Sunday, July 7, 2013

Guest Moodler: Sermon on the Taskmaster

Once again, my dearest friend is giving the sermon at her church this weekend. I always enjoy her sermons, and ask her permission to share them. Here, for your enjoyment once again, is my one and only guest moodler.

The Taskmaster
Cathy Coulter
July 7, 2013

A line from the Galatians passage of this morning reads, “When God decided to reveal God’s son to me…I did not go to anyone for advice.” In the reading from Luke, Jesus tells us, “Listen! I have given you authority.” (Luke 10: 19) God has given us the ability to know God directly, especially through Jesus.
When we’re young we need to be given spiritual training wheels. We need to be given ways to think about God, and when I was young; I was given a certain image of God that melded with my experiences in the world. A turning point in my spiritual journey and in my choosing to stay on a Christian path came in my thirties when my eyes were opened to a new way of imagining God. Today I want to read a story that I wrote at that time. So today, it’s story time. I call the story “The Taskmaster.”

It was early morning and the late spring sun was pouring around the edges of my cheap vinyl blind. I woke up but was desperate to go back to sleep. I rolled over and pressed my face more deeply into my pillow. But I knew it was too late as I heard a cough from the foot of the bed. It was not a polite cough. It was an irritated one. He’d been waiting for a while, it seemed.
I rolled over again as I knew I must. There he was, as he was most mornings. The Taskmaster. Standing at the end of the bed in his immaculate blue velvet doublet over peach satin pantaloons and pale yellow stockings. The white curls of his periwig danced slightly as he pulled out the scroll from under his arm, unrolled it and began to read the list of things I needed to do that day. The list was always longer than the time I had, as the Taskmaster always pointed out. By the time he was done, I was not only fully awake but my stomach was clenched. Finally, after I had heard too much to take  in, the Taskmaster rolled up his scroll, tucked it under his arm, straightened to attention with the slightest of bows and marched on out of the room. My head was spinning and I leapt out of bed to begin running around in activity. Maybe if I moved really fast I could get a lot of things done.
Sometimes the Taskmaster would be waiting for me as I left work. He’d be waiting in the back seat of my car. As subservient as he seemed in the getup of an aide to Queen Elizabeth the First, I was no queen. I knew who held the reigns despite appearances that the Taskmaster was there to serve me and my interests. Always, there would be that scroll. I hated that scroll. Written on it were the long lists of tasks which became blurrier near the bottom. I’d watch happily when a task would vanish from the top of the list after I’d completed it, only to watch in horror as two or three more emerged from the blurriness at the bottom. I’d always thought that a list was a tool for time management. Sometimes, it seemed more like an instrument of the devil. If that were so, what did that make the Taskmaster? But I needed him. How else would I stay productive, worthy, earn my right to exist?

* * * * * *

The Taskmaster first came after the session I’d had with God the Father. God the grumpy, intellectual bachelor Middle-School God the Father. I’d been called up to God’s office. I was about eleven.

            “Come in,” He barked when I knocked. Maybe I shouldn’t have knocked. Just gone in. I went in. I hesitated. Should I close the door?

            “Sit down,” He barked again, making me jump. I rushed to the chair in front of His desk.

            “The door,” He wailed. It was clear He already found me hopeless. I scurried back to close the door, then returned to the chair. I perched on the edge of the seat. I felt sick.

            “Have you studied your lessons?” He asked.
            “Yes, Lord,” I said. I’d studied and studied. So much was riding on this. More than anything, I wanted to get into the Lord’s favour, into His club.
            “Alright. We will soon begin. But first, let Us play a little game.”
            He smiled as He pulled out a piece of paper from a drawer and laid it on top of the desk. I could not read that smile. It did not feel reassuring.
            “Come closer,” He said. I inched my chair forward. On the paper were three rows of three dots.
            “This,” He said, “is a simple little game. All you have to do is join all the dots with this pencil.” He pulled a yellow pencil out of His sleeve with a flourish. “The only thing is, you can’t pass through a dot more than once. You can only use one line and you can only change the direction of the line three times.” He smiled again and handed me the pencil.
            I looked down at the dots and poised the pencil. I was worried. This kind of thing was not up my alley. I imagined drawing one line, then another but that would leave that dot free. How about this way? Or that way? My heart sank further. This kind of puzzle had always stumped me. I bowed my head and closed my eyes.
            “Dear Lord,” I said. “Thank you for showing me this game. I know you love me and want what is best for me. But Lord, I ask You to take this puzzle from me. If that is Your will, Lord, please take this puzzle away. I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
            I kept my eyes closed. I heard God sigh and - was that a little snort? I looked up again.
            “Alright,” he said, picking up the paper and slipping it back in the drawer. “Let’s get on with the test. Are you ready?”
            He pulled out a chess board and began setting up the pieces. The test was a chess game?  I knew how to move the chess pieces but I was a terrible chess player. I couldn’t think four steps in advance and anticipate the other player’s moves. I couldn’t employ any strategy at all. I was not logical enough. I was not smart enough. I was done for.
            Ten minutes later my king lay tipped over on the board. All but my rook and two pawns were captured. At least it had been a rapid humiliation. God was trying not to smile as He packed up the pieces and put away the board. He composed His features, and then frowned at me. He didn’t need to tell me. I knew I had failed. I felt overwhelmed with sadness. Now I’d never get in.
            “Well, what are We to do with you?” God said. I hung my head to hide the fat tears welling up in my eyes. “It seems you won’t be able to manage on your own with what you’ve got, will you?”
            I shook my head. One tear dropped into my lap.
            “Hmmm,” He said. The yellow pencil was still lying on the desk. He picked it up and began to tap-tap it.
            “We have decided that We will send you a Helper. Yes, that is what We will do for you. This Helper will show you the Way. For you do not know what to do. Wait for the Helper. He will come to you.”
            “Thank you, Lord,” I whispered.
            “Go,” He said.
            I got up and backed out of His office. It seemed that I had been saved, given a second chance. All I had to do was do what I was told. I could do that.       

* * * * * *

I first met God the Mother playing in a park with a bunch of women. The menopausal gray-haired feminist activist God the Mother. I didn’t know who she was at first. The women were playing Frisbee. One of them had invited me to come and hang out. I was thirty-three.
            “Hi,” they all called out in welcome as I crossed the lush green grass. The Frisbee went sailing over my head. They all laughed.
            “That’s Norma’s Frisbee Blessing,” said one and they all hooted and howled again. I ran to get the Frisbee and threw it back. It floated over the grass and was plucked out of the air by some nimble fingers.
            “Good one. Come and play.”
            We had fun and played for over an hour until it was time for the potluck picnic. It was an abundant feast. I was filling my plate with seconds when one of the women came up beside me to start into the cheesecake.
            “You’re Cathy, aren’t you?” she said, as she popped a large red strawberry into her mouth. I confirmed that I was.
            “I’m God,” she mumbled with her mouth full.
            “Oooh,” I said, impressed.
            “Did you make this cheesecake? It’s heavenly. I must get the recipe from you. How did you make this crust?”
            On the way home that night I felt happy and relaxed. I felt like I had made some new friends. They invited me to go out with them again. Godde said she would pop over for a visit and to get the cheesecake recipe. I hoped she would come soon.

* * * * * *

            One day, after  God the Mother and I had gotten to know each other, we were sitting on my front step trying to see who could come up with the most names for the colour blue when I said,
             “I’d like to get rid of the Taskmaster.”
             “Who’s the Taskmaster?” God asked.
            “He’s the One who helps me know what I need to do. But he’s really getting on my nerves. I’d like to be free of him. Completely.”
            “Maybe you could suggest he retire?”
            “I thought of that but I’m afraid he would want to come back as a consultant. Even that would be too much for me.”
            “I see,” God said.
            She leaned over to pet the cat who was rubbing up against her legs. “Who’s his boss?” she asked.
            “God the Father.”
            “Why don’t you talk to him?”
            “I haven’t talked to Him in a long time, “I said. “I’d feel pretty nervous about it.”
            “I saw him at a convention recently,” God said. She put her arm around me and gave me a sideways hug. “He’s mellowed quite a bit. I think it would be okay.”
            I leaned my head against her shoulder and sighed. I knew that it was the right thing to do but I was afraid. What if I turned into an eleven year old again and stumbled and stammered my way into an even bigger dilemma? What if God decided I needed even more guidance and sent a second Helper? Could I be strong enough to say what I really wanted? Or would I be turned into stone in His presence?

* * * * * *

            The door to his office looked just as imposing as before, except it seemed quite a bit smaller. I raised my left hand to knock and hesitated. I placed my right hand on the doorknob then knocked and opened the door at the same time. Sticking my head into the room I called out, “Hello, God.”
            There he was, bent over his desk, writing intently on the piles of papers in front of him. He raised his head and peered at me, frowning.
            “Yes,” I said.
            “Oh, hello,” God said.
            “Can I come in?”
            “Yes, come in.”
            I looked him over. He too seemed a bit smaller. I sat down in the chair.
            “What can I do for you?” he asked.
            “I’ve come to ask a favour of you…actually, to tell you something. I’m not going to need the services of the Task…I mean my helper anymore. I’ve come to tell you that I’d appreciate it if you took him away from me.” My heart was pounding and I felt a flush rising in my cheeks. I tried to look composed.
            “Oh, I see.” Then a long silence.
            “Will there be a problem with that?”
            God was frowning. “Well, it’s a bit irregular. Not exactly in the Rules. I must look it up.”
            He pulled open a drawer and hefted an enormous black book onto the desk. The word “Rules” was printed on the cover in gold capital letters. God began flipping through the pages. He found the page he was looking for and ran his finger down it as he scanned. He turned a page, and then he turned it back. He flipped to another section and ran his finger down several more pages. His frown deepened.
            “God,” I said.
            “Just wait,” he said. “There must be a rule here somewhere.”
            “God,” I repeated, “I know what to do.”
            God’s finger stopped mid-page and he looked up. “You know what to do?” he echoed.
            “I’ve been thinking. My helper likes to keep very busy. I think if you sent him to Siberia, he would be very happy.”
            “Well…” God began.
            “It’s the right thing to do,” I said. “Trust me.”

* * * * * *

            I never saw the Taskmaster again. Not that I didn’t miss him a little bit. Freedom can be quite overwhelming at times. Still, I sleep better than I ever have. And everything falls into place somehow.
            I asked God the Mother if I could invite God the Father to our next women’s barbeque. She said, “Sure, why not?” So I did. And he came. Looking quite spiffy. I think he was a little nervous. But God the Mother soon put him at ease. Near the end of the evening, I saw her put her hand on his knee as they were both laughing over something. I think they were flirting.

* * * * * *     
That’s the end of my story and it’s the beginning of my reflection for next week. I invite you through the week to think about your real, operative image of God. And for your consideration through the week, this question: How does our image of God reflect on how we live our lives? 

Thanks for the most interesting story, Cathy! And some things to consider... If any moodlings followers would like to post a comment, I'm sure she'd be happy to read it...

Stay tuned... I'll be sure to post Cathy's follow-up reflection in a week's time.

1 comment:

Maria K. said...

I like this image of God the Mother, not fond of the Father, though. What's great is that we human beings have the ability to connect with a God who loves us, and to imagine God's supportive presence in a way that works for us. Perhaps that's actually why God keeps a low profile... so we can relate to an image of her/him that works for us.