Ade, righteous, had seen God. She claimed that God was of course, male, white, unlike us. He, according to her, was too infinite to behold. She said she had screamed, closed her eyes and stroked her chest to ease itself of its sudden fiery pulse, in an attempt to make God proud by erasing the fear. She failed. God laughed softly. Till now, she wonders if His laughter was a sound or a wind because she remembers she spun, eventually noticing clouds on the back of God’s infinitely broad palm. Though He had five fingers and open arms, He was too grand and His smile was a terrific lightning. She felt goose bumps envelop her, like those fat tireless black ants in our village. She had tried to smile back, to prove that she was neither inadequate nor terrified.
I felt Ade was not daring enough, that she did not see well due to the radiance, and could possibly have forced them to see more. If God could allow her, a black girl, at the age of seven, to see him, then God was beyond what we thought, beyond what the pictures in our children’s Bible portrayed.
I continuously wondered what God looked like. My mother claimed that the sun was an imitation of His face, undeniably bright, harsh and the beginning of danger was daring to stare at God, to look at His face. When I shared my opinions, she began to screech. In a painfully high-pitched tone, lips contorted, eyes darting about furiously, veins sticking out at the edges of her head, neck, arms and everywhere possible, she hit me.
“Ewooh! I am finished! I bind this spirit! O ye ground, swallow it!” More spit flecked my face. “Ah ahn! You want to see God at seven. How worthy are you, ehn, stupid girl?” A smirk had flooded her face while her body was shivering, her hands angrily oscillating about her waist and her chest protruding itself frantically. She listed all my previous wrongs and a mocking clapping began. “Go and see God oh! Silly girl!”
Before the hiss escaped my mouth, leading to more trouble, I asked, “Mommy are you saying I am stupid?”
“No, I am saying you are worse!”
I watched boiling blood seep into her eye. I opened my mouth to speak but bit my tongue instead.
I did not play too hard, fight my annoying friends or reply irritating adults anymore because I feared I would hurt another of God’s creation or scrape my knees, bleed and that God, at the sight of these things, would be too displeased to appear. I hesitated when it came to boys and anything affectionate or sexual. I obeyed every single adult no matter how irritating.
My mother, happy at the quiet, well-behaved girl I was becoming, assumed that the sudden change was because of her increased efforts at parenting. She had begun distributing tips on canes and discipline to heartbroken parents who swarmed her too often, questioning how I had suddenly transformed into a good, respectful and upright girl.
My reason was obviously deeper – I wanted to see God. I strongly expected God to contradict the pictures in the children’s Bible. I was fine with God dressed in immaculate white but I questioned why God had to be always male, always white, with the kind of hair my brothers could never have. I wanted to see God as a black person, female, yet resplendent. There could be clouds surrounding her shoulders but She should be kind not to reveal a mouth of fire, a thunderous voice or anything frightening to a seven year old.
I believed it deeply with no proof, no specific reasons. I didn’t think the absence of a reason mattered because there were many things adults forced into me or forced me into that truly held no reason. I knew it sounded unrealistic and weird but when Ade had shared her experience, my young mind felt that this meant something deeper, that I could actually be correct. Ade, a seven-year-old black girl, being the first to see God in our church had to mean something. It had to. Why was it not the Israeli boy? Or the Australian? Why her? If she saw God, then God was likely beyond the pictures in the children’s Bible. Like both of us, God should be female. And black.
I shared my thoughts with a retired Christian Religious Studies teacher. She laughed as though laughter was an old friend who hadn’t visited in a long while. She questioned what made me think that someone of great importance like God could be female. I then remembered that she was one of those who refused to vote Aunt Miracle, our church’s first female warden, simply because she believed it was too high for a woman.
After I hissed and began to walk out, suddenly, she apologized. She opined that maybe God could be female and then abruptly blinked and said what nonsense, that no, God had no gender. If God were female, then God would have created Eve first and possibly made Adam from her breast milk. How did that sound? She sighed and later said I wasn’t too crazy after all, maybe I would be special, maybe I could see God, maybe He could be a woman but I should not dare to look too deeply at the face, a face greater than the earth. I shouldn’t even consider looking into God’s eye, a powerful voice should be enough.
I wasn’t okay with just a voice. I wanted to see. I wanted our eyes to meet. I closed my eyes a lot to see God. Aunt Blessing, a teacher in the children’s church whose real name was an Igbo name she was not proud of, taught us to close our eyes during prayers to see God. If we refused to, we received a spank and a tirade on how sovereign God was, how lucky we were that we had not died in our sleep like some people. I questioned why we always thanked God using the misfortune of others. Weren’t there deeper reasons? Why did we instead consistently thank God for the absence of death instead of life? Weren’t they two different things?
Despite all the questions and boredom my church raised in my heart, I liked prayer. I liked how Aunt Blessing’s voice rang with passion, how she told us to close our eyes to see God. It made sense. Strangely, her eyes were always open and this confused me. Didn’t she want to see God too?
Each time I prayed, I closed my eyes tight, to the point where it ached terribly, expecting a sudden flicker in the darkness that ensued, a remarkable flash of light and God suddenly appearing. I did not know much about visions or God appearing in dreams. I simply closed my eyes tight, hoping to see God.
When Aunt Blessing finally closed her eyes one sunny Sunday after three years, I strongly believed that God would finally appear. Aunt Blessing’s eyes looked somehow but I did not want to miss what was coming. I concentrated on God. I closed my eyes and cried. Was it because of a recent P in Maths God had not showed up since? Had I spoken too tenderly to Aunt Blessing’s handsome son at the New Year’s Service? I told God I had had enough, that I was going to stop being so obsessed with Her and this struggle to be upright if She refused to appear that moment.
When something eventually flickered as I closed my eyes, I became excited. It seemed like smoke. Maybe God was not too gentle, maybe that was Her mouth. I closed my eyes tighter and concentrated more. The smoke could not be for nothing. It had to be a signal. Perhaps it was a special sacrifice. I could be in heaven. I wasn’t hearing the bored tones of other children attempting to pray anymore. Instead, it was the sound of running feet. Maybe those were angels.
When Ade began to shout, “Fire! Fire!” I felt God was closer now, that Ade was going to see Her well finally, that this heat meant God was walking towards us. I opened my eyes to find Ade running towards me, braids upturned, her eyes reddened in horror. Aunt Blessing’s eyes were worse – they were shut in death. There had been a fire outbreak and my friends had escaped. I was happy Ade saved me but became angry with God and myself. How could it go this way? I gave God a last chance – to appear in my sleep even though I considered that less interesting.
That night, God appeared to me as a black woman, too beautiful to describe, and softly said she liked my persistence, depth and that I would never fully understand her. I asked why Ade had seen Her as a white male. Too softly, eyes full of too much love, she said, “Ade, like you, encountered who she expected of me.”