MAKING BEDS TO LIE UPON
My two sons, Peter and David, when much smaller than they are now slept in great ugly bunks, designed by an idiot, and placed, when we were in Skipton Rectory, in a room too small to enable the bunks to be anything but against a wall. This meant that making their bed was a difficult task for them.
Incidentally the Rectory too was designed, in my opinion, by an idiot, because its front door was opposite the loo, and so Jehovah's Witnesses, salesmen and anyone else one preferred to deal with at the front door rather than invite inside, were able to observe the exits and the entrances of family members to "the white tiled cabin everyone calls home", unless they were modest enough to remain enthroned until the coast was clear.
Once a week the boys were let off making their bunks because of sheet-change day, and Margaret, my wife, made them, with my help, unless I had got wind of what she was up to and so had fled to visit the hospital, to feign holiness in the chapel or to skulk in my office over a religious tome or the `Spectator', so avoiding the knuckle-bruising task.
The job of making those bunks was a thousand times worse than it might have been because we nearly always had the help of little Elizabeth and Rachel, who smoothed sheets and blankets for us, jumped on top of them to unsmooth what had been smoothed, tore at each other's hair over possession of a pillow-case and screamed when trodden on under a blanket by Mum or desperate Dad, who for all the feminists' insistence that men are made for this sort of thing has his doubts. He suspects that to be out and about archetypal male pastimes like hunting, tearing enemies to bits in war, chasing bulls through wild bush, is a great deal more natural, soothing and soul-satisfying.
As Margaret and I were at this desperate chore one day, our eyes meeting across the top bunk, the two girls bouncing on the newly-made bottom one, I suggested that in allowing our two daughters to help us make beds we were not unlike God, who allows mankind to help him in the making of the world. (Some wives have their husbands whisper sweet nothings to them, mine, poor girl, has to suffer sweet sermons). Our frustration at having the beds more messed than made by our eager, chortling, fighting helpers, must surely, I opined, be a little echo of the Divine frustration at having the whole world messed up more than made, by the eager, chortling, fighting helpers that constitute mankind.
I warmed to my theme. The potential for good, glory, peace and harmony in creation and in human society is staggering and boundless, and yet, because God has placed this potential in our hands, we have the Balkans, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia; we have back-stabbing and puerile bickering in parliaments; we have adultery, divorce, broken homes and hearts everywhere and anywhere.
Inspite of the miracle-mongering sects that seem so to thrive in suburbia and who peddle their simplistic faith-packages from door to door and over television, God's way with the world is to let it be itself, and to let us be ourselves. God influences and guides discreetly, through natural cause and effect, not by suspending natural laws, by mind-boggling miracles, by direct and obvious manipulation and intervention. Thus it requires faith to see God's influence and guidance and providential presence in his world.
Elizabeth and Rachel forget Mum and Dad, when with furious concentration they make the boys' bunks. They imagine that they do the job unaided. Then they catch a glimpse of the providential hand smoothing behind them and look up to see a smiling mother's face.
So too, perhaps, it is with mankind. We get on with the business of life, masters of our own destiny, makers of our own bed to lie upon, cocksure that all is in our own hands, all is up to us. Until, in the middle of the mess we make of life, we have an intimation of the Divine, or begin to suspect pattern, purpose and meaning, and so look up.
We are then full-face to God, which is conversion. It is the beginning of a long, lovely journey learning to work with God not in spite of him or even against him
Andrew Neaum 1995