The girl on counter duty at the Black and Decker place, where I'd left my hedge trimmer to be fixed, shot me an apologetic look and said "Sorry to keep you waiting," but it was hardly her fault. There was only the one of her--the others were out back, unloading a shipment--and three customers to look after, and the phone kept ringing. She was doing the best she could. I was in no particular hurry, and besides I was happily coveting just about everything in sight.
I can pass any clothing store, untempted. Shoe shopping leaves me cold. Books and CDs are a different matter; I have to manage a serious addiction, there. I love the smell of hardware or stationery store and can spend hours happily wandering the aisles, and the local grocery store is both my meditation joint and the locus of much of my social life.
But I also have a deep instinctual Thing for power tools, and this store was packed with them: jigsaws, circular saws, routers, drills, power hammers, bits for screwdriver sets, socket wrench sets. I entirely understand why some guys really love these things. There's something so very fetching about those cute sets of drill bits... There was a really neat looking orbital sander, on sale, 40% off, ooohhh.... Sadly and out of long experience, I kept my wallet to myself. These delightful things are for others, not for me. Sigh.
I never learned carpentry or woodworking; I have tried now and again to do something simple--the last project was trying to build a screen window for my office. But in carpentry, you do have to know what you're doing; there are certain crucial skills, like mitering a corner, that you have to have a fairly secure hold on. Same goes for cooking, most forms of needlework, gardening, plumbing, electrical work, and auto mechanics. I'm pretty good at the first two of these, but my ignorance of the others is abysmal. I got as far (with the screen) as putting together a frame, gluing and nailing the mitered corners--but nothing went together quite right, and wood filler wouldn't fix the problems. So the failed frame lurks in a corner of the garage, giving me the guilts every time I see it.
It is both scary and something of a relief to know that there are other areas in which no one's really an expert and you have to wing it. Childrearing, for example: the experts argue back and forth about the details, but really you do have to go on love and gut instinct, because no two kids are quite alike and what's ideal for Jenny may be a poor idea for Jack. Parenting requires an awful lot of painful discernment and any good parent will tell you that it's mostly trial and error. Get a bunch of the best parents you know together, and they'll agree that they don't think they have a clue about what they're doing.
Likewise the search for God. You can read all the theology you please, you can study the Early Fathers, you can memorize whole stretches of Scripture, but you still won't ever get it completely right. And this I find comforting. I know that I can slip easily into one small heresy or another--we all do! I can concentrate on the love of God to the exclusion of God's justice, or vice versa. I can stress Jesus' humanity at the expense of his divinity, or the other way around. I can pick out this bit or that of Scripture and elevate it above all others, all too often for the purpose of bashing other people. I can over-adore Mary or Paul or under-regard them. So much of this God business is a matter of paradox, of holding two apparently opposite things in mind at the same time, and given our limitations and our desire for simple black-and-white certainty, that's a difficult thing to do.
But at the same time, this God business is so simple that a small child could grasp it. Love God and the other guy, aim to be kind and patient, don't puff yourself up, look after those in need, take more of an interest in your own imperfections than in other people's, trust in God for tomorrow's needs, be joyful--these directives aren't exactly rocket science. You could probably get a group of five-year-olds to come up with them, if you asked them to say what God really wants.
We make it so hard for ourselves and others. Those of us who don't have the letters after our names keep thinking there's something we should be studying, that our perceptions can't be trusted--that that small voice in the corner of the soul, the voice that speaks comfort to us, must be a figment of our imagination, because who am I that God should speak to me? And those of us who do have the letters after our names sometimes make it all so complicated: using weird words like eschatology or parousia or metanoia, writing convoluted treatises and agonized exegeses, until we've tied ourselves in knots and frightened the onlookers.
But finding God is only a matter of saying "Where are you? I want you." For God lies close around us, close as the air, and yet unknowable: far larger and more glorious than we can, in this life, begin to imagine. God wants us: never forget that. And God accepts us; as our creator, God knows what limited critters we are. With all our immaturities and stupidities--but also with all our gifts and achievements--we are most completely seen and most completely loved.
The best and most brilliant of theologians, the greatest of saints, the most eminent churchpersons are only children, like us: maybe I'm a four-year-old and Thomas Aquinas is a six-year-old, but none of us is truly grownup, none of us has our God-business all together, and certainly none of us has a stranglehold on Truth. Even Paul said so: "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."
It's comforting, knowing that I can be, and inevitably will be, wrong about God; it's one place where I don't have to be knowledgeable and competent. Being all thumbs at carpentry is (in carpentry terms) the same as being a failure; but understanding what klutzes we are about God is a strange form of success. For the foolishness of God is so much greater than the wisdom of even the wisest of us, and God's acceptance of our foolishness is so tender, so gentle, so kind, that we can lie back in it as safely as a child in its mother's arms.
The girl finally got everything under control and fetched my hedge trimmer from the back of the store. It was still under warranty. No charge.