providence is out of fashion. Yet I venture to affirm that men and women will come to believe once more in divine providence: that is, to believe that there exists a power greater than human, directing our lives in mysterious ways.

Sometimes the friends—or the enemies—we make seem to have been introduced to us by providential intervention in the routine of our lives. Some small seeming chance brings us in touch with people who influence us, for good or ill, ever after. But was it chance that brought about the meeting? May it not have been that our nature was seeking; and that a beneficent providence answered that call—or that a retributory providence “gave unto them their hearts’ desire, and bent the iron into their souls withal”?

Recently there died a gentlemen and a scholar who might have written a good book on the idea of providence, but never found the time: Canon B. A. Smith, Treasurer of York Minster. I believe it was providence, rather than chance, that led me to him, and made us friends.

In the ancient city of York, Roman before it was English, stands the little medieval church of St. Martin-cum-Gregory; and twenty years ago, toward evening, I viewed the old stained glass in that church—and, on departing, inadvertently left my walking stick in the church porch. The next day I wrote to the rector of the grander church of Holy Trinity, Micklegate, in whose charge St. Martin-cum-Gregory was, to ask if my stick had been found and if it might be kept for me until I should pass through York again.

What induced me to enter the forgotten little church of St. Martin-cum-Gregory? Why was I so absent-minded as to leave my stick in the porch? What impulse prompted Basil Smith to ask me in for tea? How was it that many times I went out of my way to call at the rectory or at Precentor’s Close, though my home was 4,000 miles distant from York? Not chance, I maintain: providence was at work.

Having laid up in Heaven the treasure that never was his upon earth, Basil Smith is at rest now; and if any man deserves the life eternal, his soul does. If something good survives into the age that is dawning, it will have been men like Smith who passed on to a very different society the wisdom of our ancestors.

Why we fall in with vessels for honor, or with vessels for dishonor, is a mystery. Whatever we seek, it appears, we succeed in finding. “And if thy light be darkness, how great shall be that darkness!” There exists no such being, I suspect, as the “self-made man.” A power more than human makes us what we become.

God has given to man the power to know good and evil—and to choose. Once we have chosen—even though unconsciously—providence begins to work upon us. Things are put in our way; doors are opened; and whether we walk in, or whether we turn back from the threshold, depends upon your will and mine. 

Posted: November 8, 2015 in To the Point.

Did you see this one? book cover

The Problem of Democratic Individualism
Peter Augustine Lawler
Volume 28, Number 3 (Spring 1988)

Imagination rules the world.

Russell Kirk


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