I was nine years old at the time (nine and half, to be precise), and I felt incredibly small and fragile in comparison to the man's weighty words. I envisioned the deity he preached about to be one that would likely not be pleased with my restless squirming in our stiff wooden pew; one who would look sternly on my desire to dance down the aisles, and one who would, like my mother sitting to my right, be incensed at my ink-stained hands, turned blue-black from drawing comic book characters on my service program.
I supposed that God was much like the preacher in front of us, with greying hair and ill-fitting black suits and a trembling voice with which to express his deep heartbreak over our depravity and resulting damnation.
My creative impulses were always separate from any divine being because as one can imagine, preparing for the end of the world is a very serious thing; there really is not room for a playful, mischievous spirit when your soul is on the line.
But there were times, even still, that I would dream of sneaking out of the pew and spinning in the aisles, my velvet green dress buoyed up by my twirls. My nine-year-old brain did not have words for deep theological arguments, but in those moments I liked to think that there existed somehow, somewhere a god who would dance with me down the aisles, laughing as I did lopsided cartwheels past dismayed congregants; That image stayed with me as a grew older and began to ask questions, that deep contradiction to the God of Not Slouching in Your Pew Young Lady, We Are In A Church; a god who was less tightly constricted breathing lest we lose control and more like the Wind.
"Perhaps it is not that we don't have language for a just, peaceful world," she said to us in that dark room, "But perhaps we are simply not listening to the right voices: those of the poets and artists and musicians."
In that room, looking at the melting candles, I wondered that the Wind was where my nine-year-old self had found it, though not aware of its name at the time, in creativity and imagination.
I lived the first sixteen years of my life fearing the end of the world as we know it; I am intimately acquainted with the word terror. Perhaps that is why I am so averse to allowing doom-sayers into my life anymore.
I am not in denial: the world is in dire need of repair and horrifying tragedies happen daily. There is work to be done. But I think often of the line from a poem by Erica Jong, "Doom is cheap: if the apocalypse is coming, let us wait for it in joy."
When the voices of extreme panic rise around me, fore-telling the hopelessness of it all, I hear echoes of the preacher in the ill-fitting black suit. I am not advocating naiveté; ignoring the needs and pains of one's neighbor is neither noble nor holy. Yet I believe in in what Jack Gilbert termed a stubborn gladness, a joy that exists in the present, playful and mischievous and creating - always creating. If it is set in stone somewhere, if the fates have decided in their capricious wills that this ship is going down, I will not spend my remaining time on it in fear or despair. The air there is stagnate.
But that always pulling, tugging at me Wind, that Good Presence? There is something playful there, something that I think in the heaviness of the news cycle we forget. Yes, we tend to our wounded and work tirelessly to eradicate systemic injustice. But I believe god is still dancing down the aisles, inviting me to join her in my green velvet dress. As the world seems more bleak, we are invited to dance more, imagine more, write and sing and paint more. There is Life there, capital L Life, and if doom is coming, that is where I will be found: dancing in the aisles past the doom-sayers and politicians and Very Serious Old Men who are appalled at my audacity to dance when the end is near. I want to be found among those who are creating new worlds with the tools they are given, among those who imagine better for this planet and live into moments of deep joy despite the pain and tragedy that is found here. Joy is not made to be a crumb, as Mary Oliver so wisely wrote.
The weight of the world cannot fit on my two small shoulders; I should know - I have tried it on many a time. But I am no longer attempting to carry it. I do not close my eyes to suffering; I stand as a compassionate witness to trauma and pain.
-- and then I imagine more, and pick up my pen and keep creating.