My boyfriend and I were in a car accident this weekend. We both are fine. Nothing more than a few bruises on us. The cars were not so lucky, though of course we know it could have been much worse. But when the storm had passed, the incident afforded me an unexpected peak into an aspect of my boyfriend that that I was rather mystified to see. He invoked God. Out loud.
The car crash was jarring. It definitely shook us pretty good and for a long five seconds, it was incredibly scary. There’s a lot you can tell about a person by the way they handle life’s unexpected adversity. Of course, it’s easy to be in love when times are good, but we’re also looking for someone who will be with us when dealing with the inevitable fear and sadness that life might mete out at any moment. It came as no surprise to me that my boyfriend was fairly calm and overly concerned about me from the second of impact till well, he hasn’t stopped being concerned. The moment the car stopped moving when I had barely processed what happened, let alone stopped hearing the screech of tires and metal frames crushing in on themselves, he turned to me and steadily asked me if I was all right.
The next hour or so was an awful blur of police officers and phone calls and tow trucks and shaky hands and wobbly legs and grabbing hold of the person I was lucky to be with. But luck was what I attributed it all to. I am not an atheist but at the same time I don’t really think much about God in my daily life. When good things happen I don’t thank him(/her/it) and when bad things happen I try not to blame him.
So I was almost shocked after a year of dating to hear God invoked for the first time. In the middle of the night, I finally crawled into bed still shaking from the impact, him holding me tight, giving me tiny little kisses on the forehead the way boys do when they want to take care of you but can’t offer anything else up. When my boyfriend mentioned that if the other car had hit us a few seconds later and not hit the wheel well on his car but actually the driver’s side, he could have been seriously hurt, I thanked my lucky stars. But he thanked God. It was short and only a sentence long but it was something akin to prayer in which he thanked God for keeping us safe and out of danger and watching out for us.
Now let me back up here and say that in today’s day and age, especially in the educated liberal part which let’s face it is pretty much the only part I know, there’s not much talk of God anywhere. It’s just not something that comes up in conversation much. We certainly will talk about religion or going to temple or church or interfaith marriages or whether or kids will go to Hebrew school. But outright talk of God is rather rare. Perhaps it has become so much associated with fundamentalist Evangelicals that we’re scared to invoke God for fear of being associated with a nutjob who wants to bring stoning of adulterers into Congress? Perhaps we scared of sounding anti-intellectual? So although my boyfriend and I have talked extensively about religion, we haven’t much talked about God. It came up once early on and I sheepishly confirmed to him that as much as I would like to be completely convinced by Christopher Hitchens, in the abstract I’m still a believer. He told me he also believed in ‘something’ and comforted us both with a reminder that Einstein too believed in God. And we left it at that. It seemed there was nothing more to say on the subject.
But then there I was, in the middle of the night listening to my boyfriend uttering words out loud to thank God for keeping us safe. And it caught me off guard. Humbling and touching yes, but it made me realize that God is a very different thing for both of us. For me, God wasn’t keeping us safe. God was probably irritated with us for not being more careful and it was simply luck that kept us safe. Because otherwise, if something worse had happened, then we’re stuck believing that God didn’t keep us safe on purpose and that doesn’t conform to my notion of God at all. And yet, there are plenty of times when I’m defeated that I tell myself, it’s all meant to be and everything happens for a reason. But to be honest, I am nervous to voice this at times. It seems that one of the last social taboos left around is belief in an active God. I imagine I would be mocked in certain left-leaning intellectual circles if I voice this opinion. We seem to have succumbed to a tacit understanding, that though some of us are unable to give up a belief in God, we have all agreed never to speak of it so that no one has to fess up to this crude belief. This way no one can mock us for refusing reason and rationality which of course are the same ammunitions we use to degrade the other side in the fight against religious extremism.
But I guess what shocks me most, is not that he let this utterance escape in a time of stress but rather that I didn’t know this about him. Although, I can’t say I know how most of my friends feel on the subject. I know all of my friend’s religions and I can probably tell you how religious they are i.e. how often they go to church or if their children will be raised with religion. But I can’t tell you at all, if they really believe in God and I have no idea which of them might utter a thank you similar to my boyfriend in the quiet of their bedroom at night and which ones never utter a silent prayer at all.
So much has become so public these days. If I went to check up on an old friend from camp, in a few seconds I can find out if she’s in a relationship, what her politics are, what her “likes” are, and what she looks like. But I don’t really know if my own sister believes the same way I do about God. Why do we all feel compelled to keep this from each other? Is the real face of religious liberty a culture of secret religiosity.
It took a frightful scare for my boyfriend to open up about his God. I wanted to talk more about my God but in the dark of night, it all seemed insignificant. It didn’t matter to me if it was luck or God that kept me safe. I was just glad to be there, in a cozy home, listening to the still-quick heartbeat of my lover. And when he finished his pithy prayer, I thought to myself amen.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. Psalm 121