There's No Such Thing as an Atheist in a Foxhole
Last week I listened to a recorded lecture from Caroline Myss. She shared a saying of her father’s: “There’s no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.”
The theme of her lecture was: Where is God?
She asked questions like: Who do we picture when we pray to God? Where does God live?
The responses were different versions of the same answers. The ones I grew up with. The ones that were never compelling enough to hold my interest. “God is masculine, with a long white beard like Santa Claus. He lives in the clouds. He hovers above the earth keeping track of what we’re up to.”
A lot of people in the audience were giggling to hear themselves give the answers. It struck me that no one typically asks these questions of us as adults. We might be indulged in a spiritual Q&A session with our caretakers when we’re younger and in the heart of trying to figure out how we got here and why. But as adults, how often do we linger in the deep end, with the more complicated questions?
I kept thinking about this as the day went on. I thought of all the different foxholes I’d tried to pray my way out of and how disingenuous I’d felt at times. Like dialing an old friend’s number when you’re in a jam and they’re the only one with a tow on their truck but you both know full well you’re only calling because you need something. The chitchat before the ask is a hollow gesture. Once you’re in the clear again you’ll revert back to the usual, comfortable distance and let it all go to voicemail.
I thought about growing up in a family of atheists and how their matter-of-fact coldness shaped the magic seeker in me who insisted on being their opposite.
I thought of Einstein who’d said: The more I study science, the more I believe in God.
I thought of Annie Lamott who’d described her spiritual life as Jesus trailing beside her for many years like a stray cat asking to be let in.
I thought of my kitchen, as I swept the floor. It wasn’t here once. I designed it based on a picture board of inspiration and then hired a builder friend to tear down walls and lay down tiles and install the cabinets one by one.
The kitchen was the last phase of renovations at the house I’d moved to post divorce. Before the appliances were wiggled into place and the sheetrock was painted over, the kids and I wrote our wishes on the walls in black marker:
May all who live here and visit here be happy, protected, prosperous.
We wrote words like: Love. Gratitude. Safe. Heal. Joyful. I think my youngest wrote the name of the video game he was bargaining for at the time.
I bent down with the dustpan and my little 7 lbs poodle ran toward me. I had squatted low, to her level, which she interpreted as a signal for playtime. She stood on her hind legs to reach my face which she covered in kisses. I lost my balance and fell onto my butt which only made her wag harder and kiss more passionately.
I laid all the way down with my back against the hard kitchen floor, and pulled her onto my chest. I was the mountain and she was the climber who’d conquered me. (This, by the way, is what housework often looks like around my place).
Caroline’s question came back to me. It floated up from the inside like a message on the screen of a Magic 8 Ball. Where is God? God is here, I thought. On the kitchen floor. In a poodle kiss. In the messages behind these painted walls. In the impossibly delicate circumstances that led to my leaving my marriage, surviving my divorce and ending up in this house, in this life.
God is here. When you’re in the foxhole and when you’re out of the foxhole.
God is here. Regardless of whatever name you might use or call God by.
God is here. In the clicking of my fingers on the keys to tell you all of this. In your reading and considering it. In the most tender part of us all that wants to believe in more than this but doesn’t always know how. That’s where God is, I think. Right there.
Till next time friends,