“God Always Finds a Way of Sneaking In”
I watched part of the Grammy Awards last night. The decision-making process was a tortuous one. I had serious reservations about the worthiness of the Grammys to occupy my Sunday evening time due to, a) the overhyped, oversexed, undertalented spectacle it seems to have become; and b) the fact that I was far from convinced that I needed to spend over a third of the next few hours subjecting myself to mindless advertising. As it happens, the stasis produced by a fairly exhausting weekend full of church activities won out over my myriad principled objections to watching the Grammys. The best laid plans, and all that.
Aside from a Mumford & Sons best album award and a performance by The Black Keys, the spectacle wasn’t exactly a memorable one. In my view, any show that gives Kelly Clarkson an award for best anything has thereby forfeited any right to pretend that it is dealing with genuine musical excellence. But I suppose that ship sailed long ago. And, of course, what would the Grammy Awards be without a few God references thrown in? The “good Lord” was predictably thanked a few times during the portion of the program I watched. A brief “thank you” is scant praise, perhaps, for all the divine machinations that undoubtedly went into delivering a shiny award to a handful of obscenely rich, spoiled industry puppets, but I’m sure God appreciated being thanked.
Around 10:30, I finally reached my pop-garbage saturation point and tried to catch up on some reading instead. I read an article from the December 2012 issue of The Walrus about physics and the “God-particle.” Perhaps my mind had been dulled by the preceding 90 minutes of Grammys… Perhaps Kelly Clarkson had invaded my brain and was beginning to destroy it… Perhaps it was because the article was about physics… Whatever the cause(s), I probably understood about 15% of what I read.
One part did stand out, though. The author, Dan Falk, was commenting about how books about cosmology, physics, and the search for the grand unifying theory inevitably wander into the realms of philosophy and theology. We can’t seem to be content with just analyzing and describing the world, we stubbornly insist on wondering what it means. What? and how? inevitably give way to why? Regardless of science’s official atheism—methodological or otherwise— Falk noted, “God always finds a way of sneaking in.”
Whether it is in a display of breathless and incoherently expressed gratitude at a decadent display of opulent excess or it is reaching back into the deepest recesses of time and space in the search for meaning and understanding, God finds a way of sneaking in. We need him when we don’t know what else to say, when we find our verbal cupboards bare in the search for suitable options to express our euphoria, our wonder, our surprise, our horror, our… whatever.
So God keeps on sneaking in… as what? A lofty rhetorical device? A generically “ultimate” referent for our experience of the sublime? “Oh my God!” we instinctively blurt out when we are amazed, annoyed, hurt, delighted, or whatever. “Something important has happened to me, something significant has registered on my radar!” we seem to be saying. And the word “God” is there, waiting for us, ready to be pressed into whatever exclamatory service is required. We barely give God a passing thought, most of the time, but he’s always lurking in the background, ready to make an appearance. God is sneaky that way.
Speaking of awards, before my head hit the pillow last night I finally finished off Katherine Boo’s award-winning Behind the Beautiful Forevers. It’s a heartrending tale about life in an Indian slum—about how important-sounding words like “globalization” and “industrialization” and “recession” affect ordinary women, children, and men at the bottom rung of the ladder of life. Little “road boys” feeding themselves by scavenging the garbage left by wealthy tourists in Mumbai is some distance indeed from the young, the rich, and the beautiful parading across the stage in the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
And, of course, God (or the gods) sneaks into the slums too, if in different ways. It was, hmm, shall we say “interesting” to read about how the word “god” sounded to little Sunil—a road boy from the Annawadi slum in Mumbai—with the Grammy “thank God’s” still ringing in my ear:
Which saints and gods to follow was something about which many road boys had strong feelings. Some said Sai Baba was quicker than fat Ganpati. Others contended that Shiva could open his third eye and explode both of them. Sunil’s mother had died before she could teach him about the gods, and he was too unsure of their respective merits to decide upon a favorite. Still, from what he had observed in Annawadi, the fact that a boy knew about the gods didn’t mean the gods would look after the boy.
Perhaps God/the gods were busy engineering awards for Hollywood starlets or collecting and sorting through the miscellaneous well-intentioned exclamations of the privileged.