The Luck of the Amish

Botanist wrote:

That’s interesting, Saloma. I’ve not heard of the superstitions regarding knives/scissors, birds, or thunder before, but all the others are familiar and I think very widespread. They are certainly common superstitions in Britain, and clearly not unique to the Amish.

What intrigues me, though, is to ask how the concept of “luck” squares with religion. It always seems to me that people with deeply-held religious beliefs ascribe events, good or bad, to the will of God. Superstition as a whole seems to be incompatible with faith in God. Has that ever struck you as a contradiction?

Very interesting question, Botanist. I’ve been thinking about this ever since you posed it. I don’t think there is an easy answer to this, but I am going to answer it from the point of view of how I thought of it as an Amish person and how I think of it now. 

I believed in the Amish concept that God had ordained our lives, but if I dropped a knife and the sharp end stuck into the floor, I saw that as a “sign” of what was to come. So, I saw this as a portend of what was going to happen, not the reason why it happened. So to me, a sign of good luck was the same as saying God had something good in store for me, while a sign of bad luck meant I had a trial ahead of me. 

Philosophers have for a long time debated whether free will actually exists. We certainly like to believe it does, otherwise we would feel pretty powerless. However, if we take the will of God to the extreme, is there such a thing as free will? I would like to believe that there is a balance between exercising our free will and submitting it to Divine Guidance. But I still look for “signs” along my way. When I witness a beautiful rainbow in the heavens, hear birdsong in the morning as I awake, or witness spring bursting forth after a long winter, it is like God smiling down. It makes me feel pretty lucky… even just to be alive. 

Readers, how would you answer this question? Is superstition incompatible with faith in God? How do you think luck squares with religion?

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6 thoughts on “The Luck of the Amish”

  1. I think the balance between free will and God’s plans for us can be compared to sewing. Give three women the same pattern, set them loose in a fabric store, and you will have dresses which seem to have nothing in common, but they are all cut from the same pattern.

    I always felt God wanted me to be a teacher, but it took a while for me to figure out that it wasn’t math He had in mind, it was history and creative writing. Same pattern, different fabric.

    As for luck, it may be a case of recognizing God’s intentions. I don’t mean finding a $5 on the sidewalk, but – as in my case – being “lucky” enough to have a job I love, and somebody else being unfortunate to work someplace they loath. Exercise your free will to walk out, and see what sort of “lick” God puts in front of you.

    Here endeth the sermon!

  2. As it happens, our people (Amish) see no problem with mixing superstition with their practice of religion. They quite frankly see no conflict with being Amish and getting guidance from sources we consider “unchristian”. Their belief is in a mysterious God who cannot be known. All such guidance is often believed by many to be from God. Because they have a very shallow Bible knowledge, they would be surprised to learn that “English” people find these practices questionable.

  3. Many thanks for posting an answer, Saloma. It certainly makes sense to me that people would see “signs” as being some kind of hint as to what’s in store for them, in the way you described.

  4. I think superstitions are interesting but really should have no place within the life of a Christian whose trust is in the Lord. You can’t really do both. God would rather direct your attention to his Book than to 4 leaf clovers and carrying rabbit’s feet…or avoiding black cats!

    I, too, enjoy the rainbows, sunrises and sunsets and the wildlife that God has provided. I also like finding 4 leaf clovers and feel “lucky” when I find them … just like finding the $5 dollars! I don’t think every little event like that is planned out by God ahead of time. However, I feel incredibly blessed (not lucky!) to be alive and sometimes I think he has provided specific scenes just for me. I get a little possessive especially of MY sunrises and sunsets and have been known to be surprised when someone will say, “Did you see that sunset last night?” and I think, “Oh, you mean the one God gave ME?” Of course I don’t say it and I suppose it is a little childish of me, but … :-)

    Saloma, I finished your book the other night. It was so well written I almost couldn’t put it down! I’ve read the excerpts from your new book with David and hope it picks up right where this one left off. It will have a much happier tone, I’m sure, though I have to say that considering the problems you and your family faced the tone of this first book was really not as somber as I thought it would be; You developed such insight coping with all of the wrongdoings and this must have helped you understand your psych classes in college!

    That you can be tenderhearted towards your family and former community shows how deep God’s love really goes (when it and you are allowed to blossom and grow!)

  5. Enjoyed this conversation very much. It leads me to another question. Do you recall conversations that you would call “theological” in nature such as free will, eternal salvation, etc.? Or was most of the conversation among the Amish about practical matters–weather, crops, family, church issues? Were men or women more likely to engage in philosophical musings–or was this practice actively discouraged by community norms?

  6. I believe in free will and that god gave us this opportunity for good and bad. That is the reason we seem to be so prone to mess up our lives the way we do. I think god gives us hints where to go and we sometimes notice this and follows and sometimes notice and still choose to do something completely different. Sometimes we also do not notice the signs we were given mainly because is somewhere else than it should be at the moment. I see free will as a general test of mankind and a gift.

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