My first memory of god(s) begins by remembering the time I imagined God as pure imagination itself. For that reason, God was as harmless as cotton candy. Jesus was harmless too growing up, but Jesus was at least solid, like a tree in a garden or the statue of a clown. So God was always somewhere and Jesus was always around. I would use phrases like “God and Jesus.” And even though Jesus never stopped smiling, he was still the manlier of the two in my mind. Neither of them seemed very concerned about things, not because they were necessarily aloof, more because they found the world a rather delightful place to look upon.
Also, although the terms were agreeable to me, I did not really think in terms of God the Son and God the Father. It was just Jesus and God. My father was solid and had a dark black beard and dark brown eyes that looked very real. Jesus had a beard too, but his was lighter brown and his eyes were a very different blue. And my father seemed to be more serious than Jesus. I at any rate took him more seriously. But as for God, he was as invisible as the Holy Spirit.
Until one day, while playing in the tractor tire sand box, I started pointing out to my best friend Greg that the sky that was a zoo. Greg intervened to warn me not to look at clouds because if I saw the face of God I would die. I remember being afraid to look up after that but then not being able to not look up. It felt like the smallest kid on an academic team had threatened me, except it was more like being threatened by the biggest stuffed animal in the sky. I always imagined catching God looking at me and quickly averting his big northerly puffball eyes, as though embarrassed or as though to him I were the most interesting of all creatures, or perhaps as though I kind of made God feel shy. I was amused by the God Greg had convinced me to be afraid of, but in the way amusement and fear are the necessary conditions of adventure. I started to like the incongruity of imagining the God made of pillows coming at me wielding an infinite electric sword. I even remember a few times snapping my head up only to level back out secretly disappointed to be alive. What better way to die than in the lightening of God?
But Jesus was still Jesus and God was still God and I was okay with the equivocation, something like: Jesus was God’s natural face and God was Jesus’s supernatural heart. Also, we were Quakers, so the Holy Spirit was basically everywhere, especially where there was silence. That made speaking separately of the Holy Spirit far more difficult than grownups speak of the Holy Spirit. Since he was everywhere and didn’t have any red-mud name like father or son, I assumed that when people started talking about him in particular ways they were actually talking about anything but him in particular. A triangle needs to be a single triangle before it can become every triangle. And I was unable to imagine the singular form of “everywhere.” So the Holy Spirit was kind of like the divine atom but also a little like the weather. He was the one you would need to consult should you ever find your heart strangely warmed.
So the Holy Spirit was indeed distinctly God, but only like a triangle was distinctly a triangle before anyone ever saw a triangle, also like a perfect triangle is still a triangle even though nobody has actually seen one in the natural world. Perfect things all seem to be the truest things and like the truest things all seem to be invisible. My math teacher in high school believed the universe needed perfect triangles to exist, but he also didn’t believe in God because only things that can be seen truly exist.
But in my childlike understanding of the world perfect triangles and absolute truths were cut from the same cloth like Jesus and God were cut from the same Spirit, who refused to cut them in two. All I knew for certain is that Jesus was the one with a face, a face I believed was perfect—not like a perfect statue but like a perfect triangle. And I suppose I am in a good company of children that think about the Trinity in similar such terms (something like 2 + ∞ = God). The Holy Spirit was the divine ether that somehow holds the clouds of heaven and the face of Jesus within its misty midst.
So without really deciding on the matter I settled early on the assumption that the face of Jesus would suffice as the face of God, and that the one called God would suffice as the stuffing in Jesus’ special heart, and that the Holy Spirit just somehow magically worked out all the kinks in my theory. It is really only the last of the three Gods or God who is for a child the so-called “God of the gaps.” But children seek to bridge gaps wider than even the universe, which turns out to be wider even than the heads of Bill Nye and Ken Ham side-by-side. So children need recourse to the Holy Spirit, even if Bill Nye and Ken Ham do not. And the practical matter at hand was that Jesus was the hard face of God and I wanted to jump on God’s other face like all kids want to jump on the clouds.
But then I saw the face of God. It may as well have been incidental that it was also the face of Jesus. They still belonged together but neither of them were anything like the faces from before. And while I am going to attempt to describe what I saw, I need to preempt my description with something that will sound like an excuse for why the Bigfoot photo is blurry. I once heard a comedian say that every photo of Bigfoot is blurry either because Bigfoot isn’t real or because Bigfoot is just really blurry. And if the latter, it is all an all the more terrifying prospect, because there is a big blurry monster lurking about that no one takes seriously enough to hunt down.
But it’s not just that the face of God was blurry to me. It was black. It looked something like the naked noonday sun looks to any who dare behold its glory directly with unveiled faces. It is easy to talk about what the sun looks like until you actually see it with your own two eyes. If we are honest, it is black to us. Not only that, but depending on how boldly one dares to stare, the very object that gives light to everything else will for some time after eclipse everything else with a jet black stain. We can enjoy its light as long as we don’t challenge it to a dual. Light gives itself to sight in a way that keeps sight from ever thinking it can see without it. The eyes alone are as blind as a pupil is black, but they are black because God made the eye only to receive, indeed to complement, his Beauty. The eyes don’t really see the world any more than they can see the son–they receive it; they receive floods of photons bouncing around in orderly succession in sound waves of glory. The center of the eye, like the center of man’s soul, is black, but that doesn’t mean that one is as ugly as the other. It only takes stepping into the light and then, and only then, looking in the mirror to see that there is hardly a more beautiful sight than a black spot wrapped up in the horizon of an iris. And even a life-sucking black hole, like the soul, is cradled in a horizon of light.
And even if it weren’t true that men love darkness rather than the light, it is true that every man wants to radiate his own glory. And the earth is polka dotted with lesser lights imagining they rule the day. So as the moon forever showers in the glory the sun, the earth is eclipsed by its own shaded glory. Perhaps that is why the moon is still naked and not ashamed and why men cut down figs and firs and litter the night with star-spangled streetlights. We all love to imagine ourselves as the Man revealed in the end, holding the lampstands in our hand, but the sun reminds us that unless our eyes are made of its fire there remains a greater light to rule the day. And even the nightlights take on loan their evening dominion.
You might just say, the sun suggests that our eyes have been given dominion over every tree of the garden and beast of the field, and even the birds of the air, but that does mean they have dominion over all things. Indeed, no eye can see the face of the sun and live.
So when I say that I “saw” the face of God, what I am talking about is an experience that revealed more about me than it did about God, and yet God was ever more real and I was evermore stained. So all I can do is try to delineate my experience with words that will at best be like the physicist trying to delineate a black hole by its event horizon or a man in the mirror trying to delineate his sight by his iris. I’m groping at what I know to be the weightiest matter there is, and yet all I really know is that I am not weighty matter and that the black face of God is aflame with the terrible night.