Seeing God in the Every Day
When I was little, my parents bought me Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s book, God’s Paintbrush, which became the cornerstone of every bedtime routine for years. The story paints beautiful interpretations of children’s understandings of spirituality, encouraging children to wonder if God has a lap to sit on like Dad’s, or if God’s arms are warm and loving like Mom’s. These wondrous childhood questions danced me into sleep each night.
One afternoon, my mom picked me up after kindergarten, and we went to the local grocery mart. As we passed the fruits and vegetables, I noticed an older gentleman with receding grey hair in a store smock weighing fruit for a customer. He noticed me, winked, and waved kindly.
“Are you God?” I asked him. I was sure of it.
“Anna!” my mother chuckled, ushering me away. She was understandably embarrassed. As we walked away, I looked back over my shoulder. He gave me the warmest smile I had ever seen.
Each time I visited the food mart after that, I would desperately search for God. He would always be there, silently weighing customers’ fruits with that same warm smile. As I grew older, I surmised that his silence was just one of the many wonders of God’s mysteries.
As my bedtime stories matured from picture books to young adult novels, I became doubtful of this humanistic notion of God. One day after middle school, I went to the corner store to buy some candy. The man in the fruit section was not there.
Concerned, I asked the cashier as she scanned my Raisinets.
“Oh honey, he passed away last month.”
Ghost-faced, I slinked home.
Perhaps it was the fact that I also had just seen Bill Maher’s Religulous in theaters and was feeling very confused about religion and spirituality. But now, with God dead, I was beside myself.
How childish, I thought to myself, that I had gone so many years imagining God as a living human being walking amongst us each day. How foolish I was to personify such an inconceivable force.
Throughout high school, I dedicated myself to adopting new understandings of God. In my confirmation class, we discussed precisely this, and I was beyond thrilled to embrace my classmates’ interpretations.
“I think God is like a watchmaker, who creates the world and then steps away and leaves everything to tick on its own,” a peer said.
“God is nature. God is in the trees, grass, mountains…,” announced another peer.
“I think God kind of watches us from above like we’re all in a huge play and God is the puppeteer, guiding our movements,” taught a third.
I marveled at my peers’ knowledge of God; I thought their understandings were better than mine. After all, my God died after working in a fruit store.
One summer in college, I interned at a Jewish nursing home, leading classes with its residents. My main task, though, was to visit one-on-one with residents and gather as much information about their lives as possible for documentation. It was one of the most powerful summers of my life. The stories I heard were moving and enlightening.
One day, while interviewing Bernice, a resident, I asked her if she believed in God.
“Of course,” she answered.
My puzzlement about God, still boiling beneath the surface, got the best of me, “How would you describe God, then? What is God?”
She took a long, deep breath, took my hand into her wrinkled palm and told me something I never will forget: “Anyone’s guess is good as mine. Alls I know is that I meet God every day.”
“Every day?” I whispered, as if in a hypnotic trance. As I realized the weight of Bernice’s wise words, of b’tzelem Elohim (created in the image of God), tears fell from my eyes. The fruit store man came back to life.
What might it mean to live like Bernice or the childlike versions of ourselves, noticing God each day in the mundane? How might our world be strengthened if we were able to see God in the face of a refugee child, a stranger on the street, or perhaps even someone with whom we disagree? It is simply a matter of opening our eyes and seeing what’s in front of us.
The Talmud recounts a story in which Rabbi Joshua ben Levi meets Elijah at the entrance to a cave and asks Elijah when God will come (T.Bab.Sanhedrin 98a).
Elijah answered, “Go and ask him yourself.”
I may have started my childhood meeting God in the fruit aisle of a grocery store, but now I meet God everywhere.