Lisa Joy Samson

Lisa Samson

“The peacock jumped onto the hood of the Buick and once more spread its tail, sending the flashy Buick into oblivion.”
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

As a child I loved lying on my bed staring out of the window at the bare tree branches outside, dark extensions pointing to the winter blue sky. Laying my head upon forearms rested on my bedroom window’s sill, I would tilt my eyes to the heavens. Like a lot of children, I loved gazing out of the window, imagining myself flying upward and sitting on solid yet somehow soft-as-feathers clouds. It felt more like home up there. Frequently, birds silhouetted their elegant shapes between myself and the overhead expanse and I would think how lucky they were. Surely sparrows lived without worrying about whether or not there was a Creator God in charge of the universe. Surely not.

  • Omnipotent.
  • Omniscient.
  • Omnipresent.
  • One God, both now and forevermore, amen.
  • Did the birds and the trees just know that?

Though my heart began to thirst for its Maker early on, around the age of eight the resulting whisper of Duality showed up to do its job of making things harder than need be. “If it is possible for there to be a Maker, then is it also possible for there not to be a maker?” Duality asked more in feeling than verbiage. Unfortunately, it sounded plausible.

But a yearning in my soul seemed to prevail in the form of a hard-wired desire. Quite simply, I just wanted to be with God. I just wanted God to be with me. I just wanted to hear my Creator’s voice and feel the touch of the Divine hand. I wanted to know for sure that God was just as real as my mother and father. All this little soul truly longed for was a walk “in the cool of the evening,” to stroll in the purple tones of dusk, hand in hand with God in the garden, chatting about the day that has passed and planning for the day to come.

I didn’t think that was too much to ask, and I still don’t.

God showing up visibly in front of me? Please, God. I want nothing more.

I hear tales of people seeing God’s presence, usually just a portion of it. Many of us were taught as children that Moses watched Yaweh pass in front of him only able to see the back of the Deity that set up pillars of fire and clouds with the same ease a pepper mill is set upon the dinner table.

Where was my pillar of fire, my tower of clouds just showing up and leading the way?

Jesus told me, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.”

By that criteria, I was radically blessed. Nobody at my church saw visions, dreamed dreams, spoke in tongues or experienced the kiss of the supernatural upon their daily lot. The more overt, charismatic-style spiritual activities, including tongues, was handed over to Satan for credit by those who taught me what and what not constituted the “faith once delivered unto the saints”.

This constricting, limiting criteria of God’s possible workings among humans closed something off in me as a child, depositing a film of distrust over anything experiential yet unverifiable. God was a collection of words in a book. God was cerebral. God could be argued and won. But anything we experienced or felt was completely suspect, so don’t bother with all that “emotional stuff”.

God was so little back then. No wonder I couldn’t believe that a cagey, secretive Being so prickly about every little thing could have possibly thrown The Pleiades onto night’s wing or formed the eye of a baby in its first home of its mother’s body. Saturn spun with rings of ice and rock, comets flared, rivers ran, and trees grew out of sidewalks, but somehow bellicose humans could shake their fists as they marched into hell to defy the ultimate will of the Creator that all should come to reconciliation.

When I began allowing myself to question out loud what I had been taught someone said, “God’s grace sure has a geographical preference,” for according to the teachings of my youth, many would never return to their Creator but burn in eternal torment of flame instead because they had never heard the name of Jesus. Or, let’s face it, even if they had, stealing candy from the cut crystal jar atop the piano could land you there, too. Deep inside me that sounded unfair, over-reactionary, and (may I be honest?) psychopathic. How could clear teachings to forgive others and love our enemies be real if those were things God wasn’t even willing to do?

God sounded unreal.

Finally, I had enough of this whole “Where are you, God?” nonsense. God either had to put up or I was going to shut up, stop asking the branches and the birds and try my best to create a life without a creator that set up an extremely flawed system that, if God was ultimately sovereign, didn’t need to exist in the first place. If God was like the authorities claimed, I might have to take a pass.

And the thought of that broke my heart.

One day, when I was almost twenty seven, I looked at the barren winter branches, silent, flowing upward toward the sky hovering over Fairfax, Virginia. My eldest daughter was playing on the floor our apartment’s living room.

“I can’t take this anymore,” I said to whoever was listening, if there was anybody really listening. “I need a sign. If You are there, God, please show me.”

Not surprisingly, guilt for even asking spread like the blush of embarrassment. I knew the preachers told me that signs are for a perverse generation. Even Jesus said that. But I needed a sign, anyway. I needed God to step up for once in my life in a way that broke through time/space, the spiritual and the material, and make the Divine Presence unmistakably known. At least to me.

Let it stand, Lisa. Let the prayer stand and see what happens.

But I was looking for only one answer, only one answer would suffice.

I needed God to show up. I needed God to come through. I needed God to answer this prayer more than any I had prayed before.

At the time, my then husband, Will, and I were just three years married and living in an apartment complex surrounded by other apartment complexes. Making up the rest of the community of Cardinal Court, tiny postwar saltboxes with snaggle-toothed siding and exhausted gutters squatted in rental-house resignation on quarter acre lots. A block off the tired thoroughfare where tire stores, body shops, dry cleaners, an adult book store, and a Shoney’s provided commerce, our apartment rested at ground level, its boundary fence only ten feet from the back door at our patio. Traffic hummed, people were back-and-forthing all the time, sirens evolved into background noise.

My daughter played dolls on the living room floor as sourdough biscuits baked in the oven, the two inch rise l was so proud of almost complete and ready for lunch. Salmon salad, butter, raspberry jam, or honey if preferred were waiting for Will to spread on his biscuits when he returned home for lunch. For the remaining free time I had decided to hop on Compuserve. Yep, it was that long ago.

The modem screeched and scraped the air signaling with its jarring ring I was now entering the alternate universe of the newly explorable World Wide Web. I checked my AOL email, mindful of the minutes that were racking up a commensurate removal of cash from my bank account. (I’m so glad those days are over, aren’t you?) A movement caught the corner of my eye.

I swiveled around.

Then gasped.

In the small swath of lawn between my patio and the wooden boundary fence the most majestic of all the birds walked as though he was the king of everything. This was no little sparrow that stole my vision from the blue expanse I stared at longing for home. This bird made no sense whatsoever.

His tail, draped like a wedding gown behind him, followed his scaled feet and echoed the colors of his body, his head, and his feathered crown. This peacock was dazzling, yes, but he possessed the air of freedom, of being in charge of his own, precious little life on the outskirts of the District of Colombia. His posture spoke of disdain for things like farms, zoos and fences. His demeanor said beautiful beings should be allowed to go wherever they choose.

An ancient symbol for the resurrection, though I didn’t know it just yet, the peacock was also a symbol of immortality for the ancient Greeks who believed its flesh would not decay. Jesus, who overcame death and showed fearful humans there was nothing to fear about it, became associated with the peacock. It was found in many paintings that depicted the resurrection.

And it just so happened one of these creatures was walking in a ten-foot yard space outside my apartment’s sliders in a tired-out area of Northern Virginia not long after I asked for a sign.

You outdid yourself this time, God.

I stood from my desk, tapped Ty with my index finger to my lips and pointed out the window. If I look back to the one moment my faith became my own and God became a listener as well as a proclaimer, if I hearken to my heart for the watershed moments of my life in the Creator, this was the first moment that I believed without doubt that God was real and loved me. Nothing else God could have sent would have been as perfect. It needed to be a bird for I watched the birds. And the bird needed to come down from the sky for I needed a God who landed in the dust of which I was made. It needed to speak of Jesus and goodness, beauty and a universe where color and composition and light mattered.

“That is the work of an artist,” I said to my daughter, as we stood, stock-still, and watched the solitary parade work its utter miracle in front of us.

That blue. That green. Intense. Moving. Iridescent. Perfection.

But it was the crown that sealed it. “There’s no reason for it,” I whispered. “There’s no need for those little ball thingies.” They vibrated with each step of the clawed feet. They swayed with the proud blue head. They were delightfully silly and the needed balance for a tail that spoke of the cosmos.

I would like to tell you I never doubted the existence of God again for that is exactly what happened. Love came down in the form of a male peacock, who, I found out upon calling animal control, had been on the loose for several years. He traipsed through office lobbies, yards, parking lots, and had eluded rescue so far.

Well, I thought, he has a job to do. That peacock is walking around Fairfax telling people by his mere presence, his beauty and grandness, that a Creator is afoot, and that Creator is, perhaps, a bit of a show-off in design and implementation. And not only does that Creator care, but will show up whenever, wherever, and however an invitation is proffered.

That was twenty-seven years ago and since then not one doubt has crossed my mind. Many people of faith get offended when atheists make fun of them, calling them naïve, stupid, and blind. Not me. People can think whatever they want because I know that in the end God will send them a peacock, too. Maybe not a peacock, but what they need. All they have to do is ask, and my prayer for them is only that someday they will. Not for me. Not for anybody else. But purely for their own knowing that the Divine in and among and through us all loves to make Its presence known. And that presence is Love.

Fifteen years later, I read an article online telling of a peacock’s capture in Northern Virginia. “He just had a lot of people on his list,” I thought at the time.

Hopefully, there’s another one around to take his place for those of us in the world who need a peacock. I can’t believe I’m the only one.

(c)2022 Lisa Joy Samson