A story without God

A couple weekends ago my husband and I leisurely passed some time seated on the floor of a large and wonderful used bookstore paging through books we'd pulled from the shelves. Needless to say, a number of them came home with us in a bag. One of them was Stories of God by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. It was written by Rilke when he was 23 (1904) as a series of connected stories about God for children.

The book is written as a first-person narrative with the stories embedded. As the narrator goes about his daily life, he tells these stories to certain neighbors so that they can pass them on to the children. Ewald, his shut-in neighbor, is one of the trusted conduits for the stories. Shortly after giving him the story of Yegor Timofeievitch, the narrator is stopped by Ewald's wave from the window. Ewald tells him that the children noticed the last story had nothing in it about God and so they wondered if more of the story was coming.

The next time I passed Ewald's window, he waved to me and smiled, "Did you promise the children something definite?"

"How so?" I asked in surprise.

"Well, when I had told them the story of Yegor, they complained that God did not come into it."

I was startled. "What, a story without God? But how is that possible?" Then I remembered: "Indeed, it is true; that story, as I now think it over, says nothing about God. I can't understand how that could happen; had some one asked me for a story, I believe I should have thought all my life, in vain..."

My friend smiled at this agitation. "You must not take it to heart," he interrupted with a certain kindliness. "I imagine one can never tell whether God is in a story before one has finished it completely. For if only two words of the story are still missing--indeed, if nothing but the pause after the last word is still outstanding, he may yet come."