The god you already know

The Olentangy River flows through the wetlands near the Ohio State campus, broad slow water reflecting the clouds overhead and the Lane Ave. bridge in the distance.

CW: suicidal friends

This morning, during my walk to work, I pulled out my phone and idly thumbed at Facebook, and then came to a dead stop in the middle of the sidewalk. A friend had posted in a private group: “Everyone, you need to reach out to this other one of our friends; he’s in crisis, and we don’t know where he is.” Panic. Worry. Fear. I called our friend; I texted when he didn’t pick up the call.

But then, the obvious immediate moves done… what do you do? The authorities are already notified, people who know his habits better than me are looking… what do you do? Where do you turn?

A lot of folks, especially monotheists, but often polytheists as well, have an oddly rigid and systematized view of the many gods. “So-and-so is a goddess of storm,” they’ll say, or “This one is a god of marriage.” It’s like a very compartmentalized divine bureaucracy, as if you have to take the proper form to the correct functionary or you’ll simply be turned away — not their department.

But who is the god of suicidal friends? Who is the godden of persons who are maybe already dead, but hopefully not? Who takes responsibility for missing adults who left the house under their own recognizance, but aren’t safe from their own thoughts?

It’s not a workable system, and thankfully it’s not how the Holy Ones work, either. They certainly have their interests and typical activities, just as we do. But — again, like us — they are complex persons, and they have relationships with those who honor them. They may not be the best respondent for any particular situation, but when you build ghosti bonds with the Holy Ones, they don’t turn aside; they help as best they can. The best god to turn to in crisis is the one you already know.

And so I kept walking. I was only two blocks from the bridge over the Glen Echo Ravine, where I pause every time I walk southward across it to share my coffee or my water with the spirit of the Glen Echo Run. I have never asked her for anything, except that she do what she does best: circulate blessings of the Earth through her watershed, and bless us with her fruitfulness. Today, though, I poured out my full mug, and I prayed: the best god is the one you already know.

Swift one, I prayed, there is one I love who is in danger. We, his friends, are afraid, and we cannot find him to bring him to safety. I pray you, ask your sisters — the other runs and rivulets, the mighty twin rivers of our city, the many streams and trickles and outpours that form our waterways — that they see him, and guide those who may help him that he be found. And I held my friend in my mind’s eye, and envisioned cool waters lifting him, cushioning him with care, and I felt the rivers flow alongside me.

And I walked on to work. What else to do? By the time I’d reached campus, an update from the friend: he is safe, he is sorry, he is getting help. I sat and cried a bit. And then, later in the day, I walked across campus to the Olentangy, the wider broader sister of my beloved stream (into whom she flows) and I poured out another offering, this time of thanksgiving.

Do I know that my prayer brought my friend to safety? No — in fact, at most I think it was a very small contribution; I don’t in any way wish to discredit the efforts of the many folks on the ground. But by the same token, I feel great gratitude toward the spirit of the Glen Echo, and toward all her sisters here in the region, for hearing my prayer and responding with love to this one small, desperate man seeking aid.

The best god is the one you already know.

Above a sunlit river, a bridge in the distance, a hand pours a thin stream of water from a beat-up water bottle.

3 thoughts on “The god you already know

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