Naked as the day we were born
I had a vision the other day that came to me in the form of a daydream. I was sitting in the library staring off into space when suddenly I imagined myself in a huge room with a crowd of people. We were all waiting for God to show up. Some people were standing around in groups, talking. Others were sitting down. A few were asleep. Suddenly God appeared and things got very quiet, which was understandable because God was about 30 feet tall. A man near the back was the last one to notice. He was telling a joke to his buddy when he realized he was the only one talking. He looked around, saw God, and said, “Oh, sorry.”
Then God said, “Some of you are rather nicely dressed, I see.” That made the well-dressed people happy. Some of the men opened their blazers to show God the linings. A few women twirled around so God could get a good look at their outfits. A number of people seemed very proud of their shoes and pointed to them with open palms. God laughed and then took a deep breath. For a moment I thought God was going to suck all the air out of the room. There was a long pause, and then God leaned forward and blew. The sound of it was like the rush of a mighty wind. All of our clothes disintegrated and disappeared, like confetti blown off the top of a waxed table.
Just like that we were naked. As naked as the day we were born. It was embarrassing at first, but there wasn’t anything to be done about it. Eventually the idea began to settle in and people calmed down. You could hear people saying, “Oh well, I guess we’re naked now.”
There was a group of religious people who had brought Bibles with them and were now using them to cover themselves. One guy had a small, pocket New Testament which he held over his private parts. The guy next to him had a big black Bible and was saying, “Who’s trash-talking the King James now?” God saw the Bibles and started to laugh with a booming voice that shook the room. “What need have you of Testaments?” God asked. “You’re standing in my presence.” God snapped God’s fingers and all the Bibles turned to smoke and drifted away. This was particularly hard on the clergy, whose expertise in the scriptures suddenly lost whatever relevance it may have had. And try as they might, in the presence of God, even the ministers could not remember a single verse.
“All right then,” said God. “Has anyone else brought something with them?”
There were a few who had things hidden behind their backs. One by one they held them up. A bag of Oreos, an iPod, a baseball glove, family photos, those sorts of things. As soon as they were shown, they turned to smoke, just like the Bibles had.
God looked around at all the people and saw that they were good - finally. Then God said, “Percival Stanley WHIGGINS!!!”
Everyone looked around. Some were mouthing “Percival,” as if they couldn’t believe anyone might actually have that name. Near the middle of the room, a sheepish young man in his 20’s pulled a small wooden flute from behind his back and held it up. God winked and the flute snapped out of existence in a pop of blue static. Percival Stanley Whiggins squeaked and put his fingertips in his mouth. God stared hard at him, which would have been terrible, but there was a slight hint of a smile at the corner of God’s mouth.
“I’ll be keeping an eye on you, mister,” said God.
“Now then,” said God. “Just a few questions. How many of you were lawyers?”
Not one person raised a hand.
“How many were ministers?”
No one moved.
“Business persons? Accountants? Sports legends? School teachers? Artists? Show business, perhaps?”
People looked at each other and shrugged. No one raised a hand.
“Can anyone remember what he or she did for a living?”
No one said anything. We looked at each other in amazement. We were naked, completely at peace, and suddenly we couldn’t remember what we did for a living. Then Percival Stanley Whiggins shyly raised his hand and said, “I think I might have been a shopkeeper.”
God exhaled impatiently and said, “No you were NOT.”
I began to think that Percival Stanley Whiggins was either the bravest or the stupidest person I had ever seen. Fortunately, that was the last we heard from him.
God sat down in a huge chair and said, “Line up now. Line up and come see me, one at a time. Come and tell me what you’ve been doing with the lives I have given you.”
It was a very long line, but no one seemed to mind. Those near the back fell asleep, though they remained standing. They shuffled forward as the line moved without opening their eyes. As they got near the front they came awake. I noticed that some people seemed very afraid to speak to God. One or two tried to run away, but there really wasn’t anywhere to go. Eventually they wandered back over and got in line again. Some people wept. Others shook with fear. Quite a few seemed stunned. Each person had a turn talking to God for a few moments. Then God sent them, one by one, through a purple door that was right next to God’s chair.
Then it was my turn. When I stepped up to the chair, I realized that God had shrunk until God was only about 10 feet tall. It was still intimidating but not as bad as before. God said, “What do you have to say for yourself.”
I was stumped. With no memory of the jobs I had in life, I wasn’t sure what to say.
“Um, I had three daughters. And I loved them quite dearly.”
“Yes, you did,” God replied.
“I was married to a very good woman and I truly loved her. Just adored her. I think I was a better person with her than I would have been without her.”
“Agreed,” said God.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say. There were a few moments of awkward silence. Then God said, “Would you like me to return your memory of what you did for a living, as you people like to say?
In that moment it all came back to me. I expected the fullness of my completed labors to rush back into the void of my memory and fill me with a robust sense of purpose and meaning. But the memory of what I did seemed rather hollow and unimportant. I recounted my various jobs to God without a lot of energy.
“Oh yeah, I was a minister. And a writer. So I…you know…preached and did church stuff. I was at this one church for many years. So I was proud of that, of course. It was…Covenant…something Church, I think. I used to think about things a lot, and I wrote some of that down. You know, so that my thoughts were on paper and all. So…there was that.
God shrugged and said, “Anything else?”
My mind was a blank. So I shook my head.
God nodded, solemnly.
“You were never really true to yourself, though, were you? That’s what makes me sad about your life. The church stuff is fine. And sure, you wrote some things. But you were never completely true to yourself.”
“Well, to a certain extent didn’t we all have to set aside our baser desires so as not to hurt others or do things that would be wrong? So what does "true to yourself" mean in that context? I always felt that…”
“STOP!” God said with a terrible frown that caused a shiver to go down my spine.
“Do not forget to whom you are speaking. I’m not talking about that. You know exactly what I mean, don’t you?”
“You know all the things you denied, don’t you? Things that were true about you but you wouldn't admit? Things you believed but would not confess?”
“And you know what you claimed and affirmed to get along and be comfortable, don’t you?”
I hung my head and felt the heavy weight of sorrow.
God nodded, and the sorrow disappeared. I looked up and saw Jesus standing beside the purple door. God inclined his head in that direction, so I took a step forward.
“Wow, it’s you,” I said. “Does everyone see you here?”
“That’s not for you to know. Answer me this: what do you want more than anything else?”
“The truth. I want to know the truth. About everything.”
Jesus smiled and opened the purple door. Behind it I could see crowds of people walking toward a light on the horizon. And just for a moment I thought I was going to put it all together in my mind. For a brief moment I felt like everything was just about to make sense.
And then I sneezed. I shook my head and realized I had been daydreaming. The purple door was gone, and I was back in the library again. Back in this life, where what I do for a living is what matters and hardly anything makes sense at all.