The Sock Bag

I forget who gave me the small green cloth bag--I think perhaps it came with a bottle of wine in it, a Christmas gift some years ago?--but now it hangs on the back of a wooden chair next to the sofa in the sitting kitchen. Each time I do laundry, I put the unmated socks in the bag, and then periodically I turn out the lonesome ones and see if I can do some matchmaking. On rare and fantabulous occasions, pair after pair after pair emerge from the sock pile, to be rolled into balls and tossed into, or at least near, the appropriate laundry baskets, with only one or two socks left unmatched--I've never managed to get rid of all of them. Today I ended up with four pairs and six loose socks--about average. One of the six had the heel so badly out that I balled the thing up and gave it to a cat to kill.

Of course everyone makes jokes about the Sock Monster who eats only one of a pair. Myself, I tend to think that those missing socks haven't vanished; they are likely still incorporate somewhere, although I may not find them until we sell this house and move elsewhere. I know this because I have glanced under my children's beds and emerged, still sane but badly shaken, feeling that perhaps there are some mysteries best left unaddressed, at least until the kids leave home.

Nonetheless, the sock problem does remind me not to put too great a reliance on the ultimate solvability of all problems. We are no more in possession of all the facts about God and life and things than I am in possession of all the socks hereabouts. The more we insist that we've got God taped, the wronger we are and the worse we tend to behave.

In fact, we can't even satisfactorily prove that God exists at all. For every argument we bring about the apparent beauty and harmony of the universe, some trenchant atheist can counter with horrors and disorders. This religion stuff might be mass hysteria, after all. The human mind has a remarkable capacity for self-deception, especially when it's in one's own best interests to be deceived. It may be, as some claim, that there really is nothing out there but a great honkin' void, no meaning to anything but what we fools read into it. Maybe God really is like the Sock Monster, a convenient fiction invented to explain the inexplicable.

May be. I can't claim to know otherwise. God is something I have to take on faith, ultimately.

What I do know, however--and this has been tolerably well established by independent research, too--is that believing in God is much, much better for human beings than any of the alternatives. I have tried both belief and non-belief (or, more aptly, non-interest) and I speak from experience. Turning away from God led me down some extremely interesting paths, each and every one of them fetching up in a bramble patch. Believing in God, on the other hand, has been the single most fruitful thing in my life. If God is indeed nothing more than a Sock Monster, he/she/it/them is (are) an extraordinarily productive, health-conferring and positive Sock Monster.

Moreover, behaving as though God is real and really matters--which is not quite the same thing as believing in God--tends to make a large and wholly positive difference in real life. It helps with the bad stuff. It smooths out all those horrible issues of unpunished wrong and forgiveness if you really do believe in God's loving justice. Truly believing in God's love is what a wounded person most needs for healing. Having faith in Providence's providence lets a person let go of fearfulness and the need to control, to be free to live fully in this day.

So what's the trick? If the God-benefits are so hot, why isn't everyone falling into church?

Because while faith at its best is childlike, actually practicing Christianity requires a level of adulthood that most of us would much rather not aspire to. It requires qualities like patience, fortitude, endurance, unselfishness that are currently very much out of style. It courts accusations of geekdom and uncoolness. It calls on a person not to do what comes naturally, but often to do the exact opposite. It brings greater and greater compassionate awareness of all the pain in the world. And while it's good for the soul, Christianity is very tough on the ego--and that *hurts*. It's one of those paradoxes that mark any grown-up religion worth its salt: that while God comes free--perfectly free, no obligation, the greatest of gifts--following God does not. In fact, it may cost us everything we've got.

No Sock Monster godlet is worth what we pay for it. We give worth-ship to all sorts of pseudo-Gods, and they give back nothing to speak of, or nothing at all, or the gifts turn out to be carnival trash, immediately glitzy but stuffed with sawdust. There is only one God who can give us the deeper gifts that our souls really crave: healing, real nourishment, forgiveness, mercy, peace, love. And that God is God.

Obviously there are happy, contented well-balanced complete atheists out there, just as their are good church-going people whose psyches are like something turned up from under a rock. But since the matter is undecided, I think I'll stick with faith. It does get easier with practice, I find, and it brings a growing contentment.

As for the Sock Monster--well, sooner or later I suppose I'd better throw out the socks that have been hanging around unmatched for a month or two. There's no better way of finding their mates.

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 14 Oct 2000
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