On the first day of my recently concluded vacation, I set out with children and camper in tow from Menlo Park toward Salt Lake City, whence I was to rendezvous with my spouse, who had been spending more than a week meditating on her ancestors among the Mormons. We made a stop just outside Tahoe for some needed refreshment, and having had our hunger and thirst quenched, returned to our caravan to continue eastward. I decided to check the hook-up between the truck and the camper, just to make sure that everything was in order, and I discovered that at some point in our journey, the cable that connects the camper’s lights to the truck (thus giving them power and making them operational) had come out of its plug just below the back bumper. It had clearly dragged along the ground for a while, for the little metal fingers that allowed the cable to meet the plug had been sheered off. It would be unsafe to continue in this condition — I needed to find a new cable. Pondering this new reality, I lifted up my head and, behold, like a beacon on the hill just above where I stood, there was an auto supply store. With joy in my heart, I made the short journey up the hill and inquired at the store whether they had a replacement cable of the kind I needed. They did indeed! Initially, it did not seem to want to plug into the truck, however, and I ended up back in the store befuddled. One of the men working there came out with me to see if he could do better, and discovered what I had suspected: that the rubber bumper around the metal fingers on the new cable were causing a problem. He supplied me with a razor blade, and I was able to cut off the rubber bumper, plug in the cable, and resume my journey after perhaps a half hour’s delay. As I maneuvered back onto the highway, I felt grateful that there had been an auto parts store so close at hand, and the problem had been so easily fixed. Somewhere in my brain, a little voice said, “See, God does provide…..”
Now, calm down. I’m not suggesting that God spoke to me just then (I’m quite sure I was speaking to myself — which may be a source of concern, but let’s save that for another time). Nor do I think that God arranged for an auto parts store to be close at hand at precisely the moment I needed it. Although, it was a very convenient coincidence, and someone (I know not who) once said that “for people of faith, there is no such thing as a coincidence.”
What I’m getting at here, of course, is the deep and perhaps unsolvable mystery of what God has to do with any of us at any particular time or moment in our lives. It is tragically and painfully true that God does not conveniently provide an auto parts store close at hand every time someone needs it, nor does God provide a cure every time someone gets sick. God does not prevent bad things happening to good people, nor good things happening to bad people. Life happens, and I have faith that God is in the midst of it, but I must admit that I don’t always know how.
At the same time, when I look at how my life has unfolded to date, there does seem to be a certain shape to it. Certain patterns seem to run across it and through it. I can point to an amazing number of “convenient coincidences” that have led me to who and what and where I am today. And in that shape, those patterns and the many convenient coincidences, I perceive the presence of God — and that perception brings forth a sense of gratitude. If I am very honest, I will admit that that sense of gratitude is held alongside of a sense of “but, gee, I wish THAT hadn’t happened” which could be applied to the many mistakes, missteps and wrong turns that are also a part of my personal history. But the gratitude is greater — most of the time, anyway.
What am I grateful for, exactly? I am grateful, I guess, for the mystery of life, which includes the mystery of God and of the mysterious ways in which my life and God’s life seem to intersect. I can’t look directly at those intersections, but I catch glimpses of them out of the corner of my eye.
So a conveniently placed auto parts store elicits from me a sense of gratitude for whoever put it there and however it came to be that my need for an auto part and the presence of that store came together. And I am grateful for the fact that one of the employees of that store was kind enough to go above and beyond the call of duty to help make things work out. Whether you wish to think of it as the Miracle of the Auto Parts or the Gee, Matthew Was Lucky event, you have to marvel at the mystery of life — and give thanks that there is any mystery at all.