As a young child, whenever anyone mentioned ‘God’ I would visualise a giant, velvet-skinned lizard. His body was a very dark, very rich, jet black. Like the blackest night sky you could imagine, while his teeth and claws were bright white, like the stars. He spoke with a deep, commanding voice. And he came to me in fever-dreams to boom fatherly commands at me, as I slid limply around the deck of a massive ship.
In hindsight, this visualisation is likely to have been inspired by watching Godzilla cartoons on a black and white television. The cartoon was set on a research vessel, and Godzilla would usually emerge from ‘the depths’ of the ocean and save the day. So it’s possibly not uncommon for people of around my age, who saw these Hanna-Barbera cartoons as children, to have imagined God as a huge and terrible lizard-like monster. The velvety texture is a bit harder to explain. I guess – having never felt one – my infant brain supposed a giant lizard would be fuzzy to the touch, like Action Man hair. Also my Grandmother kept a black velvet-lined jewellery box, which played music and twirled a ballerina, and perhaps my young mind associated its dusty, perfumey, mysterious insides with Godliness.
From time to time I was forced to reimagine Him, as I gleaned new information about this marvellous beast in stories and songs. When I was aged five, I had to re-think the colour. Back then, I attended a school in Nassau Bahamas, where the majority of my classmates were black, and I can recall a heated altercation one playtime between a girl, whose father had told her God was black, and a boy, who’d seen a picture of God, and insisted He was white. The dispute forced me to contemplate, for the first time, that God may not, in fact, be a deep, dark, fuzzy black. That he might be snowy white, with a slightly pinkish tinge to his claws and teeth and eyes. The thought of this new version of God was slightly unsettling. And yet, I sided with my friend, the boy, rather than the girl (who had teased me in the past) by confirmed that I thought God was indeed white.
That night when we were getting ready for bed, I asked my older brother what colour God was. “All colours” he said simply and assuredly, as if he had been expecting the question. And from then on, for a few years at least, I imagined God as a massive, psychedelic velvet lizard, all the swirling, moving colours of a balloon I once saw.
It didn’t occur to me then to ask my brother what he thought God looked like, what shape He / She / It was. But we did talk about it several years later when I was about ten and the concept of the multicoloured lizard was becoming implausible. This time my brother suggested that perhaps It was a huge glowing light, radiating warmth, like the sun.
It’s interesting how young children imagine the things they’ve never seen, like gods and germs, and energy and atoms. Or our insides. Before I knew what a brain looked like, I used to image it to be a light green, cylindrical spongelike substance. (I think perhaps I’d overheard an adult saying my brain was ‘like a sponge’.) And as a child, I thought everyone imagined these unseen things in the same way, and was often surprised when I learnt what they imagined was something quite different. But perhaps adults do this too, take it for granted that when they talk about brains or hearts that the child is imagining the same thing as them, but they almost certainly aren’t.