Q: First, Rabbi Gellman, let me thank you for the wisdom, tolerance and kindness you share in your column. I look forward to reading it each week and have often been comforted by your perceptions. As for questions for God, I don't really have any serious ones. I trust Him. I trust that it will all be set forth for us in His time. I believe God has a sense of humor (in fact, I think that is one of His underappreciated characteristics). If ever I doubted God's existence (which I haven't) or His sense of humor, it was clarified one night when I had stumbled into the bathroom initially without turning on any lights, my usual routine. But for some reason I did this particular night and there on the toilet seat ... was a huge slug! Sense of humor was the slug on the toilet seat; proof of God's existence was that I turned on the light and didn't sit down! So, I want to ask God what He had in mind when he created slugs. Rabbi, I hope you smiled. May God richly bless you. — From B
A: I am smiling and I am blessed, dear B. I agree with you that God has a sense of humor and that it is by far God's least appreciated trait. The first funny part of the Bible — aside from the talking snake in the Garden of Eden — is the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). After a tower up to Heaven is built we read, "And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded." Got it, "the Lord came down." Well, it is funny to me. Later on we have Balaam's talking donkey in Numbers 22:21-39.
I would not say that the Bible is a laugh riot, but there are funny parts, and I do agree that some of God's funniest works are strange- and creepy-looking animals. The platypus itself is hilarious. My Grandpa Lepa (my father Sol's father) was a zookeeper at the Milwaukee Zoo, and I remember him telling me that one day a visiting foreigner who had lived a sheltered life in Mongolia saw a giraffe for the first time in his life at the zoo and said to Lepa, "There is no such animal."
God has made some seriously goofy creatures. However, I am not sure I would include the slug in the list of God's funniest living things. The slug is part of a group of gastropod mollusks with (snails) and without shells that kind of act like God's organic dispose-all army consuming the detritus of dead living things. They may be creepy, but they serve a purpose. The slug on your toilet seat reminds you that you are connected to all living things.
My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, died Jan. 17, and her great gift was using nature as a portal to devotion and wonder. She once saw a dead rabbit on one of her walks in the woods around her home in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She was unable to bury it but later discovers, "a small bird's nest lined pale / and silvery and the chicks — / are you listening, death? — warm in the rabbit's fur."
She wrote of wild geese, "Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — / over and over announcing your place in the family of things."
In her last collection of poems, "Devotions," her spirituality is compelling. She wrote, "Lord God, mercy is in your hands, pour / me a little,"
She had the best notion of how to pray. In "Six Recognitions of the Lord — Praying," she gives us these prayerful directions: "Just / pay attention, then patch / a few words together and don't try / to make them elaborate, this isn't / a contest but the doorway / into thanks."
And as for you, dear B, may you avoid slugs on your toilet seat and may you read Mary Oliver poems (start with "The Journey") and may you pray the 24th and 25th verses from the 104th Psalm: "How manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts."
Rest in peace, Mary.