The sunset was so pink and sweet that it hurt my teeth to look at it. My shoulders were hunched against the pressing dark of grief and exhaustion and unmet expectations. My body was coming unmoored from its patterns of health and sleep and being able to digest food. I could pick seeds. I could make bread. I could tuck in children, but everything else my hands forgot. My mind recoiled at the prospect of interacting with people outside my household. I ordered in our weird exotic groceries, our gluten free foods, even though I used to avoid deliveries from the thought of a shopper rolling their eyes and mocking us for avoiding “normal” foods that allergies had turned into poisons.
Last weekend I went to a bonfire with my extended family and told a friend there who’s an addict that I understood what she meant. There’s a way religion can be an addiction, too. Sometimes piety is just a game we play instead of loving. It’s so easy to try to get God’s approval instead of allowing that we’re loved as we are. Tomes are written about how to play that game, but it’s not a game when you get down to it. At some point you either walk away from that nonsense and think you’ve lost your faith, or you find faith by sitting with God through nights where God won’t leave you. You learn to feel all your pain and ask all your forbidden questions and admit you can’t fix the hateful things about you. It’s that or become a bitter harridan tearing people down for imagined transgressions. Or you become a professional, doling out God’s gifts on a schedule while being above taking cuts for yourself. Or you salve the stubs where your wings ought to have been with sex or substances or being an insufferable bore.
I like to walk in swamps where the water and animals on either side of the path will kill you. It’s honest work to walk like that. It’s the way faith is, because staying on the path isn’t easy like you’d think it would be. Stay on the path and walk with Powers too ancient to name, while the birds startle over your head in recognition of what your weak heart refuses to see. Walk by faith and not by sight, we’re told, but if you do it, you won’t find relief in it. There’s always too much there on a path, too many beauties to take in, too much quiet and acceptance, which feels to a gamer like giving up.
I get so tired of players that I turn sour on regular people with stars in their eyes who try to say nice things about going to heaven. “Why would I want to go there for?” I almost holler. Can’t they see the river I’m walking in? The world is already bright with more than I can bear of God. I resent people who put Heaven on my to-do list when there’s all this to tend to already.
Look, I know it sounds fanciful and nice to y’all noobs. Heaven so rich and warm and friendly, waiting to reward the high scorers when “Game Over” flashes on their screens. But I already have it. The keys to the storehouses were already in the locks when I got there, and all I had to do was watch them open and get to work sharing out everything I found there. (There’s no end to that House, and the work will still be undone when I’m done with my part in it.) Maybe my weak eyes will get used to the brightness so I can look towards the sun that y’all seem to want to seek. But I’m too tired to look with you. I’m spoilt for that kind of hunting. I’ve grown used to being led, to watching for the dim light of the Way at my feet, no matter how dark everything else gets.
I can hear the click of your pearls as you clutch them. “Isn’t she a theologian? Why doesn’t she want to go to heaven?” I didn’t say I didn’t want to go. I said I’m too tired to bother with looking for it. I reckon that if I get there, I’ll be carried in like everyone else. It won’t be as a reward. I don’t care for chasing approval anymore. What I want is to walk with God, and if heaven’s where we wind up, fine.
When my dad laid dying nine and a half years ago, I told him that he didn’t need to worry about the Judgment, because there would be a thumb on the scale when his life was weighed. That thumb is grace. I forgave him, and I told him truthfully that I would pester God all my days to make sure my dad always had grace tipping the scales for him. Look, that’s as far as I go in gaming for heaven. I will supply the cheat codes for my fellow sinners. I will talk to God about you as I walk this narrow trail, and I’ll put in a word for mercy.
What else do I need to tell you tonight? I’m behind on all my deadlines. I haven’t been able to shake this cold out of my household for two months now. Sickness and exhaustion and recycling are all clogging up the works. But there’s a tree in the front room with an angel on it, and there are seeds waiting to be scattered on Christmas. I am wrapping gifts that will provide hours of fun and learning. I have hugged the necks of my dear sweet aunties and uncles and laughed at my cousins’ dark humor and bared my heart at a bonfire alongside a friend who needs to know what I have learned. The path to heaven is wherever you are, because heaven is wherever God is. It’s not a glamorous truth or a pretty one. But it holds up to fire and water and teeth and tears. It won’t be overcome by the darkness.