It’s a small word, only three letters. But it’s one of those words that can cause a lot of commotion.
I hesitated to use it, especially on the very opening spread of my picture book, but though I thought long and hard, I couldn’t find another that suited my purposes better. Or at all.
Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug,” and that’s how I felt about this choice.
Still, I said to my agent, Rubin, before he hand carried my new manuscript to the one editor I wanted to receive it, “Tell Liz if she wants me to change that one word, I will.”
Liz accepted my manuscript while snacking on the not-really-a-bribe scones Rubin brought that day, and she said, “The word can stay.”
The small word we were talking about is God.
Here is the way it is used in the opening of The Stuff of Stars:
In the dark,
in the dark,
in the deep, deep dark
a speck floated,
invisible as thought,
weighty as God.
Now let me explain. I am not a theist. I haven’t been a theist since I was a very young woman, despite the fact that I had married a man who was preparing for seminary and a career as a priest in the Episcopal Church. (Which is another long, in fact 28-year-long, story.)
And everyone knows the word God creates all kinds of problems in a children’s book. Those who are theists are apt to want the God that is named to be only their own. Those who are not don’t want God named at all. And public schools and even private schools not related to churches back away from the word as they would a land mine capable of blasting them out of existence.
Still . . . I wanted to use the word God! No other would do.
Because I couldn’t think of another in our lexicon that carries more . . . well, weight.
These days I belong to a Unitarian Universalist church, a church that is non-creedal. A member of a UU church can believe in God passionately or be a convinced atheist. UU’s subscribe to basic principles that are as far-reaching, in fact, I would say more far-reaching, than any creed, but, at least in my congregation, one of the most reliable ways to stir up dissent is to say “God” from the pulpit too many times in a row.
So I knew precisely what I was doing when I chose to use that word in my picture book. I knew how much power the word has, both the power to communicate a deep truth and the power to offend. I recognized, too, that I was writing about a topic, the Big Bang, that some see as anti-God, convinced that science’s explanation for the way our world came into being can’t coexist with the idea of God.
I certainly didn’t choose the word as appeasement to those who believe that God and science cannot be reconciled. Such a conviction is so far from my own reality that the thought was never in my mind as I wrote.
What I was in my mind, what is in my mind every time I open The Stuff of Stars to see my words and Ekua’s astounding illustrations, is the awe, the reverence, the humble joy in which I stand before this universe . . . and before every miraculous child this universe brings to us.
What better way can there be to express that, all of that, than one small, three-letter word? God.
Whoever we are, whatever we believe or don’t believe, it is a word with weight.