I arrived at Steve’s house early in the morning. Our plan was to hit the lake early, catch some fish, and get out before the wind gathered up and froze us out. On the drive we counted four cars sporting Jesus stickers on their bumpers.

No Jesus? No peace. Know Jesus. Know Peace.

He died for me…I’ll live for him.

Got Jesus?

Have a Nice Day with Jesus!

I was raised Catholic and the first chance I got to ditch Father Lopez, his unholy stink-eye, and his evil band of moody Sisters I did. I was in the 5th grade. After three years of fear sermons I’d seen and heard enough and told my parents that I quit. Even at that early age there was something about Christianity that didn’t jibe with me. I found it depressing. I found it negative. I found it cruel and unsettling. And the people that packed Our Lady of Guadalupe on Sunday mornings with their cut-out smiles and scripted greetings? I thought they were professional hypocrites and full of shit.

Despite my skepticism towards the credibility of his followers I liked Jesus and his message. As a kid I prayed to Him constantly. Prayed that my family lived peacefully. Prayed that my father would stop drinking. Prayed that I’d finally kiss Anna Hernandez.

“And Jesus maybe tomorrow you’ll allow me to kiss Anna. Just one kiss. You know how much I like her.”

That prayer never was answered.

In fact, a lot of them were never answered.

I told Steve about my Christian background. That I went to some old church in LA called Our Lady of Guadalupe. That I hated it and wanted out. That the people that attended the church judged and fucked people over for six days and on the seventh day they clutched their worry beads and mumbled like babies. I told him that over the years I’ve mellowed my feelings towards Christianity. That I tried not to think of their bloody history or their blatant hatred of all things non-Christian. I told him that religion rarely crossed my mind but when I think of Christianity these days I think of Jimmy Swaggart, the insular musings of Rick Warren. I told him I think of naughty Ted Haggard and Stephen Baldwin.

“Baldwin? Isn’t he an actor? The one who called his daughter a pig?”

“No, that’s another Baldwin. There’s like ten of them.”

Steve and I have a system when we go fishing. It’s very simple. He fishes and I sit on my ass looking for wildlife. When I grow bored of that I read. And when that runs its course I take a stab at writing some fiction that’s void of plot and structure—all that technical business I learned in the stuffy English rooms of UNLV. At that time I was putting together a collection of creature stories. Snakes. Insects. Dogs.

A giant hog named Benny that lives in Barstow and dreams of eating.

A rattlesnake that kills a bartender.

An aging flying squirrel that takes his last flight.

Two stinkbugs that get pissed on by a dog.

A donkey that shits money.

A scorpion that sings.

Steve is a master fisherman. Has all the gear. Has a beautiful boat loaded with gadgets and blip machines. He reads the water, knows all the tricks. On this day he’d catch five beautiful big-mouth bass. Gorgeous fish painted in greens and golds. This was our first fishing trip since my return from my spiritual retreat where I ditched my cell-phone, truck, the Internet, all that. I was to pay attention to my damaged heart and soul and not my addictive mind that wanders in bad places. So that’s what I did. I hunkered down and returned to the desert bright-eyed and clear. I returned to the desert a better man.

Sometime in the middle of the day the Dr. Peppers got to me and I had to piss. Steve pulled us into a cove. After I was done I walked around lifting fallen tree limbs and rocks looking for lizards and whatnot. Then something caught my eye. It was a knotted sandwich bag that contained two stones and a folded piece of paper that had Bible passages typed on it. I picked it up and read the typed messages. I’d never seen anything like it. Whoever put it together wanted someone to find it. I was that person. I looked to see if anyone was around. Nothing. Nada. I raised my eyes to the sky. Just like I did when I was a kid. Blue skies running from the San Bernardino Mountains to Barstow.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name. John 1:12

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12

I showed it to Steve.

“Seems like Jesus is always around,” he said.

I sat on the shore, memories spinning up and over the mountains and sloping down into Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario. Here I was again. Back in California, my birth state. Here I was again twenty-five minutes from the desert where it all began. I came full circle. Jobs and girlfriends. Old songs and new ones yet to be named. Dog-eared books and divorce. Poems and rejection slips. From Jesus to Buddha. Sand and scorpions.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8

I came home and put the bag next to my Buddha and my jade Trickster. They make a good team and look beautiful on my desk. The Buddha and Trickster a gift from a beautiful friend with a big heart. The “Jesus bag” a gift from a stranger that I will keep forever. Everyday before I leave the house I smile their way and open the door with the best of intentions. It’s easier that way.

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RENO J. ROMERO was born in the badlands of El Sereno, California. A bona fide Las Vegan, he also lived in the dirty South for three miserable years, where he was introduced to depression, grits, humidity, and sweet tea. A graduate of UNLV, the Southern Nevada Writing Project, and seedy bars, he enjoys Chinese food, Tamron Hall, the Trickster, and football. He currently writes poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction from the California desert, living among rattlesnakes, old bones, and biker speed. He's been published in various publications including Falling From the Sky (short story anthology), Celebrity Poets, and Central Speak. He can be reached at [email protected]

69 responses to “Jesus in the Sand”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    Reno,

    I don’t know how I can face the fact that you cut your beautiful hair.
    It’s breaking my heart.
    You promised!
    On the other hand, when you finish: “An aging flying squirrel that takes his last flight,” please let me know. I really do want to read that one.
    Understand, I am in Maastricht now and our “free” internet is so slow that it is bordering on “broken” internet. So if I don’t answer you right away, it’s because I can’t hear you.

    • Reno Romero says:

      irene:

      hey, sorry, i cut my hair. i DID promise you i wouldn’t and then i did. let’s just say that i had to. it was out of my control. give me your email and i’ll send you your squirrel story.

      always,
      rr

  2. Meg says:

    I loved this. Loved it with my tiny little cracked heart. 🙂

  3. Matt Salyer says:

    Reno,

    What happened to the creature stories? I wonder if that’s universal – writers having creature stories? Faulkner has one called “Afternoon of a Cow” or something. I think it lets you stretch out formally, lets you breathe outside of the worry about plot, structure. The proximity of the inhuman lets you wiggle around a little more in your own human skin or something. Maybe religious experience – running into it on a billboard, “dog-eared books … rejection slips” – pretty much operates on the same principle, or ought to. “Sand and scorpions,” especially. Somewhere I have this old strange book written by a French exorcist from the 1940’s. The thing I remember from it is the comment about going into the desert. Everyone talks about the old stories of prophets and saints going into the desert as though that’s the place where they’re safe, where things are quiet, where they can think. He makes the point that you go into the desert because that’s the place where you get more, not less, involved, confronted, with the presence of things that aren’t you. Sand, scorpions. I like this. I like creature stories. They’re lingering on the edges of this essay.

    • Reno Romero says:

      matt:

      first, allow me to thank you for the thoughtful comment. where do i start? the creature stories? i’ve always found it fun/interesting to personify animals. i’m a pet lover. i’m a spider lover. i simply love creatures and find them and their characteristics amazing. the green lynx spider. the mojave green rattlesnake. the desert owl. the basset hound.

      matt, for some reason your comment has me reeling. again, thank you kindly for reading my junk. cheers, sir. and cheers again.

      trapdoor spiders and others bugs,
      r

  4. Joe Daly says:

    Thoughtful stuff, Reno. So many little stops along the way in this piece. Giant neon roadsigns calling for debate over organized religion, little spirituality motels, and a few ancient and mystical creatures along the way. I dug it, I related to it, and I dug it some more.

    Sidestepping my religious views here, I’ll say that I couldn’t agree more with your eventual resolve to simply see the good in the message and to take what works for you and make it your outlook. Not always easy, and never done perfectly, but what a great way to walk down the street.

    • Paula Austin says:

      …well said one Joe Daly, well said my friend.

    • Reno Romero says:

      joe:

      you are amazing. and one day we should sit down and talk maiden and god. and anything else. you and i have run the same road (s). i get it. and i can see and understand where you write from. keep writing, joe. and keep thinking. we need it.

  5. Paula Austin says:

    Reno,

    I once had a flying squirrel named Abner, I bought him for fifty cents off a guy on the school bus. He spent the rest of that day hidden in my coat pocket. He had large black eyes and the softest fur ever. He was a tiny thing. Abner came home with me and became the family pet. He loved chewing gum, hoarded nuts and liked to sail off anything that would allow him to land on your head. Abner lived years longer than the average life span of a flying squirrel. I loved him, and I think he loved me. Maybe I am a dreamer or maybe I just imagined it. He was an adventurer, sweet, soft and liked to cuddle. How could I not feel that way.

    As the years passed on Abner became blind and could no longer sail through the air like the superman he used to be. Yes, Abner one day took his last flight but spent the rest of his days cared for and loved.

    I have always believed that all animals are a little glimmer of light from God that is a intricate a part of him. I think that this is his way of sharing himself with us and that when they die they return to him. A part of him. Anyway this always helps me deal with the random death of animals, be it roadkill or a family pet. How could anything that God creates not be a part of him.

    Reno, this story touched my heart in every way possible. I think it takes great courage to write and share anything about Jesus. Just the name Jesus invokes a strong reaction. One either runs or stops dead in their tracks. He has long taken a bad wrap from people who have defined him by religion. Their pious efforts have made him out to be a judge not a savior. He never died to make you behave, he died to make you his.

    I am amused that he hangs out on your desk next to Buddha and Trickster. I think Jesus absolutely loves it. He does have a sense of humor, he has to put up with me. I give that Jesus a run for his money or should I say his blood. What can I say he loves me unconditionally, my kinda’ guy.

    Reno, keep writing, keep sharing, keep giving. You are one talented soul and I love your heart.

    I see your Jesus bag as a concrete manifestation of divine favor. How sweet!

    …and I dear Reno I still want to fall out of that window with confetti in my hair.

    Ciao sweet one!
    paula

    • Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

      hi, Paula!

      go to http://www.gravatar.com and upload a pic so we can see your purdy face.
      (or your cat, or dog, or any other random thing you would like us to see.)

      doing Listi’s job-
      New Orleans Lady

    • SAA says:

      The story about your pet flying squirrel almost moved me to tears, seriously. That was so sweet.

      • Paula Austin says:

        “That was so sweet.” why thank you, I’m blushing. I’ve moved a few people to tears in my life, but can’t say it was about anything sweet. I’m taking this one and ever lovin’ running with it, SAA.

    • Reno Romero says:

      paula:

      aww, you’re so sweet. thank you kindly. the flying squirrel story is bittersweet. he’s an aging squirrel and sees his last days. at tale’s end he leaps either to his death or to fly another day. anyhow, i find those babies pure heaven! hey, they fly! and flight – as far as i’m concerned – is the closest thing to heaven. AND they have cute faces! and who doesn’t like cute? hmm…

      thanks, paula. tell your town i said hello.

  6. Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

    Re-
    This is one of your best pieces. Honest, revealing, thoughtful, and serious. All those qualities that you like to hide with your dimples and sarcasm. I have lot’s of thoughts on this but I’ll save them for later. I will say that I’m happy that you found something to make you smile every morning. Ground you. Center you. Find the still? God knows I’m always looking for the “still”.

    Now…

    My grandmother-in-law is named Ana Hernandez.

    You fish EXACTLY the way I do! Everyone has their line in the water and there I am…chasing alligators and running from ants and bees. I always bring a book and my journal but when I finally sit still, they remain on my lap while I let my surroundings soak in. Why waste the landscape?

    I want to read the squirrel story. No, scratch that…I NEED to hear the story. If you didn’t write it yet or finish it yet, you must. Do it for me, Moose.

    “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” One of my favorites. Always searching for that rest…stillness. Heavenly. Divine.

    Keep smiling, Re.
    -NOL-

    • Reno Romero says:

      NOL:

      I’ll send you the story. Thanks for the purdy comment, NOL. Come out to the desert, Ash. There’s a scorpion singing as I write…

      • New Orleans Lady says:

        Ok, packing my bags.
        you bring your green guitar and few books.
        I’ll bring paint and a big comfy blanket.

        listening for scorpions…
        breesy

  7. James D. Irwin says:

    I liked this a lot.

    I don’t have a religious background at all, but I prayed sometimes when I was younger. Even now I have a tendency to talk skywards in vain hope.

    Alot of what I’ve been writing lately brings in religion etc— although none as good or thoughtful or well written as this.

    Still not a man of faith, but like you I like Jesus and his message. Peace and love and all that. What’s not to like about that?

    • Reno Romero says:

      james:

      i hear you, bro. completely. we should always see the positive. that’s my thinking at least. thanks, sir.

  8. Simone says:

    Reno,

    I liked this. I’m more spiritual than religious. I was christened a Roman Catholic but haven’t been confirmed, my parents got divorced when I was quite young and the whole religion thing just kinda flitted away.

    When my dad remarried, my step-mom made us go with her to church (Methodist) every second Sunday. It wasn’t so bad except for the fact that we were forced to wear our flower-girl dresses. We looked like little yellow meringues sitting on the Sunday school floor. Even at 7 years old I was embarrassed. I *cringe* at the thought.

    I pray these days. Some prayers are answered. Others are ignored, or answered in an unexpected way. Jesus is cool. Religion, not so much.

    ”Everyday before I leave the house I smile their way and open the door with the best of intentions. It’s easier that way.”

    Ain’t it just?

    • Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

      “Jesus is cool. Religion, not so much.”

      My sentiments, exactly.

    • Reno Romero says:

      simone:

      i hear you. i made “communion.” it was horrible. but you know, i don’t look at those days in bad light. did i hate it? you bet. but what does it serve to look back at my life with fucked up eyes? nothing. jesus was cool. and is cool. am i a christian? nope. never. but good vibes should always be embraced. me thinks…

  9. SAA says:

    I like the idea of keeping religious icons even if you’re not ‘religious’ per se. I always give my grandmother little Buddhas for her birthdays and what not, even though she’s catholic. I feel like a happy little fat man is a lot nicer than most of the catholic icons. This was really sweet, I enjoyed reading it.

    • Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

      I can’t believe your grandmother accepts your little Buddhas!!
      My crazy grandma would never!

      I love images of Mary. Always have.
      I don’t pray her rosary but collect them and wear them.
      In some ways, they comfort me.

      • SAA says:

        She thinks they’re good luck, she likes to gamble. But she is a pretty cool lady, she taught me how to say c*nt in Italian, which should explain a lot about me.

    • Reno Romero says:

      SAA:

      Right? I have gobs of that stuff hanging around. Even a cool crucifix that hangs on my wall. Holla!

  10. jmblaine says:

    Your religious childhood
    was mine too.

    I see a picture:
    In a quaint old vessel
    not far
    from the shore
    Geezer Butler, you & me
    greens and golds
    & still waters
    Jesus laughing;
    I give you rest

    My favorite
    TNB piece
    ever.

  11. Terrific, Reno! I like that this takes me some place I didn’t really expect, a happy place where Buddha, jade Trickster, and Jesus bag co-exist. You’re absolutely right. It’s much easier this way 🙂

    • Reno Romero says:

      cynthia:

      thank you. they can exist. and they do. i’m looking at those fuckers right now. it is easier that way. you bet.

  12. Jim Lyons says:

    Reno, it seems you and I, along with many others, find something to believe in as we get older. After all, what else is there if you don’t believe in something. Doesn’t matter what you believe in, as long as there is hope.

    As for the Donkey that shits money, it sounds an awful lot like our brilliant government. Forgive me, but I’m not sure if the donkey is a democrat or republican, or the elephant for that matter. They both suck!!

  13. Amanda says:

    “You know how much I like her.” That is perhaps the sweetest “amen” to a prayer I’ve ever read.

    • Reno Romero says:

      amanda:

      that’s nice. i never did kiss anna, though. and i wrote about it many times. shucks. and shucks again.

  14. I’ve only been fishing twice in my life. Caught three fish but never found Jesus. Like you (and James, I see) I think I prayed out of some sort of hope when I was younger. These days I don’t have religion and I’m pretty happy. I can recognise Jesus and Buddha as special people in the world’s history with important messages, but that’s about the extent of it.

    Not a fan of the old Jesus bumper stickers… Yeesh. They scared me when I was in America. Some of them were downright offensive. We don’t have stuff like that in the UK because someone with a different version of Jesus would probably set fire to your car.

  15. Becky Palapala says:

    Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8>/i>

    Well, see. This is the problem.

    You were catholic.

    Luther rejected works-based salvation hundreds of years ago.

  16. Becky Palapala says:

    Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8

    Well, see. This is the problem.

    You were catholic.

    Luther rejected works-based salvation hundreds of years ago.

    • Reno Romero says:

      becky:

      you’re too funny. i’ve loved your voice for years. the best utterance: “the enemy.”

  17. gloria says:

    Reno, I love how you tell this story. Simple, engaging, funny.

    The end makes me think of my Shelf of Imaginary Things. On it is a unicorn with three detachable horns, all speared through a different type of human (a mime, a hippy woman, and a man in a business suit); two different fairies; a bobble-head Jesus; a G-1 Starscream Transformer; my Chinese Zodiac beanie babies representing myself and my daughter (a dragon and a monkey); and some large, grotesque, genetically accurate rubber testicles (complete with entrails) that were used in Tarantino’s Grind House films. If I’d found the Jesus bag, I’d’ve put it up there, too.

    Hi Reno!

    • Reno Romero says:

      gloria!

      ha! too funny! love your shelf. and love you. testicles? for some reason that word makes me laugh. don’t know why. anyhow: your shelf rocks. crank it to 11.

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      G!! I’m so happy that I’ve made a contribution to your shelf!
      Also, I’m thrilled to know that Bobble-head Jesus will forever make you think of me.
      why?

      i don’t fucking know…

      …peace be with you…

      …and also with you.

  18. Buddha, Trickster, and Jesus?

    Now that’s a posse to roll with.

    I often think of your words surrounding the concept of god-space, Reno. They’re reassuring, and inspiring to me.

    You know, just so you know.

    • Reno Romero says:

      simon:

      thanks for reading, man. i think i had fun writing it. it was very mellow. i need a mellow day from time to time. hey: hang out with that posse. they’re all yours.

  19. My Dearest Reno, I did the thing where I read this when you first posted, really loved it, but didn’t have a chance to comment that minute, and then almost took too long to come back and do so. I do that a lot. But here I am. I read this! I did! And I loved it. I also love the idea of hiding mysterious secret messages for strangers to find, and that you saved the message you found.

    Whenever I see a bumper sticker or sign that just says “JESUS” it always makes me giggle because I say it as an exclamation in my head. JESUS!

    I grew up Lutheran, and had to take the classes during the week in order to be “confirmed.” I didn’t like those classes much, or the formality of church. No offense to anyone who finds peace in organized religion, of course; it’s just not for me. I find peace in nature, so I’d rather go for a hike on my Sunday.

    Hey, I’m a Scorpio that sings. Pretty close to your creature story, right? (:

    xoxo.

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      Tawni, I hide messages for strangers all the time!

      Things like, “You are loved.” and “You are not alone.”

      Cheesy crap that only a severely depressed person on the edge of suicide would appreciate. Or hate. On second thought, why do I do that? Probably doesn’t make anyone but me feel better.

      I suck.

      • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

        One of those notes would make me feel better, Ashley. I’m prone to innuendo abuse, but something like that could save my life someday. Keep on truckin’ sista… Especially since my current fantasy takes me to New Orleans to live my forties. I bet a few of those notes will still be floating around by then.

        You def don’t suck. Solid no on the sucking front.

        You are awesome.

        • New Orleans Lady says:

          Oooh!! Come to NOLA and hang with me.
          We can eat and drink and be merry? Yeah! Merry! Sounds like fun, right?

          Then, I could give you those types of notes on the regular.

      • Paula Austin says:

        Ashley, I’m backing up Lisa Rae on this one! I’ve seen you around these parts and I’ve seen the stroking you’ve been up too. Yes, you are quite the encourager. Hope your significant other gets some of the benefits of that sincerity, that talent.

        Suck…NO! Stroke…YES!

        Envying the talent!

        • New Orleans Lady says:

          Paula, are you being sarcastic?
          If not, forgive me.

          It’s just your use of the word “stroking” sounds like I kiss ass just for the sake of being a kiss ass. Not so. I genuinely love these people and after the years we’ve been in contact I’m involved in their lives on a personal level. I love reading them and watching them grow as writers and as people.

          Encouraging, yes.
          Kiss ass. I don’t think so.

          Now I’m singing that damn song….
          “I be strokin’……it’s what I like……”

        • Paula Austin says:

          “Whoa”…Ashley!

          Never, ever, never, would I make such an accusation toward you or anyone. Not my character at all.

          ….she stroked the cat: caress, fondle, pat, pet, touch, rub, massage, soothe. Yes, when I stroke my cat, I’m telling her through touch, that: I love her, I appreciate her, I adore her. She is special to me. I am sorry if I offended you in any sense, not my intensions.

          Merely a compliment….

        • New Orleans Lady says:

          No, no. Not offended.

          I just thought the comment could be read one of two ways and I don’t know you well enough to decide on which.

          I can be extremely sarcastic at times so I wasn’t sure if that’s what was going on.

          No problemo, senorita.
          Buenas noches.

          -Nueva Orleans Senora

    • Reno Romero says:

      tawni:

      like you i love the idea of people leaving “gifts” for people to find. this one was a special one and i’ll never part with it. you’re a scopio that sings. wonderful. sing to me. i’ll play back-up. stay safe in OK. cheers.

  20. This piece brought tears to my eyes in a personal way. A real sock in the gut. Only God helped me through 2010. Only God helps me now.

    I still cuss and drink and do stupid things. But yeah. God.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Great tone to your writing. Once again, I’d read an entire book of this kind of prosody. I’d follow such a character around through desert journeys, raw conversations about life, love and the Almighty.

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      “Only God helped me through 2010. Only God helps me now.”
      Very honest. Beautiful.

      I know what that feels like, Nick.
      Good and bad. <3

    • Reno Romero says:

      nick:

      thanks, brother. i knew something was up with you in 2010. i can feel it and i’m happy your days are better. lord knows i’ve had my fair of crap over the years. but you know what? most of it is my own doing. someday i’ll learn. carry on, sir.

  21. Lorna says:

    Reno,

    What a touching story. I think Jesus connects to us in a way that works for us. For you, it was a gift in the sand left by someone whom probably had a equally touching story. This brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.

    • Reno Romero says:

      lorna:

      you know it was a huge connection. i can’t really explain it other than writing that this jesus wasn’t the one i knew as a kid. or maybe it was because those people that showed up on those infamous sundays weren’t there. yeah, that’s probably it. thanks and take care.

  22. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    This is really gorgeous, Reno. I so relate to the state of mind you’re in.

    I also relate to the Catholic upbringing. My youthful interpretations match yours. This really says it all: That the people that attended the church judged and fucked people over for six days and on the seventh day they clutched their worry beads and mumbled like babies.

    A donkey that shits money. I could use one of those.
    A scorpion that sings. I’d love one of those too. Reminds me of Jeff Buckley. (My favorite Scorpio.)

    • Reno Romero says:

      thank you, kindly, lisa. catholic upbringing? yikes. i was in the fire for way too long. but i survived. well, at least i think. the donkey that shits money is actually a revamped trickster tale (love those things). buckley rules. always. take care, lisa, and thanks again.

  23. dwoz says:

    Jesus is my co-dependent.

    Jesus is my co-defendant.

  24. Reno Romero says:

    dwoz:

    he’s my carpenter.

  25. Kamie Martin says:

    Jesse,
    This story touched me, I know that jesus saves lives and brings peace. I want you to know that peace. I will pray for you.

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