Most of this month our fishing nets have been empty. But the bushes are full. Salmonberries burn ripe and red, ready to fall from our hands into our buckets. Ready to be hauled from the hills to the kitchen to the pots to the jars to our table. And some days there are fish we catch to eat. We brine and smoke them and eat them together at the table.
How does any of this happen? We did not till or plant. We did not shield or tend. We reach into hillsides and pluck from the green; we reach into oceans and pull from the blue. We come and gather and go home rejoicing, thanking God.
But not everyone does.
Early this summer, while still in Kodiak, I ran into someone at the grocery store I hadn't seen for awhile. "How you doing, Leslie?" she boomed in an inviting voice. I came closer. I never know what “Raya” is going to say, which is part of the fun.
One time, at a picnic, with my youngest in my arms, and my other five playing with the other kids, she asked me, "So, how many kids you got now?"
"This is my sixth and last."
"Ohhh!" she exclaimed with a shake of his head. "That's too many!" and then she walked away.
But Raya had other things on her mind this time. "So, how’s all this religion stuff workin’ out for ya’? I’ve read your stuff. I know what you do.”
I was doubtful on both counts. But I had no time to respond. She followed with his own spiritual resume, which included "I've never hurt anyone in my life," doing lots of good things for people, not bothering God except when she got in trouble, which wasn't very often, because she could pretty much do everything on his own. And the grand finale, "Why do people have to believe what you believe?"
I marveled that she had managed to make it through all those decades without hurting anyone. She was clearly better than me. And, she was much stronger than me. She only needed God occasionally whereas I needed God continually. Like, every minute. (Like, right now.) Clearly I was the weaker person. No wonder I’m religious and she isn’t!
This happens all over the earth, in every city and island. The sun shines on us all. The same winds blow our skiffs up water mountains. The same rain drips from our hair. And the same berries and fish fill our buckets and spill onto our tables.
And some families sit down at their table together, happy. They will bow their heads and bless the Maker of all the fish and berries. They will thank him for health. They will confess their weakness, ask for strength for the storm, for endurance for the rain. They will go to bed at night marveling at the goodness poured out upon them, undeserved.
And other families will sit down at their table, happy. They thank themselves; maybe they thank the earth, the sea, the stars. Then they eat. They are proud of their name, their dominion, their strength. They laugh at the storms, they capture the rain, they sleep well at night knowing they deserve all the goodness they can find.
I have many brave, strong friends like this. God bless them. And He does.
This is a God who grows wild grapes and blueberries in the yards of men and women who deny him. This is a God who gives children to the loveless, who heals the bodies of agnostics, who pumps the hearts of those who worship science, who fills the lungs of those who ridicule faith. This is a God who lights the night with stars, who warms our houses with sun, who lavishes his enemies with mercy, surrounds them with birthday cakes, grandchildren and feasts.
This is a God who imbues every molecule of the universe with his love, inviting us to choose Him.
It's an invitation my friend has missed----or she's refused.
And many say no. Many choose themselves over God.
But I am greedy and needy. I am small hearted and narrow minded. I want more, not less. I want the God of Everything, not the me with nothing.
So I choose Him.
After Raya's "sermon", she left, onto her next task. I like this strong blunt woman very much, but she is not the listening kind.
May God keep blessing Raya.
Maybe someday Raya will bless God.
(And, maybe someday I'll get to ask Raya, kindly, back, "Why do people have to believe what you believe?")
Friends, I know you've all had interesting encounters with people of various faiths. I'd love to hear about one of those moments from your files. (Thank you!)