Shotgun

20150228_192228 (2)

Driving along I 90, God and I spotted an ominous black billboard with red letters proclaiming “After you die, you WILL meet God.” The absurdity made us laugh. When God rides shotgun, the drive gets much more interesting.

“Now there’s an eyesore! Who do you think put that up?” God asked. Oh fun, I thought. A road game, like I spy with my little eye. (I play this with the grandchildren.) We’ll call this one Who put up that billboard?

“Well,” I said. “I’m guessing it’s someone you know quite well, but who only knows you through the lenses of judgement or vengeance. Am I right?”

“You’re warm,” God said.

“Okay. Let’s see. It’s got to be someone who’s unaware of all the places you hang out. Someone who doesn’t understand you make everyone’s acquaintance long before they open their eyes.” God nodded and gazed out the window, wispy tendrils of lavender floating around his head.

“And someone who has trouble understanding your infinite, ongoing, outlandish forgivingness. A bully, even. Trying to scare people into thinking you’re a bully too.”

God looked at me, grinned, and adjusted the seat. “These Prius seats are worse than economy class on the newer airplanes. Really hard on my lower back,” God said. “Think you can get the answer before Butte?”

I shrugged. The game was losing its appeal. I realized I didn’t like the person behind that billboard. I wanted to put another one alongside that said “You’ll meet God too, buddy. He’ll be gay. She’ll be the hungry one to your left. The homeless, uninsured drunk. He’ll be the one you put in the private, for-profit prison. She’ll be cold. Broke. Possibly abused. You will have crucified her more times than I can count.”

“Any more guesses?” God interrupted my line of thought. An answer had occurred to me. I didn’t want to say it, but with God, there’s no such thing. I hemmed and hawed. Then I just blurted it.

“It’s my neighbor, isn’t it?” I tightened my grip on the wheel, eyebrows knit together, angry tears welling up in my eyes.

“Right!!” God said. “Ding, ding, ding. You win. Way to go.”

“Ah, shit,” I said, using a word I usually avoid. God had tricked me again. “I should’ve known. I can’t love people like that, God. I just can’t.”

“Sure you can,” God said. His gnarled black hand covered mine for a moment, sending a wave of heat through my body. “I believe in you. Go for it. Remember, I’ve got your back.”

“Nonsense,” I said, giving God a punch in the shoulder.

“Nonsense,” God answered. We stopped in Butte for coffee.

Taxes

IMG_0648 (2)

God and I stayed up really late last night, watching pretty much anything we could get on regular TV. Except we avoided the news, or anything like the news. Being both omniscient and omnipresent, God has a harder time avoiding current events than I do, but we colluded as best we could. I ate left-over soup. God wasn’t hungry.

God stretched out on the loveseat, and I got my yoga mat, intending to do a few sit-ups during advertisements. The TV droned on.

“What’s on your mind?” God asked.

Nothing,” I said. “Why do you think we’re watching Big Bang reruns? Just call me Empty Mind. Checked Out. Clueless. In fact, let’s not talk right now.”

“Okay,” God said. The TV droned on. God got another pillow and dozed. I turned the lights down low and watched her instead of the TV for a while.

“What’re we going to do?” I silently asked the sleeping God. She was so beautiful. The steady rise and fall of her chest, the perfection of her eyebrows, her out-breath filling the room with a wild mixture of sage and lilac, animal musk, homelessness, and newly-minted money.

My human condition crept into the room, and settled beside me. I tried to slap it away and just watch God at rest, but it snuggled up, greedy, ugly, lazy, mortal, needy, vengeful, and as afraid as ever.

Look,” I whispered to it. “What if we could rest like that?”

My human condition gave me a sideways glance. Almost a dare. Then it eased itself alongside God and went to sleep. I curled up fetal on the floor. The TV flickered, grabbing at my attention like it was for sale. Which it is. Everything is for sale. We all have our price. Except God. Some may not realize this, but you can’t buy God off. And God really isn’t into tax breaks that hurt the poor. With God, it’s more of an all or nothing kind of thing. But she’s never believed in trickle down economics. Never.

God stirred. “Rough week,” she said sleepily. “C’mere.”

My human condition had sprawled itself into all the available space. The loveseat looked uncomfortable to say the least, and I was about to refuse, but God had opened her eyes. I can never resist those deep pools of unspeakable welcome.

So I awkwardly squeezed in, between my human condition and God. In the tangle of all those urges, elbows, and defeats, God found my hand. “Tomorrow, do what you can do,” she said. “Tonight, rest.”

“But that’s the problem,” I said, already drowsy. “I don’t know what to do.” Then I slept. And now she’s gone. And my human condition is awake, demanding breakfast. I’m struggling to be hospitable.

“That’s it,” I hear from the corner. I make more toast and watch the snow drift down.

Lifelines and Little Gods

Hulk and me and some new chairs

We’d survived another Thanksgiving, welcomed by others who were excellent cooks and hosts, and to be honest, I felt smug about it. No skeletal remains to deal with, literally or figuratively. We’d manage to locate ourselves firmly between generations, contributing only rolls (purchased) and our willingness to engage in small talk or do dishes. I made no attempt to locate God in the national news or football games. I engaged in no fleeting glances into the shadowy corners where God often lurks. The hatches were temporarily battened down. Placid.

This state never lasts. God shook me awake this morning, insistent. Large. I crawled out of the dream to the edge of the bed, and fell into a seething sea of meaninglessness. I flailed and hyperventilated. The lifeline God threw me was a twisted old tow line named tradition. It cut into my hands, but I had to hang on. These were deadly black waters. Not a good way to die. Or was it? As I debated this, the waters receded, along with a whole school of gleaming little Gods, small piranha that had nibbled away the dead flesh around my cuticles. In some exotic countries, you can purchase this sort of visitation.

Big God was digging in my suitcase, looking through Goodwill purchases. Mostly colorful scarves. I have a weakness for colorful scarves. She wrapped herself in a turquoise beach scarf, tied Irish green silk around her neck, and topped things off with hunter orange on her head.

“Why do you do this sort of thing?” I asked. “Isn’t this beneath you?”

“Nothing is beneath me,” she said, filling the room. “Nothing. You’ve mistaken me for a little God.”

“Oh, and how would you know that?” I asked. My voice was not warm.

“Ah, child, I think you know this.” she said with patience. “Little Gods are the products of little minds trying to make sense of things. There are lots of little Gods, lots of little minds. I’m well acquainted with them all.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m sick of them,” I said. “Can’t you at least make mine go away?”

“No,” Big God said. “That’s your job.”

I threw a snow boot at her. She ducked. Laughed. Faded. I kicked at the suitcase and considered braiding the scarves into one long rope so next time, next time, I could save myself. This struck me as the funniest thing ever, and the day began again.

Confessions

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I don’t know if there’s a God.

(Neither do you)

I’ve witnessed or been the center of miracles. Full-on, Shazam miracles.

(So have you)

I listen to the news and scream inside.

(There are millions screaming, weeping, withdrawing, and dying)

I am Christian like Jesus was Jewish.

(You can decide what this means)

I’m a believer of all things because I choose to be.

(Having a choice is the defining feature of what it means to be conscious)

I am conscious.

(This is one of those miracles mentioned earlier)

Joy is different than being happy. Gratitude is different than self-satisfaction.

(Each involves courage)

Love is a word most of us misuse. It might take many lifetimes to grasp this Word.

(I like words)

The light in my brain greets the light in your brain.

(And that is enough for now.)

 

Debt

20160213_114131 (2)

There’s a guy who’s owed me $50.00 for over a year. The original debt was much larger, but with steady reminders, he grudgingly paid it down until it hit the fifty-dollar mark, and I’m pretty sure that’s where it’ll stay. I won’t remind him anymore. I’ve run out of kind words to pair with little nudges, and I’m tired of this struggle.

For a while, it was about the money, but now that it’s dwindled to $50.00, he’s making a statement of entitlement and resentment, and if I hang on, I’ll have to continue using shame to wedge myself into his conscience–a small space that makes me claustrophobic. Not worth it. I will passively forgive this debt, but I feel a little sorry for myself. Indignant.

In graduate school, a whiny woman I didn’t like borrowed two stamps from me. She never paid me back. It is astounding that I remember this, since I cannot recall what I read a half-hour ago, nor what I need at the grocery store, nor whether I’ve taken my vitamins yet.

Forgiving is a complex endeavor. There’s a highly-activated receptacle in our brains for perceived injustice, debt, and harm, and a longing for justice if not revenge. I’m not entirely sure how to forgive sometimes. Since God ‘s a specialist, I decide to check in.

“Hey God,” I say. Nothing.

“Um, God, I have a question.” Nothing.

I squeeze my eyes shut in serious prayer. Suddenly, I’m in a graduate-level course on forgiveness.  I raise my hand from the back of the classroom, but the instructor has stepped out. I take my hand back down, glancing at my classmates. Whoa. I should have looked around earlier. There’s a guy with a bloody machete, a haggard woman lying face down on the floor, with four children underneath her. Two are dead, one with an arm shot off. I see the woman is actually dead too. There’s a man holding a picture of his wife. Three people are on fire. Five soldiers stand in the back, two have amputations. One has no eyes. They all have a vacant look, slumped shoulders, automatic weapons at their feet.

I manage to stifle a scream and slip out of the room, hoping to find a back door. Instead, I find God. She’s created a makeshift kitchen in the hallway and she’s cooking soup. Baking bread. Singing. She tosses me an apron. The man who owes me $50.00 is handing out apples. The woman who took my stamps is standing, confused and inadequate, near the end of a table filled with desserts.

“Help her,” God says. “She’s a little shaky today.”

I’m not thrilled with this idea, but I see few options. I muster up a small smile, pick up a mint brownie, and hand it to this pathetic woman. Her face transforms. Of course, it’s God. I should have known. She wolfs down the brownie, grabs my hands, and we swing dance while she yodels.

“Now, about those stamps,” she says, finally slowing down.

Yeah. About those stamps.

 

 

Hunting

VID00169 (2)

God likes a big campfire when he’s out hunting in the fall, cavorting with the creative forces in the universe. “Smoke follows beauty,” he jokes, working his way to the upwind side. Back when I was innocent, I liked campfires too. Now I know too much. I want to impress upon God the need to minimize polluting recreational activities such as jet skis, snowmobiles, travel on airplanes, NASCAR, and fire, but it seems unlikely he’ll listen. I guess when you’re God, you can clean up after yourself with wind and rain, more assured of balance in the long haul than the average human.

And I’m not the average human anyway. I’m an angry worrywart. I hate the idea of the massive environmental “corrections” future generations will face, and the scarred up, battered little earth they’ll call home. I feel chronically guilty and uncertain. God has a slightly larger perspective. In fact, after toasting his third marshmallow, he asks a few of his extended selves to double-check the pressure on the subatomic particles to make sure no more big bangs occur until he’s ready.

Then he winks at me. “Guilt is a conversation, not a resting place.”

The wood he throws on the fire is from Belize—little pieces of hardwood he salvaged from decades of devastating logging practices. His cavalier attitude has me hopping mad. I grab his arm to stop him, but I’m off balance. I fall into the flames. He watches for a minute, then joins me. We disintegrate in the brilliant light, but it doesn’t hurt. God is the wood. God is the fire. God is the oxygen, depleted and rare. We burn to the ground. We burn into heaven. We’re ash, floating in the frigid air.

“Let me go,” I beg. “I don’t want to be this expansive. I can’t stand being this small.”

God ignores my pleas but his cosmic children come up from the ground, down from the clouds to repair my body. Living water flows in their veins. I drink. In silence, God offers me venison from his recent kill. It’s been seared perfectly black over his blazing holiness. With reluctant reverence, I eat.

“Go, now, sweetheart,” God says. “And take some fire. There’s plenty.”

“No,” I say, looking him straight in the eye. “I won’t.”

I plead for a different outcome. I remind him of the beauty in a single ladybug, and his regrets after the flood. He wavers. For a nanosecond, I see down into the sweet center where guilt is nothing and trying is everything. This is what I love about God. He wavers, and we have a chance to see.

Just this

2014-10-05_17-36-02_781 (2)

Light begins to come in the windows. John asks if this is the earliest I’ve ever drank my half-beer. God asks why I don’t want to talk. The faucet drips. The leaves have turned and fallen. Well. That’s just what happens.

I’ve wrapped myself in layers of blankets. The deteriorating cushion on the loveseat has shaped itself to my angles, and here I sit. Today, I do not need to talk or move. The toast is just right. The suchness and otherness of the world is not my concern. I’m not even my own concern. This is just what is.

Moments from now there will be wind. News. Confusion. Beauty. Hours from now, someone will play a violin, a train will be late, a gun will go off, a declaration of love will cover a multitude of sins. I will tune in and out, find God under a stripped rock, laugh out loud in a way that will show my yellowing teeth, and I won’t care. I can already tell these things are unavoidable. In fact, I welcome them all.

Hello there, frost-bitten earth. How’s it going, scowling neighbor? What’s happening, you addicts and nurses, slouchers and dancers, lined-up children and barking dogs, you readers and writers, sayers and prayers, lovers and haters and wandering souls? Isn’t it something that we share this clean air and another funky morning floating in space? Isn’t it amazing that we’ve imagined each other, found a way out of the night, into something resembling consciousness? Yes, it certainly is, I tell myself. And I know the others agree.

God sits quietly. No comment. No need. No intrusion. No rejection. Just God. Just day. I’m confident I can dress myself and venture forward. I can choose my shoes, and find relatively safe places to put my feet. I can do this. You can do this. And this is the foundation of all that is. All that ever will be. Amen.