Keeping the Beat

“Rough night?” God asks gently from deep within the wee hours.

“You know it was,” I say with some desperation.

“Yeah, I guess I do.” God looks haggard. “Thanks for not pelting me with your anxieties. I needed the rest.”

Though it may be blasphemous to report this, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve glimpsed God limping across my consciousness, disillusioned, tired, and sad.

The act of construing (or being) God beyond the guarantees and constraints of our limited vision is sometimes labeled blasphemy by those with frightened rigid streaks. And it can be dangerous. There are still people defending God by killing other people.

We sit. The day lumbers forward.

I have a gallon of forest green paint and an array of possible surfaces. God has a universe in mortal pain. Is it blasphemous to pity God? If I forget the dance steps, is it heretical if I just move in a way that meshes with the music and the tempo?

“Funny you mention tempo,” God says. “I could use a new set of drums. Mine’ve been beat to hell.”

“No surprise there,” I sigh. “Everything about you has been beat to hell.”

“And back?” God asks with a hopeful tilt of the head.

“And back.” I nod. “Maybe that’s why you get so wiped out. Hell and back is a rugged journey to make over and over.”

We sit. Afternoon has somehow arrived.

“You’ve made that trip for me a few times, haven’t you?” I don’t have to ask; I was along for the ride.

“It was worth it.” God ruffles my hair, looking a little perkier.

“Want some pasta?” I offer a plate of leftovers I’ve warmed up. “Happy to share.”

“That’s kind of you,” God says. “But I think you better eat it yourself. And open the paint. And get on with what’s left of the day. There’s another night coming.”

“I know,” I say.  “And I’ll do my best.”

An army of motley angels is marching by.

“What do we want?”

“Justice.”

“When do we want it?”

“Now.”

“Gotta go,” God says, and begins to parade down the hall, a whole battery of raucous and enthusiastic drummers. I want to cling or march along, but God waves and shouts, “Baby, open the paint. And even if it gets crazy dark, try to keep the beat.”

Thinning

When I finally realized that people are just pieces of newly broken stone tumbling downstream in the flow of time, I began to hope that I could be smoothed into something shiny and beautiful and then roll onto an exotic beach to glitter forever. But I see now that being shiny doesn’t last and I’m well on my way to dust.

God laughs and then sneezes. “See how powerful you’ll be?” She blows her nose and wipes her eyes. “Dust allergies are the worst.”

 I ignore her, grab the ash bucket and a few of the dirtier rugs, and step into the wind.

“Don’t be afraid,” she says, following me.

The wind dies down, and river nymphs skim lightly across the surface of clear mountain water, moving without resistance toward the salty sea.

“That’s not quite true,” God says. “Nothing on earth moves without resistance. But it’s less at higher elevations if you can handle the thinner air.”

I consider the lungs of the sherpas, the gills of the shark. I remember watching the eye of the lamb I held in my lap grow dull as life lifted itself away. And I remember flying.

My days are filled with gleaning from piles of flood debris. I yank out planks and bent fence posts, drag burnable wood to the stove, intriguing wood to my gallery, and have a plan to bury the rest.

“Your gallery?” God chuckles. “Um, which surface or shed qualifies for that label? I’d like a tour.”

“Well, it’s a splintery, infested, movable feast, mostly in my head, mostly benign, but occasionally, I use toxic glue or graffiti paint and the fumes are outrageous.”

“I think I can handle it.” God grins.

“Oh, I wouldn’t ask you to,” I say. “Someday, I’ll have it all cleaned up and nicely displayed. I’ll serve muffins and Earl Gray tea.”

“No, you won’t,” God says. “But that’s just fine. Now, let’s take a look, shall we?”

I shrug.

We spend the day considering toxicities and redemptions, the wonders of fungi, the process of fermentation, and the fantastical cottonwood stumps with twisted roots and embedded stones, now tipped skyward. She’s not bothered by the disarray and in fact, she’s intrigued with the idea of making rainbows out of curved sticks. Tonight, we’ll share a glass of rhubarb wine near the flame, and she can help me decide which broken branches are worth burning.

Oh Ye Who Forget That Thou Art Prey

When God stops by as humble as the Kirby salesman or the Fuller Brush Man and shows me his wares, I buy. I can’t help it. Love looks so good in the abstract. But love enacted is often irritating, complex and exhausting. It can take so damn much time and energy that I long to renege, retreat, and eat bonbons.

Well, maybe not bonbons but something mind-altering and self-indulgent. I’d be willing to eat my words if that would help, since I offer up a lot of verbiage urging acts of kindness upon myself and others.

A mountain lion killed our neighbor’s little dog this week. I’ve watched the instinctual responses of predators when edible creatures flee. Vicious jaws, brutal endings. Could instinct be a justification for bonbons? Aggression? Guns in the basement aimed at anyone planning to overpower me and eat my extra pasta?

“I’m sorry,” God says after listening to this rant for a few moments. “I can’t get into these concerns today.

“Why?” I ask. “Busy with that new little dog in heaven?” Okay. I admit I can be a real jerk when I feel scared, short-changed, or entitled.

God looks at me with compassion, turns, and walks away.

“Wait!” I shout, stricken with the shame of abandonment. “Please.”

“I can’t,” God says. “Use your new products. I’ll be back.”

I slam the door behind him, kick love to the corner, dig deep into the candy drawer, and pile wood on the fire. “No!” I bellow into the room, chaotic with yesterday’s attempts at decluttering. “Not me!!!”

The not-me arrives. She shows up whenever I yell for her and stays until she’s gorged herself on my best intentions. She’s unattractive and mean. When she finally slinks away, I’m usually sprawled on the couch, cursing my laziness, bad judgment, nasty temperament, and inadequate excuses for not saving the world or at least some little corner of it. There are chocolate smears around my mouth and thick socks on my feet.

Oh ye who forget that thou art prey; beware. And woe to ye who ignore thy forward eyes and pointed teeth reflected in thy steamy mirror. Thou art predator and thou art prey. Yet thou art also family. Therefore, thou must enter into sacrificial space, ready to share thine chocolate and thine life. That’s how it works.

That’s simply how it works.

New Year

Shadows of the year now gone stretch long in the setting sun as they strut and prance through orange willows one last time. Imposing slabs of ice have accumulated. It’s late. There isn’t much left to believe in.

“Seeing is believing,” God says in a teasing voice.

I don’t feel like being teased. Or loved. Or spoken to. The costs run too high. All around me, endings. Winter. The charred remains of fire and flood. Memorials planned, attended, forgotten.

“Fruitcake?” God asks, sliding a plate toward me. “Coffee? Beer?”

I glare.

“C’mon,” God says. “Get over yourself.”

“I AM over myself.” I straighten my spine and adjust my scarf. “And I’m over you.”

“Nope,” God says. “Neither.”

She’s right. I’ve bid the year goodbye, but it hasn’t disappeared. My body bears evidence of tenacity and time. There are debris piles chafing my soul, defiant streaks in my hair, and protests on the streets of failed and failing states. Star athletes are still on their knees. I would drop to mine in a nanosecond if it would further the cause of justice, but I’m not on the team. I don’t go to the games.

“Wrong again,” God says. “Everyone’s on the team. Even you, slugger. Here. Eat up.”

She pushes the holiday Chex mix toward me. I push back. She kneels and gives me a wide grin. Then she tips her head back and pours the entire bowl into her mouth. She chews obnoxiously loud, her tattooed hand rubs her ample black belly, and she sways back and forth, moaning as if the stale snack is the most delicious thing she’s ever tasted.

“You can stop now,” I say, laughing. “You’re ridiculous.”

“No!” she declares. “I’ll never stop.”

I shake my head.

She continues, “Honey, there will always be leftovers and reasons to drop to my knees. This is the communion of saints, the eternal transmutation, the saving of that which can be saved.”

“And what exactly can be saved?” I ask. But I know the answer. Nothing. Everything. God is energy, mass, and the speed of light. The maestro. The melody. Scientist and clown. I’ll never understand why she takes time to make me laugh, but I’m glad she partakes of leftovers with such gusto.

“Have a happy, blessed, sacred, holy, peaceful prosperous new year,” I say to God with a grin of surrender.

“Thanks,” God chuckles. “You crack me up.”

We link elbows, and the Magnificent, Unattainable God of Now waves the billions in. Together, we bid a sad farewell to that which will not come again and bravely greet that which is coming but will not last.

Interruptions

“Have you noticed how often you interrupt me?” God asks, annoyed.

My verbal output may have been somewhat one-sided, driven by holiday agitation. I was holding forth about the ways of the world, all things irritating or ignorant, the costs of blind faith, and how positive and upbeat I think others should be. Including God.

“Sorry,” I say. “Go ahead. I’ll try to listen better.”

“Never mind,” God says. “I forgot what I was going to say anyway.”

Unlikely, I think to myself. How could the Living Word forget what she was going to say? But I sit politely as if I believe her, and she sits politely as if she’s not upset. As if she’s not reading my thoughts. As if people in the Ukraine aren’t very, very cold right now. As if people in my own community aren’t planning how to cheat on taxes and take more than their share. As if goodness and honesty and peace might have a chance.

Managing ourselves, three dogs, and four piglets in subzero weather has made everyone snippy. When it’s this cold, all manner of things can go wrong. Yes, I regularly interrupt God and the natural order, but isn’t that the human story? Most of us don’t want to die of exposure, physical or otherwise. We burn fossil fuels and hide among falsehoods and fairytales.

I follow God’s gaze to one of my many disorganized bookshelves. It’s a motley rainbow of words in shiny covers. I love books. I would get up and touch them, but I don’t want to spoil God’s revery. It’s obvious she finds comfort in the books, the words, the great and mighty abstractions contained in those bound and precious editions. I’m glad we have this in common.

“Do you ever interrupt yourself?” I ask God after our shared silence has run its course.

“Oh, yes,” she nods with a sad look. “Many times. It’s always tragic.”

She turns her hands palms up, stares at the scars, and like George Harrison’s guitar, she begins to gently weep. This always makes me cry.

She looks straight at me, wipes away the tears, and drops us into a bittersweet world where true words are like heirloom seeds; planted and watered, converting light to something verdant, innocent, and delicious. No comforting myths. No lies. No interruptions.

I know we cannot stay, but I give thanks before we return to the inescapable veracity of dogs, pigs, and fire. Mulled wine. Good cheer. In the chaos of Christmas, God and I make eye contact, and despite the contradictions, we vow to be respectfully conversant with this fragmented, freezing world.

Still Life

There are two granny smith apples in the basket, slightly bruised and aging out. 
The thought of eating one sets my teeth on edge. I don’t know why I buy them.
It’s a repeating pattern with me and fruit. I have unfettered access 
and there’s room in my cart, but is that reason enough? 

I sit with the ethereal miracle of vibrant green, tangerine, and sweet potato 
in the loosely woven wicker that holds things together for now.
Minutes and hours fall from the heavy sky. I keep watch, 
and in my own way, I pray.

There’s tea steeping and a bag of chips open in case God comes by. 
She likes the salt. I like the company. I try to be accepting, 
not greedy, not demanding, not intrusive, not filled 
with expectations. Just quiet and receptive.
But it sucks. It’s harder than winter.

The God small in each of us is to blame for tart apples and the long seasons 
of discontent. We are unskilled at listening, even less skilled at loving. 
I hear God in the hallway, dragging something behind her walker.
It must be laundry day.

Well, I can’t wait forever. I have errands and obligations. 
I understand how the self-important God of billions 
might ignore me now and then, but the laundry lady?
When God embodies thus, the roles reverse. 
She’ll ask me for quarters and for help
folding her flannel sheets.

Gifting

This morning began dark, but it has lightened to a dull gray which will soon give way to darkness again. I build a reluctant fire. God joins me, and we note the importance of a good draft. The air is heavy. My beer is cold.

I hate to admit it, but the sting of rejection has caused my joints to swell, and my dexterity is significantly reduced. The typos of life are hounding me. Blurry images of what could have been hang like abstract art in my ever-thinning soul.

“We should go shopping today,” I say. “I need to find the perfect presents and mail them to my enemies and detractors.”

God does a doubletake. She knows I hate shopping and would sooner maim or kill the monsters and idiots among us than take any kind of positive action.

“And not just my detractors!” I add, thrilled with the possibility that I’ve startled God.  “Not just my personal enemies. I’ll send gifts to crazed gunmen and billionaires. Liars. Haters. The meanest, most arrogant people on earth.”

We gaze at the fire. It’s not blazing the way it does sometimes, but it’s still fire. Still hypnotizing.

“Do you have their addresses?” God asks in a helpful, quiet voice.

“No, but I’m sure you do. Could I borrow your address book?”

“Of course,” God says. “But it’s rather futuristic. You know how some address books get outdated? Mine runs the other way. It gets ahead of itself.”

I sip my beer and consider this comforting absurdity.

“I myself have had a lot of addresses already,” I mention casually, hoping for a hint of what my future addresses might be.

“Nice try,” God says. “Could I help you with the wrapping? I love how you use old scarves and newspapers.”

“Nah.” I shake my head, deflated. “I’ve changed my mind. The jerks will just pitch the gifts out anyway.”

God hands me the scotch tape. “Doesn’t matter, sweetheart. Invest in the process. Open your soul and scrape it as clean as you can. Line it with shock absorbers, feathers, and things you honestly love. It’s not how a gift is received; it’s the giving that matters.”

 “I don’t think I believe that anymore,” I admit sadly.

“I know,” God says. “But you do.”

When You Don’t Have Ruby Red Slippers

“I’m in no shape to make decisions or small talk today,” God said. “So leave me alone.”

He was doing a very bad job of hiding under the daybed. Drawers were askew, and his feet extended past the base like the protruding feet of the wicked witch of the east, but there were no ruby red slippers, and his socks had holes.  It was laughable.

“What’s up?” I asked in the phony, solicitous voice I use to hide disdain for signs of weakness.

“I’m old,” God said.

I stood silent for a minute and then said, “Ah, yeah. So?”

“And you’re older.”

Again, I stood silent. A great sadness twisted his face. The slippage of time thickened the air and dampened the Christmas gifts and wrapping paper strewn around the room. I don’t like this season, but I force myself to make an effort.

“Stop moping,” I said. “You’re ruining things.”

“Not my fault,” God said, and turned his head toward the wall.

“Yes, it is,” I said. “When you see how bad things are and feel sorry for yourself, you swallow entire star systems without realizing it. People go blind. Mold and mildew thrive. There are great displacements and unsettlings, and no one knows which way is up.”

“No one knows that anyway,” God snapped, still quite out of sorts. “Please just leave me alone.”

I shrugged and eased myself out of the holiness.

Clearly, God needed to lick his wounds, but he’s got the entirety of time and space at his disposal. Why hide in the middle of my half-hearted holiday preparations? Why lash out in such a childish way? So I’m older than God? Ha! It’s true that I often feel that way…

“HELP!” God shouted, interrupting my thoughts. “Come back.”

Like a mother whose child calls out in the night, I ran instinctively toward God’s voice.

“It’s too cold in here,” he said. “And too hot. And I can’t see you. I’m afraid.”

My insides clenched and my familiar internal battles flared. He always asks the impossible. The world is so hot and so cold and so afraid, I often back away, hands raised in denial and defeat.

But here’s the worst of it; he backs away with me. He seems to enjoy the surrender. The picnics, the doodles, the badly wrapped second-hand gifts. He joins in the revelry and drinks all the wine. He laughs with his mouth full, and bits of food twinkle in the holiday air like strings of light.

Such intensity, such accompaniment has to be exhausting. Maybe that’s why I find God hiding under the daybed occasionally. I should probably be more patient.

Blurred Boundaries at the Queer Bar

“None for me, thanks,” God says, when offered the security of a few defining boundaries. We’re at a queer bar. In the laughter, music, and seductive light, fireflies dart among those soon to fall. Approaching the revolving door, there’s a howling madman with guns and guns and guns. God runs her fingers through newly permed hair.

“We aren’t safe here,” I whisper.

“We aren’t safe anywhere,” God whispers back. “Relax.”

The beautiful, playful Embodiment raises her glass and winks. Hatred is creating cracks in the foundation beneath us.

“I’ve worried about you most of my life,” I tell her. “You indulge in too many altered states. You’re flimsy, malleable, and easily abused.”

God’s face breaks into a familiar hand-in-the-cookie-jar grin. “Well, at least I’m not gullible. My odds aren’t great, but that’s never stopped me from being true to myself.”

The cracks widen. Suddenly, we’re floating under an oil slick, auditing the military-industrial complex. We’re buying digital currency, baking sourdough bread, digging out from a mudslide. A child has won an assault weapon in a lottery, and ammunition is raining from a thunderous sky.

“This isn’t real,” I shout at the Body trampled by a stampeding crowd.

“Too real,” the Body shouts back, but the message is garbled. Her jaw is broken. This will make it even harder to discern her voice, and I am afraid.

“Fear not,” God declares with bravado. “I can teach you sign language. And I’ll be with you always, even to the end of the age.”

“Of course you will,” I mumble. “And that’s what I fear the most.”

“The end of the age?” God asks. “Or me?”

“Both.”

The war is vicious. The outcome, assured. As I untangle strands of vain longings and false hopes, God teaches me the signs for wonder, love, compassion, and peace, and we use them to order another drink. She sips through a paper straw.

I lean across the table to dab dried blood off her chin. My dampened handkerchief gathers the red and transforms into bolts and bolts and bolts of satin, the kind they use for lining coffins.

“I wish I could die innocent,” I say, gazing at God’s mangled face. I will always watch this face and try to wipe the blood away. But I will not die innocent.

God nods. “You should forgive yourself. Dying forgiven is better than dying innocent anyway.” She touches her chest and then mine, and we wait, knowing the music will eventually begin again.