The fire is started in the fireplace, and as I sit before it, it bombards me with light and noise. I experience intermittent popping and flashing as the flames lick upward, change forms, and descend again. I have settled in for the evening, but not in a dull or dreary way. Alone but engaged, I am in an internal mode that seems to make sense.
But I remind myself that things cannot really make sense. If anything made sense, then someone could be right, and that would make no sense at all. I’m not sure of much, but I am fairly certain that when all is said and done, none of us will be right. In the end, a great celestial joke will reveal itself, and no one will laugh.
As with all jokes, the teller will withhold the punch line until the end. While we are milling around outside the Pearly Gates discussing divers theories about the nature of existence on the inside, Saint Peter will step up and smile as he announces in his stentorian voice, “The joke is on everyone!”
A great hush will ensue, as when someone passes gas in public or lets slip a taboo word at the Thanksgiving dinner table, and after this uncomfortable pause, we shall turn together and shout, “What!? A joke!? And it’s on us!?”
“Yep,” he’ll reply with a smirk, “a joke. You should have expected as much. All indicators pointed in that direction.”
And we shall respond, again in unison, “Some joke!” Out of the crowd will float an angry cry, “Some god!”
Saint Peter’s smile will vanish, and many of us will conclude that he’s lost his recently acquired sense of humor and intends to close the gates. I have always felt that God delegated too much authority to good old San Pedro in the first place, and I wonder in what way power has corrupted the seemingly taintless saint.
Other saints will hear the ruckus and wonder why no one is passing through the portal. They poke their heads around the corner to get a look at what’s going on outside. Saints are not timid, but they know when to be deferential, and these fellows tread lightly on the senior saint’s turf. Away from the gates, they have little patience with his moodiness, but near this hallowed spot, they give him his due.
So there we are outside the gates with Saint Peter looking disgruntled, the saints lined up inside, and the Godhead lurking mysteriously in billows of clouds that float in the distance.
Just as the tension becomes thick enough to slice with a cosmic knife, we hear deep laughter like thunder rolling toward us over the white clouds, and we see in the sky a flaming chariot pulled by emerald-green horses. The driver’s eyes, shining like twin suns, oblige us to turn our heads to avoid being blinded by the intense light.
A few individuals do not look away and are stricken immediately, and the saints rush through the gateway, gather up those disabled ones, and lead them inside. Saint Peter, arms crossed, steps aside for these chosen few, for he is unqualified to judge a direct connection between a human soul and God.
Those of us with too much wit to look into the eyes of God are left standing outside the gates at the behest of the intermediary, the main saint. He does not act as if he’s going to allow us to enter. Some of us move to the front and try to manipulate our ways inside.
In our bodiless and impoverished states, however, we have little to offer, and our attempts to convince, coerce, and cajole the guardian saint have no effect. He shows himself to be impervious to all manner of argument. No amount of persuasion, wheedling, or flattery convinces him to allow us through. During the verbal exchange, though, he lets slip the declaration, “It’s all of you or none.”
This seems a curious decree to most of those present. Have not some of us done better jobs of living than others? Are not certain folk more deserving than their fellows? Shouldn’t there be a list of prospective incomers with rules written in the margins or a scale for grading in a legend or footnote, implying that the Power-Who-Is has given some serious thought to who’s who?
I have always imagined Saint Pete with a list, and it disappoints me to find him with only a robe, a frown, and knuckles white with ire. He seems unaware that his empty-handedness undercuts his credibility. He would appear far more authoritative grasping a papyrus role or at least a clipboard or spiral notebook. Even Post-its would be better than nothing.
But nothing it is, and as the saints lead the chosen ones along the gold-paved streets, we hear the thunder of the Godhead galloping toward us, and I wonder if a sonic boom might shake some sense into Saint Peter. But the chariot slows, and we bow our heads and imagine the wonder and majesty of the Figure who drives steadily toward us.
We no longer see him, the Godhead that is, and we can only conjecture as to his time of arrival. The thunder rumbles toward us, of that I am certain, but thunder travels in all directions, and folks always think its source approaches them. So for all we know, the Godhead might be riding on another course. With our heads bowed, we close our eyes and pray to God-knows-whom that Saint Peter open the gates and end this joke, if it is one.