I'm not pretending to know what God actually is or means--this is just the best expression I could come up with of what I currently think of God.
Words and Wordlessness
There will come a point in time, if you have not reached it already, when the words you’ve put together to contain your life will burst from internal pressure. It was just such a moment, now, for Thomas. His arms curled around his knees; he sobbed. He’d thought of calling someone—maybe his sister, or one of his close friends. But he didn’t know what he’d even say.
It was all too big, he realized. No amount of explanation would bring anyone close to understanding the immensity of it all. Nothing would fully explain the origin of the tears lightly licking his cheeks or the tremors of hyperventilation shaking through him. He’d had moments like this before. But there was something different about this one. It was the first time he couldn’t put together a complete explanation that was free of contradiction. There was no neat story-line that had brought him here. It was just too much.
And so he sat there on the floor, curled up in the space between his dresser and the door to his bedroom, releasing the wordless immensity in wordless, inward cries.
Allow me to introduce myself. I’m sure you’ve heard much about me—I don’t mean to be presumptuous, it simply happens that along with the title of “Divine Omnipotence,” most people think they know a thing or two about you. People have been labeling me for countless centuries—God, Yahweh, Shang Di, the Tao, Shiva, Kali, Krishna, Osiris, Zeus…the list goes on and on. I get quite bored of all the names, to be honest.
In fact, it might surprise you to find out that the Word Made Flesh is not much of a fan of words at all. I’m sure you’ve heard the story of when I appeared to Moses at the burning bush. He asked me what I was called, and I had no idea what he even meant. Called? In many human languages to introduce their name, people say “I call myself…” But what do you say when you’ve never called yourself anything before? It caught me off guard. Most people had simply made up names for me—but Moses actually had the decency to ask what I thought of myself.
And so I told him—No name. I simply am. Funny thing is—it just became another name. The Great I AM. Another thing to call me. Frankly, his people missed the point completely— I really wish they wouldn’t have called me anything at all.
And here, now, Thomas finally understands a small piece of what I’m talking about. How did he get here? Why was he crying on the floor? Well the simple answer was that Alecia walked out on him. Yes, Alecia, the girl with the hair like a sunset and eyes as fierce as the sky on a bright summer’s day. Alecia, the girl whose voice was like the light breeze whistling through the trees. Alecia, the messiah of Thomas’ loneliness. She left him.
But his tears were much more complicated than that. He wasn’t just crying for Alecia—he was also crying for his friend Anthony, who would perhaps never leave the hospital. And for his incurable loneliness. And for the time when he was six and hid in the bushes because he didn’t want his cousin to call him more names. And for the rejection letter he'd received from Ohio State University. And he was crying for his pathetic excuse of a job. No, it wasn’t just Alecia. It was the everything of which she was only a part.
And to be quite honest, I think she was in the right. Really—despite all those beautiful words Thomas used to describe her (the above were his, not mine—like I said, I rarely work in words), he never quite understood her. Their relationship was like that of painter and his subject, always trying to force her to be still—not out of maliciousness, but because he saw some deep beauty in her that he wanted to capture on canvas. And Alecia, dear, wild Alecia, could not be kept still.
Sure it seemed noble—he saw her beauty. He wanted to capture it—to preserve it—to keep it there for all to see. But in the end, he stifled her. And so she left. Earlier this very afternoon, she told Thomas she was leaving and not coming back. She had packed all of her important belongings into two, black suitcases, and took a taxi to the airport. She was returning to her childhood home, some small town in Oregon whose name Thomas could never quite remember. And a few hours later, his heart had finally processed what his eyes had seen and ears had heard, and his body could no longer contain the torrent of anguish it had been keeping inside for so, so long. The reservoir of pain finally outgrew the dam he’d built to keep it in. Rushing down, it became a flood of destruction.
This will be a very short story. You’ll notice that it begins at the climax, with our heroovercome. I’ll warn you that he stays there for its duration.
I’m not the one to come to if you’re looking for solutions or prescriptions. I don’t solve things. Solving is something that ought to be partitioned to the realm of eighth grade algebra classes, and stay there. Solutions occur only in the world of the fixed and the finite, where just enough manipulations can create the desired outcome. No, I don’t deal in solutions. If I had to choose a name, it would, perhaps, be Infinity.
But this is precisely why I don’t like names. I’m sure you’re familiar with the work of the artist Rene Margritte? My favorite is the large image of a pipe against a solid background, with the appellation, “this is not a pipe.” I wish that every name I was called, including “Infinity,” and every description of me, and every painting and image made of me, could be accompanied by the appellation, “this is not a God.”
Words—it always comes back to words. They were your invention, you know. The sensory world was just too much for the human mind to handle. Oh yes, you humans like to think you’re somehow special—like your ability to manipulate symbols somehow makes you better than other creatures. But I’ll tell you just what words do. They steal you away and hole you up into fantasies of your own creation, fooling you all the while into thinking that the never-never land of your descriptions are an accurate map of reality. The words you use hardly describe things—they call forth simplifications, that’s all. Just simplifications. And I’ll tell you why, try as you might, you’ve never been able to find me completely—because I am a thing that cannot be simplified. Irreducible. Absolute, even. Which is why even my current attempt to describe myself will, ultimately, fail completely.
And to be honest, that is not my intent. I hope to do no more in this short sharing than to show to you the tears of Thomas as he sat there in the corner between his dresser and his bedroom door, with his arms around his knees, rocking back and forth, and to tell you that you, like him, will reach the point where what you are is too big for the stories you tell about yourself.
Thomas was too much now. He and Alecia were a contradiction—yes, you heard me say that he stifled her. But I could give you another picture to show that it wasn’t just a one-sided stifling. Imagine the oft-repeated image of the donkey whose master is leading it on by a carrot on a string. The donkey lurches forward, always trying to catch the carrot. Alecia often knew what she was doing, and did it anyway. And Thomas saw the maliciousness, but wanted the carrot too badly to care.
Are you starting to see? I understand why Alecia left, and I don’t blame her—no one wants to be the subject of a portrait for that many years. But I can also see how pitiful it is that Thomas, after following the carrot for so long, had even its mirage stolen from him by her sudden withdrawal. And now, with no one to lead him forward, he sat bathing in the waters of his own tears.
Living waters. That’s one description of me that is apt, indeed. And think of all the things that living waters do—they pour from the sky, bringing life-granting moisture. They escape from your eyes when the pain is too much. They surge with the destructive force of tsunamis, mercilessly ripping to pieces the homes of the innocent. Living waters can do much more than quench your thirst—you can also drown.
And so I am life, love, joy, and creation, but also death, anger, vengeance, and destruction. No one name or description even comes close.
Do you see now? I’m too much for words. Once you use them, you lose me. Now, sobbing and in the depths of misery, Thomas is closer to me than he’s ever been—and I don’t say that to try to give you some false sense of comfort and joy that I’m with you always. I say that because it is the literal reality of the matter. Thomas’s stories have broken down. He’s seen the contradiction of his life. Words have become smaller than him. Words can no longer contain his reservoir, and so it spills over, entering the wider, wordless world.