The who and how of sudden enlightenment might transcend ordinary logic. To illustrate my short story about a weird instance of satori, I edited a NASA image formed by combining data from five telescopes. While the image is for real, the story is neither the literal truth nor a bogus claim to tell it.
(BTW, the [Menu] button atop the vertical black bar reveals the widgets.)
Management consultant Frank Dow showed no surprise at the new client’s evident desire for a genuine consultation rather than a canned endorsement of plans already made. Though unusual, the client’s sincerity was still less surprising than the client’s identity. The client was God. Dow listened intently as God began to describe His problem:
“Forget any twaddle you may have heard about omnipotence and omniscience. The universe is too immense and diverse to be micromanaged, even by Me. Roughly speaking, I built a big machine and let it run. But it’s not boringly deterministic. The universe is all about probabilities.”
As God continued, the proud-parent joy in his voice was clear:
“The probability that a randomly chosen planet will be suitable for life to appear at all is tiny. The probability that creatures with any ability to understand and appreciate the universe will evolve is tinier still, but not exactly zero. On the other hand, there are a lot of planets in the universe. There’s no need to crunch the numbers right now. The bottom line is that a few planets luck out. On your little blue planet, life thrived and your species evolved advanced abilities to observe and learn, to imagine and reason, to build bridges and write poems.”
With joy replaced by sadness and frustration now, God explained what He hoped Dow could provide:
“While I mostly let things run, I am not absolutely hands-off when a planet has intelligent life that blunders into being cruel or stupid. I nudge them in good directions by inspiring a few of them. In your planet’s case, I have had a little success and a lot of failure. I keep it simple and age appropriate, but they oversimplify half of what I tell them and obfuscate the rest. The Golden Rule gets through as something to proclaim but not as something to practice. Absurdly, much of what they think has been revealed to them is just their own bigotry and bullshit. The way they distort My message is so alien to the corporate culture here that nobody has a clue about how to handle it. As someone who is closer to the problem without being part of it, you may be able to help us.”
Given a temporary office with read access to the case histories (and full access to a plentiful supply of coffee and nutritious snacks), Dow went to work. A recurrent pattern emerged:
Inspirations that did not fizzle attracted disciples, often with authoritarian personalities. Authoritarian disciples misinterpreted God’s nudges and stridently claimed they could speak for God on all kinds of topics, now and forever. Many of those who were strident were also willing to coerce people they could not convince. Many of those who were willing to coerce were also willing to kill people they could not coerce.
Poring over the case histories was depressing, but Dow kept at it (with the able assistance of good coffee and good snacks). Eventually, he was ready to offer God a suggestion:
“I believe there is a personnel issue here. You have been inspiring people who mean well but score high on credulity and low on humor. Maybe it would help to go outside the box. For example, You could inspire a nerdy atheist who digs sacred music and pushes the envelope of haiku poetry.”
God was skeptical: “Does anybody like that exist?”
Frank Dow smiled the enigmatic Mona Lisa smile that sometimes appeared when he was moonlighting as a Zen master. He leaned forward and spoke softly: “Does anybody like You exist?”
At that moment, God attained enlightenment.
How to illustrate the concept of satori? For this post, I cropped a NASA image of the Crab Nebula and told the Retouching tab in my photo editor that each star was a blemish to be removed. If there is intelligent life on any planets orbiting those stars, I hope that nobody will be mad at me for dissing their sun. Oh well, it’s a big universe. I will be long gone before they have a chance to find out.
In its present form, this post’s story first appeared in Volume 1 of The Rabbit Hole, an annual anthology of weird stories. None of the stories there are illustrated, and I had no good ideas for an illustration anyway. How I came to write a story about God hiring a consultant whose recommendations are outside the box is yet another story, somewhat weird but entirely true.