I’m the sort of shunned Unfortunate who will do a double-take at a patch of wet sidewalk on the way in to the office and spin off into a cosmological reverie. This morning as I crossed the mighty University Campus en route to my fabric-covered veal stall (office) I found myself brought up short. Like Richard Dreyfuss mesmerized at dinner by a meaning-laden pile of mashed potatoes, I was momentarily stupefied by this patch of moistened cement before I realized what it called to mind and snapped a picture with my battered Dumbphone.
Is our Beloved Father a kindly giant on a cloud or a toothy Lovecraftian squid-thing tearing horrifically through a hole in space-time? This may not be the Question for our Age but it ought to be. Here’s another; does Love have anything to do with this mess at all? Opinions abound and many of them bore. Bromides are everywhere and God is said to be synonymous with birds, trees, flowers, and people who overpay at yard sales.
Well. My daughter flirts with your son and my squeezed heart spins on its axis. In 1955 my mother exits the house in a Donna Reed skirt and Rosalind Russell shades, inclining her head and offering a smirk of happy reproof to the besotted cameraman (now vanished) as she walks briskly to a Pontiac the size of a speedboat. Emily waves riotously to me from the open window of her passing car on the way to the sun-dappled senior parking lot (goodbye little girl!), my dying grandfather, in 1968, bobs his long hand and wrist at me from under the sheet and says “Billy”. Which Billy? In my 8-year-old frame did he see my older brother Bill (the apple of his eye) or his own son, my uncle Bill? Little Nicky averts his beautiful eyes and looks at the floor with his bashful secret smile of yet-undefinable love. Sammy awkwardly doffs his handsome head in greeting a stranger. My father-in-law bursts without warning into hot tears and rough embraces when we tell him we’ll marry. Why all this glory? There must be a dynamo somewhere. Our stammering and groping for sense and meaning would seem to rise above mere evolutionary expedience.
The calming pastoral approach to apprehending the ‘Mind of God’ is a counter-intuitive non-starter, though persons I adore, with intellects more varied and robust than my own, adopt and proselytize that view with inarguable and lovingly turned outreach. I respect but can’t personally feel it. I wish I could. The Universe is a cool 455 degrees below zero (we’re assured), is opening with increasing speed like an untellably monstrous umbrella, and is thought to have burst with instantaneous, reality-filling fire and mayhem from an infinitesimally tiny pinprick whose predecessor was literally Nothing At All. This mad batshit does not, to my mind, conjure a prose poet dreamily contemplating a daffodil. God may indeed dwell in a blade of grass, but in that case He is a disappointing minimum-wage God with a winged heart stamped just above His ass. These earthbound Hallmark cards we send to ourselves are confounding, our utter inability to contain our surroundings manifesting as teddy bears and slippers. We make of our insane and gorgeous and inexplicable Reality a model of demure comfort as frail and without imagination as a Kajagoogoo song. God is in the sunlight and trees. Be Nice to the Neighbors and by the way Stop Enviably Gawping at their New Lawn Mower (suitably, the very last Commandment). Really? The sacred penetrating mystery message from the vast gusty reaches of endless time has arrived and might as well have come from the corner grocer; an adorably handmade, curiously human, impossibly convenient and stultifyingly flat message from space.
The nightmare of rotating machinery, boiling nebulous bedlam and flesh-annihilating Absolute Zero of space is an unlikely crucible for the sort of summer-lawn gazing spirituality it is thought to have engendered. And neither does all the fiery galactic mayhem dovetail with the ministrations of a gentle, parable-murmuring woodworker in burlap, spreading his warm-milk message of neighborly love. Though He did pique my interest when He sent that gang of pigs over the cliff. I don’t need lightning and thunder but I do need something that is at least vaguely commensurate with the scalding strangeness of the inner and outer worlds. The idea of 5,000 years worth of sages exhorting us to be nice to each other? It sort of enrages me.
A dear and enlightened friend recently went on a pilgrimage to India, the better to apprehend, in that milieu of spiritual antiquity and very relaxed cows, an ancient animating principle. In the midst of a maddened throng of celebrants and pilgrims bathing in the sacred Ganges river he immersed himself in the reportedly putrid waters, partaking laudably of a very old ritual. The Ganges is considered sacred all along its considerable length and is incidentally a terribly polluted cesspool into which bodies and other dissolving whatnot are dumped on their way to the hereafter. He had moments before seen an infant corpse drift by on the currents. But he was determined to have the experience. At the moment of sacred dunking he plugged all the facial and cranial orifi he could reasonably manage in order to prevent what a westerner might call sewage from entering his body. Later his forensically imaginative sibling pointed out that even with the head-holes plugged, intrepid Hindu gut-igniting paramecia would surely attempt to crawl like union miners up the pee hole and thence into the previously complacent First World innards. This fear has by now been put to rest. One can only admire such brave and far-flung baptismal efforts to understand the bigger picture. It’s also good to be reminded that while we higher beings strive to see the face of God, His mischief-making Creation can usually be found trying to burrow into and sicken us. Life is a many-splendored thing.
Something is out there. We huddle with friends by lamplight, raise toasts and laugh to the murmur of nearby traffic. In warm company on the hallowed Matt and Viv sundeck we stare breezily at the evening stars, the nearby lighthouse sweeping the cliff-hugging mansions with its nimble little beam, and we wonder by what odd accident, in the middle of all this cold vacuum, we have earned the moment. We blaze with Love, but is love what we’re for?