I never plan on writing about Jesus, it just sort of happens... like binge drinking and sex with co-workers.
At a recent book event, I read a chapter from my new novel Everyone Says That at the End of the World, which features a disgruntled Jesus clone and an apocalyptic Rapture gone horribly askew. You can hear or read the piece for yourself on Slagdrop.
At the event I was asked by an audience member why Jesus so often makes a cameo in my fiction. At first I talked about the fascinating and occasionally bizarre role Jesus plays in histories -- personal, political, and cultural. But in the end I summed up with this:
"As a young writer I was warned I would always write about the crazy girl I dated in college. Well, the crazy girl I dated in college was Jesus."
But you see, Jesus and I broke up.
We'd been in a close relationship for about a decade, but it had to end.
"Why'd you split?" friends ask. "You two seemed so happy."
My answer: "He wasn't who I thought he was."
I should have seen it coming. It started with these little disagreements. And he had to be right about everything, as if he had all the answers. In hindsight I can see that these squabbles were the symptoms of a larger problem. I didn't trust him anymore. Didn't trust what he said, didn't trust what he wanted, didn't trust who he said he was.
Weeks passed with hardly a word between us. Eventually the day came when we both knew. This wasn't just a rough patch. It was over.
As with any break up, mutual friends chose sides. In this case, I didn't have much of a chance. Friends nod and pat my back, but I can tell they believe the break up was my fault. Jesus is always innocent. They stick with Jesus and I'm left alone.
I'm often angry. I'd given him the best years of my life. Turned down college parties for Bible studies, passed on spring break flings just to make him happy. Memorized his words. Voted for his candidates.
Other times I miss him so much my chest hurts. It had been love, after all. Not puppy love, but passionate life-changing love. Late night prayers -- sharing every thought, every feeling. Trusting him with my life. For over 10 years nothing, nothing at all, was more important to me than our relationship. Now that it's ended, the void feels nearly as encompassing as the presence once had.
After years of praying "in Jesus' name" I now find myself not knowing how to pray. What do I call God? How do I connect to the world? To myself? I had come to define myself by this relationship. Now that I'm alone, who am I?
Sometimes I look Jesus up, just for old times' sake. Maybe just to hang out. I can still learn from his teachings. "But none of that Savior stuff, okay?" I warn him. But, honestly, it's not the same. Once you've called a man Lord of your life it's hard to demote him to simply an influence.
I'm frighteningly single. At least once a week I hit the religion section of the local bookstore, pick up the first title that catches my eye and take it home. Rumi one night. Buddha the next. I know it sounds cheap, but each time I hope it's love. It never is. The book lays half-read on my desk and I go back to the bookstore, or, on really bad days, I lock my office door and surf New Age websites.
Don't get me wrong. I want the benefits of a committed relationship: the security, the depth, the chance to build my life with someone. But I've been hurt before. These days when I suspect someone is going to ask that I accept him into my heart, I get the hell out.
It's hard to be alone. I've let go too much to hold what I had, and I hold on too much to grab anything new. It'll get easier, I'm sure. Who knows, in ten years maybe I will have forgotten all about him.
But some nights are so long, so dark, that I find myself peeling open my old New Testament and flipping to some of my favorite passages.
"Hey Jesus," I whisper. "How have you been?"