My childhood home had a foyer with a coat rack that had a long mirror built into it. I remember, as a little girl of six or seven, I made a habit of slipping into the foyer and closing the door behind me to look at my reflection.
The girl in the mirror astounded me. She had long brown hair, wavy and thick, held back from her face with a white headband. She wore a white turtleneck underneath a forest green corduroy jumper with big matching buttons sewn by her mother, quite possibly as an homage to Corduroy bear.
The girl had large hazel eyes and peach skin that flushed at the cheeks. Dimples creased at three spots around her mouth, which was big, red, and pretty. (Grown up women at church sometimes asked her if she was wearing lipstick, and the answer was always no.)
This person staring back at me from the foyer mirror was utterly unbelievable.
“She’s me,” I thought. “I’m me.”
The mystery of consciousness alighted on me (in me? from me?) and I could scarcely believe it. How was it possible? Could I really be real?
The wonder stays with me and, to an extent, the disbelief. That I exist as part of the universe--not above or below it, but correlated with it--this is nothing short of a miracle. That I am aware of this miracle and imagine it too beautiful to trust--this is part of the spell.
I want to stay suspended here between disbelief and wonder because it’s here on this plot that seeds are planted and watered. A Jewish rabbi once observed that a grain of wheat remains just one grain until it falls into the ground and dies. Only in death will the grain bear fruit, become many. It dies to become something new, to break out as a stalk of wheat that produces many grains that in turn sustain and produce life by dying.
This is a difficult word, but the longer I look at what I call the ‘self,’ the more true it appears to be. Everything exists as a state of possibility, which is a contradiction in terms. How can anything exist as a potential or inhabit an unshifting ‘state’ of what may be?
The girl in the mirror--the externalizing of my internal dream of my ‘self’--is only a point of departure, the seat from which I dream up the world even as the world dreams up me. No ‘world and me’ exists. The ‘I’ dies and becomes everything, the many, even as everything moves together to produce more solitary seeds.
Looking at my self is self-perception in more than one sense. All that I perceive is in my brain. It is the brain that sees and feels and gives rise to the world that I experience. My brain is me. But it is no less everything else. My consciousness creates the world, but the world also creates me, even as there is no world apart from me or me apart from the world. (And maybe in this way, I can be said to survive even when my brain has died: I am consciousness dispersed.)
We are bringing to life what was only a potential until we observed it. Seeing is not just believing, but making. Belief, sight, imagination. These are names we use as roads to get to the same thing. To believe is to see, and sight is imagination, and imagination is creation, bringing forth what was potential until we took note of it. The taking of notes is the filling of the eye, which is the shaping of our shared home.
I am an image and an image-maker. I am the sign, the sign-maker, and the one (the many) signified. I don’t point beyond myself to an external other. The world is full of signs that point back and forth, up and down, in and out, all around. We flow in and out of one another like eddies on a river.
The girl in the mirror is me and not-me.
The mind can cognize one thing and in it see many things. We are many things. We are never just ourselves, our locality. We are real images of other real images. We are real when we are imaged, cognized, looked at.
This is the beginning of god. Deity becomes reality through her images. We are a god talking to herself, pulling herself from a potential to a thing thought, an image shaped. And she is our language, the image fashioned by our stories, talking ourselves into reality. We exist in her and she in us.
Are the gods teasing us, you think? It’s as if they know, or at least suspect, that they don’t exist until we talk about them. Until we carve our images and paint our pictures and hear their voices in our language, they’re less than a thought. It’s as if they know their own contingency.
Do deities care or do they laugh at it? Do they worry about fading into nothing when they cease to be cognized, are no longer remembered?
I’ve yet to meet a god that wasn’t as obsessed with memorials as humans are. But I’ve not known many gods. Maybe they’re not all like this. But, then, would the ones that don’t leave a paper trail even be remembered long enough for us to know?
You ask what I mean when I write about gods. If I knew this, I wouldn’t need to write about them. But since humans acquired language, they’ve used the language of the divine to talk about the most intimate human things. We translate the sensations we do not understand into sacred words and carve them into our skin.
What are we talking about when we talk about ‘god’?
At the very least, we speak our own ineffable name. We proclaim the mystery of faith, the deep, abiding prophecies of the human imagination.
At most? There is no most. There is no beyond that is not within, and the mind is a bottomless ocean. Out of the excess of the mind, the mouth speaks and builds its caverns of memory, its temples, shrines, and palaces.