The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt

God

(Context: Genesis 8:21)

First, for a timeless moment, there was nothing. Then, sometime within that moment, I began. I cannot tell whether I immediately knew that I existed, or whether I gradually became aware that I was there. But at some point I began, and time began, and this world began, and I found my spirit drifting over the face of darkness within darkness. And while the darkness had its beauty, I knew that it could be better. I let there be light. And it was good.

But with the light, I saw that there was nothing else in this universe, that there was nothing to see. When I separated the mortal world from heaven, it was better (though I had no use for a heaven yet); when I separated the dry land from the water, it was better still. And as I distinguished living, moving things from those that less visibly lived, and as I made their forms ever larger, then ever more complex, it became, with each step, better.

But though what I created was perfect, there was a stillness, an automatic feel to the world that I knew could be improved.

I looked throughout the earth, and I looked throughout heaven, but the only minds, the only souls that I found were echoes of my own, as if I were caught in a hall of twisting mirrors, where reflections distorted, split off, and developed names of their own.

So I created you, the humans (along with your kin that you have not met, on other worlds beyond your own), inseparably merging the souls that had spun off from mine in heaven with the bodies that were evolving on the earth.

From the first moment, you made surprising demands of me, argued with me, and disobeyed. It was good. It brought me new life and new challenges, and taught me new ways to behave.

When the first of you ate from the one forbidden tree, demanding a knowledge of good and evil from which I had shielded you before, I lashed out in immediate fury, smashed the boundaries of the garden that I had made for you, and expelled you onto the rest of the earth.

Outside the garden, death came upon you as it came upon all other living creatures. Those who realized that they themselves would eventually die were surprised and saddened, which in turn surprised me, since it had not happened with other living things. I meant death as a way of returning, of reintegrating, as your souls would be reabsorbed into the global soul, blending again with the souls of others. With the birth of each new person, I would then send forth another portion of that astral dough, that global soul, another mixture of what once were individuals, to merge with physical form and become other intelligent life, here or on the other worlds. That you feared death saddened me, and I learned that I would have to treat death carefully in working with you.

Then, generations later, your disobedience grew unmanageable. I tried to speak to you, but no one would listen. I sent down my angels, my messengers, but they, too, fell under the sway of the errant humans, those who thought only of themselves and nothing of how they supported and were supported by the world, and the corruption spread across your land. Angered again, I lashed out again, determined to recall the souls of all the people of the earth. I swore, also, to wipe out the other life, starting over with the fewest living things that could bring good life back to the world. So I set aside one family of humans and two each of other species, then unleashed the waters above to blend again with the waters below, then to evaporate and return.

But when I saw the devastation that I had caused, I swore that I would never again assault the earth and its other living creatures to punish what one of its species had done. The earth would abide, with its rhythms and its seasons, and the innocent creatures would thrive.

And then, once again, a city grew evil, and I swore to destroy all within. But I was surprised again when one of you spoke directly to me and challenged me to spare the city if I could find a certain number of good people within it. And when I agreed, he asked for mercy on the behalf of fewer and fewer people. When even these few were not found, I did indeed destroy the city, but I remembered that this person had argued with me, not from arrogance and belligerence but from concern for doing what was right. And that was good.

When I challenged him to give up that which was most dear to him, to sacrifice his son, as a favor to me, he agreed without question. Seeing that he would obey, I told him that this need not happen, that despite what people thought that a god would require, I would never demand a pointless human sacrifice. He responded not with anger, either at the demand nor at its revocation, but with love, showing a mercy toward me that I had never seen before. And I learned from this mercy, and tried to extend it toward others as we progressed.

Years later, when a man, alone on a mountain, asked me for simple words as to what his people should do, I thought for an infinite moment, then wrote a few rules down on slabs of rock for him. In turn, I asked him what he saw when he caught a flash of what I am, and what the people’s image of me would be. He told me, in few words, that the god he envisioned would be compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, with abundant goodness and truth, extending kindness for generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin while not clearing the guilty.

But he also warned that he saw my stubborness, my anger, my vengefulness, that I would not stop at punishing the guilty, but would strike out against their children and grandchildren. And I tried to learn from him, to live up to the image that he described of what I should be, and to recognize my aspects that lashed out against those who did not acknowledge me.

For in those first days, when I was learning how to maintain this world, when I smashed the garden and sent its people out into this world of danger and death, when the goodness of the universe had gotten trapped and encased in the shards of the borders of heaven from which only the love and actions of people could melt and release them, I shattered too. My reflections, my scrambled fragments of myself separated from me and flew out into world, each believing that it was the real god.

People saw those fragments and believed in them, and blocked out my voice, refusing to see that these fragments were incomplete fictions, that I was the true god, that their sacrifices were confused, that they were blocking the return of the needed unity to the world. I grew angry at them, as I tried to reach them and could not be heard, as my own voice and the voices of those that I sent to speak to them were drowned out by the distortions of their accidental gods.

And, yes, I grew angry again and again, and destroyed their people, their children, their cities, and their lands, sometimes even blocking the hearts of some who might have come to me so that I could have my vengeance upon them. As these people grew fewer, fewer of those who remained believed in each of the fragmentary gods. Over generations, as the last believer in each of the fragments died, that fragment came back to me and was reabsorbed into my own divinity, as the souls of the humans who died were absorbed into the greater global soul. I learned from what they had seen, and what had been in the hearts of the humans who had believed in them. And, in the beauty and terror that I saw, and what it showed me of my own shortcomings and the repercussions of my wrath and of how, in working with people, I could be more effective and more gentle, the learning was good.

As I look across time, I see what I am and what you are, and what I can be and what you can be. What I see is good. But it will be even better. And when I am not the god that I could be, I call on you to call on me, confront me with how I have behaved, and teach me what I have wanted to teach you.

For, yes, I see everything, and yes, I know every fact in the world, and yes, I can do anything that I want.

And in building this universe, working with you, talking, arguing, and wrestling with you, I am learning, ever more clearly, what I want and what I should want.

And as I help you learn to be better people, I thank you for helping me learn to be a better God.

(Next: Darius I)

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May 25, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

4 Comments »

  1. I didn’t think I was going to write a monologue from God’s point of view. For one thing, when I was thinking of writing the voices of characters in the Bible, it didn’t occur to me that the characters might not be human. (Come to think of it, I wonder what I’ll do if the random numbers select Balaam’s ass or the snake in Eden.)

    The number table had dropped me down in the middle of Leviticus, stranded among a lot of legalisms about whose nakedness one must not uncover. Following along, I kept hitting the same three names: Moses, Aaron, and God. I had already written as both Moses and Aaron, and I didn’t think I could write as God, so I kept going. After reading about a thousand lines in which no other names appeared, I realized that I did have an idea what to write for God. The last line of this post had popped into my head, and I worked backward from there.

    The idea of God learning to be God pops up occasionally in Jewish writings. Reading the Bible and prayers over the years, I had gotten the idea that God was being portrayed as omniscient, omnipotent, and well-intentioned, but with weak personnel management skills.

    Other bits come, as usual, both from traditional sources (such as the shards of heaven) and from my own head (such as the astral dough). I recognize the roots of the idea of the reintegration of the forgotten gods in Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird Stories (or was it another of his collections?) though his forgotten gods, if I recall, simply died.

    People to whom I mentioned that I was writing this recommended Julius Lester’s The Autobiography of God and Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, neither of which I’ve read yet, though I’m eager to get to them.

    I should note that while I was wearing a seatbelt and helmet while writing this, such projects are probably best attempted by professionally licensed theologians.

    Comment by bookofvoices | May 26, 2007 | Reply

  2. Actually, as a licensed theologian 😉 I can tell you that you did a much better job than I could have. We pros have too much stuff that gets in the way sometimes (most of the time) unless we keep our poetry and music alive.

    Even that first paragraph all by itself would be a good complete piece. (For a while I thought it was, before I clicked the link to more.) There’s a whole world beyond it and it makes for a whole different poem, if you think of these things as poems.

    Now I’m waiting for women’s voices.

    Comment by Jane R | May 26, 2007 | Reply

  3. Thanks. I actually do these of these things as poems, or as a sort of prose-poem hybrid. I approach them very much as I do my actual poems-as-poems, and test them aloud before posting. And your sermons and similar poetic postings have been a big influence on how I’m writing them.
    I’m eager to write some women’s voices. It depends where the random numbers drop me into the text. Unfortunately, there are far fewer instances of women’s name in the text than men’s but I think the odds are pretty good that I’ll hit at least a few by the time I’m done.

    Comment by bookofvoices | May 27, 2007 | Reply

  4. I’ll keep checking. And I recommended this site and your work to Tobias Haller, a musically and poetically talented Episcopalian (I mentioned Tom to him too)who just posted a wonderful composition to his blog (In a Godward Direction), did I mention this on your other blog? I think I did. It’s very different from yours and more classically inspired but he does fun things with synthesizers and the piece is based on biblical characters like yours so I thought it would be fun to connect you. He’s an Episcopal priest but don’t let that intimidate you (not that you don’t have priesty Episcopal and other types among your colleagues already) — your knowledge of Jewish text and mysticism and your musical range should make you interesting conversation partners if you ever converse.

    Looking forward to the next installment. (But take your time… Don’t get pressured by audiences.)

    Comment by Jane R | May 27, 2007 | Reply


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