Natalie d’Arbeloff’s fanciful interviews with the Almighty.
By John D. Spalding
I must admit, I do not talk with God, at least not the way some people claim to. Oh, I pray and meditate (mostly in the form of reading and writing), and I think about God as I wrestle with life’s Big Questions. I also talk to myself, and once in a while I think I might hear a still small voice respond. But I wouldn’t call it "God.” One of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, maybe.
My point is that, to paraphrase a gazillion philosophers and theologians, the problem with thinking that we talk with God is that it's so easy to project our fears and desires onto the Almighty, without realizing it. And consider some of the frightening folks who think they’ve got a pipeline to the divine—Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Pat Robertson, George W. Bush.
So I was apprehensive when I picked up Natalie d'Arbeloff's book, "The God Interviews," a comic strip series featuring Augustine, the artist's alter ego, as she chats up the Unmoved Mover about everything from the problem of evil to the meaning of life. To my surprise, the book is not too cute, nor does it try too hard to be profound. It's a fun read, in part because d'Arbeloff's God digs Karl Marx's sentiment that "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." And it’s also fun because that Marx quote is, as it turns out, the most eloquent and insightful statement God utters in the whole book. Finally, a Creator we mere mortals can relate to!
We can also relate to d’Arbeloff’s Augustine. Unlike the 5th-century Church Father with whom she shares her name, this Augustine has bright red hair and favors short black cocktail dresses and high heels.
So what’s God like? For starters, He is, yes, a he—a balding, dark-skinned guy who resembles a cross between Krishnamurti and Picasso. He always wears the same outfit--a white T-shirt (with "GOD" written across the chest), white pants, no shoes or socks. He’s sweet, gentle, and wise, but above all he’s evasive. Augustine demands straight answers, but God insists that "wavy" ones are "more my style,” noting that, "evasion can sometimes be the right answer." For example, when Augustine asks God the point of making each of us as unique, special creatures only to let us die, He responds, "If there was no darkness, would you be able to see the light?" Thanks, Swami. Real deep. But then, is there a better answer than that?
Perhaps because He is omnipresent, d'Arbeloff's God is never in a rush to go anywhere, and the two spend an eternity together just hanging out—sitting under a tree, strolling the beach, catching a movie, sipping wine, yet always talking, talking, about life, love, the universe.
D'Arbeloff’s exercise demonstrates the extent to which we create God in our own image. D’Arbeloff is a writer, so her God addresses the problem of evil vis a vis his omnipotence by likening himself to a novelist who creates characters that take on a mind of their own. Similarly, she is an artist, so her God defends his inscrutability by arguing that artists don't have to make themselves understood. Her book explores our relationship to God in terms that transcend time and space, and above/below, internal/external distinctions. In a strip set in the character’s writing office, Augustine explains to God that she’s had no time for Him lately because she’s been busy attending to “ordinary” life. God sits on a chair in the middle of the room saying nothing out loud; instead, his words appear in a picture frame on the wall, more for the reader’s sake than Augustine’s. As she goes about vacuuming the floor, washing a window, or typing at her computer, she knows what he’s “saying” without being able to see or hear his words.
In another frame, she’s curled up like a baby, one-third her size, in God’s arms, complaining that life is hard and lonely. And in the next, she’s sitting on His lap, and on the wall above there’s a painting of the two them, mirroring their positions and expressions at that very moment. God’s response to her complaint about life is printed on a plaque above the picture: “The extraordinary is more ordinary than you think.”
To which she replies, “Okay, but will you stick around to make things less ordinary?”
And that’s the charm of d’Arbeloff’s book—it’s not so much about what God might say if we ever had the chance to interview Him. Rather, it’s about how we relate to and struggle with God—or our idea of God, or whatever you want to call the ultimately real.
My favorite strip is the one in which Augustine and God discuss reality—and our certainty, or lack thereof, that anything is real. Finally, she asks the Old Dude in a “GOD” T-shirt, "What is really real about you?"
And He replies, "That which cannot be imagined."
Well put, God.
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John D. Spalding is the editor of SoMAreview.com. His last piece was Apocalypse Then.
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