Alright then, my man. Let’s get this metaphysical game of hide-and-seek underway. You’re trying to find Me but you need help thinking of the last place you left Me?
Boo! Here I Am, crouching behind the tall pipes of the church organ. I see you out there, sitting between your parents in the third row of pews, your feet dangling, swaying because you can’t hold still this long. I see you trying to focus on the preacher’s words, the choir hymns, the Bible in your mother’s hand that she gently leans toward your face. But I also catch those glimpses you throw my way. I see you peeking, wondering. Let me guess: you’ve been told that this is God’s house. Since you haven’t seen Me yet, you’re on the lookout and you’re getting warmer . . . warmer . . . Yes, here I Am. Behind the organ pipes. You got it. There’s a dim but beautiful space back here in which I live and move and have my being, where I can lounge next to these fake ferns the choir director stores back here for the Easter service, where I can peek through slits between the pipes and see all of you doing whatever it is you’re doing: listening, singing, swaying, doodling, believing, wondering, bowing, smiling, living, moving, being, peeking, looking, gazing, getting warmer . . . warmer . . . warmer . . . .
But no. You didn’t come and find Me. Someone talked you down, explained it all to you. Yes, he said, we call this God’s house, he said, but it’s not like God actually is a person who lives in here, has a room here, you understand? You nodded with a head that suddenly felt weightier, so you bowed it more often, looked around in wonder less often.
Before we proceed with your little quest here, my man, a word about P.O.V. You homo-sapien literary types have for the past half-century or so asserted that it’s no longer possible to write in Third Person Omniscient. It’s problematic. No one knows the mind of God. So, well enough. Here I Am, speaking in Quasi-Second Person Slightly-Limited. You happy?
You’re nine years old now, and here I go, ducking into the new hiding place that is your heart. Someone explained to you that you can only access Me through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and their narrative and logic were so compelling that you agreed to pray a prayer. And this, you think, is finding God. So, sure, I’ll play this game: Behold, I stand at the door of your heart and knock, knock. But before I enter, you must answer my questions three: Did you (A) Admit you are a sinner? Okay, good. (B) Believe that Jesus is My son? Wonderful! (C) Confess your sins and ask Jesus into your heart? Very well, then. Welcome to the family. First things first: no drinking, cussing, sex before marriage, thinking nasty thoughts, hitting your sisters, sneaking cans from your mom’s Pepsi stash, etc. Let’s get this straight: I’m not a guest in your heart. I’ve taken it over, and you listen to Me now. I Am the Lord your God.
Look at me now, the daily obsession of your high school journal—oh, I mean devotional, yes. Dear God, you write, something something. Dear Jesus, it says, something something. Dear Lord, you write. Dear Lord, indeed.
Hey there, here I am again, helping you stay Christian in college. I’m still here in your heart, but it might be harder to find me in here as I’m getting a bit crowded with all these others, these sociologists like Peter Berger, who says religion is a social construction, these mystic philosophers like Pierre Teillard de Chardin, who says I’m not transcendent but immanent, these theologians like Charles Hartshorne, who says I can’t possibly be omnipotent, says I have limitations, and suddenly I’ve realized I’m not at all who you thought I was.
But I’m still hanging around. Now I’m crouched in the back of the room where you and dozens of other students stare at a TV with the sound full blast, watching people on the screen running and screaming, watching the dust clouds left by the two buildings, watching a man running with someone’s limp body in his arms, running straight at the camera, getting closer and then screaming Get the fuck out of the way, Get the fuck out of the way to the camera man, or to the camera, or to you, you can’t tell for sure, and of the dozens of things zipping through your mind right now, the thing you can’t get over is, what else could he have said? All these years of thinking that foul language is beneath you, that God wants you to speak with love, that there’s always a more polite way to articulate strong feelings, and yet, what else can be said right now? What else but, Get the fuck out of the way? What else but, What the fuck? What else but, Oh fuck, oh fuck? What else but, Fuck You? Fuck You, you say. Fuck Me?
You’re right, this isn’t a game any more. This isn’t hide-and-seek. I’m not hiding from you just because I hope to be found so we might skip off, arm in arm. No. If you’re going to turn this back around on Me, I’m out, and don’t bother looking for Me. We’re done. I’m leaving. Oh, you’re leaving first, you say? Fine. For the record: fuck you, too.
But truth is, I’m still here, waiting for you to find Me. I’m not a man behind the organ, not a warm fuzzy Jesus in your heart, not the great and powerful anything. So what if I’m not a Heavenly Father out there, external to reality? So what if I can’t push a button and, zap, make your problems disappear? So what if I’m not what you expected?
You might be thinking now, Wait, didn’t He just change something? Can He do that? You might ask, Which of these is God’s authentic self? Does God code-switch? Or, here’s one that will mind-fuck you for years to come: Is it only my assumptions and ideas about God that have changed, or can God change, too? Can God become something new?
But here’s the skinny: Mothafucka, I been shape-shiftin’ from the git go. It’s evolution, baby! In the begizzle, the univizzle was a dark vizzle that went boom-bizzle and became something nizzle and then just kept on keeping on, kept truckin’, and it’s groovy, baby, just like the way the only constant is, like, change man, know’m sayin’?
More than three pages in and surely your reader is thinking, this can’t be. It’s problem enough to try to take on God’s P.O.V. But to imagine you can see your entire life from My perspective and make some sort of sense of it? You could keep going, tell the story about the last time you tried to pray, or the night you spent blacked out in a bathtub, or the joys of fatherhood, all filtered through this lens of your Quest to Find God Again. But you’re just trying to cloud what this is really about by writing in second person, not only so you can take on My mind, but also so you can implicate the reader in your own pathetic attempts to comprehend the divine. But they’re not implicated. No one is but you. No one else can reconcile this distance between you the writer and I the narrator. And the truth is, there is no distance, because they’re one and the same, and My voice is nothing more than what You’ve imagined in Your mind with the language and forms available to Me.
But that is not God.
And you are no closer to finding me.
And I am no closer to finding you.
Andrew Johnson is the author of the essay collection On Earth As It Is. His work has appeared in Guernica Daily, Crazyhorse, MAKE, Sonora Review, Killing the Buddha, the Kansas City Star, and elsewhere. He was a writer-in-residence at Vermont Studio Center in 2018, where he received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.