Pink Elephants: On Idol Worship

“So what you’re saying is, you want to cast yourself an idol and worship it,” he said.

That’s my smart, funny, Pastor-Friend-Bryan who was sitting across from me, as I laid out to him two winters ago what it could mean for me to grapple again with the mystery of a god or a universe or a Great Pumpkin.  I was in the habit of using Bryan’s full name, Pastor-Friend-Bryan, to my other not-pastor-friends and my mother so as to feel safe speaking about general heretical epiphanies as they trailed across my otherwise desolate spiritual wasteland.  It assuaged my guilt, maybe to my now just Friend Bryan’s chagrin.

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This day, I was confessing a simple plan I had to build a doll or a teddy bear and dress it up and set it in the corner of my room and talk to it.  I insisted it would help me practice praying, coax me back into the habit of speaking into the abyss, except with a little doll shaped antennae with a cute face to funnel these prayers to where they needed to go.  The strenuous, prostrate agony of prayer left me empty and nauseous, even when it was a daily occurrence in high school.

“So what you’re saying is…”

And I was.  And I am.  When I was approached in college by the Greek Orthodox church to convert, I was either too above or too below the acceptance of their ritual of kissing figurines to commence worship.  I knew better.  I was smarter than wooden faces.  I was stronger than the crutch of carved saints.

But maybe not too smart or strong for fluffy stuffed cats and plastic pink elephants.

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In hindsight, the desire for a rocking-chair-or-pocket-sized god is not just sprinkled in my history, but flooded.  The trouble is, I am in a habit of giving my god away.  The plastic lizards of my childhood, carried along and talked to through school and solitary playing, stashed in my right hand during Sunday School and squished between the Old and New Testament in grown-up church, all given away to the children I babysat as I got too old to carry miniature iguanas and life-sized geckos everywhere.  Lizards, hear my prayer.  My adolescent god was a smiling blue doll named Brandon, equipped with a giggle box that activated when I squeezed it.  He held the prayers of my scared self as I huddled for a few weeks in the psych ward as the self-inflicted cuts on my arms healed, and then was given away to Goodwill.  Brandon, hear my prayer.

When the early cracks of marital severance emerged, while cleaning my bosses’ house, a small, pink, palm-sized plastic elephant emerged from the bottom of a donation pile.  The little piece found its way onto my desk, then my purse, then came close as Nashville winter swept it right into my winter jacket.  The following winter, when shove came to divorce papers, I found the little elephant ready and waiting in my jacket pocket.  Pink Elephant, hear my prayer.  Then, on a brisk December day, I handed the little god vessel to another in an act of friendship and in a feat of personal strength.  Even my dog, who I suspected as god incarnate and who has listened to an abundance of prayers, is now shared with my Someone.  Butter, hear my prayer.  I can’t seem to hold on to idols.

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Maybe it’s my embarrassment– who wants a god who knew me from the beginning?  Who wants a god who is holding my dark things?  Who needs a constant reminder of my failures?  Great Pumpkin, hear my prayer.

These days, I might hold g(G)od to the sunsets and the trees, to the perfect dinner and to a fine glass a whiskey– same places I hold myself.  I haven’t figured out anything more or new on the subject, I haven’t designated a new vessel.  I’m still trying to figure out what sort of g(G?)od prefers to occupy what spaces.  It wouldn’t matter if I did find the perfect idol, I would likely give it away, anyway.  I’m a regular evangelist, a sharer of the good news.  Or at least of some news.

Anybody, hear my prayer.

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