Journal entry 2003? 2004?
B grew up Jewish and vegetarian in a cattle-ranching, German-Lutheran town somewhere in Texas, with a mother who ‘flip-flopped between belief and non-belief. So one year there’d be a God, the next year none.’ She remembers resenting this. I try and imagine what that experience must be like for a child. Now you see Her/Him/It. Now you don’t. Some people believe God created the world in seven days. But how many days I wonder, does it take for some people to ‘create’ God?
And B? Long story short: ‘Years later here I am and having grown up the way I did, I find myself searching for-’ she pauses, glows earnest and sheepish,–‘a place to be spiritual in.’
Writing Exercise 2008 modeled on Rick Moody’s Boys (employ a simple action, repetitively, and use it to convey much more than the action)
A Woman Turns to God (a fictional scrap on flip-flopping between belief and non belief)
A woman turns to God, a woman turns to God. A woman turns to the idea of God (powerful, shifting, periodically forgotten and recalled). A woman once a child, taught to place palm against palm shut her eyes bow her head, turns to God. World dips in and out of view, namaste a play on peek-a-boo, a woman turns and smiles: I see you. Tight black braids in ribbons, tongue-tied by visitors, prodded into prayer, a performance piece for parents and a pantheon (three hundred and thirty million gods to choose from) the loose end of a sari flutters as a woman turns to God. Memories of a girl’s long red skirt, border shot through in gold, wondering if temple idols in their splendid silks understand English, chants in an intricate language she does not know. Ancient words like polished marbles roll off the tongue, gleaming like doorknobs trailing like vines. She is the Magician’s Assistant muttering a mantra under her breath, capable of causing lightening to tear across a sunburned sky, turning tap water into holy milk, and a failing grade to a first. What you don’t understand is what makes anything possible.
And a woman waking to the shrill cry of the bell on the milkman’s bicycle turns to God. A woman haggling over the price of bottle gourd and papaya with a street vendor on her doorstep turns to God. A woman carrying gratitude like a clumsy bundle of firewood (blessings are bought this way) turns to God, offers thanks for whitewashed home, gentle husband, healthy children, college degree, gold bangles and red banana tree. Lamp-lit stories at grandmother’s knee of a divine monkey who mistook the sun for a ripe mango tries to rip it from the sky, an exiled prince in hermit’s bark , a roguish cowherd who plays the flute, lifts a mountain to shield a village from the driving rain, dances on the hood of a serpent, smiles at death. The pixie dust of myth and legend settles as a woman turns to God preoccupied with more domestic stories absent-minded devotion a daily custom with long-term benefits (like brushing your teeth).
But on a waiting-for-the-monsoon Wednesday in October, a woman grates fresh ginger into her tea, turns to God, with quiet recklessness questions for the first time what good this mode of interaction does either of them. For almost a week a woman dizzy with daring, elated and curious, does not turn to God. A woman smiles at her husband rendered freshly boyish by the barber and does not turn to God. Loses her silver toe-ring, finds a trickle of ants in the sugar jar, gossips over the garden wall with her neighbor, a woman hums an old film song, spends a few foolish moments in front of a mirror, listens for three whistles of the rice cooker, loudly scolds the sheepish, slightly deaf hung-over (again) dhobi not once, not once ever turning to God. Until on the sixtieth night watching her youngest child asleep, a woman fills predictably with fierce tenderness and unaccountable fear of a nameless future, turns to God.
A woman newly fragile turns to God, rising with mild repentance and an updated agenda, makes an offering of coconut (to be cracked on the stone slab of a shrine by a priest), a garland of jasmine and soft pink country roses (to be draped around the shoulders of a dark-skinned deity), three tablets of camphor (that will flame in the smoky chamber after she is gone). A woman turns to God wonders briefly why the insides of churches are so still and quiet and the insides of temples are not. A woman turning leans unwittingly into the old paradox of peace within circumstances of barefoot, vermilion-smeared, incense-scented, brass-bell-ringing chaos. Deep in the belly of a temple a woman turns, knows in her bones to prepare for push-comes-to-shove reverence as pilgrims press forward to snatch a glimpse of God. Thin priest inches through with his flaming plate as a woman on tiptoe turns to God. Cupped palms drop softly clinking coins, stretch towards the light, press transferred warmth and comfort to closed eyes. Feels the envelope of an invisible presence, the stirrings of an old familiar knowing that thought cannot reach, reason cannot unseat. Warm air thickens with mingled motivations, ordinary mortal yearning and the riddled timeless burning of one woman’s baffled turning, yet once more, to God.