The son of God sat on his couch eating cookies. They were organic, gluten-free ginger cookies, supposedly good for digestion (though maybe not if you ate the whole 16 ounce bag), but any reference to health food was just a coincidence. It was just the bag he happened to grab when he stopped by the grocery store on his way home from work.
Rob (the son of God) had been serving dinner to residents of the Golden Years Retirement Home. As a team of four servers, one cook, and one dishwasher, they were an efficient machine. But better than a machine – a machine with a soul. Rob was the oldest one in the kitchen, a 40-year-old surrounded by kids in their 20’s. He had recently become divorced from his wife of 20 years and his 21-year-old daughter had taken the side of her mother. Sides. He barely understood the concept. At least in marriage. They were all supposed to be on the same side, weren’t they? The family side?
Rob didn’t understand why Emma, his wife, had become so unhappy with him. He loved her faithfully and provided for her… although the providing had diminished considerably with the tanking of the economy. When Rob’s construction business went bankrupt, he’d found the quickest job he could get. His extensive college experience as a waiter and the fact that he had built a house for the Retirement Home’s director (Rob had given the couple a maple sapling as a housewarming gift) landed him a minimum wage gig that he thought was better than nothing. Emma, however, only accused him of being too lazy to find a better job, or to make the construction business work no matter what. One month into his server job, Rob felt happier than he ever had. And his wife felt worse. She filed divorce papers and moved to an apartment home close to their daughter’s college campus.
Since Rob couldn’t afford the mortgage for their home, and it didn’t sell quickly enough, the house went into foreclosure, and Rob moved into a small apartment on the bottom floor of an 8-unit box of a building. There were three floors, with three apartments on each except for the ground floor level. There, where the ninth unit would have been, there was a laundry facility (two washers, two dryers) and a small office space surrounded by slightly faded, multi-colored cloth flowers in plastic pots. There the 65-year-old landlady, Selma, sat three days a week while her 23-year-old son Walter, who had Down’s syndrome, took out the garbage and mowed the strip of grass that ran around the place. Rob always brought in his rent check a day or two early, and chatted and worked with Walter in the yard when he could.
Rob was surprised by his happiness at the Golden Year’s Home. It reminded him of the pride he felt when he built homes for other people. But this was more potent, intense. In construction he only imagined how much people appreciated their new house, how they turned it into a home. But at golden Years, he was right there in the home/community that he was continually helping to build. When the Connor’s praised the beef stew, sending compliments of tender meat to Carla, the cook, Rob felt pride and happiness and love, which he passed right along.
“They say the beef was really tender tonight Carla. Did you something different?”
And when Carla told him, smiling (slow cook at a low heat – my Mom suggested it!), Rob felt happy to be part of something bigger than just one family at a time. Never mind the almost-as-many complaints about the beef. He said nothing of those to Carla, figuring most of those were due to bad teeth or old dental work anyway. Instead, he smoothed over most of complaints right at the table.
“This meat is tough as leather,” Tom Mason would often complain to Rob. Since Rob knew Tom would be embarrassed to have someone stand over him and cut the meat on his plate, Rob went over to his wife’s plate instead.
“Sorry about that Tom,” Rob would say. “Here Betty, let me cut that up for you.”
When Rob was almost done, Tom would frown, slide his plate over to Rob and say, “While you’re at it anyway….” Rob would then quickly cut up his meat while talking about whatever sport was in season, and then all was well.
After months of upheaval – bankruptcy, divorce, learning a new job – Rob was finally feeling like he belonged somewhere again, settled into a routine. And then this whole son of God thing came and threw him off balance.
He first became aware of his…”lineage”, if you will, the previous Saturday, when he received a phone call. He had been sleeping and dreaming about something he couldn’t remember but which had left him feeling confused, though not unhappy, when the phone rang. It was only six o’clock in the morning, and too early for any intelligent solicitor to think he’d drum up any business waking up someone on a sleep-in day. So he was sure it was something urgent – maybe his daughter was in a car accident, or his brother was in jail after another Friday night wild party. Maybe his mother, on the East coast and three hours ahead, had just forgotten the time difference, but that was unlikely. Maybe she was sick? Or she fell? Whatever it was, he knew it was urgent. He reached out from under the bed covers and grabbed the phone, concerned and a little groggy.
An unfamiliar female voice, smooth and pleasant, greeted him over the line.
“You are the son of God,” she said. “Have a pleasant day.”
There was a click of the other end of the phone hanging up. Rob turned the phone headset off and lay on his back, wondering about the call. Then he fell back to sleep.
When Rob awoke again around 10:30am, the memory of the phone call was so faint as to have been a dream. He let himself wake up and relax a little before he went to the bathroom, thinking of the phone call while he peed, his eyes closed, his aim accurate only from muscle memory.
While washing his hands in the bathroom sink, now convinced the phone call had been an amusing dream, the phone rang. For real this time. When he grabbed the receiver and held it to his ear, he hadn’t even been able to get out a “Hello” before he heard the same female voice from the previous call say, “It’s true, Rob. You are the son of God.” Click.
Rob was peeved at that point, but not too concerned. It was obviously some kind of prank. Teenage kids having a laugh. He turned off the phone and pressed the caller ID button. The tiny receiver screen read in black digital box letters, “Unlisted”. Of course.
That day Rob did his laundry, answered some e-mails, then called his Mom and his daughter. Since it was sunny out, Rob went for a walk to the neighborhood convenience store and bought some soda he then delivered to his next door neighbor, Paul, an elderly gentleman confined to a wheelchair. Rob made himself a peanut butter sandwich around 2pm, then walked to the library to read Architecture Weekly (which he couldn’t afford to subscribe to). Around 5:00, he walked to Wendy’s, ordered his usual, flirted with his favorite waitress, ate his baked potato (with extra bacon) and went home.
It was only as Rob was falling asleep that he remembered the female voice telling him he was the son of God, and he chuckled a little as he drifted off.
Rob probably would have forgotten about Saturday’s phone calls if not for the strange coincidences over the following week.
- Monday during the lunch rush, with servers moving quickly in and out of the kitchen double doors, Rob heard a loud crash and tinkle of breaking dishes preceding the sound of Jose the dishwasher’s voice shouting, “Son of God!” At least that’s what Rob thought he heard. Sometimes it was hard to hear things well in the constantly noisy kitchen, with the big fan mounted to the ceiling whirring loudly, the noisy swashes and clacks of the dishwashing machine, servers shouting their orders, the fryer bubbling, and the radio playing in the background. He’d never heard Jose say that phrase before. And then the cook, Carla, said in a faux-serious tone, “Watch your language, Jose. Nothing offensive against women please. I happen to be one of those.” The teenage servers laughed while Rob questioned his hearing (and maybe his sanity) but had no time to dwell on the incident.
- Tuesday, Nonni, a 16-year-old server whose favorite artist and role model is Rhianna, turned on the radio to blast a very loud song into the air with the mid-tune lyric, “You are, oh oh, the Son of God.” Then he heard the static fuzz of moving through stations as Nonni fiddled with the knob, calling out loud accusingly, “Who had this on a Christian station? And at full volume!” A hip hop tune soon replaced the softer song, and Rob could only wonder about it as he made an industrial-sized pot of coffee.
- Wednesday, Rob didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary and thought maybe he was in the clear. But Thursday, when he picked up his mail from the metal mailboxes outside the laundry room, there was a pamphlet on top of the pile that said, “The Son of God is here.”
- The kicker, though, happened right before Rob popped into the store for cookies. It was Friday night, and he was driving home, appreciating the mid-July long evening, still bright at 7:30pm, when he looked up in the sky and saw the clouds moving in odd, multiple directions, coming together, pulling apart, forming unusual shapes. Then he read, miles above him in diffuse bands of white against bright baby blue, the words “You are”. The clouds shifted again, blurring up the words, then moving as before to form different words. He had to concentrate on paying attention to the freeway, but also had to keep looking skyward, pretty sure of what he would see. And then, there it was. “The son of God.”
That was the last straw. He was a little upset at that point. Not as much as a person might expect, since Rob was fairly rational about most things, and he felt he just needed a little time to think things through before he panicked. He was definitely uncomfortable though. He looked around to see if anyone else in their little speeding car boxes had seen what he had seen in the sky just seconds before it diffused itself into an indistinguishable band of condensation, like an hours-old, widened out contrail. But no one seemed to be paying attention to the sky. They were all in their own little worlds, oblivious.
Rob decided he needed thinking food. At the store, he stood in the quickie checkout lane (5 items or less) and plopped his carton of iced tea powder and bag of cookies onto the black conveyer belt behind a woman with a crying baby in her cart. He began a game of peek-a-boo with the little girl, hiding behind his hands, then revealing a happy face with a gentle “boo!” Soon the baby was happy again, and the Mom thanked Rob, kissed her child on the forehead, and wheeled off toward the automatic doors. Rob had turned to face the gum rack on his right side, when he heard behind him, “Hi, Rob!” Curious, Rob turned around to see the face of a cashier he had never met before.
“Oh!” she said. “I’m sorry! I thought you were someone else.”
“My name is Rob, though,” he said.
“Wow. Really? Strange coincidence.”
But it felt like more than that to Rob. He made himself smile at the cashier, whose face had turned a light shade of red. Then he gathered his change from the coin-dispenser box’s receptor cup, and he grabbed his bag and left.
At home, TV on, but not registering in his mind, Rob drank iced tea and munched on cookies while he considered the options. They boiled down to two basic possibilities:
- He was crazy.
- He was the son of God.
Exploring the first option, he thought that yes, he could be crazy. It was the lead option, in fact. He wiped crumbs from the 5 o’clock shadow of his white, bristly chin. He had gone gray early, like his father, but hadn’t died young like him. Rob had been 10 when his Dad died at the age of 35. Heart attack. High blood pressure.
Who knows, thought Rob – maybe Dad would have gone crazy if he’d lived longer. If I have his early gray hair, maybe I have some gene of his that causes a person to go nuts in their 40’s, to start seeing things that aren’t there. To have delusions of grandeur.
Except Rob didn’t truly consider being the “son of God” a grand honor. Grand, yes. But honor? For one thing, God created all of humanity, so we were all technically his sons and daughters. Rob believed that Jesus Christ was definitely a special son of God, like that favorite child a parent isn’t supposed to have but just does because the kid is so undeniably awesome.
Rob remembered loving his daughter Lila so much that he thought if he ever had another kid, he would be that kind of terrible father with a favorite child. Everything Lila did was so amazing and wonderful. Even her “terrible two” tantrums made him ridiculously proud.
One day when Lila was screaming and crying with particular vigor, Rob said to his wife, “Listen to the pipes on that kid! Really! I think there’s some great singing potential there!” His wife had just glared at him, looking for signs of sarcasm. When she found none she turned away, saying something about how her ears hurt.
Rob thought now that he probably would have loved a second child just as much, but not in the same way, because every child is different. And maybe that’s the kind of favorite child Jesus was. God didn’t necessarily love him more, just differently? Especially given his great capacity for spiritual insight? But look what Jesus got for having all that capacity. He got to do all the difficult tasks. Turn these tradesmen into full-time spiritual teachers. Become an enemy of the state. Get tortured and killed in the most public and humiliating way. It didn’t seem like a very “grand” way to be treated.
And from that perspective, thinking oneself to be akin to Christ (his younger, more modern brother) could be considered a death wish more than a delusion of grandeur.
Rob reached his hand into the crinkly cookie bag and touched crumbs. He shook his head. He had eaten the whole bag. He should have known that would happen, that he would get to thinking and then not realize how much he’d eaten.
Rob lay back on the couch, his stomach not feeling entirely well, and rested his head on a pillow. He looked up. The probably asbestos-filled “popcorn” covering the ceiling did not form itself into any cryptic messages. The TV background noise didn’t coagulate into anything other than the low-volume garble of a random sit com. He felt no different than before this son of God stuff started. No paranoia, no manic compulsions, no strange-reality convictions. Of course, if he did have these symptoms, he knew he wouldn’t be the best judge of whether or not he had them. But still, he didn’t feel anything different or wrong. And he’d been looking at how people reacted to him. Nothing unusual that he could see. Same smiles from those who liked him, non-smiles from those who didn’t like him or didn’t care about him at all.
Then there was the next reality check, the point that, in his mind, he was nothing special. He wasn’t a bad person, but he wasn’t really exceptional at anything. He was kind enough to people, but didn’t take shit from them either. He’d never cheated on his wife, officially, but right after she’d left him, he’d had a couple of flings. He never went to church (disappointing his mother greatly), and he never prayed….
Well, that last part may not be true, he thought. There were times when he felt something so strongly that he wondered if it was a prayer. Just tonight, driving home from work (before the cloud incident) he had put down the driver side sun shade to protect his eyes from westward-driving glare, when a smile washed itself all over and through him. Even though it didn’t form into words or even specific thoughts, if he’d had to translate the feeling into words, he would have said he felt appreciation for whomever created this place, a planet with an ever-present, long-lasting energy source. As a home-builder, he appreciated earth as the ultimate home made by a master builder, full of practical necessities for survival, and many esthetically pleasing features to feed the soul. He knew he loved God and would serve this force however he could.
Rob decided to try praying more formally, so he sat up a little on his couch and remembered the prayer his mother had taught him when he was young.
“Our Father, who art in heaven,” Rob said aloud.
Father. Like any good dad, the creator left a lot of stuff up to us, gave us all the raw materials, both outer and inner, to follow in our Dad’s creating footsteps.
“Hallowed be thy name.”
What did “hallowed” mean, exactly? Special? Sacred? And what about God’s name?
Rob remembered when Lila, first learning to talk, had called him Robert for awhile because Emma called him that when she was angry. She must have been angry a lot back then. But if Lila had been around his mother (her grandmother) more often, she might have called him Bobby. Around his brother (her uncle) she may have learned to call him “Dork”. Around his construction employees, Boss. But eventually, Lila learned the name that encompassed all of what he wanted to be for her. “Dad.”
God had many names, many roles, many qualities. But to us, all of us, he was Dad. Rob believed this strongly, and the thought of having a father so literally awesome filled him with that same warmth of appreciation he had felt on the drive home and many times before that. He continued his prayer.
“Thy Kingdom come…”
How wonderful it would be to get a blueprint from God, the ultimate architect, and to build that vision. What would it look like? What people would come together? Who would interact? What alliances would form? What would God’s kingdom look like? Are we getting any closer? Rob smiled at the possibilities.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Wouldn’t that be amazing to be able to do God’s will. And we must be able to, since God wouldn’t ask us to accomplish anything beyond our abilities. Good dads didn’t do that to their kids. Good dads helped increase their kids’ abilities, little by little.
Rob felt compelled to add to the prayer that Jesus had outlined. He rested his forearms on his knees and closed his eyes.
“Dear God,” he said, as naturally as if he’d been talking to God for years, which, he surmised, maybe he had been. After all, if people could communicate with body language, why not mind language or spirit language. Rob was sure God was fluent in all of those.
“Thanks for everything,” he continued. “Life is really awesome stuff.” Okay. Not too sophisticated, he thought, but you have to crawl before you can walk.
“If you really want me to know I’m a son of God or the son of God – I mean I don’t think I’d ever replace Jesus Christ or anything….” Hmmm. Start over. “Okay. I’ve been seeing these messages I’m sure you’re aware of. And you know if they are from you or not. So, if these messages about being the son of God are from you….” He paused. “And if they are from you to me, and I’m not accidentally intercepting them when they’ve been meant for someone else this whole time…. If you really are telling me I’m the son of God, I’m gonna need a little more instructions along that line. I mean, as far as what I’m specifically supposed to do about that.” He felt very weird even considering that these messages were real, were from God, that he could possibly be the son of God, whatever that really meant. Because seriously, it could be a pretty messed up presumption. Fodder for becoming an egomaniac.
Then again, if these really were messages from God, creator of the universe, Father of all, Rob imagined there could be some pretty heavy consequences for not taking the messages seriously. And probably the worst consequence would be eventually finding out that you had disappointed God, that you were one of God’s favorite kids, and you let him down. That would be the worst. Rob had hated it when his own Dad was disappointed in him. And it would be infinitely worse coming from the ultimate Dad, whom you admired and appreciated down to your molecules, who didn’t just give you life, but gave you life – all of it, everything up to planets and down to atoms. Just knowing you didn’t do all you could would be awful. Plus, at least some writings affirmed that God had a temper, so consequences could go beyond guilt.
Rob sighed and opened his eyes. He grabbed the remote and clicked off the TV. Instinctively, he looked upwards toward the five-winged ceiling fan/light fixture swirling above the center of the room.
“Dear God, if you do give me any more messages, could you please make them a little more subtle? I know that could make them harder to interpret, but I don’t think I’ll trust myself if I see any more messages in clouds.”
Rob closed his eyes again, satisfied that he’d done his best, hoping he wasn’t crazy, pretty sure that he wasn’t. And he breathed deeply. Happy.
A loud, repeating thump jerked his eyes open. He looked to his right, where the sound had come from, and saw his landlady’s son Walter staring though the closed window, his already fairly flat nose squished further with its pressure against the glass.
“Wob! Wob!” he shouted through the glass. “You in dayoo?”
Rob smiled, suppressing the urge to shake his head lest it be misinterpreted as a “no”.
“I’m in here, buddy. What’s up?”
Walter smiled. “Mow da wawn!”
“You’re mowing the lawn, huh? Hey, can I help?”
Walter nodded his head enthusiastically.
“Allright! But I call weed eating,” he said, picking the job he knew Walter liked the least. Walter smiled so big his eyes barely had room to stay open.
“Come on, Wob!” He jumped up laughing and ran off out of sight. Rob chuckled and got up to change into yardwork clothes.