Lists

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There are so many things on my list today: Paint the coffee table orange; bake the leftovers with lots of cheese and spices to disguise the blandness; locate the next hot yoga class and begin making excuses for not going; do some laundry at somebody’s house; get out of my pajamas; buy a carrot peeler and cabinet knobs; make a cameo appearance in the happiness class; check my email; watch it snow.

But the snow stopped. The knobs are the wrong color, and bland isn’t always bad. The time on my hands is faintly bioluminescent, but there isn’t enough light to do anything but pray, palms together, a gesture of peace. Gratitude. Acquiescence. This, while the world has sunk so deep into the chaos of self that no one can tell an enemy from a friend. The bottom lines have given way. We’ve fallen through. Again.

Generally, solitary confinement is a form of punishment often classified as torture, but solitary confinement of the soul is a necessary discipline for recalibration. For close encounters. For unwinding the knot. Time to let the long tongue and wagging tail of the ever-eager God cleanse the wounds and loosen the grime of everyday life.

But God is not a dog today. Her calendar is filled with boring meetings, delicate negotiations, and a stint of volunteer work at the homeless shelter. She’s doing a reading tonight that will likely be well-attended—I’m glad for her, but I’m jealous. I don’t like waiting on such a busy God.

To my great delight, there’s a glimmer of God in the corner. She shakes her head as I try to snuggle in. “Not now,” she says. “You need to wait.”

“No!!” I wail, “I hate waiting. It makes me very, very anxious.”

“Sorry,” she says. “But you can do it. I’m counting on you.”

“Counting on me to wait?” I ask, stalling, pretending not to know.

“You can’t trick me,” God says, fading.

“Yes I can, yes I can, yes I can,” I yell to the Great Disappearance.

I tell myself I’m lucky she stops by as often as she does, but that’s not how I feel. The time on my hands has turned blood red, and my fingerprints are everywhere. “Get centered,” I tell myself. “You’re making a mess.” Waiting is a transformative torture. The long way home. I feel like a fool when I wait. I picture God, busy dishing up soup, teasing the tattered men with her sexy winks, her arms slung around the shoulders of women, repeatedly stoned. That’s how it is. She’ll come by later, and I’ll rub her feet.

Faith

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The only reason I have any faith at all is that the alternatives are worse. That, and the incessant presence of this thing I call God bugging me, day and night, my face in her hands. My thoughts invaded, emotions mirrored, breath punched repeatedly out of my gut, eyes stinging, heart heavy. Is this any way to live?

“Hey,” God protests, perched like a bird on a very small branch. “I can hear you, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” I say. “I know.” I look the beast in the eye. “But it doesn’t matter, does it? There’s nothing I could think or say that would make you disappear anyway, right? Vamoose, God. Come here, God. Take a bullet for me, God. Cure me, God. Kill the bad guys, God. Elevate the good guys, make my team win, get me some of that human elixir, revenge. Okay, God? Okay?”

Human prayers—my prayers—flawed. Arrogant. The sheen of innocence rubbed raw by the abrasive sandpaper of reality. For instance, there are people in my life, people in the news, people on the street—all waiting around in my mind in case I muster the strength to love them. But I don’t want to love them. In fact, I wish some of them dead and gone.

“Hey,” God says quietly. “I can still hear you, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” I say. “But that’s your problem.” I offer God my ear buds. “Take a break if you’d like.”

I howl like a wolf, snarl like a jaguar, scream like prey being eaten. I consider the various abdications or aggressions at my disposal. God is an excuse, a drug, a cult leader, a fairy tale, a haven for the vicious and the weak. In the name of God, we’ve tortured, killed, subjugated, taken our fill of the first fruits, grown fat, hateful, and smug.

“Hey,” God whispers from the smallest place. “The ear buds are nice, but I can still hear you. It’s from the inside.”

“Oh, I know,” I whisper back, my voice hoarse, my throat on fire. “I know.”

The day begins despite my protests and misgivings. Morning is rolling across the hills, quivering with the potential of the moment lived, mine for the taking. If I leave it untouched, can it be returned? If I put my soul in my backpack and run for my life, can I escape?

“Hey,” God says without making a sound. “Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” I admit. “But with really good earbuds, I keep hoping…”

“Oh, I know,” God says. “I know.”

Year End Report

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On December 18th, 2016, God and I posted our first godblog. We’ve written 170-some of these parabolic missives, and here we are, 2020–still speaking to each other, which is noteworthy for such a mismatched pair. Me, human, fallible, aging less than gracefully, root-bound, forgetful, trying hard, falling short. God, falling long. God neither human nor fallible, forgetting nothing, forgiving everything. God, erudite, defenseless, foolish. Me, wrapped in paper-thin pride with touches of temporary blue in my hair. God, humble, wearing the entire iridescent sky.

“Parabolic?” God asks.

I laugh. A chance to show off. “Well, I meant to say parable-like, but then the word parabolic got in my head. A parabola is a sort of U-shape line that’s mirror-symmetrical. It’s the path a projectile takes when it attempts to escape but instead, is subject to gravity and falls back. It’s not a circle. It’s more like a shape made in protest.”

God looks at me like “Duh” and I get defensive. “Fine. Sometimes, you just sit there and make me feel stupid.”

“True,” God says, with patient look. “I’m glad you’re so frank with me. But you could be nicer sometimes.”

“Sorry,” I say. “I’ll try.”

We sit for a while, me mulling what it means to be nice to God, and God knitting an afghan. He’s been working on it off and on for a long time. It stretches for miles–up, down, east, west, north, south, and around. And it includes every color ever seen or imagined. I suspect it’s a gift for someone in another galaxy, but I haven’t inquired, and God hasn’t said a word. For some reason, that damn afghan frightens me.

“I understand that,” God says.

“What?” I say, but in my bones, I know. He always gets in my head.

“It frightens everyone,” God says. He holds it up and blocks the sun. “It’s a shroud.”

“For someone—or something—very large,” I say, making my shaky voice as kind and approving as I can.

“Indeed,” God says. “From your perspective, very, very large.”

“And from yours?” I ask.

God smiles gently and opens the front of his jacket. Strands of yarn flow like brilliant rivers of color from the essence of his being. God is making his shroud out of himself. This realization upsets me to the point of nausea.

“Ah, sweetheart,” God says. “Don’t be sad. It is as it has been and will be. There’s no promise better than the rainbow, nothing more perfect than a circle.”

“But God,” I protest. “I’m linear. Monochromatic. Vanishing.”

God shakes his shroud like a rug. The whiplash at the end dislodges the stars, and planets roll like bowling balls, and all the music there has ever been plays at once, and I drop and curl to prevent subatomic dissipation.

“Hold that pose,” God says. He shapes himself around me and begins to snap selfies; me and God, entwined like twins, the shroud a roiling ocean behind us. A sudden wind lifts the shroud. God grabs hold, and they rise like a kite. It’s a very strong wind.

I hold myself tight with the earth, grateful for gravity. Coiled inward like that, I can see what appears to be the beginning and the end, but for the life of me, I can’t tell them apart.

The Words Live On

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This past week, Ram Dass died. He’d had a stroke in 1997, and his acceptance of that disabling event was inspiring. This morning as I read over quotes that capture his sensibilities, I feel envy. Don’t we all want to be a guru? An old soul? But I say to myself, “Choose your poison, choose your longings, choose your savior. But most importantly choose your words.” Ram Dass knew the power of choice and the power of words, especially after the stroke. Words are part of the way we build up or tear down. We can hurt each other with a simple twist of the tongue. We can speak vicious untruths.

One of the reasons I like God is that God lives so far beyond words. Sure, she stops by, and we chat in English (I am hopelessly monolingual), but sometimes she lifts me by the back of my neck and nestles me down in something indescribably warm and delicious. “What is this place?” I ask by lifting one eyebrow. She laughs.

“I call it forgiveness,” God says. “But you might think of it as gratitude. The place where the best ideas are born. I don’t know. Call it whatever you’d like. Use your words.”

I throw a holiday pillow at God. She’s put a Christmas stocking on her head and wrapped solar LED lights around her waist. “In the beginning was the Word,” she says, teasing, almost giddy. “Why do people ignore that? Word. Word. Word.” She then begins singing. “All you need is Love…da da da da da…All you need is Love. Love. Love is all you need.” She leans in, holding a golden microphone. In the glow, I feel old. Unshiny. Words are escaping me at ever accelerating rates. I want them back. I want fresh starts, clean sheets, no scars. And lots of fancy words. But God just shakes her booty and turns up the volume.

There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be
It’s easy…Love is all you need.

“Lennon and McCartney.” She kisses her fingertips and takes a bow. “Brothers from another planet.” Again, envy. I want to be a brother from another planet. I want to be Ram Dass, Maya Angelo, Sir Paul, Lady Gaga, Nancy Pelosi, Mother Theresa, and Harriett Tubman. I want to matter. The glib assurances of salvation from a distant God, formulas and pat answers—I spit them out. I want to eat first fruits from the magic tree.

“Oh, no you don’t,” God says, suddenly quite serious.  “No, you absolutely do not want to do that. Why on God’s green earth do you think such things?”

“Because someone has to save us from ourselves,” I say. But I know that isn’t true. It’s already too late, and the saving has been neatly wrapped in the dying for longer than anyone but God can remember. God grins at me. “Been there, done that,” she says. “And to tell you the truth, sometimes I wonder if it was worth it.”

Now I’m the one who is suddenly serious. “Oh, it was, baby God,” I say, letting those words take my entire being. “It absolutely was.”

What to do with the Minutes and Years

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“God,” I said while I gazed at my elevated feet clad in thrift store Christmas socks. “You’ve bothered me since I was four years old. Is it really necessary to keep doing that?” My mood wasn’t entirely God’s fault. For reasons obvious to a certain group of us, I had googled holy writings about God’s preferred treatment of the poor and hungry. Sure enough, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist…The writings from faiths all over the face of our little planet tend to agree on this point.

FEED THEM.

The average citizen may not realize that globally, every year over three million children die of starvation, malnutrition, and diseases that prey on the underfed. This is not something I want to realize either. This means God’s heart breaks three million times each year. Every hour that passes, tra la la, we lose 312 youngsters. Give or take. And that’s just children.

These simple statistics put me in a very bad mood. And it gets worse when I try to consider my role in all this. I had a nice, tasty breakfast. I have a couple of warm places to live. I have a lot of diplomas, good friends, loving family, and an impressive array of used snow boots. The few poor people I have any contact with bother me. The starving people I see on the news upset my stomach.

What to do? My supposedly-elected officials face a ridiculous amount of pressure, but it isn’t pressure to reduce suffering, clean up our toxic messes, provide better education, health care, or safety. Nope. It is pressure to reduce the amount of money the wealthy (me included) contribute to the common good. We are insistent about this. We don’t like taxes.

“How long do you plan to rant?” God asks. “And when you’re done, could we do some painting or play a party game or something?”

God and I have a stare-down. God wins. I get out the brightest colors in my collection and slather pink, orange, and lavender across the blankest wall I can find. I streak my hair red and blue. I sketch a tree on an ugly shelf and imagine spring arriving in neon green. I color my sadness yellow and my anger purple. My self-pity is burgundy now, with just the faintest suggestion of fuchsia. Around the shoulders, the immense, muscular, trustworthy, buff, and ready shoulders of Creation-infused-Creator, there’s a flax golden glow. And I know. I just know.

“I’ll do what I can,” I say.

“Yes,” God says. “I know.”

Mice

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‘Tis the season for the battle between humans seeking untainted cupboards and mice seeking warm, tasty accommodations. Humans have superior fire power. Mice have elastic bones. It’s a version of David and Goliath. And yes. Humans are Goliath. We are big, smart, and temporary. They are small, but they are many. We will eventually lose. But in the meantime the traps are set, ultrasonic sound devices are plugged in, and steel wool is stuffed tight in every conceivable nook and cranny.

Finding their bodies broken and contorted in the snapped traps is distressing, disgusting, and sad, but not as sad as finding their poop turds in our rice or oatmeal or my neatly folded towels. I don’t like war. I don’t like killing. But I draw the line at surrendering to rodents.

The previous owner of our home had given up. Frail and confused, she lived among the mice, littering her leftovers around the house, letting them have the run of the place. I suspect their offspring remember the halcyon days. The remnants of their reign are mostly cleaned and gone now, but just last month in the root cellar I found a long-necked bottle with a perfectly preserved skeleton. Decades ago, the mouse had squeezed itself in, dropped to the bottom, and belatedly discovered there was no way out.

“I remember that little fella,” God says, reading over my shoulder.

“Oh, hi,” I say, in a friendly voice. I wave my hand toward the easy chair. God settles in with a sigh and says, “Thanks. Do you mind if I put my feet up and take a quick nap?”

I shrug and nod, my face conveying fond approval. God’s eyes close. I consider the weight of omnipresence, momentarily glad I did not create the ever-evolving universe. I am not God.

Wind moves warm air across the snow, and an eagle flies by with a fish dangling from its beak. I think of a phrase from a long, sorrowful poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: nature red in tooth and claw… and the line Dorothy Day loved from The Brothers Karamazov: Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.

I have seen the way of a cat with a mouse. I have seen the way of an owl with a kitten. My entire being strives to accept the turning of the seasons, the transformations, the endings with unknowable beginnings, but I can’t quite get there. I am tender with grief.

God dozes while we sit warm in the risen sun. I’m everyone and no one. I’m alone, but I am together. I am the fish and the eagle. I am a mouse in a dark brown bottle. There is no escape, but I’m glad for the company.

DNA

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In many ways God and I have very little in common. The narrow gateway of our commonality is not the DNA I share with other humans, fruit flies, bananas, trees, or goats; not my uncertainties or my short journey in this limited body. And absolutely not my tendency to bite my thumb when I sense God is close. God doesn’t have thumbs. But sometimes, she borrows one and bites it while I write, just to demonstrate her solidarity. It’s a transparent solidarity. I slip my hand through and watch the world turn to fire. I am intrigued by the godness of fire as mass gives way to energy.

Often the godness around me is so dense I can hardly breathe. Billions of people seething and searching for the right ways to live their lives, afraid of all the wrong things. Even the stars are born and die, so what do we have to fear? One form godness takes is joy, a flower with roots that run deep in dark places. Another form of godness is suffering, and it will be with us until the end.

“Yes,” God says, affirming my pondering. “Maybe not DNA, but joy and suffering. Yes, these we have in common.”

“God,” I say. “I don’t always love it when you show up and agree with me.” I turn my gaze inward, where of course, I find God smiling between the strands that define who I think I am. I slide my consciousness back out, trying to think of other things. Deadlines. Vitamins. Bad travel conditions. Entropy. Anything but You-Know-Who.

“Okay,” God says. “Let’s play hide-and-seek. Shall I find you, or do you want to find me?”

“What does it matter?” I say. “It’s one and the same.”

God pretends to ring a bell. “Ding, ding, ding,” she says. “Folks, we have a winner.”

I can’t help but laugh. What a chump. I shrug. “Fine. So you’re here. What’ll it be today? Compassion? Sacrifice? Slippage? The mundane grip of reality? Painting sticks? Rearranging my rock collection? Maybe a small skirmish with the dark forces of hell and selfishness?”

God mimics my shrug. Then she leans over, examines my thumb, and kisses the bite marks away.

“All better,” she says, her voice tender and soothing. I stare at my thumb.

“Maybe,” I say, tears welling up. “But I don’t see the point. You know I’ll bite it again.”

“Exactly,” God says. “Exactly. Maybe that’s why I love you so much.”