It might seem somewhat tangential to write to You about “contingency” but I often think about Thomas Merton’s transcendent epiphany as he stood at the corner of 4th and Elm in Louisville, Kentucky, and watched all the people going by in different directions. He needed to see that and to be brought up short by what it evoked in him. I need that too! I need to look at all those around me and realize my contingency upon them. I need to realize and think about the contingency of the whole world.
Contingency denotes dependence, and there never was a single person who trod this earth – in any direction – who was not dependent. To be human is to be dependent because we live in a contingent world.
If I recollect correctly one of the arguments for the existence of God is the argument from contingency – the idea being that all contingency radiates back to a non-contingent source just as, in the argument from cause and effect, effects radiate all the way back to an uncaused cause.
The fact that each one of us is a contingent effect should, when we behold from our own position those around us, make us miraculously aware of the common intertwining of the Spirit of God in our lives. To be able to see through ourselves to others: to their facial features, their hair styles, their bodily figures, gait, speed, direction, intensity, skin, clothing, disabilities, etc. and then, through them, to reflect back on ourselves – this is truly a grace-filled gift. We so seldom get passed those things that set us apart so as to be able to contemplate the contingency that draws us all together in sameness. Even to Merton it came as a surprise; and it touched him deeply.
We are not separate islands apart from the mainland of our being which is not separated from the ground of our being upon which we are contingent and upon whom we depend.