The Art of Finding God in the Details

The devil is in the details. We’ve all heard it said so often. Less frequently heard, the original formulation was that God is in the details. Both are true!

How? Why is it details can be sources of sacred insight and wisdom, yet also sources of hellish frustration? How can even the same details be absurd picayune minutiae sometimes, and fascinating particulars at other times?

According to some wisdom traditions, details are the very things which we are meant to rise above. And yet, according to others, they are the very things into which people should immerse themselves, if they hope to discover genuine wisdom.

The answer comes down to two words: perspective and personal connection. When dealing with details causes a disconnected feeling (a loss of perspective), they become hellish distractions from whatever it is we believe really matters. However, when we can link the details in our life to the big picture – whatever that means for us?- those details are precisely where we find God (or whatever you might mean by God).

Why is it that details can be sources of sacred insight and wisdom, yet also sources of hellish frustration?

For example: You’ve woken up early to make sandwiches for the kids who forgot, again, to do so the night before. Whether we experience God or the devil in such moments depends upon the extent to which we connect our task (spreading PB and J on bread) to the practice of unconditional love, and our willingness to forgive the kids’ lack of responsibility.

In this case, what’s true for family rituals will be equally true for everything else, from sports to spirituality. Do we have the perspective to connect life’s little details to the larger picture? If so, we know who we will find. If we aren’t in touch with that perspective, we know that answer, too.

The personal part of this is even easier: When the details are ours, truly ours, and not experienced as demands imposed upon us, we tend to think of them as good, or even Godly. Of course, when the exact same detail is seen as somebody else’s, giving it our attention can feel ridiculous. Our details are necessary, but the other guys? Can’t we just give them some OCD meds and tell them to stop worrying about the “small stuff”?

Of course, were that same “small stuff” seen as “our stuff,” it would be worth moving heaven and earth for. Whether one imagines finding the “little red guy from the hot place” or the “big guy who lives upstairs” when managing the many endless details of daily life, both phrases reflect this fact: It is in working through the details of things that we can discover a rather profound insight and wisdom?- about ourselves, about the task we’re doing, and sometimes about whomever we’re doing it with.

If we can connect to the small-scale details as a kind of work that is truly our own, linking us to our larger values or purpose, then those devilish details are where we may find God.

Yes, both God and the devil are in the details. As so often is the case, it’s up to us to decide who we find.

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