Penny Catechism
by Abbey Carter

Why am I here? Joan asked. God talked about fulfilling her nature. How could she understand, when she didnít know what her nature was supposed to be?

Now, because God visits less frequently, Joan turns to a workbook she picked up at the bookshop. Some religious education manual written for first graders by fifteen nuns named Mary. She has already tried reading the Bible, but found that required a great amount of effort.

God calls us by name, the first lesson says. Write your name in the box and decorate it with your favorite colors.

"Joan! Joan!" God had called, the night before he first appeared, the night before he started asking her to be his instrument.

It's easier to study the incomprehensible when it's spelled out as for a child.

We are here, the book says, to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him.

Joan knows that there are certain rules and guidelines, but she cannot say that she truly knows God. She knows that God will take the form of little girls and janitors and homeless men, and thinks that this could mean that God is in all of us, or possibly, that certain holy people already understand how to accept God, and that then he will occupy them.

Knowing God entails knowing people. And to truly know someone might mean learning to love them.

When God appears, Joan is usually startled. And then there is relief, the kind that comes with finding a friend in a crowd, or maybe a sturdy post to lean on. He does not give her answers, at least not overtly. But each time God approaches her, Joan finds that her anxiety is less, and that she is pleased. When God does not appear, she searches. She looks down every hallway, and scans the crowds at every street corner. Joan isn't sure if this means she misses God, or that she is paranoid. But maybe it borders on some kind of love.

God asks her to serve. She runs little divine errands, and changes those around her. When God asks a favor, she will eventually do as he wishes. This is easy to see. At least, this part of the supposed purpose for her life is being attempted. But her service is small, petty. It doesn't overflow with love, or divine knowledge. Certainly not the love shown by saints, or the clear-eyed purpose she has seen in some peaceful, steady people.

But at night, when the door to her room is closed, Joan will still hear her name as though scrambled through the branches of the big tree outside. And now she will wake, and roll out of bed, elbows and knees going in every direction. "Here I am!" she will call, just as Samuel does in the illustrated story contained in the second chapter of her new guidebook. She does not expect a response, but answering has become part of her nature.


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