“Oh Jesus, give me strength to clean this floor,” she muttered, for what may well have been the millionth time in her seemingly miserable life.
The first job I ever held, when I was in my teens, was feeding cattle at the neighbors ranch. The place was owned by two spinsters, a mother and daughter, and though the ranch had once thrived, by the time I was hired, the twenty odd head of cattle that lingered there had become more pets than livestock.
So, for a few dollars a day, I was more then happy to make the daily quarter-mile trek from our property to their feed barn. There, I would climb up into the dark loft, break up bales of hay, and kick them down into the feed-trough below. When the noise of impatient bellows was replaced by the steady crunch of contented chewing, I would slip down the ladder and past the distracted bovine throng.
For several years the routine was the same. Come rain, snow, or blazing summer heat, I’d make my way across acres of tall grass, steer clear of the rocks where snakes sometimes liked to hide, up the steep hill, past the mob of oversized quadrupeds who would start to bellow and crowd the moment I came into sight, and then after maybe fifteen minutes in the barn, it was “home again home again jiggety-jig.”
Once every couple weeks I’d have to make the trip earlier in the day, while the herd was out roaming, away from the barn. My task, on these occasions, was to scrape as much cow-shit out of the barn as possible. Those were the days when I really earned my money.
Later, as the health of the elder of my two employers declined, they moved out of the old ranch house that sat next to the barn, and into a little apartment in town. With a dollar bump to my weekly wage, I agreed to make a daily stop in their house, to feed and water the cats which had stayed there in their absence, and to make sure everything inside was in good order.
Thinking back on it now, I think maybe they just didn’t trust the house keeper they’d hired to keep the place tidy in their absence.
And I really couldn’t blame them. She seemed a grousing old woman, always complaining and doing as little actual work as she could manage.
Actually, I don’t think she was really that old, not in actual years, but she seemed positively geriatric in spirit. A dark cloud seemed to follow her, wherever she went, and on those days when our visits coincided, I sometimes thought I’d rather be outside shoveling crap, than inside listening to it.
She’d mutter, “Sweet Jesus, give me strength to dust these shelves!”
And on another day, “Help me wash these dishes, Jesus Lord.”
I wondered, sometimes, why she needed aid from Jesus for every little thing she did.
And on one occasion, I did my ‘wondering’ out loud.
“ ‘Cause mister, we ain’t nothing without Jesus. Nothing!”
Her angry reply sounded so very wrong to my young ears, though I could not have told you exactly why.
I knew little about this woman, aside from the few minutes a week during which our paths crossed. I can’t know what hardships she may have suffered. And I don’t know if she experienced any victories in her life, but if she did, I think they were precious few.
Yet even if she had accomplished something, what of it? She was, by her own testimony, “nothing without Jesus”. Anything good that came out of her life, anything at all, was only (in her eyes) due to the intervention of her God.
No wonder she seemed so broken to me, so very unhappy. I don’t understand how people can live their lives believing that they will never accomplish anything except through the grace of some outside force.
What an unhappy, self-defeating philosophy – and I see it daily.
I come across so many people, who attribute every good thing that happens to them, every trivial task accomplished, and every moment that passes without personal calamity, to the intercession of their supreme being. It has been my understanding that the term “personal savior” had less to do with helping the Christian faithful to avoid falling into open manholes while walking down the street, and more to do with redemption from the taint of ‘original sin’. In retrospect, it would seem that I have been misinformed.
It is sometimes hard for me to believe that we have advanced so far, with such a large segment of our population embracing this idea, even in its less extreme manifestations. And then, I look around at the chaos brewing just under the surface, and the underlying despair of an entire culture seems painfully clear.
“We ain’t nothing without Jesus.”
No ma’am, someone told you a lie.
We are great.
We are creatures of power and strength.
We do not achieve by the grace of God, but rather we strengthen our bonds with them through our own accomplishments, however small.
If, by way of example, the words I write and speak should move you to joy or anger or even curiosity, than I have borne my own small share of a gods great duty. Oghma, who my ancestors called the Eloquent, the Honey-Mouthed, and the Shaper of Letters, will share his burden, his gift, with any who find pleasure in a carefully crafted turn of phrase. I do not beg for his aid. I need not cry out for his attention. He will not come to me, yet I need only form my words with care and I will be in his presence, I will have entered into his house.
Our lives are filled with the presence of the gods.
When we work, when we join each other in games, when we open our doors to a neighbor, when we care for the sick, when we plant and harvest and teach and learn, when we love and make love, when we share news and tell stories, when we age, and finally, when we die – in everything that we do, the gods are there with us. We wander among them constantly, and whether we carry a sword, pencil, hammer or broom, even without knowing their names, we are doing their work.
We are FAR from powerless. We are not puppets through which another agency acts.
Those lies have been a burden and hinderance on our culture for far too long.
I see the shadow of this belief even among my fellow Pagans. How often I have read in some online forum, words of despair and frustration because the gods have not shown themselves to some seeker. “Other people say that they hear the gods or see them, but no matter how much I pray, or how many rituals I attend, nothing ever happens for me!”
And maybe that’s because you’re doing it wrong.
Do you make friends in the mortal world by sitting in a darkened room and muttering over a candle that you picked up in the clearance bin at Pier 1? No, you do it by meeting people with common interests while taking part in activities related to those interests. Why then, should it be any different with the divine?
Our gods, the real gods, exist, I think, as much in action as they do intent.
If we stop looking so hard for the gods and start doing their work, the great deeds and the small, we may just discover that they’ve been with us all along.
The effort, along with its success or failure, is ours to make.
Don’t squander it, and never beg.