I often make lists of the many sins committed against me. Acts of omission or malice, blows landed, insults slung. It’s like anticomfort food. And to add to my misery, ailments regularly drape and infest my body. Some days, I hope for a temporary ceasefire between invading forces. Other days, all is lost.
“Despair is nothing new to the human condition,” God says. “But then, neither is joy.”
“Oh, you are so subtle, God.” I said with a snarl, thinking God was trying to cheer me up.
“I’m hungry,” God said. “Will you give me a scrap of food?” This was not what I’d expected, and I’d already put the breakfast things away. I ignored the request.
“I’m frightened,” God said. “I’m lonely. I’m in prison.” God looked misshapen. I backed away. He seemed deranged and dangerous.
“My village flooded. I have nothing left,” God said. I checked the locks on my doors and the passwords on my accounts.
“I’m so tired,” God said. “I walked all night.” I shook my head. God was filthy, and I’d just changed the sheets.
“My legs have been broken,” God said. “I can’t walk.” He tried to drag himself toward me, arm over arm. I turned my back and ran until I fell exhausted on rocky ground. God coalesced in the stratosphere, floated down like a feather, and circled his body around mine. My face burned with shame. “I can’t,” I said through clenched teeth and tried to kick him away. “I can’t fix you. Can’t fix all the broken places. Can’t stop coming apart. What do you want from me?”
“Oh baby,” God murmured as he rocked my resistant body. “I want joy…and maybe a bit of compassion now and then. The kind that gratitude generates. But mostly, joy.”
This seemed reasonable, but I couldn’t fend off the fog of helplessness thickening around me. It was blinding and cold. I thought this nicer, softer God would obliterate it for me, but instead, he looked worried. “Throw it off!” he said, with some urgency. “Throw it off now. Think. Where’d you hide that last bit of joy?”
“In the paint brushes,” I said, sitting up. “And that incredibly twisted driftwood. And the words. And that kiss.”
“Go,” God said. “Paint, wander, write, kiss. And be sure to light the fire. I’ve dried the kindling for you.” He pulled small sticks from under his robe.
Suddenly, more than anything, I needed to paint something purple. And gold. And forest green. But the world had grown too dark to see very well. I remembered a line from Frederick Douglass’s famous speech (What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?) It’s not light that we need, but fire. Artificial illumination would not do. I could only paint a true and joyous thing by enduring the flickering glow of fire. I took the kindling gratefully and kissed the Pathetic Old Thing on his wrinkled cheek as we turned ourselves toward the gathering storm.