The fields were going past the windows. Half melted, half frozen, dark plowed soil, clotted with snow and spiked with stubble. The sun was shining on it all.
“Can you answer a question- honestly?”
My week long visit home had been a blur of social visits and playing with the little kids, and my mom going back and forth in the background, keeping everyone up and running. The day before I left I had volunteered to go on a grocery run with her. So that she and I would get to visit. We had talked about stress and the holidays and the friction between her and my sisters, who are still living at home.
She had told me I shouldn’t have low self-esteem and shouldn’t avoid people out of fear of offending them.
This sounded serious.
Not that those other things aren’t serious.
I hesitated then said something that sounded polite, but neither confirmed or denied anything. I hope. I don’t quite remember.
“How is your faith? I mean… how far are you along…” She hesitated, trying to make it not sound bad. ‘How close are you to apostasy?’ was what she was trying to say, and she eventually said some thing like that.
“I want to know so that I can pray” she finished.
The fields went by for a long time. Our house is a long ways off from any place that sells in bulk.
“I have a lot of questions” I finally said. “I think that if this is all true- answers must exist.”
“But are you looking for answers? Or are you waiting for God to reveal himself?”
This is a trick question. There’s a verse somewhere. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your path.” It was a memory verse she had taught us when I was young. The idea (as we? I? then understood it) was that if you try to figure things out by yourself it is the result of evil self will; pride, that first and most fundamental sin.
Adam and Eve tried to figure things out by themselves. They were cursed and damned by a righteous God. They and all their descendants were condemned to death and eternal torture. The innocent animals and all their descendants were condemned to death as well, so terrible was that crime. Like a werewolf falling under the light of the moon, friendly flowers were wracked by the hideous transformation into thorns. Entropy began. The stars started to cool and burn out.
But if you wait for God, then eventually he will give/show you what you need. Like when our Aunt decided to sell her car but not advertise in the paper or tell anyone she knew, but then a week later a guy walked up out of the blue and offered to buy it. Or when our Aunt decided to become a missionary in England (that horrible hell of darkness and suffering, ungraced and innocent of the slightest knowledge of Christianity) and then after living there fifteen years someone proposed to her and she got to have a baby and be a mother and that is what she had really wanted all along. Or how every time our dad made a little more money than we actually needed to survive, something would break or go wrong and we would need the money to fix it, because God only gives you things when you need them.
I thought about this for a while.
“I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.” I said finally.
After all. How can God reveal Himself to you if you aren’t looking already yourself? If you weren’t already looking for Him yourself, you might think that all this evidence of Him was actually evidence of something else. Like human intuition. Or pure chance.
(And whatever happened to, ‘pray to God, and keep your powder dry’, anyway?)
“How do you pray? What do you pray about?”
The phone rang. One of my sisters needed to know something, and only Mom could answer. When the call finished, she reoriented herself, and the conversation went on.
“I pray… dear God- please don’t let me crash this car!”
I do pray like this sometimes. Praying is a deeply ingrained response for me, and when I’m frightened, I pray without consciously reflecting or deciding to do so. I didn’t mention the fact that my instinctive prayers are now followed by lectures to God on why he really ought to be less imaginary and less evil. Or by cussing myself out for having asked an abusive genocidal maniac for help. Maybe that part doesn’t matter so much. She asked me what I was praying about, not what I think about the fact that I’m praying.
“Hm… foxhole prayers. That’s good. Not crashing is good.” she said meditatively, her eyes on the road. “But do you pray about your questions?
This time, even more fields went by.
My throat felt creaky.
“I used to pray so much… so intensely…” I looked out the window “I feel like…”
A verse, something about praying on street corners and pagans using many words flew through my mind, and was immediately canceled out by a verse about an unjust judge and a widow. But I have to say something. Why not the truth?
“I feel like he either heard me then, or he was never really listening in the first place.”
“What did you pray about so intensely, back then?”
Pages swim before my eyes. Swathes of lined notebook paper, swarming with words. All of them, I had written. “Dear God- please, change my heart. Please, make me want to want you. Please, make me want to love you. Please make me into the kind of person who will follow you. Please- let me find you in the end.”
Over and over.
“Well. To know God. To find him”
“Do you think you have?”
How does one say yes? That, yes, you found your long lost God. And you found out he’s a myth. A dream. A Nightmare.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you read your Bible?”
Yes. For the purposes of research. To see if God is really as creepy as my memories of him now make him out to be. To try and piece together where the delusions end and reality begins.
“But do you read it academically? Or do you get anything else from it? Does God speak to you through the text?”
Do tears of rage and shame and long silences of despair count? I try to read as academically as possible now.
I don’t really know how to spin that.
“Well… do you believe that Aunt and Grandma Speak in Tongues? Or do you believe they’re just making up sounds?”
“No… I don’t really. But there was this one time with your Aunt. She and I were praying together, and she saw visions while we were praying. Things I hadn’t told her I was worrying about because they didn’t seem important, but they were important… she went on to tell the story. It was a part of our family’s history that I had heard about in other contexts, a time when she had been very uncertain of herself. “…and the pictures she saw that she described to me were exactly what I was worrying about. ”
So… Aunt is a Psion? I suppose that explains the car thing.
“While we were praying, God must have plucked those thoughts up out of my heart and just plunked them down in hers!” She paused and got a little quieter. “That, for me, gives credence to some of the… crazier parts… of Aunt’s spirituality. Things I am too proud for.”
Well that was like a bottle rocket going off in a trash can. So my Aunt could possibly have gotten in to Hogwarts (that or else she’s just massively intuitive). And my mom- who had eight children on the salary of her mechanic husband because she believed there was nothing a person is justified in refusing God… has things’s she’s too proud to do? And my mom believes its pride to refuse to fake spiritual manifestations that she doesn’t actually experience… not integrity? Or is she really only refusing in order to avoid social embarrassment and not because its a lie? And if so- what were her actual reasons for having all these kids? She suffered a lot of social embarrassment over that. Or did she simply word it that way as a tribute to her sister’s dedication to a certain way of life, without actually believing that its right to fake stuff?
Not as grandiose as God Being Dead. But still.
“Reading the Bible is hard for me to describe. I don’t know what part is God and what is my own reaction… what is spiritual and what is simply psychology…”
She seemed to accept that. I don’t remember how the conversation ended. It seemed to end on good note- a much better note than I thought it would when she asked me if I could be honest.
I don’t know what to think about the fact that I didn’t tell the full truth. Was it wrong? Should I have told, and just let the chips fall where they may? If I had forced my parents to deal with my difference of belief and opinion, would it be easier for them to consider other view points in general?
Or would they have kindly… lovingly… prayerfully have cut me off?
Would I be allowed to see my little sister again?
Or would I be abandoning her to a Nightmare God?
I suppose I will tell everything, eventually. When there is less at stake. But not today.
We pulled up in the driveway and hop out. We’re Home.
We live in cities you’ll never see on screen
Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things
Living in ruins of the palace within my dreams
And you know, we’re on each other’s team.
I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air, so there
So all the cups got broke shards beneath our feet but it wasn’t my fault
And everyone’s competing for a love they won’t receive…
Dancin’ around the lies we tell
Dancin’ around big eyes as well
Even the comatose they don’t dance and tell