My mother’s God sits on her conscience with the weight of her upbringing. She visits her God with quiet practice, slipping out of the house to whisper Hail Mary among wooden pews and senior citizens in the later hours of Sunday. She comes and goes unannounced and returns home with a hushed voice. Prayer cards stay tucked away in her car, put there not out of dedication but because she knows they would be lost in our home, among stacks of bills or greeting cards or under our feet as we shuffle towards the doors of our refrigerator, the kitchen appliance in which we have so much faith.
I’m not sure when God first appeared to my mother. It’s possible He was hiding behind the alter at her baptism, making eyes at an organ and stifling a cough. Maybe He spoke to my mother from the pages of a bedside Bible, though I’m not sure she kept one of those so close. I’m certain one was kept in her childhood home, as God played the role of a father to my mother from an early age. My grandmother was a single mother, and a God-fearing one at that. She raised my mother on religion, potato salad and cracker jack. When my mother goes to Heaven she’ll be welcomed with open arms by the one who knows her well, the one she thanks every night for all five of her children, the one for which her aim is true.
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My father’s God is a mystery. I once told him I imagined God to look exactly like my Uncle Frank. I had never heard him laugh that hard before. I was eight. We haven’t spoken much on the subject since.
My father may have met his God briefly, though I can’t be too sure. He doesn’t reference the Lord much, unless the garage doors start acting strangely. In his attempt to fix the gates of his own Heaven my father will stand in the garage, plying automated switches to work at his thumbed commandment. It’s never clear what sets the doors off to open and close at their own discretion, the wind, my dog, a higher power. He’ll fiddle around for a while and no matter success, at some point in his work he’ll always meet a problem. Whether it’s crossed wiring or a burning bush, my father’s route to conquer always has him yelling one holy salutation, a quick invocation for “JESUS H. CHRISTMAS!"
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My brother’s God is the joker in a deck of fifty-two. Growing up he would pull the card often and shoot it off with a smirk. He would play televangelist channels at full volume, standing in front of the television, raising his arms and closing his eyes to taunt and tease the Big Man, shaking the house to someone’s high heaven. My brother got out of attending Mass much earlier than I did but somehow still managed to keep one finger on God’s funny bone. Countless times he talked my sister Bridget into sneaking the host she received at Communion home for him, Jesus as take-away like the Pizza Hut of the Catholic Church. My brother didn’t ask the favor for the taste—the Son of God tastes a lot like cardboard. We would always arrive home from Mass to find him sitting at the kitchen table, waiting with the amused look he’s known to wear so well. As Bridget pulled the host from her pocket, I looked on in amusement and my brother sat chewing, the three of all sinking closer to the fiery depths of Hell.
When he does attend, my brother’s favorite part of Mass is the priest singing “forever and ever” in a flavorless song of dusty repetition. In the off chance we’re in church to listen I turn and stare at my brother. His mouth doesn’t move but his eyes say, "Amen, you son of a bitch." He was married by a priest last winter.
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Maybe my God is a butcher. Or a baker, a candle stick maker, or maybe like that Joan Osborne song, just a stranger on the bus. Every so often I look for Him out there, in the way our loved ones tend to leave the earth and later appear in the eyes of a child. Sometimes I think my God waits by the slushy machine at the 7-Eleven around the corner from work. That He is the one panhandling outside, His feet on uneven brick, singing “does anybody have any change” like a ballad or drunken prayer. I like to pretend God is a librarian, that He lives in my cat, that He parallels the pictures in my television screen and sometimes burns my toast. Picturing God in a Church seems wrong, like pulling on a sweater in the dog days of late July. So I make believe God is a hot-dog vendor or coffee barista, but not at all a rich man. I pretend all of these things out foolish amusement, I really don’t know Him at all.
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When my family gets together for common holiday our beliefs stay set aside and waiting. My mother’s God in the next room, my father’s in the garage and my brother’s, in the bathroom making faces at the mirror. When a priest showed up to Thanksgiving dinner a few years back no one said a word, bowing our heads instead to meet the grace he spoke so softly from the threshold of the dining room. Silence replaced our questions for his coming as he blessed the table and my family, as he thanked the one above. The priest was a kind stranger, with lonely gray hair and stooped shoulders brought down by the weight of his age and purpose. Reading the lines on his face we secretly we made guesses for the background he set against table linens, his character, his role in the holy grand scheme of things. My father thought he was a distant relative of my grandmother’s, my mother thought he knew the neighbors and was just passing by to say hello. We never did find out his story, and it would have been much too impolite to ask. Not even after my father offered the man his seat at the table, not even after his Thanksgiving blessing, not even after we said our goodbyes and watched as he disappeared in the cold November night.