I started going to a gloomy church that had night worship services and free meals, and was visited a lot by street people and children with a feverish, sprained eye. And for the first time, I started reading the Bible. To me, it was like running into a brick wall. I was used to reading, but most of it was pretty trash. Even when it was not, the agile, at times intricate play of modern languages stepped in and went out of my mind as radio music – then of course there was the actual radio music, the traffic noise, the constant hiss from strangers through the streets. the work, the slower changing movements of friends, lovers, alliances, noise from electricity and neon at night. Everything kept my mind and nervous system in a whipped state, from which it was difficult to relate to the Bible.
The earth was formless and empty; and darkness was upon the deep. And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. Then God said, let there be light, and there was light. I could not even appreciate the beauty of the words. The sentences seemed like big stupid form samples that were forced into something fast-moving and infinitely changeable. The shape was dumb, huge and absolutely motionless. It made me feel like I was suffocated.
One priest after another would quote from it as intensely as if its great, majestic opacity were meaningful in itself, and I would at least try to feel the meaning if I could not understand it. But all I felt was the persistent feeling of truncation, the hint of something enormous and feeble-minded trying to squeeze through the static form of written words. This feeling became most intense as I read Revelation. Next to Job, Revelation is the most cinematic and surreal part of the Bible – it’s a bit like a horror movie, and that’s probably why it was relatively easy for a modern teenager to take in: There are many explosions.
It seemed to me terribly real; I went out into the streets, in the middle of the big buildings, where the trade backed forward, and I would feel the violence, the lies, the grotesque pride, the dirt, the pitching, and the swelling under the guise of order. The air would crackle from the unrecognized brutality of life, and I would feel acutely all the small, stupid betrayals I committed daily, both against myself and others. The angels with their seven stars and their lamps, the beast with its seven heads and 10 horns – the static imagery was eerie and meaningless to me, and yet so much the more convincing to it.
I could imagine angels and beasts threatening around us, incomprehensible and invisible to our senses, as the images in a photograph would be incomprehensible and invisible to a cat. Their stars and lamps and horns seemed like peculiar metaphors on the side, but I feared that when the divine horses came down, with their fire and teeth and serpent tails, their reality would be far too clear. I lay in my bed praying, trying to convince myself of God’s love, but my prayers seemed like a rag in a typhoon. Besides, I couldn’t help but think it was terribly hard. Malignant wounds, scorpions, fire, men “gnawing their tongues” of pain – I knew people were terrible, but even in my youth I could also see that most did the best they could. Even as angry and scared and disappointed I was, I knew I would not torture people that way, and I could not see how I could be kinder than God.
I was moved when I read in 1 Corinthians 13: Love endures long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not inflated; does not behave rudely, does not seek his own, is not provoked, does not think evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; endures all, believes all, hopes all, endures all. Love never fails. But I also remember thinking, “And love is not pathologically cruel either.”
The rage of the revelation sometimes made my compassion feel weak and the flour in my mouth, but my reservations were not only humanitarian. I was more concerned about what to me was the mechanical quality, not only of Revelation, but of the whole Bible. You had to worship God in exactly one particular way, according to certain precepts – and Revelation suggested that the rules in the Ten Commandments, for example, were only a small part of a large scheme in which human ambivalence was simply not a factor.
During this time I had a dream that was not about the Bible, but that embodied my dismay over it. In the dream, I lived in a house with several other people. We could not get out of the house and our relationship with each other was predetermined, regardless of feeling. Our actions were controlled by a master we never saw. One day a man came to visit us, supposedly for lunch. He was very polite and even kind and we were kind to him too. But it was implied that he was one of the people who controlled us, and the mood was pure fear. During lunch, when one of the men in the house seized and killed one of the household cats, we knew it was because our visitor had somehow made him do it.
I could not hide my horror completely, and our guest looked at me for a moment and then said, referring to the cat’s broken body, “That’s what I want to do about you one day.” I understood that he meant that he would rape me, and I said, “But I’m married,” not because it meant anything to me, but because I knew that the only thing that mattered to him was his laws. , including marriage law. Then I got too angry to agree to this, and I added, “Even though I do not respect my husband.”