Sunday, April 18, 2010

The spice of life

I keep three spices on the table at all times in small dishes I made for the purpose. Spices bring out the flavors of food but taken alone they are very strong. I like cracked pepper, and although I know that freshly ground pepper is always better, having it ready in a dish on the dinner table is easier. But I like it course so that I can taste the pepper. I have at least one if not two kinds of sea salt. I prefer the gray, moist version from the French coast but it is pricey so I usually default to kosher salt. And red pepper flakes are a must in this house. I love hot spice. I even learned to put hot pepper flakes in my peanut butter when I was living in Haiti. There they call it mamba peekay and it is wonderful on hot toast.

Once, when in front of a bunch of kids doing a children's sermon, I had to explain theodicy (why bad things happen when God could stop them.) The children's eyes were big and trusting and expectant. Kids know something is up. They know bad things can happen. They just want honest answers.

Now, I admit that if I were in charge, bad things would not happen, but then people would not be free to do whatever they wanted to either. It is one or the other; freedom or sinlessness. Bad things mostly happen on earth because of big and small evils done by humans. And like the wind currents which can change on the other side of the world because of a butterfly's wings flapping in this hemisphere, so too the evils which occur in Sudan are linked to my buying prepared food. Here I am being lazy and rich but the effect over there is that children starve. The two actions, when multiplied around the billions of people in the world, are magnified.

I do not believe in Evil. I only believe in evils. Evil sets God up as some sick watcher at a human game of death. But evils, those are the little choices we make - very small - seemingly inconsequential - which add up and hurt people.

When the children asked me why there is so much sadness and badness in the world, I admitted that I did not know. Any other answer they would have figured out to be a lie. But what I could say, and still can say, is that the pain and sadness I experience in life at the hands of others does get transformed by God into strength ; into a depth and a strange kind of shadows which raise the good of life into greater relief if and when I have eyes to see it.

In other words, pain and sadness and loss and grief are not pleasant when taken all at once but they do add something to life which would be missing without them. I think without them we would all be as spiritually shallow as your average rain puddle. And our spiritual depth connects us to God and helps us act with better choices. It is all designed for our becoming better and better with each generation.

Pain is like spice. Take a spoonful of nutmeg into your mouth and the taste is strong, gritty, earthy and bitter. But place that same spoon of nutmeg into some stewed apples and the apples change into something entirely different and quite delicious. Then taste the apples without the nutmeg and they seem dull.

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