Incidental Findings
Kit Novotny
Young Adult Minister


My mom had her appendix removed last week. It didn’t burst like Madeline’s in Miss Clavel’s boarding school. Instead, something was discovered during a routine procedure that the doctors didn’t like the looks of, and they decided it was better out than in. Medical professionals call such discoveries “incidental findings,” and they’re becoming increasingly common as advancements in technology give us more thorough glimpses into that previously invisible country of our internal bodies. Maybe you have your own such story — a diagnosis or close call in your circle that may have otherwise festered unseen. Late last year, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was being treated for broken ribs following a fall, it was an incidental finding that caught two cancerous nodules in her lung and likely saved her life.

So do we call these findings luck or grace or what? I don’t believe in an easy understanding of an interventionist God who chooses some patients to spare and others to smite. But of course I’m grateful to God for the scans and specialists and surgical team who have taken such good care of my dear mom (not to mention RBG). And I can’t help but think about the power of that phrase “incidental findings.” Not only in medicine but in life’s many facets, so many meaningful discoveries seem to arise not on purpose or by design but by accident of circumstance, the grace of uncanny coincidence found on the way somewhere else. 

When people share their spiritual journeys, or recount stories of the great loves of their lives — romantic, friendship, or vocational — I’m struck by the almost whimsical happenstance of so many turns of fate. Just as we are busy doing or worrying about something else entirely, God sweeps in.

Perhaps spiritual practices — like gathering together as Church weekly, like keeping a holy Lent — are a kind of preventive spiritual care. When we regularly attend to the wellness of our souls, that invisible internal landscape, we may find ourselves transforming elements that need changing even before symptoms of spiritual estrangement blossom into severity. And when we dip into sacred text, or float in the still waters of meditation, or enter the space carved out by fasting from routine, God draws us in surprising directions... to an encounter that needs forgiveness, an old wound that needs healing, a new adventure calling our name.

As we gather in small groups this Lent to envision together the core values and direction our church is being called to, I hope there will be many “incidental findings”: intergenerational relationships that would not have flourished otherwise, dreams and schemes that catch on each other’s energy by whimsical happenstance, unexpected healing moments that just might save a life.

Blessings as we begin Lent.