God Incidents

by Joanie Butman

cloud-angelo-storari-_-ancona-italy (1).jpg

One of the biggest problems in this digital age is that people are so riveted to their devices that they miss the thrill of what Ken Nerburn refers to as a ‘blue moment’ in his book, Simple Graces, The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life. I’ve had these experiences all my life but never knew there was a name for them. I always considered them ‘God Incidents’ and still do. They are the occasions that you share with random people you may or may never see again, but for that brief period of time they provide exactly what you need at that particular moment. And it’s reciprocal in nature, though you may never know or understand the other side of the equation. I will give you a recent example. 


On my way into New York a couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with my copilot. God and I have the best conversations in the car. I’m a captive audience; and based on my blog last week, who doesn’t need a little divine guidance and protection when driving in NYC? I remember the prayer I murmured shortly before meeting a new friend, Max. I asked God, “What do you want me to do today? If there is something specific, please let me know. Please let me be a light to anyone you put in my path today.” Max was His answer delivered right to my car door.


I pulled up outside my son’s building with a table tied on the roof and a trunkful of items to unload. I looked like a modern version of the Beverly Hillbillies. Max rose from his perch on the stoop where he was enjoying his morning coffee and approached my car. “Looks like you could use some help.” Happy to have another set of hands, I offered an enthusiastic “Ya think?!” We spent the next half hour lugging and chatting. He shared that his friend had just died of cancer, and he was having a hard time. He told me about his life. I probably learned more about Max in that brief time than I know about some of my friends or relatives. As we parted, we exchanged phone numbers and hugged goodbye. Hugging a stranger in NYC may seem odd (never mind inviting him into your apartment), but people who know me won’t find that unusual. 


I texted Max early the following morning to thank him for his help and for sharing his grief with me. I added, “So many people walk around glued to their phones they miss the magic and joy of human connection, which is why I appreciated your availability, physically and mentally, on Thursday to share a magical moment with me. I prayed on the way in for God to put someone in my path that I could be a light to and He provided you to be a light to me.”

Despite the early hour, Max responded immediately,

“The calling to help you was the highlight of my month. I can’t explain it but your words really helped, and I’ll always appreciate that. I so agree about missing the magic of human connection. We may help them to remember that technology and convenience sometimes has a cost.”


Ken Nerburn suggests that we miss ‘blue moments’ because people live in fear: “We all live in fear of being judged by others while the empty space between us is waiting to be filled by a simple gesture of human caring.” That may be true, but these days I think it’s less about fear and more that people are rarely present enough in the moment to recognize or appreciate the possibility of connecting with someone face to face. You can only experience a ‘blue moment’ when you are truly alive to the world around you.


Nerburn’s moniker ‘blue moment’ seems ironic because it has such a melancholy connotation, and these moments are anything but. That’s the reason I prefer to call them ‘God Incidents.’ I also believe He orchestrates them, which is why I always come away with a skip in my step, energized, joyful and overflowing with gratitude for the gift of that moment. It is life at its purest. I meet people in that empty space every day. I can honestly say the best part of me lives in that space. There have been numerous people like Max who walked into my life momentarily and probably made a bigger impact than some I’ve known for a lifetime.

It doesn’t seem like much, but Max gave me a gift – one that came at no cost to himself except his time, attention and willingness to be vulnerable. Something too many of us aren’t willing to offer. We all hold the power to connect, but it’s only useful when we aren’t afraid to exercise it. 

I thought about what I learned:

1. The importance of choosing not to overschedule yourself to the point where you don’t have time to experience the unexpected. You miss out on some of the best life has to offer.

2. Choose to be generous with the gift of time, attention and vulnerability.

3. Choose to be open to others, and they will be open to you.

4. Choose to seek, create and treasure ‘God Incidents.’