The refrain of the old hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” claims that “morning by morning, new mercies I see.” The Biblical reference is Isaiah 50:4, which reads, “Morning by morning, He wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”
Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread and tells us that God’s care extends to tiny birds: ”Are not two sparrows sold for a penny. And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father.”
There is a fair amount of incrementalism in the Bible.
Most of us remember what we were doing on momentous days in history. The older we are, the more likely we are to remember Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. We may have some recollections of our graduations and significant birthdays. Yet we don’t ascribe later changes to those particular dates.
“The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell tells us that things change when 11 percent of people start seeing things differently. I’m always interested in change and intrigued by changes when they do occur.
I’ve recently discovered another African proverb: “Simple people, doing small things, in places of little importance, achieve extraordinary changes.” Along those same lines, I came across one of the U-B’s “Thought for Today” items: “Choose your corner, pick away at it carefully, intensely and to the best of your ability, and that way, you might change the wold.” — Charles Eames, American designer.
As I’ve been thinking about how change happens slowly, a book I have not read, but whose reviews have intrigued me reminded me of the same thing. The book is entitled the “Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elizabeth Tova Bailey. At 34, in the midst of a vigorous life, Bailey was laid low by a virus. To cheer her, a friend brought a pot of violets. A snail shared the pot, and was hungry. Bailey fed it a wilted flower. She could hear it eating. When the snail was moved to a terrarium more like its natural habitat, it began to lay eggs. The author might be the first person to record a snail tending its eggs. The reviewer said: “This beautiful little book will not only make snail lovers of its readers, it will make them appreciate the small things in life.”
I find it enormously helpful to consider that examples cited are “no big deal” in some ways, and yet they are what cause real change. We’re not even aware that minute changes are taking place within us. We become aware of those only in retrospect. We change over time, whether or we plan on it or not. When we desire change, we can become impatient if that change is not instantaneous. Yet, like a seed planted, which eventually breaks through the earth and continues on to become what was there along, change occurs.
I have heard that the sandals worn by ancient Greeks had a small candleholder in front of the toes so one could walk safely at night because the wearer could see the step ahead. That was the only step the wearer could see, but it was enough.
So through meditation, reading spiritual literature, and taking time to just consider, we are helped to become the persons God would have us be. Conscious choices through small-scale endeavors can help us grow into people seeking to use our gifts for the betterment of the world. And it’s all so little.
The Rev. Dorothy Price Knudson is retired from active ministry in the Presbyterian Church, but still preaches regularly at Congregational and Presbyterian churches in the Eastern Oregon Presbytery. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.