Editor’s note: Tikkun is delighted to be publishing Michael Kagan’s book Where’s G?d as a series on our website. This is the fourth chapter. Click here to read the Prologue, Introduction, and “Night One.” Click here to read “Night Three.”
We were sitting around the kitchen table playing Boggle. I love Boggle. Just the name makes me giggle – ‘boggle’. I love the way the little cubes jostle around and then find their places on the grid. I love the way the letters appear to be gibberish, only suddenly – like magic – words begin to appear. A word here. A word there. Like something from nothing. I love the way a word stays hidden even after I stare and stare seeing only random letters – meaningless non-words. And then suddenly, a word pops out. And once it’s popped out, it always seems so obvious. How could I have missed it earlier? It’s like those crazy pictures that are made of blurred dots and jumbled colors. There’s nothing there, just blurred dots and jumbled colors. Daddy used to tell me to ‘defocus’, ‘stop staring’, ‘relax.’ But there was nothing there except chaos. And then, just as I was giving up, just as I was about to accuse him once more of pulling my leg, I saw it. Not just an ordinary picture, but a 3-D picture. How was that possible? Swans flying over a pond at sunset with their reflection bouncing off the still water. It was magnificent. I could see them. They seemed so real. I tried to touch them. And then I found that I couldn’t see the blurred dots and jumbled colors any more, however much I tried. Only beautiful swans flying into the sunset. Once what is hidden is revealed, it can no longer return to being hidden.
So Mummy, Daddy and I were playing Boggle. When I play, we don’t use that silly timing thing. We play together, trying to find every single word we can, rather than compete against each other. But I know that after I go to bed, the two of them do play with the egg timer. They play to win, or rather they play so that the other one will lose. I sometimes hear them yelling and thumping on our thick dictionary. And I hear how one of them lets out a victory cheer while the other moans in defeat. How silly. When I play, we just enjoy finding as many words as we can – together.
I shook the box with the cubes. “Anyone see anything?” I asked.
A few moments of silence.
“I can’t see any,” I said as I followed letters this way and that way. I tried defocusing. Sometimes that helps.
“I see M-E-A-N,” declared Daddy.
“I see C-L-E-A-N,” declared Mummy, “and that includes L-E-A-N.”
“I see M-E-L-T,” said Daddy.
Mummy made a growling voice. “L-I-C-E – yechs.”
And Daddy added, “Don’t forget I-C-E.”
They were clearly enjoying themselves. I was clearly frustrated. And that’s when I saw them. And I saw their message. I felt the room slow down.
“L-I-V-E, E-V-I-L, and V-E-I-L. And next to them is L-I-E.”
There was silence. They both looked at me with a mixture of pride and puzzlement. The silence hung for quite a while. I felt something shift, something emerging. A vibration passed through my body, causing my heart to flutter and my legs to shake. I knew that they felt it too.
“Does it mean that those three words are anagrammatically connected?” asked Daddy.
“It is a bit odd,” said Mummy. “I’ve never noticed that before.”
“It’s God,” I whispered, hardly recognizing my own voice. “It’s all about where God is.”
“Are you alright? You look flushed. Have some more milk,” said Mummy.
“It’s…well…it’s the secret of all secrets. It explains how God is everywhere without exception, but doesn’t appear to be here,” I said, pointing to my head.
Daddy had gone into the kitchen to bring me more milk. When he returned, he had a very puzzled look on his face. “What are you talking about? What secret?”
When I didn’t respond, he continued: “Let’s keep looking for more words. Look, here’s another one – L-E-A-V-E, and that’s made up of three other words – L-E-A and E-A-V-E and A-V-E.”
Mummy jumped. “Abbreviations don’t count. Ave is short for avenue.”
“No it’s not.”
“Yes it is.”
“No it’s not. I mean, yes ave is short for avenue but A-V-E is a legitimate word in its own right.” He crossed the room and heaved our big dictionary off the shelf. That’s the dictionary that I only use when they play without me. Daddy flicked through the first few pages. “Here it is,” he said proudly, “ ‘1) hail, welcome, 2) farewell, goodbye.’ And by the way, for your information, it’s pronounced ‘Ah-vey’. So there!” Daddy often got like this when he was so sure of himself.
“Oh-vey,” moaned Mummy. “And while you’re at, it you can add N-A-V-E. How do you know Ah-vey?”
“Ave Maria,” he answered. “Everyone knows that beautiful song.”
I had disappeared. Dissolved. Vanished. Been forgotten. Passed beyond the veil.
“N-O-V-A. Ha! Beat that!”
“OK. Here’s V-O-L-T!”
“Three letters – pathetic!”
“OK then, here’s one that will blow you away.” The decibel level was increasing, and tempers were rising.
“Oh, you probably mean E-V-I-C-T!”
“No. That’s only a fiver. I’ve got a sixer and a sevener.”
“No you haven’t.”
“Yes I have.”
Tears were rolling down my cheeks. Through the open door to my bedroom I could see my angels rotating in the air in a slow, sad dance.
“Show me then!”
“Oh my dear, what is it? Why are you crying?”
“Here, come to Mummy.”
I refused to budge. They were looking at each other. I could hear their mutual recriminations as they passed the guilt bucket back and forth, not wanting to be the one left holding the baby when the music stopped.
“We got carried away.”
I shrugged my shoulders, and shrugged off their attempts to hug me or appease me. I took a deep breath. “That’s exactly what I was trying to tell you but you didn’t want to hear. Those words: LIVE, EVIL, VEIL, LIE. They explain everything and you just went on with your silly battles.” Daddy opened his mouth to say something, probably to excuse himself, or to tell me that battles are not always silly. But he changed his mind and closed his mouth again. Thank God for that. “Where is God? God is everywhere. God is everything. God is every no-thing. Why is that so difficult to understand? Because, as you said the other night, Daddy, that would mean that you, and me and Mummy are also God. And what’s the problem with that?”
I looked at them both. They looked sheepishly back at me. “The problem is – we don’t feel like God. We feel like, like me or you or you. I’m Tara, a 7 year old girl. You’re Daddy, an old…”
I got the hint. “An older man. And you’re Mummy, my beautiful Mummy.” She smiled. “We’re not God. At least we don’t feel like we’re God or part of God, do we? So either God is not infinite and we somehow exist outside of God, or God is infinite and we just don’t know who we really are.” I took a breath. My legs were quivering again, a gentle throb of energy passing through my body.
“Well, which is it?” asked Daddy, coming back to himself. “It can’t be the first because that would limit God by definition. And it doesn’t seem to be the second because I am me and you are you.” And then he added, hesitantly, “It couldn’t be both could it?”
“You mean at the same time?” asked Mummy. “How could two things be their own opposite at the same time?”
I let the silence hang.
Suddenly Daddy jumped. “Yes!” he cried. “Yes!”
“What is it?” asked Mummy. “You startled me.”
“A sixer!” he answered with a big smile, pointing to the Boggle. Oh no, I thought, here we go again. “No, no,” he said apologetically, “I mean look, look at this word C-L-E-A-V-E ‘cleave’. I got ‘ave’ and ‘eave’ and ‘leave’ but I didn’t see ‘cleave’. And that’s it! That’s the answer!”
“What are you talking about?” asked Mummmy. “Oh, by the way, that’s very good – ‘cleave’. I didn’t see that one.”
“Well the word ‘cleave’ means itself and its opposite at the same time, doesn’t it? On the one hand ‘cleave’ means to stick closely to something, like…”
“Like cleaving to God,” I interjected.
“Yes,” he continued, “exactly. ‘Cleaving to God’. But on the other hand, at the same time, it means…”
“…to tear asunder.” It was Mummy’s turn to interrupt. “Like cleaving a piece of wood into two.”
“Well, yes, exactly,” Daddy continued in a lower voice, “although I was thinking more about, you know, when you wear that low-cut dress…”
“You mean ‘cleavage’?” I asked innocently …well…cheekily actually. Mummy blushed.
Daddy again: “Yes, they’re together and apart at the same time,” he said, winking at Mummy.
“Autoantonyms,” said Mummy to Daddy’s amazement. “That’s what they are. They’re autoantonyms.”
“As in ‘antonyms’ meaning two words that have opposite meanings, and ‘auto’ meaning self?” asked Daddy. Mummy nodded. Daddy challenged her: “I don’t think such a word exists.”
“Look it up then,” she replied. “Go on. If you don’t believe me. Here’s the dictionary. Look it up.” He reached across the table and then hesitated. I could hear the voices arguing inside his head. He withdrew his hand.
“I like that,” he said with a smile, “Autoantonyms. Autoantonymous. And look, I had the word A-V-E…”
“I know,” interjected Mummy, “pronounced Ah-vay”
“Yes. That’s also an autoantonym,” he continued.
“Because,” I said, “it means both a welcome and goodbye.”
“Yes. I hadn’t thought about that,” said Daddy. “But it’s true.”
“How do you think that happens?” Mummy asked. “How can a word mean one thing and its exact opposite? To cleave. It’s strange, don’t you think?”
“It’s like the angels,” I said. “They’re like that.”
“What, the angles hanging in your room?” asked Daddy.
“No, real angels. I read in the Bible that they are always running towards God and always running away from God – cleaving and being cleaved.”
“Where does it say that?” asked Daddy, a bit puzzled.
“It’s in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel,” I said. “At the beginning. When he has his amazing vision of wheels and chariots and heavenly beings and the throne. He sees the angels running backwards and forwards.”
“Back and forth,” corrected Mummy.
“Back and forth. Thanks,” I said and continued. “Their desire to cleave to God is so strong that it threatens to overwhelm them completely and then they must cleave from God.”
“But you said that everything is God, so how…?”
“Exactly,” I said excitedly. “It’s autoant …whatever. The angels, and us, cannot totally disappear because of the veil.”
“Which is an anagram of ‘evil’ and ‘live’”, said Daddy. He was thoughtful for a moment. “I don’t get it.”
“God is everywhere, and we’re God but we don’t feel like God, and we don’t behave like God, and we don’t know we’re God, and we don’t believe we’re God because God has shrunken Godself and is hiding behind the veil.”
“What veil?” they both asked together.
“The veil inside our heads. Not really inside our heads but inside our …
“…our minds…” suggested Mummy helpfully.
“Yes, inside our minds. It’s like God is on one side, leaving room for us to be on the other side.”
“Us?” asked Daddy.
“I mean in my mind I am me and in your mind you are you. That’s because God has withdrawn to allow us to be us, otherwise we couldn’t be us. There’d be no room. But it’s not really real. It’s only pretend.”
“I think you mean an illusion,” said Mummy, trying to be helpful again.
“Yes, it’s only an illusion. Of course God is there because God is…”
“Everywhere.” They said in unison.
“So it is like God is hiding behind a veil. And the thicker the veil, the more distant God is and the more I am me.”
“I think the word you are looking for is ego. That me-thing is my ego, my self, the thing I identify with that is me.” Mummy again.
“Ego. Ego.” I turned the word around on my tongue. “Yes, I believe that I am my ego. My ego believes that it is me. My ego is what is on this side of the veil.
“Is that bad?” asked Daddy. Which I thought was a very good question, and told him so. He liked to have his ego stroked, like a cat. I could hear him purring.
“No,” I answered him, “the ego is not bad. That’s what makes me me, and that’s what God wants. God wants to God through me, Tara.”
“I don’t understand,” complained Daddy. He looked more than a little puzzled, “If God wants us to be ourselves, then surely the thicker the veil the more I can be me.”
I shook my head. A burst of pain flashed through my head. “No. That’s where everything goes wrong. Don’t you see? The thicker the veil, the less God can get through to you. And what happens when there is less God coming through?”
“We’re more in our egos and fighting each other.”
“Just like before.”
“Yes, just like before. You see, God wants to God through us, through me, through you. And when God is shining through us, we are more and more God and more and more alive.”
“Ah,” said Daddy, “now I get the anagrammatic connections. To live fully is to let the veil be as thin…”
“Or transparent,” added Mummy. I nodded at her with a big smile.
“As transparent as possible. But when the veil becomes too thick or opaque, meaning no light can get through, then the ego is most powerful and that releases evil into the world. Nice. I mean not nice. I mean …you know what I mean.”
“Live and evil are not only anagrams but also antonyms. I like that,” said Mummy. “Evil is the antithesis of life.”
“So evil doesn’t come from God?” asked Daddy, a little surprised by his own question. I shook my head vigorously. Daddy continued, slowly feeling his way into very unfamiliar territory: “So evil comes from us. We create it. And what is it? It’s the antithesis of life – that’s what evil is. And evil usually ends up in killing and death and war…”
“…which is the literal removal of life. Wow,” said Mummy.
“And, and,” burst in Daddy, “the further we are from God, which must also be truth, the more we live a lie. That’s the fourth word. So evil comes from the lie, which comes from the illusion of the ego-self because of the withdrawal of God behind the veil. Wow indeed.”
A happy silence. My angels were dancing a jig.
“I’ve had another thought. Two, to be precise,” said Daddy. “Light seems to be a common theme in everything we, or rather you, have talked about. Do you think that in the old paintings, where they depicted the saints with halos of light around their faces, it was because their veil was so transparent that they were actually glowing?”
I thought about this question for a moment before answering: “I read that after Moses came down from the mountain, his face glowed so much he had to cover it with a veil.”
“So his inner veil became so transparent that he had to wear an outer veil. That’s ironic, “ pronounced Daddy.
“I guess people can’t see people who are glowing so much. Makes them feel uncomfortable,” said Mummy.
“Like nudity,” added Dad. “I mean, after all, what’s wrong with the skin we’re born in? Children don’t have a problem with running around without clothes. Then everything changes, and we have to put on outer veils.”
“I suppose you could say,” continued Mummy, “that small children’s inner veils are very thin. As they get older and more ‘themselves,’ the veil gets thicker. Isn’t that what innocence is?” I nodded. “That’s why babies glow.” I nodded again. Then she asked me, “Is that what’s happened to you? Do you know all this because your veil is so thin?” I shrugged. I was getting tired.
“And the second thought,” said Daddy, oblivious to my tiredness.
“Wait!” Mummy suddenly jumped up. “I’ve had an insight. Just a moment. Let me think. Ok, here goes. Light is also an autoantonym.”
Now it was my turn to look puzzled. I looked at Daddy.
“No it’s not,” insisted Daddy. “Although it does have two interconnected meanings: light as in not dark and light as in not heavy.”
“I don’t mean the word, I mean itself. You said that it could act like a wave or a particle, depending on the experiment. Which means that it is both at the same time. But particles and waves are opposites. One’s right here and focused, and one’s spread out and everywhere. Therefore light itself is an autoantonym.”
Daddy and I both clapped, applauding Mummy’s amazing insight.
“Maybe,” she continued, “that explains how God can be both here and not here at the same time.”
I was happy and I was tired. I yawned. Finally, Daddy got the hint. He lifted me up in his arms and carried me to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I could feel sleep welcoming me.
Daddy laid me in my bed and Mummy covered me with my quilt. As they were leaving the room, I heard Mummy ask: “So what was your sixer and sevener? I bet you were bluffing.”
“I never bluff,” Daddy retorted, feigning self-righteousness, “V-O-L-U-M-E is the sixer, and V-O-L-U-M-E-S is the sevener. Ha, beat that.”
As I dropped off, I remembered that I also found S-O-L-E, S-O-I-L and S-O-U-L, but I decided to leave the connection among them to another day.