- Rita Sommers-Flanagan
In the Beginning
I first met God as a small child, wearing my fancy dress. We played some simple games, and I was smitten. It was easy. Once you get the hang of it, there’re so many things needing to be baptized or buried.
Salvation is a different story. The fat boy in third grade, for instance. He had no friends and was bullied and ridiculed constantly—so easy to torment that even the teacher got into it. One time, she kicked him viciously in the shins while he squirmed, trapped in his desk directly behind me. He cried and tried to fend off her blows, snot smeared on his face hot with humiliation.
Safe at home, I fantasized how I’d save him. I’d invite him over to play. It would be like Cinderella, only Fat Boy was the one with wicked stepsisters and the terrible life, and I was the powerful, beautiful princess. I did not invite him over. It is much easier to imagine compassion and sacrifice than it is to take the risks. Life moved along, but the wounds didn’t heal clean. There are scars we both bear.
The Little God I knew back then had arranged a nice white life for me—mostly safe, with a few disappointments, and some near misses which I interpreted as signals of my importance. There were thin cracks in the mirror, and a few dangling questions, but I was on the road to heaven. It wasn’t until my divorce that Little God blew up on me. My good girl image was shredded inside and out.
My soul became a combat zone. I wailed and flailed, but somehow, in the midst of my rage and sorrow, an armored tank rolled into the skirmish. Big Truth lifted the hatch, pulled off his helmet, and saluted. I snapped to attention, frightened, ashamed. I could tell this wasn’t going to be a slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of truth. Sure enough, Big Truth raised a bullhorn and shouted, “All have failed. All are forgiven. All are enlisted. All will die.”
His message seeped from soul to bone. I turned this strange declaration around in my mind, “All have failed. All are forgiven. All are enlisted. All will die.” Big Truth nodded, clearly tracking my thoughts. He held the salute until I saluted back. It was a feeble gesture on my part, but it must’ve been enough, because Big Truth climbed down, toting a large box of treaties and legal documents. I thought I was going to have to sign my life away, but instead, we built a fire and burned them.
“You need to relax,” Big Truth said. “If anyone should be uptight, it should be me. And look. I’m calm. I’ve got this.”
Big Truth climbed down, toting a large box of treaties and legal documents. I thought I was going to have to sign my life away, but instead, we built a fire and burned them.
“I’m trying,” I said. “But you’re freaking me out. You’re not exactly what I thought You were.”
“Of course not. Would you want me to be what you thought I was?” Even though I actually did want God to be exactly as I thought, I knew that wasn’t the right answer.
“No, I guess not,” I said. “But then, who are you?”
“Hmmm,” God said. “Good question, baby. You can call me pretty much anything. You’ll be a little bit wrong, but no worries. I’ll hear you.” He paused. “Say, a few of my buddies are going dancing later on. Want to join us?”
"You can call me pretty much anything. You’ll be a little bit wrong, but no worries. I’ll hear you.”
I went straight home, shed my bulky clothes, and put on my dancing shoes. Out of uniform, with a few beers in him, God is one heck of a dancer. And his band, sweet Jesus, what a band! Before we called it a night, I cozied up to God and said, “C’mon. Really. What’s your name?” God took a deep breath. His eyes burned with a fearsome love.
“Like I said, I have a lot of names,” He said. “But for now, you can call me Fat Boy.”
Rita Sommers-Flanagan is a clinical psychologist, author, jogger, gardener, weed-puller, and aspiring mystic. She is woefully monolinguistic in human languages but has regular (sometimes unwilling) bilingual conversations with The Universe, who insists on co-authorship in certain practices. The translations required can be both exhausting and exhilarating. She hales from Montana and claims close relationships with locally famous people who are trying to save the earth and care for each other. She is both sad and happy, broken and whole, brilliant and dimwitted, old and young. She is alive in the moment and often claims that is enough.