Next week is Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. It’s when we pray for a good and sweet year and ask God to inscribe us in the Book of Life for another year.
Lately, it seems like my interactions with God have been more adversarial than comforting. We meet daily for an Old West style shootout. Sometimes at 1:00AM, sometimes at 5:00AM, sometimes mid-day. Just me and Him. No red strings or lucky eye charms. The God I meet is not a Cracker Jack kind of being. No superstitions or silly wand waving. It is just us.
There’s only one bullet in the chamber each day. And we spin it blindly, face off, and take aim.
I know that every day I might get hit with the bullet. I know that each day I am sitting at the end of our pseudo Russian roulette and sometimes it’s a blank. But the gun is always there.
Sometimes it is pointed at someone else. I happen upon another duel on my figurative street and then I become an interloper in someone else’s pain. I jump in front of the gun and yell, “No. Not her. Not him. Not that family.” I cry and plead and beg for the gun to be lowered, for the barrel to be empty, for it to be leveled at me instead. Though when I sense it might be, I quickly fall back to my default, “No. Not me. Not my child. Not my family.”
So when I face off again, in our daily duel, I carry the guilt of having survived the last few rounds when I know others have not, and I tempt Him again to take His best shot. I wonder if this is the day that the bullet is in the chamber or if it will just be the click of the hammer and I can walk away unscathed.
There are others, I know. People who never realize that there is a daily duel. People who come to the street dancing and singing and don’t notice the constant revolver, the slowly turning barrel, the click of the hammer on an empty chamber. I envy them sometimes. The people who lament the skinned knees. The people who plead with God to get their children into college. Never realizing what they are dodging as they grieve the inconsequential.
But lately, I fear that duel. Not because of the bullet that might find its way to my life from His side, but the bullet in my hand. The one that I hold. The one that sometimes wants to say, “That’s it! I’m done! This makes no sense!” The one that would find so much more sense in science and technology and randomness than in a daily duel with a God that doesn’t always seem to listen to my pleas.
And so we duel. Day after day. On my runs in the morning and late at night in my bedroom. The hours tick by and I wait for Him to show up so I can shake my fist, or lower my head resignedly, or maybe, fire my own gun back.
It has taken some time, but I’ve made a tacit peace with the duel. I recognize that for some reason, God is dragging me onto that street and despite my pleas and cries to not want the duel, He insists on it. Insists on placing that gun in my hands, insists on spinning the chamber. Insists on tempting me to draw and shoot. And so maybe my pleas about the bullet are really more about the duel itself and just wanting a simple relationship with God again. Maybe it’s about wishing I could go back to dancing in that same street, oblivious and blind to the constant threats, content with ignorance and naïveté.
For the last few years my daily duel with God has grown more intense. I never shoot back, though the gun has always been in my hand. I never pull the trigger. Because as much as it would be easy to do, to take aim and try and end the constant duel once and for all, I know that I need that daily meeting. I know that I need to have someone to plead with, to pray to, to ask things of. My duel with God then is in some small way an affirmation of my faith.
This Rosh Hashanah, I’m not dueling with God. We’ll meet, I’m sure, in the center of the street, shake hands, and look over our weapons. We’ll spin our barrels and walk back to our corners, setting up for the coming year of struggles. We’ll face off numerous times this coming year, but after all this time, I finally recognize that between our duels there are moments of beauty and love. My duel with God might frame our relationship, but it also keeps it intact. It keeps Him present in a complex, deep, and sometimes frustrating way, as a partner in both pain and joy.
He knows me well. He also knows that regardless of the bullet’s trajectory, I have every intention of meeting Him every day and remaining standing.
It’s been years of dueling. I’m still here on that street. And more importantly, so is He.