If you are like me, when terrible things happen, you want understanding, and for understanding, you want words. We hear and read a lot of words that do help us understand: in news stories, in psychological profiles, in words that define political action.
But what about our gut (or we could say our heart)? For our gut, we often want a single word. “Hate” and “love” are words like that. We say them because they have a lot of weight. They carry something underneath. Another word like that is the word “God.”
I have been having an argument with that word for about two decades. It’s a sort of love/hate relationship. Maybe we as a community are ambivalent in the same way. Some use and appreciate the word and others discard it.
Some time ago I was searching for a way to use the word “God” meaningfully. Remembering that all words are symbols, I wrote a poem. I revised it for today and would like to read it.
If you would give me God,
do not give me sonorous words that call me to another world,
and do not give me marble spires that point above.
Give me the racket of the crows who complain from the nearby woods,
and give me the old pear tree in our front yard
that has lost many limbs to hard winters,
and that—most summers—suffers a strange blight that yellows and kills its leaves,
but that—for five days every May—yields a thirty foot wide revelation in white.
Do not give me timeless scriptures
so that I may pore over them in search of holy secrets.
Give me the infant’s first “Momma” or “Dadda.”
(If any word is more perfect, let me know.)
Give me the story of your pain and your joy,
and I will give you mine so that we can be true friends.
Do not give me streets of gold
even if they are walked by glowing angels.
Give me the asphalt by my house
where Don slowly makes his way
with his walker to steady him
and his gentle daughter as company.
Do not tell me again how Moses met God,
then came down from the mountain.
Tell me about the pianist at the university of Montevallo
who two days ago supported the Orlando community
by at last telling the world that he was gay.
And do not show me to God’s house filled with all his own,
show me the second grade classroom over in the Heights
where, for far less pay than teachers in my town,
a young woman gently and skillfully teaches twenty five black children.
If you would give me God,
do not put me in that place where all the purified may live
forever separate from the lost.
Give me the place I live right now,
where my eye for wrong, so readily cast at another,
seems often deflected back to me
and finds some cleaning to be done.
Give me this world
where the crowd of I and billions of others becomes we,
and we are is so pressed together
that we must live and learn as one—or perish.