If he doesn’t answer
Genuflecting before the void
The mountains stood unmoved.
I screamed, 16 years old demanding one hill be moved into the sea, one leaf burn without being consumed, one moment of clarity, one moment of knowing. I wept, arms upraised pleading with the November sky to split in one sure assurance of divine existence. My prayers of tongues went out into the darkness of the foothills, a stuttering of angel nonsense, and fell into silence.
God said nothing. I’ll love you and serve you forever, I said. And God said nothing. I’ll sacrifice everything, I said. And God said nothing. One revelation, I said, or I won’t believe in you. And there was only silence. Heaven was silent and the mountains stood unmoved in mockery, cows chewing and grasses blowing unconcerned as I stood before the void of a dead God.
My father always told his story, one story, which we were raised on. He’d start with how organized crime consolidated the LSD market to this one pharmacist and picked my dad, a hustler on the street corners naming drugs in undertones, to be the only LSD dealer when it was the drug of choice. He’d talk about Holy Hubert, the aggressive street preacher who’d memorized the whole Bible and would stand on a box shouting about hell, who told my father he was going to hell every day for two years. He’d tell how policemen were guaranteed promotion for imprisoning my father, how he was arrested three times but never convicted. He’d tell about smiley beat cop who said God told him to protect my father, and the woman who thought she was a frog, and the bodyguards, Greek and Marty. Sitting at a table with new friends in a new town, my father would tell the long version of his story about how he’d been a drug dealer who’d been found by God.
We never heard the short version and knew every character and every character’s role, and would remind him not to forget the woman who thought she was a frog but was healed on hearing the name of Jesus while throwing Tarot cards on the table of the Baptist student union. I grew up on my father’s stories and every story, from him standing on the top of an escalator hoping his depth perception would return to the cops shooting without saying “stop or I’ll shoot,” lead to and ended at a Christian commune, waiting for a marriage, feeling weird religious feelings, reading a little box in the corner of a little newsletter that said:
IS GOD REAL? Why don’t you ask Him? If He doesn’t answer, you’re free to go on your way, but if He does then you must make Him Lord of your life.
Every story was one story ending with my father knowing. A woman overdosed on cocaine raised from the blue-veined dead in a weedy lot behind a church, and my father knew. He woke up from amnesia watching a basketball game in the hospital and my father knew. One of the bodyguards was found beheaded, and my father knew. Hubert was healed of point blank gunshot, bailed out his heckler and attempted assassin, and my father knew.
Which is all I wanted, standing beneath the November sky that refused to open – to know. I wanted a Cartesian ergo, a revelation to found my faith. I wanted my father’s faith for my own. So I looked, and saw darkness. I asked, and heard nothing.
Anselm said that if it’s good to exist, then an all-good God must exist. Pascal said the odds are in favor of God’s existence. But the absoluteness of the void, the totality of the closed sky, refuses to give odds or bow to ontology. If he doesn’t answer… If he doesn’t, doesn’t, doesn’t, answer. If he doesn’t answer then you’re free, the tract said.
My father’s other story, the story that wasn’t his story, that didn’t wend its way to that moment of peace, that wasn’t fit to tell at church gatherings and social functions, was a story of how the world had told him to curse God and die. He told me, in the dark of the van driving to East Texas trailers we were insulating in the winter, in fragments separated from the meaning and the package of the story, about resigning from the ministry, about his fellow pastor denying he knew him, publicly ridiculing his stupidity and zeal. About confessing sins to a church that just looked at you. About my brother’s hospitalization and how the only man to stand with him and cry was his atheist brother, because blood is thicker than faith. About how no one hires a former pastor and nights stocking grocery stores. About crying when the nominal Catholic neighbor loaned him a lawn mower, because it was the first gift in a long time that was freely offered. About how he’d come into my room and talk to me and cry, and I would pray four year old prayers and hold his hand, seeing death and doubt and looking, clear blue eyes that hadn’t learned to lie, into the void.
I don’t remember hearing my father’s doubt and pain, only the dreams that came later, dreams of blackness, dreams that seemed fulfilled in the foothills, when I was 16.
Deny God, said the mountains, he has said nothing to you. Curse it all, there is nothing, said the wind in the grasses.
If you don’t answer, I shouted. If you don’t if you don’t if you don’t answer, I shouted at the hills, then I’m free to go. And my voice broke. My words stilled, looking to the place where God was blotted from the sky, and I heard myself whisper a confession, did God owe me anything, even his existence?