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Quantum Leaps


The best discoveries are the discoveries made by accident, the things you did not set out to find, but found anyway. The five dollar bill tucked in between the pages of the book you picked up to read. The charming little boutique around the corner from where you really intended to go. The best discoveries are those that instead of your finding them, they find you. You just stumble on something, and it gives you joy.


The scientists have coined a phrase for this: quantum leaps. If you are into physics, you know that this has something to do with energized molecules and emitting energy. Let’s not bog down in that. But the scientists use the phrase “quantum leap” to remind us that sometimes we make very fast progress. Sometimes we don’t just discover some little something; sometimes we discover something very big, something very important. Sometimes we make a huge advance. That’s a quantum leap. And it may happen by accident. Sometimes scientists will stumble, they will make a mistake; but it gives them a quantum leap, a major advance.


I’m told that Alexander Fleming, for example, made a mistake in his laboratory. Some of the wrong material got into his little culture dish. But out of that mistake Fleming discovered the curative powers of penicillin. That’s stumbling into a quantum leap.


I read not long ago about the development of radar. Here in Washington, along the Anacostia River, some Navy scientists were trying to send radio signals over to Virginia, but found that their signals were bouncing back instead of getting across the river. Somebody just happened to look out of the window and saw a ship in the way; they figured out that big, dense things like ships send back radio signals. And that led them to think about how they could use radio signals to find big, dense things on purpose. Radar: stumbling into a quantum leap.


Maybe you’ve had this happen to you. I have, quite literally. My wife tells me that I have this habit, when I walk, of not watching where my feet are going. She says I have my head in the clouds (and I admit that’s true whenever she is reciting the honey-do list); I admit that I have my eyes so firmly fixed on where I’m going and what I intend to do next, that I don’t watch where my feet go down.


So one Wednesday afternoon I was coming home, with one hand carrying my brief case, and the other hand carrying a potted plant (that’s what it’s like to be married to a member of the Building and Grounds Committee) rehearsing what I was going to do in Bible study that night .. and, because I was not watching where my 9 1/2 D’s were going, I stumbled and fell, and great was the fall thereof. Papers flew out of the briefcase; potting soil dribbled from the flowers; Bible verses streamed out of my mouth (you know, something like, “Jesus wept”). It was a disaster. I had really stumbled.


But, as I leaned over the edge of the porch to pick up my papers and recover my dignity, what to my wondering eyes should appear but some moldy old mail, mail that clearly had been down on the ground behind a bush for a number of days. It must have dropped from the postman’s hands as he was trying to put it in the mailbox. And when I looked at that mail, what did I find but a tax refund check! Moldy and wet but negotiable just the same! I had stumbled, yes. But I had stumbled into something wonderful. I had stumbled into a quantum leap, a big step forward for my bank account.


The best discoveries are those made by accident. The things you did not set out to find, but found anyway. The blessings you got not because you went looking for them, and certainly not because you deserve them, but just because they happen. The best discoveries are those that instead of your finding them, they find you. You just stumble on them. And, in fact, it is the stumbling itself that brings you to the good thing. It is the mistake itself, if you acknowledge it and deal with it, that offers you the leap.


Let me say it in a spiritual way: when we sin, when we mess up, if we admit it and repent of it, then God has an opportunity to bless us. Our stumbling can become a quantum leap. But if we are afraid to make mistakes; or, when we make them, if we are too proud to admit them; we will never get anywhere, we will never leap, we will never experience the joy God wants to give us. You have to stumble...and acknowledge it, repent from it...before you will do a quantum leap.


From a sermon by Joseph Smith, "Stumbling Into a Quantum Leap" 8/3/2008

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