patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I’ve lost my capacity to believe in coincidences

This morning I read a bit further in Malachi, one of the last books of the Bible written before the New Testament, with the goal of launching myself into the mindset of those longing for the coming of the Messiah. I hadn’t gotten very far when my husband, who’s on a business trip in Oklahoma City, called to remind me to go by his mom’s on my way to work to drop off her Alzheimer’s medicine. 
Mamaw—as my daughters and I call her—is in the stage of the disease where, with our help and that of paid caregivers, she’s just barely able to live on her own. Kris and I share various duties relating to her care. He doses out her medicine, lunches with her daily, and checks on her in the evening; while I shop for her, keep her in fresh cornbread or biscuits (about the only thing she eats), and deal with anything of an intimate nature, such as bathing and dressing her whenever we can’t get a caregiver. And, of late, dealing with dramatically “inappropriate bathroom habits”—as the Alzheimer’s literature discreetly refers to them—that I’ll leave to your imagination.
Thus it was that what I was reading when Kris called—a passage in Malachi in which priests sniff contemptuously at God’s altar and God responds in kind by smearing the excrement of their sacrifices on their faces (1:12, 2:3)—had double resonance for me. All this talk of smearing and sniffing and excrement in the context of my grudging duty to my mother-in-law, probably the kindest and most self-sacrificing woman I’ve ever known, who now needs me to be kind to her.
I read Kris the passage and asked what he thought it meant.
“Sounds like those priests lost their trust in God,” he interpreted.
“But all this excrement smearing and sniffing. Is there some connection, do you think, between this story and your mom?”
 “No,” he said. Decisively. “It’s just a coincidence.”
Since becoming a believer, though, I’ve lost my capacity to believe in coincidences. And, indeed, there is no coincidence here.
“And you say, ‘What a burden!’” the Lord had roared earlier in the morning from the pages of Malachi into my reluctance, my finickiness. “I am not pleased with you,” the God who created me told me, “and I will accept no offering from your hands” (Malachi 1:13, 10 TNIV).
To get to longing, I see now, I, like the Israelites before me, will have to get past my contemptpast my fussy objection to bodies and odors and my self-centered notions of how things ought to beto obedience. And pity. To the sheer, desperate trust from which longing is born.


  1. I also don’t believe in coincidences anymore. It seems like in our day we have the choice of viewing every astounding circumstance as either a coincidence or the work of God. Why is God so subtle? Is that essential for faith? Is faith still faith when there is evidence? Does faith cease to be faith when the evidence becomes quantifiable? Maybe. I know that the pile of what I see as evidence - quantifiable to me and maybe unquantifiable to others - turned into a mountain when I stopped choosing to see everything as coincidence.

    Sorry that you are up to your elbows in it. Sometimes the work of God doesn’t smell sweet. Sometimes it isn’t something we enjoy doing. That you do it anyway is awesome!! Mamaw is lucky to have you.

  2. Thanks so much for the encouragement and the response! It's interesting to think that maybe having to sort things out is part of faith. I think it is, anyway--part of what Jesus says is the only work we have to do as believers: believing in the one God sent.

  3. Your lack of belief in coincidence reminded of similar sentiments Marilynne Robinson expressed in that Paris Review interview from 2008. Here's what she says:

    "Ordinary things have always seemed numinous to me. One Calvinist notion deeply implanted in me is that there are two sides to your encounter with the world. You don’t simply perceive something that is statically present, but in fact there is a visionary quality to all experience. It means something because it is addressed to you. This is the individualism that you find in Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. You can draw from perception the same way a mystic would draw from a vision."

    Maybe you will be alarmed by her Calvinism, since I think you don't place yourself in that camp, but the notions seemed similar to me. Thanks for the good thoughts.