Garden Mud

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I’m a well-fed, reasonably educated entity with permeable but definitive boundaries that temporarily separate me from the mud in the garden. I am one with the Universe, one of billions, yet I must be unique. I’ve been assured that the hairs on my head are numbered. This is a particularly odd assurance, since I’m thinking the numbers change daily, hourly, with every bath, brush, or injection of chemicals meant to wipe out fast-growing cells in the body. And even if my hairs are numbered, I’d rather be known by other measures. Say, for instance, how many bags of leaves I’ve rerouted from the landfill, or the number of houses I’ve recycled. Or the number of BTUs I’ve saved by washing said hair in cold water.

I’m veering dangerously close to an appearance by God. No. No, I am not of more value than a whole flock of sparrows. I remember flocks of sparrows undulating in the summer sky. As if a giant housekeeper was standing a thousand feet high in the afternoon sun, shaking out a sparrow rug, the flick of her wrist sending the birds gliding in perfectly coordinated waves. And the lilies of the field? Give me a break. Alicia Keys and I have both stopped wearing make-up, but I’m not giving up my pajamas or down jackets any time soon.

Okay, God. Fine. Have a seat. Would you like the last of the coffee? A cookie? Do you realize when you stop by like this, I feel more alone than ever? Why, you wonder? Well, here’s why.

I live in here. In this particular body, fraught with imperfection and vulnerability. In this particular brain, with its wonderments, endless questions, faulty connections and short circuits, in this particular soul, with forces of compassion endlessly squaring off with forces of selfishness. I don’t know how long this will last, or what matters. To be honest, I’d like to think I matter, but I’m not convinced.

I watch God out of the corner of my eye, sipping lukewarm coffee, nodding. I watch God go molecular and melt into the atmosphere. I watch the atmosphere, thick with God, shimmering. I touch my own thin skin.

Last night, I fried up the last of the paltry potato crop, grown in the dark womb of the garden. I threw in onions and kale, from the same dirt, and I ate. Today, I am nourished, ready for action. From a certain distance, this all makes sense. Close up, I’m tentative, solitary. But if God is to be believed, hair or no hair, I am as dazzling as the nearest star.

Defiance

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“Look, God.” I shouted, earlier this morning. “I’m still standing,” which wasn’t quite true. More like leaning. But upright, both feet planted firmly on the imperfect kitchen floor. I gazed hungrily out the north window. Not much had changed since yesterday. River steady. Nothing of substance, nothing ethereal suggesting itself.

At eye level, the horizon is deceptively close and the terrain between here and there seems…ah seems….oh fuck, what’s the word I’m looking for? Passable, hikeable, doable? My vocabulary shrinks and coarsens as my synapses thicken and collapse under the weight of age. I’m becoming simple—far less complex than dirt.

I have a plan. It involves five larges stones placed so that rainfall will drain to the pond instead of the basement. God has more or less approved this plan. “Yes,” God said, looking things over. “It’s best to make gravity your friend. Defiance rarely works in the long run.”

But this is hard for me. I love the tingle of perennial youth. My inner vision suits up, ready to have a go at the burly outer images I see in the mirror, so tangible and sure of themselves. Inner youth against Outer reality. Game on.

Game over. The lights go out, the teams pack up their gear, and stunned, I run to the parking lot. “No,” I yell at the top of my lungs. “Come back. This isn’t over.” My inner vision limps as it boards the bus for home. Life is too damn short for all this Outer reality.

I glimpse my image in the calmer part of the river, my bones giving way to water. It’s clear I’ll be gone someday. I wonder how to break this news to God. I know God will miss me terribly, and I’m sad about that. It occurs to me that I will miss myself as well.

Three Pears

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Three pear-shaped candles line up, centered, on the long dining table this morning. They are stunningly simple. I bought them yesterday for 75 cents each at the Family Services thrift store in Billings, and they are beautiful. Perfect. I wasn’t looking for three pear-shaped candles, but there they were, in the bottom of a box still being sorted and shelved. I love shopping among the hand-me-down, cast-off excesses of our current culture. The stores are filled with rejected items that have learned a new, humble language. I speak rejection-redemption fluently. These pears found me, reached up through the plastic plates and chipped cups, and spoke quietly of their unique potential–their desire to live, one more time, in a place of recognition and service.

Now they sit centered in their own reflections on the shiny table, pastel shades of lemon yellow, barn red, and sage green. I offer thanks for the celestial river in which I float, letting the currents take me hither and yon. I’m especially grateful for the little tributary that took me to these pears yesterday. Less so for last evening, when I dumped back into the mainstream, watching a crime show that featured the agonizing torture of a female prison inmate.

The prison guard’s sadism, the cellmate’s betrayal. Too real. I wish I hadn’t watched. I know too many stories, too many real inmates, too many guards. I try to refocus on the pears. But the magic is gone.

“What?” I say, petulantly, to the open room. I stick my wounded thumb in my mouth, hoping the saliva will hasten the healing. I’m curled on the couch, growing a little agitated as I remember the awful drama.

“I speak rejection-redemption fluently, too,” replies the open room, also known as Allah, God, Creator, Author, Redeemer, Devi, Vishnu, Yahweh, maybe even Buddha. Right now, I prefer Open Room. I answer quickly. “Inmates aren’t pear-shaped candles. I do not, I repeat, do not, want them at my dining table.”

“Okay,” says Open Room. “Who’ll we invite instead?”

“Safe, nice, pretty people,” I say, mocking myself.

“Should they look like you?” Open Room asks, as if offering a compliment.

“You got it. And not too many, either. And not too often.”

“Okay,” says Open Room. “Your loss.”

Ah, that stings. I pull my thumb out of my mouth.

Open Room looks on sympathetically. My thumb is still ugly, but healing nicely from a recent power drill accident. We sit in the warmth of the fire, looking out the window at the day made crystal clear by the rain that fell all night.

Groin

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It was early morning, at my daughter’s apartment in the city. I hadn’t slept well thanks to the noises from below. “God,” I said, yawning. “Could you heal this damn groin stretch?” I put my hand there in case God wasn’t sure what I meant. No answer. No relief. No surge of warmth. No nothing. I gave up after a few supplications and clumsily rolled to my feet.

My back hurts and my groin is probably throwing my whole spine into disarray. I have a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, and an attitude.

“God,” I said, as I sipped my coffee. But what’s there to say? I’d hardly had any rest, and there’s a chance God’s a bit tired of my whining.

The guy in the apartment below vomited through the wee hours, heaving and swearing, heaving and swearing. Even now, I can hear him moaning and complaining. It might be the flu, but I think more likely, he drank too much.

How’s that for compassion?

A whole family lives down there, below grade, incessantly shouting and screaming at each other. Their babies whimper up through the floor boards. Hours before the vomiting began, I heard the dad reading “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” to the toddler. It was a creepy, manic rendition, punctuated by what sounded like the dad destroying the place by leaping illustratively on the furniture. The child’s laughter was forced, tentative, unsure. Was Daddy funny? By God, he better be.

Where are the missionaries when you need them? Or the cops? Within three blocks, there are at least five churches. Some majestic, others store-front humble, some declaring the Holy Spirit lives within the walls. Indeed. And the sirens sound all night. It’s that part of town. But down below, people have reproduced in selfish misery, sanctioned by the same biological urges that lead me to lift things I shouldn’t anymore. It is the same force that allows a seed to sprout through a crack in the pavement.

I’m not going down there. I’m not saying anything. Except, well, yes, I’ll mention them to the Universe, but only in passing. My more fervent prayer is that I not be reincarnated as one of those children. I doubt any of us actually hopes for cosmic justice.

Amidst my shameful mutterings, God slips in and hands me a Charades card. I turn it over; all it says is “Grace.” Grace. Ah ha! A motion-detector goes off in the dark thrashings of my soul, and I see clearly–just like the song says. It is, in fact, grace that brought me safe thus far. Me and my groin, my longings, my failings, fears, diseases, aversions, and befuddlements. And it’s grace that will lead me home. Eventually. Home.

But God is laughing in the corner. This startles me. I turn so we’re face to face. “You’re already home, darling,” God says, slapping a fat thigh, winking. “You’re already home.”

“No,” I say gently back to God. “No, I’m not.”

Comfort Ye My People

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Can this be happening? An inauguration like no other. With millions of citizens in the United States, as well as perhaps billions across the globe, I keep waiting to wake up from this nightmare. Hate was elected. Hard work was scorned. Lies were elevated to truth. Honesty was ridiculed. People voted against their own best interests. Deception and selfishness won. Fear won. Love lost.

But….It appears I’m awake, and slowly, I realize I’m not alone. God has ridden into the room on waves of heat rising from the wood stove. She’s materializing slowly. I see the luminous eyes first.

Right now, I’m happy to see God, no matter what the agenda or guise might be, but I’m especially overjoyed to see that She’s materializing as the large Black woman I’ve come to love so much. I know that soft lap and those protective arms. For the briefest moment, I think she’s here to comfort me in my abject despair, and I’m so relieved. I want to be her favorite. While I sit in her presence, I want her to stroke my hair and fix all the brokenness–mine and the world’s.

Usually, I snuggle right up. But as I take in the whole scene, there’s no way I’m crawling in, or anywhere near that Holiness. God hasn’t come alone. Squeezed in beside her on the couch, there’s a writhing snake, a belligerent bully, a snapping turtle, a stalking tiger, and she’s situated a frightened little boy on that lovely ample lap. She’s got a whole crowd of greedy, demanding brats stomping on her toes, a rat’s nest in her hair, and vultures circling. She has nails in her palms and a noose around her neck. The crowd is shouting that she should go back to wherever the hell she came from. They want a different God.

“Hello, God,” I whisper, trying to remember my manners despite the terror rising in my throat. “Do you want some tea or something?”

“That would be nice,” she says. “And bring a cup for the new president.” Though I would rather do almost anything else in the entire world, I know she means it. I am utterly enraged. I feel like joining the group near the fireplace chanting “Lock her up.” But I’m trapped in God’s gaze. This gaze is like nothing else. It is pure love. I bring two cups of tea, fighting the urge to put rat poison in one of them, and with a dramatic flair, I set them on the coffee table, spilling a little. I break off eye contact, back my way out of the room, up the stairs, and into bed. I get under the covers and sob until mercifully, I fall asleep and sink deep into the sleep of the dead.

When I awake, the world is trying its best to be beautiful, but I will have none of it. Both cups are empty, the room a wasteland. I clean up the chaos such as I can, but the stains on the new rug are better left alone. I tried bleach on one of them, but it left a thin white spot, devoid of color. It looked far worse than the bright red blood.

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Paying the Bills

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Money isn’t an easy topic with God. On one hand, he’s rigid and highly opinionated, and on the other, he’s like “Oh, money. Whatever.”

But God had pulled up a chair and was watching me write checks. A few of them were to charities. Avoiding topics with God never works for long, so I might as well confess a few things. My relationship with money is convoluted. I like it but it scares me. I try to think of it all as a gift–a loan from the Universe, but the evidence provided by my warm house and my full stomach points to my own hard work, my own savings plans, my own bargain-hunting, my own birth, family, values, and choices.

I don’t have to go very far down the road to see people suffering from lack of money. Is this their own damn fault? Is this God’s own damn fault? Is this my own damn fault?

“God,” I say. “We’ve been over this a million times, but today…do you have anything to add? I knew he’d been riding along on my train of thought.

“Sure,” God says, cheerfully. “Which would make you more afraid. No money, or no God?”

My gut twists as I think about this. No money would stink. I’d be thrown on the mercy of others and that would be humiliating, at best. But no God would mean no loving, intelligent force behind, under, in, and around the known and unknown universe. That would stink worse. I imagine myself dying of hunger or exposure, in excruciating pain. I turn to the God I carry around—the God I believe in more or less, most of the time—and it’s good to have that imagined God beside me in my imagined poverty or pain.

“Ok. I’m more afraid of no God,” I say slowly, “But that doesn’t answer my question.” Even as I say this, I realize I don’t know what my question is exactly. Of course, God pounces on that.

“You don’t know what to ask because these are Living Questions, and you have to live the answers,” God said. He sounded like a tired professor. “In your species, there are no pure motives. This confuses you.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “You’re talking about consciousness, right? Paired off against biology. Do you have any idea what a pain that can be?”

God gave me a look, but I kept going.  “Are you sure we were ready for consciousness?” I asked, my heart heavy with the human condition. War, fake news, hunger, injustice, cruelty–the lying, stealing, hating, greedy ways humans can be.

“No,” God said. “I’m not sure. It’s been agonizing so far. But I have faith in you people. And no matter what, I’ll stick it out, alongside and within.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said, sarcastically.

“Don’t mention it,” God said, matching my sarcasm. “That’s just the kind of God I am.”

We were both upset. Me, a puny little human, trying to be honest. God, weary. Disappointed. Infinite.

“I’m sorry,” I said, looking at his slumped shoulders.

“Me too,” God said. “Me too.”

We sat a while, glad for each other’s company. Daunted by the magnitude of what we had to do.

Magpie at Dawn

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As I raised the north-facing shades this morning, God streaked through the dawn sky on the wings of a magpie. A straight, direct flight going I know not where. Her feathers glowed holy black in the tender light shimmering over the icy river, which was sliding along under the orange willows.

Even in this profound silence, you can hear God in the pulse of things. But you don’t have to. Nothing is required. Even gratitude is optional. Joy is optional–painfully optional.

On a different day, God explained this to me. I didn’t like it then, and I still don’t. God thrives on options and told me there’s an entire cheering section set aside in heaven for each time some fool among us makes a good choice.

“We are all bumbling idiots,” I explained to God. “Can’t you provide a stronger framework? A lot of us are stuck in blind alleys, making repeated bad choices.”

“Don’t I know it,” God said, wryly. “But I’ve got time on my hands, and if I do say so myself, I’m a pretty patient God, as gods go. Come to think of it, I’m the God with a capital G, the beginning and the end, the one and only. I can wait.”

“Oh, sure,” I argued. “You can wait. You’re God. But what about us?”

“Yeah,” God answered, slowly, with real compassion. “What about you?”