In ages past, God was our help. He was also thought to be our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home. More recently, we were told that He was a concept by which we measure our pain. I’ll say that again. We were told that God was a concept by which we measure our pain. We were told this, however, by a drug-bedizened whiny-voiced Liverpudlian who told us many other things, such as that he was a walrus sitting on a cornflake. I think we can safely discard his witterings.
In Russian, God is known as Bog. It is well worth knowing this preparatory to reading any abstruse theological texts you may be tempted to tackle. For example, you might pluck from the shelf a fat tome the title of which promises to tell you all about God, when in fact it is a geographical survey of certain bogs. Conversely, if it so happens that you want to read up on bogs, you may become brain-dizzy trying to plough your way through the ineffable. Very few, if any, bogs are ineffable. They are, rather, a brute reality, an assertion you can easily test by donning a pair of wellington boots and trudging into one.
Can one, similarly, trudge into God? The answer to that, surprisingly, is “Yes!”, at least if we accept the argument of Digby Thew’s new paperback Trudging Into God. The esteemed geographer claims he did just that, a couple of years ago, while out on a hike. Though I have just noticed that the copy of the book sent to me for review is a translation from the Russian, and it may be one of those slapdash translations we hear so much about in the online journal Slapdash Translations & Confusion Regarding Theology And Geography. Incidentally, if you have never visited the site, I recommend it highly, though I know how difficult it can be to tear yourself away from Hooting Yard. I must say I wondered what Digby Thew was doing writing a book about God, when all his previously published works have been on the subject of bogs, ditches, puddles, marshes, mires, swamps, and other muddy wet places dotted about the earth.
God is to be found in such places, of course, for He is ubiquitous. Or almost ubiquitous. Let us not forget that there are quite a few so-called godforsaken places, certain dilapidated and ill-starred seaside resorts, from which God has fled. The poet Dennis Beerpint has been called the laureate of godforsaken seaside resorts, deservedly so, for penning lines such as:
I stood, at dawn, upon the collapsing pier
And I gave Lord God a flea in his ear
I shouted wild blasphemies at the sky
Upon the collapsing pier at Exe-on-Wye
Exe-on-Wye is a sort of generic dilapidated and godforsaken seaside resort invented by Beerpint, or possibly nicked from Vivian Darkbloom. It is based on the real resort of Innsmouth, which, oddly, is a town of no fewer than eleven churches. All of them are of course in various states of ruin, populated by bats and owls and crows rather than by the pious faithful.
Neither bats nor owls nor crows have need of God, save for their creation, but God Himself often assumes the corporeal form of a bat or an owl or a crow. One of my favourite Gods is the crow-God Cark! (always spelled with an exclamation mark), worshipped by the tinies at Pang Hill Orphanage. Some would hold that Cark! himself is a blasphemy, and in no way related to the real God Almighty, Lord of Hosts, but if ever you have witnessed the orphanage tinies trembling and bowing down in veneration of him you will almost certainly have trembled and bowed down in veneration on your own account, for truly he is fearsome and his fury is as the sort of stormy blast that God our help in ages past provides shelter from. I am tying myself in theological knots.
That is the thing with theology, it is so difficult to get a proper grasp of it. No doubt Digby Thew considered this when deciding whether to devote himself to the study of God or the study of bogs.
“What is it to be, young Digby?” asked his pedagogue when Digby Thew was young, “God or bogs?”
Luckily, young Digby did not know Russian, or he might have become hopelessly confused. As it was, he was uncertain which choice to make, and so he spent forty days and nights in the wilderness wrestling with his soul. It was the sort of outdoor activity encouraged by the institution where he received his education. Legend has it that God appeared to Digby Thew on his thirty-ninth night in the wilderness, though what passed between them is unknown. It is surely pertinent that the part of the wilderness where Digby Thew spent his time was a bog-riddled wilderness, though it was also rife with bats and owls and crows. It was also near the seaside.
As John Lydon among others has pointed out, God spelled backwards is dog. It is hard to think of a being less like God than a dog, especially one of those small yappy ones. Thereagain, we have it on good authority that God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform, so who knows if that dismal little dog yapping at one’s heels as one trudges o’er the moors towards the marshes and the bogs is not God Himself? There might be a divine message in the yapping, if only one could decipher it. On the other hand, if one did devote time and energy and one’s very sanity to translating the yaps into coherent sentences, and the dog turned out to be just a dog, and no God at all, one would be a benighted fool.
Being a fool is of course no barrier to approaching God. Quite the opposite, if we are to believe some theologians. And of course the Holy Fool, the idiot peasant of mysterious sanctity, is a staple character of Mother Russia. Which brings us back to Bog, which, spelled backwards, is not dog but gob. Do you know what I am going to do now? I am going to shut my gob.