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December 2019
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I Have Seen God & He Drinks Tea & Smokes Cigarettes

originally uploaded by [ raymond ].

No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. John 4:12

This sounds about right to me, which is why, as a mere mortal, I see no reason whatsoever that God should not be the man in the picture, sporting dreadlocks. After all, there is a good chance that Jesus himself (horror of horrors) looked more like Morgan Freeman than Val Kilmer. And during an age when people bathed-once-a-year-or-less-whether-they-needed-to-or-not, he probably also found dreadlocks as low frills a hairstyle as say…a mullet.

And though I might be struck down for these infidel thoughts by another, less endearing God than the one of my fanciful imagination, my message to him (or her, as the case may be) is this: Bring it On. You too (although less often, it must be confessed) are the God of my imagination. So why shouldn’t you get a cameo appearance’s worth of time on my personal sound stage?

All hyperbole aside, I don’t contemplate the nature of God as often as I used to. For one thing, my visual aids are no longer influenced by the flawed and empty rhetoric of religion. (Which is really to say: dogma.) Because God is so eternally vast and yet simple a concept that He, She or It basically defies description. God is a vehicle of pure consciousness. And since we humans and everything we see and/or touch are not disparate from this consciousness, where else could God be other than within us? Indeed, “God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

God has been dwelling within me lately in the form of splitting-maul headaches, which feel, variously, like a posse of wicked little elves tap dancing on my head in pointed shoes or the cloying and gravelly refrain of my son’s toy cement mixer (after it got stuck on loud, metronome-ish static from sitting out in the rain overnight). My head hurts, and my attempts to thwart these headaches with the usual doses of strong black tea are backfiring. God is talking, but isn’t getting this girl’s attention, evidently. So He sends out a few more elves with pointed, buckled, $400 Italian shoes to act as the judge’s gavel. They are his henchmen, but also His appointed Zen Masters. That’s right: these headaches are the whack of the stick administered to daydreaming bodhisattvas. Each clubbing blow to the cranium is a reminder to stay present and to stop lazily drifting. Or, as a Buddhist psychiatrist (which nearly seems a contradiction in terms, but I’m not making it up) once gently instructed me: “Feel free to watch the stick float down the river, but don’t invite it in for tea.”

And therein lies my essential flaw: I’m always inviting the damned stick in for tea. The stick, the dog, the wandering amnesiac on the road, the horse, the foal, the goat, the cat, the donkey, and, most especially the wildly unfocused thoughts that run roughshod over the underlying sense of peace beneath. This is to say nothing of the tea itself, which acts as a stimulant to mask my inertia, basic human laziness and somnambulistic impulses. I jump-start my day with tea, but find the drug less and less palatable. Hence the headaches. For a brief interlude my mind reeled freely with every freakish possibility, including the lofty assumption that I was being plagued by a brain tumor. But I was quickly disabused of this notion when I opened Andrew Weil’s Natural Health, Natural Medicine.

“Many people who develop headaches fear they have brain tumors,” Weil writes, “but if you were to list causes of headache in order of probability, brain tumor would be near the bottom.”

So much for that grandiose thought. It’s more likely the tea, which even as I write, I feel the grasping need to reach for. I’ve known for some time that I was a groveling caffeine addict, but righteously felt that because I wasn’t imbibing coffee, I didn’t have to cop to it. But the Zen-whacking henchmen of God are telling me differently.

I once had a boyfriend who was a self-confessed addict. He smoked cigarettes and pot, but explained, to my uncomprehending exasperation, that addiction and enjoyment are actually two distinctly separate beasts.

“Okay, so I smoke seven or eight cigarettes a day. But of those seven, only one hit is really good. The others are complete disappointments, but I take them anyway to sustain my illusory enjoyment,” he opined.

Yeah, right. Tell me another good one, I thought to myself. You’re just bellowing the far-fetched flames of your pathetic addiction.

Fast forward ten years, and I’m reluctantly forced to concede that he was right, damn it. If I brew the pot of tea correctly—and only if I steep it for exactly the right time, with precisely the correct number of tea bags, filtered water and milk-to-tea-to-sweetener ratio—will I experience that first fleeting sip of ecstasy. After that it’s pretty well a pedestrian endeavor, but I proceed with brute determination anyway.

It’s not that I’m afraid of giving it up (well, maybe a little), but more the transient fear of who will I be without this addiction? Just as the cigarette smoker must ask: “Who will I be without these stained nicotine fingers and reeking, carcinogenic breath? How will I entertain myself if not by blowing smoke rings toward the moon? And more importantly: how will I define myself?” I must ask who will I be without my familiar, decaying (and badly stained) tea cozy and grandmother’s Princeton pot? Who indeed?

And it’s for this reason that I’m willing to allow the elves to tap dance on my head a bit longer. Because when I look into the face of God I imagine that he has dreadlocks, rank breath and stained teeth. Which means that he’s probably not only a smoker, but a tea drinker too.

Photo courtesy of Raymond Haddad. This photo is copyrighted and may not be used without prior permission.