I received a letter in the mail recently from a young earth creationist who was incensed about a recent article I published that stated that Homo Sapiens have been around for about 200,000 years. The letter chastised me for being “a godless sinner,” and perhaps my recent misfortunes were warranted. It helpfully informed me that “all life was created less than 10,000 years ago by God.”
There is no benefit in my entering this discussion. Experience has taught me that if you are a young earth creationist, you will not be swayed by scientific proof of evolution. I mostly disregarded the letter.
But one line resonated:
“God is a trickster. He hid dinosaur bones and fossils to test our faith.”
While I remain a staunch believer in evolution, the last six months of my life make me think that God might indeed have a twisted sense of humor.
The wisdom traditions are full of Trickster Gods, those hallowed beings who are so casually, carelessly cruel with the lives of mortals. Loki. Anansi. Trickster Rabbit. Kokopelli. Hermes. Bugs Bunny.
For the last decade or so, I have started my day in a particular way. As soon as I awaken, before I jump out of bed and start mainlining coffee, I ask myself three questions:
How can I give?
How can I grow?
How am I grateful?
The first two are no problem. As a mom, wife, and business owner, I am always giving in some way. As a writer, I am always growing. But grateful? That has been a real stretch lately.
I’m coming out of the hardest season of my life. My relationship to gratitude has shifted. Every morning when I got to the third question, I felt resentful. Hopeless. Angry. Forsaken.
In this headspace, gratitude felt like toxic positivity. I’m supposed to be thankful for medical bills, for panic attacks, for meds that stop working? For unemployment, covid restrictions, perimenopause, for insurance coverage that doesn’t actually cover anything? For doing my best and failing anyway? For letters that shame me as godless? I had hoped it would be easier than this, that I could skip the hair shirt and go straight to singing the redemption song, a head and heart full of thanksgiving.
The people in my house live with crippling depression. For the first time in my life, I started to see the world through their clouded vision, forever falling down a never-ending flight of stairs. Sometimes life is just so unfair. Is it any wonder we seek solace in the bottle, in the arms of someone other than our spouse, in carbohydrates, in addiction and sleeping and mindless scrolling? Maybe God is uncaring and deceitful, starting trouble for his own amusement.
And then I remember the point of the Trickster archetype. The Trickster, no matter the religion or wisdom tradition, is a harbinger of chaos. Not because the Trickster is unfeeling or evil, but because trouble is part of life. My husband is unemployed. My daughter is struggling with her mental health. My business, post-covid, is on financial life support. My ovaries are giving up the ghost and instead trading viable eggs for brain fog, weight gain, and insomnia. Yeah, I know trouble. Don’t we all?
But the Trickster reminds me to just lighten up already. Sometimes we’re dealt a bad hand. The cosmic pendulum will eventually swing back the other way. If, as the Buddhists teach, suffering is part of the natural order, who wins by screaming at the sky? It’s not personal. It simply is.
Trickster teaches that we don’t necessarily have to be grateful for all of it. But we do have to deal with all of it. Best we dust ourselves off and get back to practicing the person we want to become.
The morning after I received that letter, I opened my journal and started a gratitude list for the first time in a long time.
Staring at trees, I wrote.
Then, B7 chord.
My book club.
Once I began, it was all pennies from heaven, page after page of unseen and unacknowledged gifts. I wrote until my hand cramped, kept listing.
I’m sure Trickster was laughing somewhere. So I laughed too, finally in on the joke.