Monday, May 24, 2004

Transcendental Etude V

She was idling at a traffic light on her way home from work. She'd never quite managed to wake up that day, and bedtime was fast approaching. The brief alertness that had followed her third cup of coffee had long since faded, and her brain was idling at an even lower rpm than her Honda. NPR was droning on, washing over her like the rain that had fallen intermittantly all afternoon. Dull, dull, dull. What was the Buddhist phrase ? Sloth and torpor. The hindrance of the hour.

Something, suddenly, caught her eye -- a bumper sticker, plastered below the window of the minivan in front of her. One of those iconic yellow smiley faces -- the perfect circle, the two blank eyes, the broad, lipless grin -- was ogling her through her windshield. Beside the message:

Smile ! God loves you.

She cringed. Was this the wife of I (heart) Jesus man driving the kids to evening Bible study ? She'd had a strange dream the night before: on the high and grimy window sill above her bathtub were two pure white china statues, Christ and Mary, and three white votive candles.

She'd related the dream to her husband.

"I don't know, PT, are you sure you're not going to become born again ?"

"No, of course not."

"You didn't say no quickly enough."

"No ! I can't stand that pentecostal stuff."

"Then some kind of Catholic."

"No. I couldn't be Catholic. I hate their ideas about sex and gender."

"A Jew, then," he persisted, invoking his own never-firmly-embraced and now-long-abandoned tradition.

"Well," she ventured, finding herself in safely hypothetical theological terrain, "What would you do if I did become a Jew ?"

"I'd be weirded out," he replied, chuckling and walking away.

The light changed, and she followed the grinning icon -- :) -- through the intersection. "God loves you" was one of those unassailable theological givens that just did not compute. Never mind the byzantine algebra of "Jesus died for your sins." What was she doing in church anyway when something so basic seemed incomprehensible ?

Was she the apple of His eye ?

Did she live beneath the shadow of His wing ?

She liked the psalmist's metaphors. Apple of His eye: Love as gaze, as distance, as look-but-don't-touch. Not, significantly, apple of His mouth, which, like most terrestrial "love," would simply be a version of hunger. And wing -- hadn't she seen a goose and her brood on the riverbank just days ago, a half dozen yellow downy gosling jostling for space quite literally under her wings ? A different type of terrestrial love. Maternal, altruistic. But still biological. But the psalm reads shadow of His wing -- again, love-at-a-distance.

But, it suddenly struck her, isn't "love" itself, as a characteristic of God, a metaphor ?

And, if so, for what ? She re-read the text.

God loves you.

Metaphor, or, perhaps, simply a part of speech, a bit of grammar. An ambiguous copulative.

The minvan took a right at the next light. She turned left, envisioning a line of purely apophatic theological bumperstickers. Like the one that did and did not grace her own theological bumper.

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