“Small Things Matter”
The European adventurers who sailed across the Atlantic in the 15th and 16th centuries discovered a new hemisphere. But on April 24, 1676, Anton von Leeuwenhoek, without leaving home in the Netherlands, discovered a whole new world.
Leeuwenhoek’s innate curiosity went far beyond the fabrics he peddled as a cloth merchant. One of his hobbies was grinding lenses. He created the microscope-then a scientific novelty- that could magnify objects 266 times. He was curious about the tiny things invisible to the naked eye. He saw tiny creatures swimming in the water under his microscope. Hundreds and thousands of them. For the first time in human history, human eyes gazed upon the microscopic universe in which we live, move and have our being.
Within a few years, Leeuwenhoek had identified bacteria, and mold spores, and red blood cells. A few drops of pond water he learned hosted a microscopic metropolis of strange creatures-‘we beasties” he called them. Some of his friends thought he had lost his mind.
What do we learn from Leeuwenhoek’s story? Some of our most important discoveries happen when we aren’t looking for them. They are serendipities. That word comes from The Three Princes of Serendip, a Persian folk tale that dates back more than a thousand years. Three young men experience one happy adventure after another, even though they’re always hoping for something else.
You may be hoping for the healing of a nagging illness and may be in the process of praying and working for that result. But God surprises you. You receive the serendipity of faith you never thought you could have. Or perhaps the gift of courage and patience. Or maybe even the discovery that your life can still be complete without that healing.
Leeuwenhoek also helped us begin to understand in a way that no one had ever suspected, that small things matter a great deal. Human beings typically assume that big things deserve big attention. That was represented in the history of art into the Middle Ages. If someone was identified as being theologically or morally superior, that character dominated the canvas, all out of proportion to lesser figures. Suddenly the world awoke to the reality that a great deal of God’s creation cannot even be seen-and those entities may well turn out to be either important allies or serious adversaries.
Jesus had much to say about the dignity of small things. According to Matthew 13:3, life in God’s kingdom typically begins with something as small as a mustard seed which ultimately grows into a plant where birds can nest. That means our relationship with God is likely to rise and fall on little steps, little decisions, and little acts of kindness to which one might hardly pay attention.
In a world that has an outsized fascination with big celebrities, big corporate mergers, and big voices, small things make all the difference in the world. In the memorable words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, “We may not be able to do great things. But we can all do great things with great love.”
Anton von Leeuwenhoek would be the first to say that small things are a very big deal, indeed.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain