Believing

Humans are natural believers but the things we choose to believe in vary radically: Exercise, Love, Money, Science, B vitamins, Power, God, Not-God, Red Meat, Medicine, Herbs, Famous People, even Wishes made on Falling Stars. The propensity to believe makes us vulnerable to being duped. And often, instead of being open or skeptical, we act as if loyalty to a belief is a virtue. It’s humiliating and painful to be wrong, so we ferociously defend what we believe in.

“And yet…” The Creative Force woven into all things seen and unseen jigs into view decked out as a troupe of Finnish dancers raising money for the war.

“Hello, God,” I say, waving. I clap to the beat as The Troupe does synchronous high kicks and fancy footwork. At intermission, they link elbows, pass the hat, and fly away. I assumed they were Finnish, but there’s an Irish feel in the remaining air.

What makes something Finnish or Irish or Nigerian? Who’s in? Who’s out? No matter how glittery or damning, all the fine distinctions are temporary. Driven by beliefs, such dichotomous thinking can cause great suffering. It’s deadly to believe rather than inquire. We overlook the still, small path that leads us alongside the unknown and unknowable.

“That path is narrow and dangerous,” God warns in the strained voices of those who’ve fallen away. “Unknowing isn’t safe.”

“It’s safer than pretending,” I say. “Safer than being certain something is true when it might not be.”

“And are you certain of that?” God teases in a thousand laughing voices. I laugh, too. I admire these courageous, vague expressions of the God Who’s Fallen Away. They don’t name themselves God, but I do.

“This may seem obvious,” God says. “But I need neither definition nor defense.”

“I beg to differ,” I argue. “What about the least of you?”

There’s a tall woman in a Russian prison, a short man beaten senseless, a desperate woman forced to be a mother, flood and fire victims, prisons burgeoning, the rich getting richer as the poor sink further into despair.

“Ah, I see what you mean,” God agrees. “But definition? Defenses? These won’t help. Justice. Mercy. Lives laid down, not weapons raised up. Wealth distributed, not hoarded.”

“Much harder,” I say in a sad voice. “Nearly impossible.”

And again, God agrees and without further ado, fades into the nightly news.

Why not admit I know nothing but do something outlandishly braver regardless? I ask myself as I get ready for bed. May as well take a few risks. You’re going to die either way.

This may not be the best way to fall asleep, but it’s an excellent way to wake up.

Plagues, Pestilence, Fire, and Greed

Image credit: Aljazeera

It is terribly tempting to detach from the news. But I can’t. Protests, fires, floods, torture, gun accumulations, fascists, pandemics, stupidity, war, rape, riots, starvation—these are where the weakest live and die, where misery is chronic, where God makes her home—on the precipice of annihilation.

“I have to let them suffer,” God says as she darkens the room. “There is no other way to show you your failings. No other way to challenge you forward. But I die with them. Every single mangled body. Every single last breath. Each rotten, contorted act of injustice. I’m right there.”

“Yeah?” I say, feeling nauseated and furious. “Yeah? And are you there with the bomber? The shooter? The choke-holder? The fire-starter? The pompous politicians? The filthy rich?”

“Honey, you know I am,” God says in an imploring voice. “I know you’re angry, but you know I am.” And God’s right. I do know. That’s why I pray and swear my way through the sickening news. But it makes me crazy.

If God fully materialized, I’d punch her lights out. I’d go down swinging. If her ears were visible, I’d give her an earful. I’d look her straight in the eye and tell her she’s a failure. I might even reach for her heart, intending to pull it out and examine it with my angular fingers and ever-diminishing vision. But luckily for both of us, she’s staying safely out of reach.

“Honey, I’ve forgiven you,” she says. “And the polite thing to do would be to forgive me back.”

Forgive God for this lousy short existence? For the nightly exposure to the sufferings she could end? Forgive God for what’s happened to people enslaved, burned alive? Women abused? Children starved or beaten to death? Forgive God for the explosive human ego and the fanatical fears that are wiping us out?

“Forgiveness is an act of faith,” God says.

“Stop it,” I say to God. “You’re God. You can do whatever you damn well want.”

“I know that,” God says. “I’m fire and water. I’m beauty, compassion, blood, and guts. I’m beyond and under, alongside and within. And you need to try a little harder. You have to forgive yourself. And me. And carry on. You need to believe against the odds it will come out okay.”

“I can’t,” I say. “It won’t.

“You can,” God says. “It will.”

“I won’t,” I say.

“You will,” God says. “Like I said, forgiveness is an act of faith. And I believe in you.”