What You Are Now

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Sometimes I pedal around town on my bike meditating. The alleys, the streets, even the funky traffic patterns are as familiar as my hands. I’ve lived in dozens of locations and left my DNA all over the place. It’s my town.

God rides along wearing my memories; scarves and beads, seven chickens, a hundred trees. I try to accept the shocking truth that the world goes on without me, but I resent it. God is relatively gentle about this, pointing out how tall the trees have grown.

“What good are these damn memories?” I ask as they pelt me like sheets of sudden rain. I’m drenched. Shivering. Sad. The bygone days are a howling pack of coyotes; phantoms that leave teeth marks, longings without names.

“Not everything is good in isolation,” God says. “You’re not what you remember.”

“Oh, thanks.” My voice drips with sarcasm. “That helps a lot.”

“It will,” God says. “Give it time.”

I stop the bike and sit on the curb beside a large mound of fallen leaves. I remember crawling under a pile like this. October. Centuries ago. But the sound of the rain on the brittle leaves was yesterday. It occurs to me that I would like to be buried in a pile of leaves, here on a side street, in a ceremony so quiet no one is inconvenienced in the least.

“You already are,” God says. “C’mon. Let’s ride. I’m getting restless.”

“Fine,” I say. We pedal toward a steep hill and begin the climb, me seeking perspective, God enjoying the ride. I’m so easily seduced by the idea of my own importance, sucked into the undertow of imagined glory. The view helps. I watch the little city move itself here and there as I catch my breath. Then I turn the bike around. The downhill stretch is littered with rocks and potholes, but my tires are full and the light is good.

God and I gather speed as we cruise back into the thick of it. I think to myself, it’s probably after 3 already, but I check my watch. It’s nearly 5. Too many young people smile at me. Newer model cars zip by. My brakes squeak, and my resolve weakens, but I find solace in the alleys. Discarded grace, throw rugs, pottery, and a pile of sticks for firewood.

God hops off. A thousand wings begin designing the sunset dipping liberally into orange and magenta. I strap the rugs and pottery on my bike, drape the grace around my shoulders, and make a mental note to pick up the firewood later. I wonder if I’ll remember. I wonder if it matters. I wonder whose elongated evening shadow is peddling ahead of me. It’s vaguely familiar, but God is right; I’m not what I remember.

Nothing Happens for a Reason Other Than the Happening Itself

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“God,” I said. “Are you into cause and effect at all?”
“Hmmm?” God said, raising her eyes from the screen, her fingers politely pausing above her keyboard.
“I mean, like for every action, is there an equal and opposite reaction in your way of seeing things? Do you define force as mass plus…”
“Acceleration?” God filled in the last word before I got to it and added, “Is this about that apple and Newton?”
“No,” I said. “I think it’s actually more about that apple and Eve.”
“Oh, that,” God said. “Pshaw.” It appeared she was done with the conversation.
“Wait,” I pleaded. “Could I get a straight answer before you dive back into your manuscript?”
God sighed and looked at me, fingers still poised to type.
“What I’d like to know is do things happen for a reason, and are you the force behind things happening, or do you just watch?” That last bit might have been said with a slightly nasty tone, but God didn’t rise to the bait. She put her hands in her lap and glanced at her fitbit.
“Want to do a few stairs while we talk?” I asked. She nodded.
As we climbed the first flight, she began. “Nothing happens for a reason other than the happening itself. You make the meaning. You create the reasons. If you create none, there are none.”
“Are you talking about me or the whole human race?” I asked.
“Both,” God said. “The raw material generated by being alive is food for the mind and soul. It exists only to be transformed into meaning. Sometimes individual. Sometimes shared.”
“But do we ever get it right?” I asked.
“Depends on what you mean by right and on who you ask,” God said, surprisingly patient.
“I’m asking you,” I said.
“I know,” God said. “A lot of people make that same mistake.”
So who are we supposed to ask?” I said, frustrated.
“Oh, you can ask but then don’t blame. And remember, you’re asking the me-in-you.”
“Um, God,” I said. “Sometimes it seems like you’ve forgotten who you are. Like you don’t want to face what you’ve put in motion, an experiment veering towards a bad outcome. I feel like you hide when the going gets rough.”
“Sorry you feel that way, bunchy-boo. But it just ain’t true.” God had gone from thoughtful to punchy. I gave her a push, and she rolled down the stairs momentarily acquiescing to the curvature of the space-time continuum.
“See?” she said as she picked herself up. “Now I’ll get more steps in.”
“You make me crazy,” I said.
“Nope,” God said. “You do that yourself.”
“Augh!” I said. “You make me sick.”
“Nope,” God said, eyes crinkled, stunningly luminous.
“You make me happy?” I said with a question mark, trying to get out of this loop.
God beamed and belted out, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray.” She paused. “C’mon, bunchy-boo,” she said. “Sing with me. I’ve got a killer harmony worked out for this one.”

Playing the Fool

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It’s been reported that God has a special fondness for fallen sparrows, fools, and small children which may be why he gets such a kick out of startling me. This morning, he arose in a ghostly puff of sawdust from the bottom of the woodpile and like a gleeful child, said “Boo.”

“NOT FUNNY,” I yelled, jumping back.

“Wrong. Very funny,” God replied, giggling. “You’re so easy to surprise. You forget where to look. You let your guard down. You have God cataracts. Gotta shake you up, wake you up, scare the dickens out of you.”

I sighed. “I’m not bringing you coffee until you settle down.”

“No need,” God said, quivering with energy. “Today, I am coffee. Black coffee and donuts. And firewood. I’m pure sugar, perfectly-aged bourbon, a romp in the hay. I’m a pulled tooth, the tooth fairy, the pillow and the sleeping child. I’m a hundred dollar bill flying by in the wind. You can catch me.”

“I don’t want to,” I said.

“That’s not the point,” God said. “What you want is not important. What you’ve been, what you will be, not important.”

Sometimes God acts like this—as if I’m not important—but I know I am. It’s a trick. “Define important,” I said, defiant and a little scornful.

God threw back his head, laughing. “Ha ha ha! Define important!” he wheezed. He slapped my back. “Good one.”

I tried to walk away, but he hopped in front of me on a pogo stick. “Look at me, look at me,” he shouted, filled with joy. I turned away. He turned with me. I back up. He backed up. The melting began—I cracked a small smile. What an idiot. Who can resist such a God?

“Walk like a turkey,” he said. “Or an Egyptian. Flap your arms. Eat bugs. Drink wine. Swivel your hips. Shake your bootie.” God was somehow doing all these things at once while I looked on, trying not to reward such goofiness. I shook a finger at him. “You’re a stubborn old coot,” I said. “Irresponsible, offensive, demanding, foolish…”

“Oh, you are so, so wrong,” God said. “I’m your youngest idea. Your most avid fan. Your faithful servant.” He paused. “Okay. Yeah. That demanding thing is true. I ask a lot of myself.”

My finger was still waggling at him, trying to induce shame, but he grabbed my hand, bowed low, and kissed my palm. “We are both of royal lineage,” he said. I pulled back, but he held on. “Not so fast!” He balanced himself on a large stump and proclaimed, “Poetry slam!” With a kind of gusto only God possesses, he read:

You cannot help but exist among us;
beer-drinkers, side-winders, men with big mouths;
wise-crackers, homemakers, coyotes, and cougars.
Miners, majors, midgets, and moles—
shame-laden fools and the overly proud.
Soul sisters, blood brothers, the quick and the dead.
All are long lost, and continually found.

With a flourish and bow, he shouted “Amen,” and began to fade. The kiss of God burned in the palm of my holy hand. I thought of applauding, but instead, I let the wonder dissipate and brought in a load of fragrant but imperfect wood.

 

I Can Move the Iris

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A lot of people like autumn. I don’t. Sure, autumn lovers have their reasons, and I have mine. Not worth a debate, except maybe internally, as yet again, I find myself inspecting my belly button. “Why do you not like autumn, Rita?” I ask myself. “Too much death. Too many endings. Too much work. Things to put to bed. The threats. The oncoming winter,” I answer. But I’ve now distracted myself. The mention of belly button has flipped me out of my autumn reveries to my memories of my actual belly button. With both pregnancies, it popped out of its usual spiral, protruding like a small boy’s misplaced penis. No smooth, picturesque baby bump for me.

People conscious of appearances tried to shame me into wearing looser tunics or thicker tops. They suggested bandaids or an inner body wrap to push that thing back in. I resisted, trying to be comfortable with all aspects of the cataclysmic set of bodily accommodations entailed in pregnancy. Fake it ‘til you make it, right? Or as Popeye asserts, “I yam what I yam.” I didn’t pop my belly button out on purpose. It was just part of the process. But I remember the shame. Waves of shame for both my lack of perfection and my refusal to disguise that disappointing imperfection.

God and I frequently tangle around these issues. Pregnancy and childbirth; these are not walks in the park. Of course, neither are knee replacements, starvation, braces, kidney stones, or war. Some suffering is voluntary. Some suffering has a purpose, a desired outcome. But some suffering seems pointless and avoidable. And the little ones, the powerless ones, the poor—these always suffer first and most. These are God’s peeps. If God has gone missing, this is where you’ll find her, suffering alongside. I don’t like this. I like this far less than autumn. I could endure endless autumn if God would just step up and end the vast and unjust suffering of innocent, powerless people.

And of course, I just lied.

Two years ago, I planted the iris bulbs in an unfortunate location. The weeds and native grasses have completely overtaken them, giving me a daily view of negligence and defeat. I wasn’t thoughtful. I wasn’t perfect. I acted expediently instead of wisely. Oh God, I need to save one hungry child, one mangled family, one small patch of soil. I’ve got to get something right before I die. Please. I’m begging here. Please.

The arms of God are crossed. The eyes of God are piercing. The heart of God is coursing the blood of God through the arteries of my over-exposed existence. “You can move the iris bulbs,” she says. “This would be the time.”

As I mentioned, I don’t like autumn. It’s nearly too much for me.

Vindication

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Big God is in rare form this morning. She’s on her fourth cup of coffee, rambling about my wayward neighbors and friends and how I might be as wrong as they are and how perfection is in the eye of the beholder so no one will ever be perfect or imperfect or right or wrong, but how in microcosms, beauty happens, and how fear is the human fault line she designed in to slow us down. What? I decide it’s time to slow her down. Caffeine-induced mania can lead to things being said that are best left unsaid. God should know this already.

“Fault line?” I say.

“Look it up,” she says.

I paraphrase from Wikipedia, “a fault line is a fracture or discontinuity in a volume of rock across which there’s been significant displacement as a result of rock-mass movement. Large faults within the Earth’s crust result from the action of tectonic forces… Energy release from rapid movement on active faults is the cause of most earthquakes… Faults do not usually consist of a single, clean fracture…rather, complex deformation.”

Fear. Fractures and complex deformations. Designed in? Big God nods her huge brown head, smug. Scores of wild turkeys are feasting on the winter wheat we planted as ground cover in our conflict-laden garden. I wish them dead. I wish them well. I wish them fat and harvested. I don’t know what I wish anymore. Big God is making me crazy. How can I not be right about things? How can God be the author of fear? I want to live unafraid. I need to live as though I’m right.

“Did I say you weren’t right?” asks the God of Tectonic Force. “You just need to get the fear situated comfortably. Then you’ll be as right as you are wrong.”

“But I want to be right,” I insist. “And when it’s all over, I want everyone to know I was right. I want to be vindicated.” I’m acutely aware of my active fault lines: my fears of irrelevance, conflict, and imperfection. I fired a semi-automatic once. It was like a toy, light as a feather. Fast and easy. The dark energy released when we act in fear is addictive. Hungry. Fast and easy.

“When the time comes for vindication, you will walk away,” Big God says.

I give her a quizzical look. “No, I won’t. I’ll relish it.”

“I don’t think so,” God says. “I think you’ll prefer forgiveness.”

“Are they mutually exclusive?” I say, in a taunting voice. “Are you endorsing a duality?”

“Google it,” Big God says. “And can I borrow this cup? I need to hit the road, but that’s damn good coffee you made this morning.” Big God is growing visibly bigger. “Merci, ma chérie,” she adds and bends to kiss my cheek. She has to turn sideways to fit out the door, and by the time she’s lumbered to the garden, her body is blocking the sun.

Rodeo

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Some days, I plague myself and anyone nearby with questions and hypotheses about the human condition. Why the pervasive sadness? Why the slow-burn rage? Why the pitiful denials, the hedonistic greed, and addictions to substances and behaviors that produce a temporary, phony nirvana? Why hoard, hide, and lie? Why hate?

If no one is around to answer, I remind myself that evolving is hard work: Containing and orchestrating our predatory nature (eyes pointed forward), our drive to mate and produce as many offspring as possible (those selfish genes), our instinctual avoidance of pain and death (neurologically hardwired)…

Trudging forward is no small task for the average human. We are also relatively communal—a blessing and a curse–a survival-based attribute (strength in numbers) that goes beyond survival. It’s one of God’s favorite evolutionary tools for prodding us forward (as the prophet Rodney King once said, “People…can we all get along?). Sadly, the answer remains no.

I also remind myself that we’re all mortal. Ironically, this is a relief. We give life our best shot, and then we’re gone: Blips on the screen, leaves in the wind, a brief twinkle in the eye of God. Our evolving and digressing is both individual and cosmic; I acknowledge the death within me, and I honor the dead among us who may yet find life. I hate that I will never have all the little answers. The big answer is love. The lesser ones remain to be worked out.

Snow falls, passions blaze, and the prey lurk meekly around the edges of light, testing the perimeters of the fence. For thousands of generations, we’ve made tools and told stories. Isn’t that remarkable? We’ve built fences, torn them down, and built them again. The earth recycles our bodies and our worst ideas. Broken down–broken way, way down–we are minerals and fragments of hope.

Sometimes God plays the straight man to my darkest humor or the fool to my imagined wisdom. Sometimes, the bad cop, sometimes, the good. There are forces at play I know nothing about; artists at work I have yet to meet. Yes. This is my first rodeo. My only rodeo. God pulls back the curtain, and behold! There’s an entire cheering section rooting for me. I’m riding wild bulls, roping steers, spurring a bucking bronco, and racing to the next barrel, where I’ll circle back around before I head to the finish line, a few strides away.

The party is almost over, but it has yet to begin. The heavens are filled with revelers: chanting monks, croaking frogs, liberated soldiers, plump children, sobbing men, and whirling women. Ah, the beautiful whirling women. Their skirts spin wide as they orbit, as colorful and defiant as umbrellas in Hong Kong. And the tears of the sobbing men; so much to regret. So much to restore. So many fires to gently put to sleep.

Plumbing

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In the wee hours this morning, God shook me half-awake and said in a swaggering voice, “You want a piece of me?” and from a place howling with threats of winter, I heard myself yell, “NO! Go away.” But my words were garbled. Embryonic. I didn’t think they’d made it to full expression. I assumed my body reabsorbed them like it reabsorbs so many of my ill-conceived notions and radical impulses. By the time I was eating toast, the wind had died down, and the day looked like it would roll out ordinary.

“Well, what would a piece of you look like?” I asked God in a conciliatory tone.

“Obviously, that depends on which piece,” God said in a chilly voice. Maybe my words had hit the mark after all. It was clear I’d hurt her feelings, but what’d she expect? It was night. She’d snuck up on me. God is quite reactive sometimes. I fought an urge to be cold back and instead, took a breath and forced the door to my soul open just a crack. It was early, but I thought I could handle a little exposure.

“What piece did you have in mind when you woke me up?” I asked sweetly. Okay. Maybe not that sweetly. I knew I was being passive-aggressive, and I knew this was a stupid way to be with God, but I couldn’t help myself. Being dependent runs against my grain—especially being dependent on a God like God—She He It They—defenseless child, free-range parent, doting auntie, stalking lion, friend and foe. Who can blame me? Any piece of God is bound to be hot.

“Well, for one, I can blame you,” God said. “But I don’t.”

“Right,” I said. “Exactly. This is the crux of the matter, God. Any piece of you is going to illuminate my pitiful little life, and my eyes are going to sting from trying to adjust, and the gloom will seem preferable, and I’ll know it’s not, but I’ll long for it anyway, and then, another day will have come and gone, and I won’t have saved the world, or myself, or even the rhubarb.

“Too bad,” God said. “But there’s not much I can do about that.”

“Yes, there is.” I glared. “For instance, if you’d stop letting pipes and valves corrode, break, freeze up. and flood the barn, I could devote more time to helping others.” This was feeble, but I was really, really tired of the mundane, thankless tasks of the average homeowner in the average community in the average scene in my average world. Wasn’t I destined for greater things?

God shrugged and grinned. “Dream on,” she said, and handed me a short-handled shovel. She looked determined. Pleased with herself. Ready for action. “Today is for digging,” she declared. “And if we find the leak, so much the better.”