Friday, August 17, 2018

the finite

Where is God? The convenient question of a creation squeezing their eyes shut in the face of Glory.
Where is God? The desperate cry of suffering beings trying to order this chaos into some semblance of a theodicy.
Where is God? Demands an honest answer. It cannot be stylish without substance.

I don’t care if truth is elegant, it must be true, I think as my gaze bores a second set of holes into the palms of the crucifix at mass, as though I am excavating specimens for testing. Is this true? This mystery of cross? Did this really happen once? Is this just a pattern which we are supposed to cut the cloth of our lives to, because it’s aesthetically appealing, and that distracts us as long as death is at bay?

I don’t want symbolic language, I want a reality I can sink my teeth into that won’t dissolve underneath my feet like sand on a stormy beach.

Where is God?

Don’t give a bullshit answer. If God’s not here and tangible, I don’t care. I don’t care. Or I can pretend I do as long as I am well-fed, successful, and busy seeking meaning for myself as an all-consuming project of self-aggrandizement. But I will eventually stop caring about a God who is not here.

Where is God?

It is easier to answer where God is not: God is not in Walgreens, and God is not at Taco Bell, and God does not work in insurance.

Why? Because these places are mundane. They are not pure, they are smudged with all the dirt of the commonplace. They are small capitalist outposts, such strange cancerous outgrowths of human society.

But I have most recently seen God in Walgreens, Taco Bell, and working in insurance.

Walgreens is nothing special, it abuts a scummy pond. But it is light. I am light. This Walgreens is Thomas Merton’s 4th and Walnut (or is it 5th and Chestnut?), and it is also transparent with divinity. It is certainly designed for people to mostly forget God—to think about the relative prices of deodorant and the dalliances of celebrities on the gossip magazines. There is a lot in Walgreens that pulls one’s thoughts away from transcendence.

But there is a cashier who smiles very sincerely, and is very earnest in ringing up your purchases correctly and instructing you on how to use the machine that reads your card. And I don’t know why I ever thought there was more to life than smiling back at him, thanking him for his help, and saying “have a good one,” on my way out the door. Perhaps there is nothing more.

Taco Bell is a freaking dumpster fire when my sister and I land there after work. The orders are all messed up, and the kitchen workers are very flustered, as they are being yelled at by a customer who is rightfully frustrated, but certainly is expressing that very eloquently or helpfully. I’m even more confused after listening to her. My sister points out it’s hard to know how to act in those situations—people on New York subways agree—you are pulled into simply watching someone’s bad behavior, and you feel rather skeezy for watching, but you don’t know what else to do. Somehow, their tantrum overtakes the room and they drag all of us into this oppressive space of ill treatment.

But then you could be the very quiet and flustered Taco Bell line worker who drops my Crunchwrap supreme and kicks it, frustrated with himself. And then makes another one, with determination making his mouth one thin line, and then hand a bag full of five extra tacos and one Crunchwrap supreme to an overjoyed and not-at-all expectant customer. FIVE EXTRA TACOS my sister and I squeal, as we leave the Taco Bell.

There is no need for gratuity to be sophisticated or gratitude erudite. Gift and generosity are abundant.

I am working at a small insurance office, and I think the woman who runs the office is the saint I’ve always wanted to be: present to her family, kind, meaningful, and good.

There is a lot of finitude—Galilee is just a subdivision on a lake full of hitchhiking young Israelis—but the people who inhabit it are infinite. And their reaching towards something never-ending seems to invite us to do the same: they hold out the face of God to us just as firmly as they offer the paper bag full of tacos, unmerited and wholly welcome.

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