Monday Over Coffee: "Looking for the Scintilla"

Published November 14, 2022 by Greg Funderburk

scin-til-la (noun): a tiny trace or spark of a specified quality or feeling.

Scintilla. Simply the way the word sounds conveys a measure of its meaning. It's wispy, ephemeral, glancing. A scintilla of evidence. A scintilla of doubt. Perhaps it's not even present. You have to look very closely. Maybe even squint a little. You have to attend to the circumstances very closely intently to detect that tiny trace, that spark. Even then it might not be there. Look again. Maybe it is.

The first time I heard this word was in law school. The professors who lectured to us, the judicial opinions we read, the whole epistemological philosophy we were being asked to undertake, encouraged us to embrace this word. To ask questions like, "Is there a scintilla of factual evidence in the record to support the proposition at hand? Is it there? Or is it not?" The whole approach reinforced the idea I'd heard before—that one doesn't actually have to become a lawyer to benefit from such an education because it immerses one, not in what to think, but in an overall way of thinking. One that rewards close examination. One that helps to spot issues that might ordinarily be missed and then to articulate the possibilities around them. The whole project is designed, with rigor and precision, to hone one's aptitude to detect and attend those "hard-to-spot-unless-you're-looking-for-them" things that might prompt even more questions, more investigation, more inquiry—all in service to discovering the truth of the matter at hand.

The Israeli Defense Force has a practice called The Tenth Man. It's been explained to me like this: When strategizing and planning—even if everyone in the room agrees on a certain path or policy—the playbook of the organization dictates that someone present in the room step up and argue the other side, advocating with all the intellectual firepower they can bring to bear on the matter against the policy. This requirement, even if it doesn't change the proposed course of action, effectively surfaces issues that might not otherwise be considered, bringing attention to obscure or hidden possibilities that might've been overlooked, vetting the policy more fully, and ensuring that the decision is not merely the product of momentum, peer pressure, or groupthink. Just as a law school education is to an individual, the Tenth Main practice is to an organization. It's all about broadening, expanding, and focusing one's vision on what's really there, so that the scintilla—the trace, the glimmer of something more, something else—won't be missed.

Do you have something like this for your faith? An approach? A practice that attunes you to what's really there so that you don't miss something? I've given some thought to what is perhaps a fanciful theory, but it touches closely to this idea, this notion, this word scintilla.

Here's the theory: What if maybe, just maybe, God is speaking, revealing the Divine to us in all sorts of ways all the time, but we're just not quite hearing or seeing them. That is, we can't quite make out these always present, ongoing revelations because we're just not looking and listening closely and critically enough. What if we're set up, in a sense, on the wrong frequency? What if the prescription we're using for our vision, for our "divine detector," has just gotten a click or two off. My theory goes on to imagine that one day we'll see our lives like one of those movies where, near the end of the film, in a sort of montage, a number of previous scenes are rolled back and shown again from a subtly different perspective. We'll then pick up on these scintillas, these traces, these artifacts of God as having been right there all along—clearly detectable had we been attending our circumstances a little more closely. In retrospect, we won't believe we missed all of them.

Approaching each day sensitive to the winsome if not whimsical idea that God is actually broadcasting to us in a lively way all the time might spark our imagination, our minds, our hearts—catalyzing, reanimating, reigniting, and replenishing our souls—in just the way we need right now. Look for a scintilla of God right before you today. Then attend it. Fully vet the possibility. Let it prompt more questions, more investigation, more inquiry. It might well lead to the discovery of more and more of the truth about the matter at hand.

God — Today, I ask for that spark—the capability, the vision, the radar—to detect a scintilla of the Divine right before me. Amen.

— Greg Funderburk