Hunting

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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

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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.

The Dangers of the News

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God grabbed me by the throat this morning as I listened to the news. I squirmed and glared. The news ended, but God held on. Garrison Keillor read a poem by Sharon Olds in his soothing voice on my cheap clock radio.

“Let go,” I yelled. “Get thee behind me.” I was pretty sure that would loosen God’s hold, if only for a moment. Long enough for me to run somewhere, anywhere, up out of this basement, away from the imperfect walls surrounding me and the awful reports of the hateful world.

It didn’t work. The grip tightened. It was hard to speak, but I managed to say “I didn’t do it. It’s not my fault. And I can’t fix it.” Then I passed out.

When I came to, my head was in God’s lap. He was sitting on our frayed hide-a-bed loveseat, stroking my hair. I felt nauseated. I held perfectly still, afraid I was going to throw up on God. He used his bandana to wipe cold sweat from my forehead.

“You’re small,” he said. “And confused and tired.”

He leaned down and I gave up, slipping body and soul into those burning eyes, so dark there was no visible pupil. Pure obsidian. Black is not a color. It’s what happens when all colors have been absorbed. You can let go so completely you have nothing left to be.

When the florescent light flickered on, and the colors returned, God was gone. I turned my head from side to side, sat up, and held myself for a minute. This was not okay. God was not playing fair.

“Get back here,” I said. My voice was scratchy and there were bruises on my neck. “You can’t get away with this, God.”

“Unfortunately, I can,” God said in a voice older than any I’ve ever heard. “I’m tired, too. But I’m not confused or mortal. If you ask nicely, I’ll show you how to be kind today. But that’s all I’ve got.”

“Okay,” I agreed warily. “But could I be wise, too? And powerful? And funny?”

“Nope,” God said. “Try kind, and see where that gets you.”

God faded. I sat and faced myself. I didn’t want to be kind. I wanted to be nasty, resentful, and discontent. I wanted to blame, demand, and focus on everything that’s all messed up. Kind, huh? That damn black-eyed trickster.

I covered my neck in a blue silk scarf and set sail on the day. Kind. Well, at least I had a focus to distract myself from the fatal fears just under the surface of every evil act. Mine or theirs. I knew the relentless news would dog my steps. But I also knew the deep black place would hold me again if I need it to.

 

Tweets

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God tweeted “Not white” and followed that with “Not male.”  Followers gasped and tweeted “Not God.” God laughed and tweeted “Not moon.” And then “Not American,” using gleeful hashtags and emojis. This triggered such a massive unfollowing, Twitter managers pitied God, and granted a stay of execution.

“People.” God shook her massive head as we sat with our feet dangling in the water. “Do you think there’ll come a day when they stop squeezing me into their image?”

“Doubt it,” I said. “I do it all the time, and I know better. You’re impossibly big, and we’ve discovered how vast, how tiny….Um, let’s just say the Known Universe isn’t even known very well. And yes, we did appear to be evolving nicely there for a while, but the wheels have come off. Looks like the retrenchment will be hell to pay.”

God sighed. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Okay,” I said. “Do you know how foolish I feel continuing to hope compassion will overcome hatred?”

“Yup,” God said.

“Or that gratitude will outstrip greed?

“Yup,” God said.

“Well, how about this: I like to imagine you’re going to swoop in and get even with all the bad guys—utterly destroying them. Bam. Humans are really into revenge. Including me. We all hope you are too.”

“I knew that,” God said. “And I’m not.”

I gave up. I wasn’t really trying. We were just making small talk. By the river. On an innocent day. Time enveloped us and came to an end. I slept, body on stone, as the sky thickened, turning the colors of a Navajo blanket. God lifted me in fatherly arms, and I snuggled into that hollow spot where shoulder meets neck. The essential scent of God filled my lungs. I roused myself enough to invite the entire world—no, the entire cosmos–to come sleep there with me. Protected. Somewhere beyond fear or reason.

And God made room. Just in case.

Mirrors

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The mirror this morning was blurry. Dim light showing only the essential outline of myself. I wanted no further clarity. “Does anyone want to see clearly?” I ask myself. “We’ve all fallen in love with this hazy image of ourselves. Aren’t we pretty? Aren’t we smart? Aren’t we worth saving?”

“Well, yes and no,” God says, startling me. I don’t know why God has to be so stealthy sometimes. In certain contexts, it could be devastating, but I’ve grown grudgingly accustomed to these sudden visits.

“Hello, God,” I say, not in a friendly tone.

“Hello, my dear,” God says. Is there mockery in that tone? Is that a smirk on God’s face? Why are the clouds gathering? Why are the birds so jittery? Is this it? Was it a mistake to paint the old bicycles bright colors and pretend they could fly? Was it sinful to spray the weeds with poison? Trap the mice? Carve out a selfish sanctuary, filled with food, and sustenance for my soul? Am I violating the stone when I slice it open to see what’s inside? Am I a fool to drink dark beer at dawn? Tell me, God. What is it?

“Good lord, what’s wrong with you?” God says. “Calm down.”

“I can’t,” I say. “Your plans frighten me. Your ways enrage me. There are too many stars. I don’t know who I am.”

“That’s totally understandable,” God says in a calming voice. “Perhaps it would be better if you suspended your faith for a while. I don’t need you to believe in me, you know. You can cut me loose. I’ll be fine.”

I swallow and keep my stinging eyes closed. “What good would that do?” I ask. “The sparrows will still eat the strawberries before they’re ripe. I’ll grow more feeble and gray. The children will blossom and fade. I won’t finish half of what I wish I could, and I doubt it would make me, um, whatever it is that I think I want.”

“Exactly,” God says. “Exactly. And I’ll love you, either way. I actually don’t need anyone to believe in me. The belief that matters flows the other way.”

The blurred mirror begins to splinter, cracks threading their way through the once-solid glass. My image is webbed with tributaries. Then it disappears as shards rain down, sharp and dangerous. I sweep them up and set out for the landfill, where it’s free to get rid of almost anything. Shattered lives, broken glass, carcasses of little yellow birds.

Sometimes, the guy at the dump saves something back for one more round of usefulness. Maybe, today, there’ll be a treasure to redeem. Or maybe not. I’ll be fine, either way.

Attacking the morning

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I’ve attacked the morning, vacillating between quiet desperation and grim  determination. God stopped by numerous times yesterday, causing internal turmoil and external chaos. Things went wrong. The septic system backed up, the radios all stopped broadcasting, the window coverings failed, the befuddlement of age scrambled my thoughts. I said sarcastic things, and was almost mean—okay, maybe full-on mean–thus failing the most elementary of God’s little exams. Oh feeble creature that I am. Yes, I can hear the fundamentalist among us quoting Romans to me. Fine. But are you aware that God is both the heckler and the heckled? The wound and the balm? God’s the hot dogs and beer–and God’s the hangover. God’s the 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon with a side of caviar, and the species endangered by such excess. God is the manna, and the little organism that made the manna rot.

Here’s what I say to myself: Get real. Get humble. Get over yourself. Get going.

And God, what do you say?

The alfalfa is vibrant; the sky, hazy. The river runs clear, the turkey vultures eat carrion. All the while, the sun grows more brutal and insistent. God is late. She has that prerogative, but I find it nearly intolerable. In my impatience, I run my hand over my face and half of it falls off. Then the other half. My worst fears explode. I am faceless. Nameless. Alone. An old fool, thinking that I matter in some unique way. Thinking I’m something other than ordinary.

My grandmother once told me I was plain. She met my glare directly, squared her shoulders and added, “But you have piercing eyes, and I like the way you see the world.”

My eyes are still in my head, God. But the world looks jagged. My ears hear sabers rattling. My heart is blunted, predicting disaster, doing nothing. I’m glad my face fell off. I don’t want it anymore.

But the potter has finally arrived. With strong, sure fingers, she takes thick clay soil from an undisturbed spot in the garden and recreates the face I will continue to inhabit. It has loose, permissive skin. She calms my soul and kisses the top of my head. “Take heart,” she says. And I know I will try.

We sit down together on a pallet filled with rusted metal I’ve collected. Survey the stones I’ve gathered. It is the sixth day. “It’s good,” she says, finally. “Very good.” And then she is gone.

Purple Chair

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Some weeks ago, I had three ugly chairs to deal with. Donate? Trash? Hide them away in the abandoned chicken house? I also happened to have three small cans of paint. Lime green, purple, and burgundy. And a paint brush, and a what-the-hell attitude. No one I know will live long enough to entirely declutter. Yanking something back from the brink of the landfill is one of my favorite things. This is why God and I relate so well.

Now, in this lonely morning space, the purple one holds my gaze, shiny and redeemed, imperfect but gracious. The worn sofa accommodates my shifting weight, and the three of us form a temporary universe.

To my left, the accusatory past, the glory days, my living children, my dead friends. The seductive urge to rewrite. Compelling grief mingled with steady resurrections made possible because I remember and remember. But I can’t stay long. The urgency of Now will overpower, as it should.

To my right, the slim future bulges with what-ifs and how-abouts. Ungainly opportunities, bloated with longing and contradictions. Oh, I know the future is not an all-you-can-eat affair, but I wish it were. This is brave of me to admit. I’m a greedy hog, wanting unlimited, tasty dishes served to me, day and night, forever.

The purple chair shimmers in light filtered by fire. Thick smoke has hidden the mountain. My lungs are burning and I’ve begun to cry for help, like a child lost. But I’m not lost. I’m centered in this precarious place between myself and a world growing dryer and more flammable in the glaring clarity of heat.

Soon, I’ll lift myself from the stillness and drive, a long solo journey. I’ll fly across expanses that reverberate with a humble God. A dying God. A green God, pregnant with an eternity no one can grasp. But I know a little about it, thanks to the purple chair, and this moment, the fire, and a slew of generous gifts from departed friends and long-forgotten enemies.

It is enough. Oh, wait. One more confession: I always want more than enough. But I’m slowly learning that more than enough can be a very toxic blessing.

Just so. Enough

Stillwater Storm

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I’ve been transfigured by the river–my limbs and roots, light as driftwood, ideas torn asunder, mind and torso smooth as glass. The little that is left of me floats aimlessly while the storm blows me up, sky slashed open, thunder sudden and conclusive.

“I don’t live in your world anymore,” the water whispers.

I nod. “I don’t either.” But I’m reluctant to admit the obvious.

“Who are you?” the water asks. I have no answer.

There’s a small, perfect stone on the bank. I feel confident I’ll remember and come back–I’ll remember and give thanks. Little else will happen in my life but this.

Rain falls carelessly, everywhere. On the just and unjust, the living and the dead. If I wanted to hide, it would be impossible, but why would I want to hide? I am falling as carelessly as the rain, falling into sky. Land recedes below me and the tallest willows wave good-bye. Then the cottonwoods. Neither can be trusted. They’re fooling me again. I know this is the dream they wanted me to have. In this temporary life, we are destined to sleep. It’s just the way we’re made. But if the cradle didn’t fall, would we even need this endless salvation?

“Who wants to sleep?” I ask the trees.

“No one!” they say, too quickly, twisting in the wind.

“And who wants to be awake?” I ask.

“Everyone!” they say. These, too, are lies. Lies told to fools eager to believe.

The wind has died. The rain has stopped. The sky has begun to heal itself. The great arms of God surround the wounded little planet. These arms–a resting place, my ride back home. Nothing has been answered, solved, or saved. But I am cleaner, stripped to the momentary essence of myself. The day will reappear, ordinary. Beautiful. My familiar body will reassemble as I eat my fill of broken, scattered bread and drink from a shallow eddy until my thirst is quenched.

Storm

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A thousand pieces of God fell from a darkened sky. I ran to put out buckets and barrels, stuck out my tongue, waved my arms in greeting.

“Hello, hello, liquid God,” I shouted, so happy to have such a visit.

“Hello yourself, little fool,” God shouted back. The blessings rained down hard. They hit me and stung. I grabbed my impervious jacket, with the loose hood, and ran for shelter. I ran and ran, soaked to the bone wherever the jacket didn’t cover.

“What’s this?” I thought angrily. God was exploding around me. Drenching the little planet in snarling, dangerous blessings. Lightening ripped the sky. Trees released the younger leaves and they flew to their deaths in glorious waves of green. “Good-bye, good-bye,” they sang, the harmonies haunting, perhaps unaware they were soon to disintegrate. Perhaps not.

Blessings plastered the west side of the new house, and began to take root in the faulty, shrunken siding, originally meant to exclude such events. Before my eyes, moss, mold, mildew. Before my eyes, infestations of everything wrong with the world. Before my eyes, the drowning began.

“Stop it,” I screamed to God. “You don’t know what you’re doing. We can’t swim in this. It’s too deep.”

God seemed to relent. The lifejacket was a large broken branch that floated in the torrent of blessings. I clung to it and drifted along in the river of time, so frightened, so cold.

“You can let go, you know,” God said, quietly. “You’re going to get bruised hanging on like that.”

“Get away from me,” I said, undone, filled with disbelief.

The blessings were too sharp. Too heavy. I had gashes in my chest, and I suspected I’d broken a rib or two. It was painful to breathe. It seemed I was not among the chosen after all. Luxury liners floated by, filled with fancy people, beautiful people, gorging themselves on delicacies I couldn’t even pronounce. Their sea gleamed golden as they sailed into a fractured horizon.

“You can let go,” God said again. “Sweetheart, listen. You can let go.”

Allah’s Will

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Some people wear tight underwear on purpose. It doesn’t slide around as much, and certain appendages are less likely to droop, sway, wobble, or escape. But through the eons, God, the amazing artist has tinkered with the cosmos, including the design of the human body, so maybe it’s just the way it’s supposed to be for now. Therefore, are bodily interferences and management strategies a violation of God’s will? Like tight underwear? Or sexy underwear, or decidedly unsexy underwear? Or underwear itself? If those ancient Jewish authors got it right, Yahweh wasn’t all that impressed with fig leaves.

My mind wanders to tattoos and piercing. Spandex and Lasik. Obesity and anorexia. Facelifts and Viagra. To the death penalty and compassionate assistance when someone is ready to die. Birth control and abortion. Driving while tired, jogging in smog. Bikinis and burkas. Stents and suppositories. Aren’t we humans something else? We replace hips, drug ourselves silly, elevate or depress our moods, and bleach our teeth to neon white. We can prolong “life” with machines, almost indefinitely. Who’s to say how much fussing, prolonging, shortening, fattening, thinning, covering or uncovering is God’s will?

Our lives and bodies are gifts. I close my eyes, cross my legs, focus on breathing, and ask the Giver about gift management. The Giver wraps her arms around her enormous belly and winks. She’s always available, but always giving birth. I tiptoe around and watch.

I open my eyes and see the branches of the plum tree swaying under the weight of a scolding blackbird. Gifts. I see the onions and the peas growing. I see the river roaring by. Gifts. I know I need to pull weeds and water the garden. Gifts that need my attention. Gifts that I treasure or neglect.

It occurs to me that once I’ve given my beloved a gift, it’s his–to use or not use. To paint, hang, feed, cover or uncover, play with, give away, store, or use up. I might be sad if he doesn’t say thanks, or doesn’t like the gift, but I do not take it back or control it. That would be incredibly rude.

And as I deepen into this inquiry, it occurs to me that I, myself, have given birth. Twice. And after it was given, I worked hard to give these new lives what they needed to survive, and what they needed to gradually assume the autonomy that distinguishes human life.

I know the river, gift that it is, could kill me without a second glance if I just waded in right now. I won’t be wading in anytime soon. My life is mine. Other people’s lives are theirs. My body is mine. Other people’s bodies are theirs. Gifts. I decorate, doodle, abuse, and elevate. I stretch, exercise, and pamper. I overeat, undereat, and forget to hydrate. I imbibe in limited quantities of dark beer.

Someday, I will die. I may have a say in how and when. I may not. We live, temporarily, in a risky universe, and then we move on. That’s how it is. That’s how it should be. The Giver takes a minute, between contractions, to squeeze my hand. The beauty of being breaks my heart. She understands, and makes room for me in her bed. The thunder is deafening, but I no longer need to hear.