Random and Small Redemptions

IMG_5196 (3)

Lately, I’ve been having the weirdest experiences ever. I call them God, but they freak me out. Little serendipities. Parallel visions of fire. Random and small redemptions. Good things happen. Are they God? Bad things happen. Are they God? Can you pray yourself into an astounding win? Can you pray yourself out of a fatal car wreck? No wonder people yank God down into manageable formulas and comforting, though wildly implausible, explanations. Believing into an open, infinite God is hard.

“Oh baby,” God interjected. “I so hope you’ll grow up a bit more before you die.”

“So do I… And how would that happen exactly?” I said, somewhat sincerely. And then things came completely apart. The chains fell. Static and then silence. The call dropped. The line went dead. The station went off the air. The grid went down. My familiar body was suddenly defined by subzero isolation, white noise, and emptiness turning in on itself. Eternal nothingness. No self. No one.

“Can you hear me now?” God whispered. The words froze in the air and shattered. I forced my fists to splay into fingers and asked my bones if they still were there. The familiar rattle reassured me. I inhaled, filled what I assumed were my lungs, fell backward into oblivion, and flailed until I’d created an imperfect angel. Then I burrowed home on hands and knees, knowing the way instinctively.

“You crack me up,” God said as I emerged from my self-inflicted plummet.

I struggled for footing in a nonexistent present. “And obviously, you crack me up. But not in a good way,” I mumbled through unfamiliar lips.

“Emptiness is a good way,” God said. “Think about it. The fullness of time is the end of time.”

We sat for a while, breathing shared and splendid air. “Sometimes, I dream I’m weightless,” I said. “And I can fly.”

“Yes,” God said.

“And I can see forever and hear every beautiful sound ever made,” I said, lying.

“Nice try,” God said. “That’s not the kind of growth I was hoping for.”

“I know,” I said. “But you like it when I crack you up.”

“True,” God said. “There’s that. And I guess you realize you can’t really lie to me.”

“Yeah” I said. “But you let people lie all the time. I hate that. You don’t swoop in, smite them, or even clear things up.”

“True,” God said. “I just wait.”

“Okay,” I said. I’d had enough sparring for a while. “I’ll wait with you.”

“Promise?” God said, with a resigned, lonesome look.

The question didn’t surprise me, but my answer made me incredibly sad. “You know I can’t.”

God’s head dropped. I knew he was crying. I took him in my arms and said gently but firmly, “I can’t promise you anything, God. But I’ll try. I’ll really try.”

Known

BZNG0559 (2)

“It won’t always be like this,” God said, perched high in the cottonwoods near the river. And sure enough, even as I watched, God lifted into the sky and disappeared. The wind spread a translucent blanket of snow across the field, and bitter cold blew into my bones while I fantasized flying after him. I sent what I could spare aloft and turned toward home, diminished.

IMG_2480 (3)

“It’s better to grow smaller,” God said, meeting me at the door with dark beer and bread fresh from the oven. I drank and ate and crawled into God’s warm chest, which is always cracked wide open.

“Why do you expose your heart like this?” I asked in a critical voice, even while I let the pulsing blood restore me. I could smell my own hypocrisy, taste my own selfishness. But I stayed anyway.

P1040843 (3)

“You’re tenacious,” God said. “I’ll give you that. But you’re not as tough as you think.”

“Yes I am,” I said. I heard the sound of cloth torn, stitches ripped, fire snapping and hungry. I heard waves crashing, thunder roaring, the shriek of fallen prey, the whimper of starvation. Stones rolled, ice cracked, rifles fired, and the earth groaned with the weight of voracious appetites and malignant neglect.

“Paint me a picture,” God said. “With lots of lavender and green.”

“All I have is this awful gray,” I said, apologetically. “And maybe a little brown.”

“Don’t lie to me,” God said.

IMG_2480 (2)

A broken sun climbed into limited sky. The foolish snow refused to do anything but reflect light–as if it could stay cold and drifted forever. “You have to melt sometime,” I said to the snow with an evil sneer.

“And so do you,” God said, rubbing my stiffened neck. Reluctantly, I nodded and went to the basement where I keep my secret supplies of recycled canvas and secondhand paint.

“Perfect,” God said, as I emerged, laden with a rainbow of options. I shrugged, trying to hide the awful relief, the fearsome comfort, of being known.

IMG_2488 (3)

Bone Marrow

second string (2)

“You’ve locked up an astounding number of people,” God said, settling into the sage green recliner. “Expensive choice,” she added. She pushed back to elevate her feet. The news coverage of poorly fed immigrants imprisoned in New Jersey seemed to have stimulated this comment. I nodded politely, but this is not my favorite topic.

“And a few of them are on hunger strike,” God said, shaking her head.

“Do you disapprove?” I asked, confused about where this was going.

“Oh no,” God said. “I’m right there with humans risking their lives for justice.”

“But starving yourself is a form of slow suicide,” I said. Some people think you don’t approve of that. Ever. At all.”

“Ironic” God said. “You have the death penalty and you force tubes down the noses of those willing to die for a cause.” I flashed back to a documentary of prison guards inserting those tubes. It had made me cry. God interrupted my unsettled ruminations. “You remember that Mary Oliver line ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’”

“Of course,” I said. “But she was not writing about hunger strikes.” I looked straight at God. God rolled her eyes, stood, and began pacing.

“I forget how rule-bound and simplistic you humans can be. It’s rare for you to transcend—to realize that you’re only temporarily clad in that one wild and precious life. There are times to let go.”

I looked out the window, wishing for silence, but God didn’t let up. “Thousands of years ago, when the Poet wrote ‘…a time to kill and a time to heal…’ she didn’t mean these actions were preordained. There are times to be born and times to die. Times to reap and times to sow, times to throw stones and times to gather stones together. Each of you has to figure out when.”

I thought of Palestinian youth, throwing stones. Dying. I thought of scorched swaths of earth–reaping and sowing obliterated by climate change, chemicals. The enormity of moral agency chilled my inner being. I wanted a default setting to fall back on.

God read my mind. “No part of you is ever alone,” she said, standing near the fire, rubbing her hands. She reached in her pocket and handed me a shiny business card. It read:

God. Author of Forgiveness.
Source of Wisdom. Definition of Love.
Free Consultations

I felt sick. “No,” I said and threw the card in the fire. “Too subjective. Too permissive. Too precarious. I’d rather have our legislatures just make some laws.”

God laughed. “No you wouldn’t,” she said. She pulled the card back out of the fire. The flames had done no damage. “Your best decisions are based on love. Your worst are made in anger, driven by fear, greed, revenge, or hatred. It is your body–your one wild and precious life. The laws you need are written in the marrow of your bones. Sorry, but that’s just the way I made you.”

“Bones disintegrate,” I said, still hoping for an easy way out.

“I know,” God said. “But the dust you become is light and beautiful, and the Wind is gentler than you can imagine right now.”

Grieving in the Old Blue Chair

IMG_4833 (3).JPG

Today, I sit in the light of the rising sun, rocking myself in the old blue chair–the one I loaned my mom before she died. It’s an unusually small recliner. For a few months, with planning and effort, she could get out of it by herself. But then she couldn’t. She fell and laid helpless on the institutionally-bland carpet for who knows how long? They found her tangled in the floor lamp, alive but not coherent, her body bruised from her efforts to get up. That was Mom. Never stop trying to get back up.

Dylan Thomas would have approved. Mom did not “go gentle” into any dark nights. In her stubborn way, she raged against the dying of the light. When faced with a challenge, she’d clamp her thin lips tight, stomp on the gas and shoot down the road, her ever-shrinking body taut with determination. She’d arrive in her shiny white Ford, peering at the road from just above the steering wheel. She never stayed long.

God has stopped by to reminisce. He’s wearing decades on his shoulders, and our whole upstairs has become quite crowded. “Oh God,” I say, shifting to make room, glad for the company. “Remember how she believed that when she got to heaven, she’d have to give Dad an account of how she managed the ranch after he died?” God nods, a little teary. He really admired my mom over the years. “And remember how much she gave away?” I added. God smiles with pride.

There’s not much else to say. Those last three days, death pulled her tenderly down through the layers of life until it was just her brain stem fighting for air. The Wasabi sting of emotion threatens my placid mood as I sit with the memory of her  insistent breath, sucked in and out, in and out, irregular and awful. Not a memory anyone needs to have.

After she fell out of this chair, she never sat in it again. I brought it home—slightly more worn. I’ll keep it a while.

“Tell her, will you?” I ask God.

“Tell her yourself,” God answers, and holds up a mirror Mom carried in her purse. She used it to reapply her lipstick and smooth her hair. God slips open the purple plastic cover, and I see the unadorned eyes and lips of eternity–of now and forever. I see the eyes of God, wide like a baby, and the lips of God, as full as Bob Marley’s, singing.

I fight to let God’s swaying body save me–to believe in mercy and compassion in this broken, greedy, hungry world. To use my breath for good, and welcome my demise with grace. I rock in the old blue chair, sun warming my bones, while God, as audacious and angular as ever, dips and weaves as he hammers out the beat on the steelpan drums.

When I was a child

Sandstone

When I was a child, I wandered the hills seeking treasure, searching for diamonds– settling for flint or jasper. I also saved sick and abandoned animals or stood watch as life ebbed away and their eyes dulled into death. The funerals were elaborate, with grass-lined cardboard coffins and all sorts of prayers offered up. Magpies, sparrows, kittens, and lambs. I knew God then as a kindly grandfather who, like me, stood watch from the clouds that rested on the shoulders of the nearby foothills. His hills. His feet. His world.

But now, God and I have a more complicated relationship. The magnitude of the cosmos has impressed itself on me, and the minuscule mass of quivering molecules cloaked in my skin are slowing down. People are dying in fires and floods. Children are mangled and hungry. When they wander, they’re not looking for pretty rocks. They’re looking for food.

I raise my fist in God’s face, as if there is a God, as if there is a way. And God flinches. She is traumatized, bleeding, bruised…and regal. She is hungry, angry, scorched, and stubbornly vital. “You can’t scare me,” she says, after regaining her composure. “You can’t scare me.”

But in my heart, I know I can. And I’m sorry. I am so, so, sorry. God, I am so sorry. Universe, I am so sorry.

God puts her knife down. I throw my arms around her. The pettiness of my worries shames me. I promise to do better. To make donations. To live simply. To march. To express my indignation. I will reduce the number of hours I spend hating. Hating. Hating. But I can’t actually do this. I am weak. I have to ask for help.

“Um, God,” I begin. “I have a compost bucket for a heart.”

“I know,” she says. “Compost is good. It breaks down. Rest. Stay warm. Try to love people a little better.”

“I already do that,” I say, disappointed. I was looking for diamonds, not the common stuff of existence.

“Flint and jasper, petrified wood. Quartz, granite, even coal,” God says, and then adds, in a knowing voice, “Sandstone.”

And miraculously, I see it. Sandstone. With lichen growing, just the right colors of orange and green. Yellow and gold. So fragile. So irregular in its jagged perfection. So contrite. Diamonds are cold and hard, slicing deep wounds in the open hand of God. Sandstone yields and crumbles. I am sandstone, soon to become a granular part of this sweet and tiny earth. With help from my broken friend, I can choose the lower places. It makes me a little nervous, but if God can flinch and recover, so can I.

Facial Hair

Vince's 7 7 07 033 (3)

God struggles with facial hair just like the rest of us. What does it mean if you don’t pluck your chin hairs? What about those Duck Dynasty-esq beards? What’s the message? And what about a little planet that fails to groom itself? Yes, it appears that earth groomed itself just fine before humans started asserting their appetites, but like it or not, we’ve clumsily joined the ecosystem and the globe now has a steady diet of bad hair days.

One thing I know about the face of God is that the bone structure is birdlike and fragile. It responds to the slightest breeze. And the eyes of God are often fringed with thick, curly lashes. When God blinks, entire galaxies lift and fly through the dark nothingness. On the face of God, unwanted, unmanaged facial hair presents a kind of danger the rest of us can only imagine. It disguises and insulates. It allows us to pretend we don’t know the truth.

This morning, an unshaven God has squeezed himself into one of our sage-colored easy chairs and is rubbing his bristly face, watching me type. “How about you clean this place up a little today?” God asks.

My fingers slow on the keyboard. “What’s the point?” I snap. I meant to sound belligerent, so the grief that wells up surprises me. I look down at my Ninja Turtle pajama bottoms. They’re too big, but I like them. I may wear them all day. My eyes roam around the room because I don’t want to look at God. A day has arrived and it will be spent and gone no matter what I do. The mundane and the horrific. Kindness and cruelty. Hunger and gluttony. Where to begin? Where to end?

Dust dances in the muscular sun streaming in my passive solar windows. God’s voice has the gravelly sound of a man holding back tears. “I know. I often feel the same way. I think it was a good idea to invent time, but sometimes, I’m not so sure. ”

In the distance, the wind is snapping the fabric of an American flag I attached to a fencepost near the highway. I took my signs down yesterday, but the flag stays. The redundancies of human existence often fool me into forgetting linearity. But linearity robs me of the moment. Another weary dialectic to grapple with. I glance at God’s face. His beard seems to have grown a half-inch since I last looked. His eyes are burning orbs, seething with something beyond hope. His fingers drum impatiently on his legs.

“I think I’ll go shave,” he says.

“Okay,” I say. “I guess I’ll get dressed.”

 

The Way of All Flesh

20160430_133858 (2)

“Um, God,” I said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you…”

I saw no way to ease into this topic, so I gulped and blurted. “I intend to end my life if I think it’s time.” My bravado belied my queasy stomach, but I don’t know why I bother to put on airs like that. God sees right through me.

“I know,” she said, almost tenderly. “And that’s an adaptive way to deal with your fear and sadness. A mental escape hatch.”

“So you don’t mind?” I asked. “You don’t care if people kill themselves?”

“Depends,” God said. “I care enormously about your suffering. I suffer with you.”

“I’m not suffering right now,” I said, ever the defensive, egocentric one.

“Then why are we having this conversation?” God asked.

My words tumbled out. “Because of the enormous pressure people feel to stay alive. To defend life at all costs. To survive. To frame death as the final defeat. They pin it on your will. Like when people finally die, it’s ‘God’s will’, or when they live, it’s ‘God’s will’. But then, somehow, it’s our job to keep inventing ways to prolong our lives, and no matter what, we eventually die, and sometimes, slowly, painfully, and without any brain left.”

God gazed out the window. “Scary,” she finally said, mostly to herself. “Expecting conscious mortals to make compassionate decisions…sometimes I wonder if I’m asking too much.”

“Compassionate decisions?” I echoed, thinking, “Could she possibly mean that choosing death, ending a life, could be a compassionate decision?”

The Eternal Allness, the Beginning and the End, the Ever-present Force, the Planner, Sustainer, Granter, Architect, Experimenter, Lover, Truster, Sufferer, Giver, Taker, Saver, Waster—my side-kick and nemesis—smiled like a patient third grade teacher.

“Sobering, isn’t it?” she said. “But yes. You already consciously end millions of lives without compassion, out of greed, neglect, or fear. You execute. And you honor those who give their lives for others. You end the suffering of your beloved pets. You can’t excuse yourself from these contradictions, nor can you legislate them away. Here it is: Sometimes, in the larger scheme of things, choosing to end a life, even your own, is choosing Life.”

“Stop!” I said. I’d lost my bearings, overwhelmed with the wrenching images and conflicts. The dialectics of existence. Ending suffering. Murdering thousands. Politics and greed that result in starvation. The human capacity to grow food; invent medications; toy with life; dole out death. The human longing for perpetual youth. Slippery slopes and higher visions.

“No worries,” God said. “I’ll stop. But I’m not going anywhere.” She grew galaxy-big and atomic-small. She swam in a sea of amniotic fluid, danced a bone-rattling dance, died in the arms of a weeping father, and pulled the sky apart so I could see through myself. She wrapped the individually-beating cells of my heart around her little finger and licked the rings of Saturn like they were strands of taffy. She was being light and heavy, silly and serious. She was kaleidoscopically steady as she pulled the arms of morning around me. Not my morning—her morning.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she repeated, stroking my forehead. “And in a way you cannot possibly understand right now, neither are you.”