Why You Should Avoid Small Talk with God

IMG_5843

“Hey big fella,” I said, making small talk with my co-author–the entity commonly referred to as God in many parts of the world. “What’s your favorite name for yourself?” At that moment, one of God’s legs was flung across the valley, the other tucked up like a mountain under his stubbly chin. Wild, unruly hair scrambled the stratosphere, sapphire eyes too big for the sky bore into my own.

“Hey yourself, tiny creature,” God said, smiling wide enough to swallow the whole solar system. “You know I’m unnameable, but today, you can call me Dirt.” God paused. “No, wait. Make that Topsoil.”

“Aw, c’mon God,” I protested, but I decided to go with it. “I mean Topsoil. I was hoping you’d say Love. Or Alpha Omega. Or Immanuel. Or People First. Three-In-One, or even Savior.”

“Yeah, I know,” Topsoil said. “I notice you didn’t say Allah. Or Gaia. Or Father.”

I snorted. Topsoil grinned. “I don’t mind being called most things, as long as it isn’t  a trap or an excuse to do harm. I hate exclusivity, and I’m weary of the limits of human imagination.”

“Who’s fault is that?” I asked. “You’re the patent-holder. You could tinker a bit and maybe increase some capacities or something.”

“Oh, I’m tinkering,” Topsoil said. “But remember tiny creature, I invented consciousness and choice. These things take time.”

I knew this was true (as pretty much anything Topsoil says is true), but I felt sad. I don’t have much time left, and I’m worried that even the youngest of my fellow tiny creatures may not have much time left either. We continue to choose disposables and nonrenewable sources of comfort, not realizing that in the great circle of life, we are making ourselves disposable. And I don’t think we represent anything all that renewable.

“Mostly correct, but wrong on one key point,” Topsoil said, invading my head as usual. “You are renewable. It’s always an option.”

“I sincerely doubt that,” I said.

“Oh ye of little faith,” Topsoil said with a laugh. “You wouldn’t believe the miracles I’ve seen.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I wouldn’t. You know that old saying ‘seeing is believing’? Well…”

“Ah, tiny creature,” God said, transforming  from Topsoil into midnight. “Call me Darkest Hour and open your eyes.”

“I can’t open them any further,” I admitted. “I’m too afraid.”

“True that,” Darkest Hour said, rolling the earth into a tight ball. “Your honesty becomes you. I’m going to take a little nap now. Spring is exhausting. So much going on. You can call me Rest if you’d like. ”

“Wait!” I shouted. “No. I’m not calling you that. No. Please. Come back here. Tell me what you want me to do.”

The God of Rest, of Sabbath, of Consciousness and Choice, the God of Letting Go yawned as big as a thousand cyclones and stretched, knocking a few planets out of orbit. “You’ll figure it out, tiny creature,” The Entity said. “I believe in you. And I’m 100% renewable.”

“Nooooo,” I wailed. But God was snoring too loud to even notice.

The God of Paunchy-Bellied Men

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Hey,” God said, all cheerful and awake, sitting cross-legged in the living room. “I’ve been writing some poetry. Want to hear it?” It was way too early.

“Uh, sure,” I said, groping my way toward coffee. I suspected I’d need my half-beer too. I brought it along and sat down, as polite and attentive as I could be. God seemed a little shy. “It’s entitled Lavender,” he said. He took a breath and read:

I am the God of paunchy-bellied men

with emaciated butts

and their magnificent  

big-thighed women.

 I have gradually loosened my grip

on anything

that isn’t lavender.

God paused and looked at me. “Oh, boy,” I thought. “What do I say to that?” I waited, hoping there was more, but God sat silent, trying to hide his neediness. “Interesting,” I finally said. “Tell me about lavender.”

God crossed his arms. “It’s a poetic ploy.” He shrugged. “I like the sound of lavender…and that part about me losing my grip. Dramatic, right? Me losing my grip?”

“Hmmm. The sound of lavender,” I echoed, worried about where this could go.

“Lavender” God said in a frantic voice. “Budding lilac lavender, warm blanket lavender, baby lavender, calming lavender. Or what about acid lavender, neon lavender, dense, alarming lavender? That lavender on the edge of certain molds. So much to consider about lavender.” God’s breathing was ragged.

My therapist heart kicked in. There was something going on here that scared me, but I had to try and help. “Your grip?” I said gently. “And those paunchy-bellied men?”

Black clouds gathered and cracked. Lightning lit the bones of the room. Sadness flooded through broken windows, thin and murky. The apocryphal gruel they serve in soup lines came to mind. It was hard to think, hard to move. Something awful was afoot. I grabbed God’s hand and we fled out the back, down the alley. Hordes of paunchy-bellied men were strewn about like willow branches after a storm. We leapt over the spent carcasses, scrambling, tripping, picking each other up, laughing and crying hysterically.

The alley dead-ended, and a thousand big-thighed women were waiting, like they always wait. They took us in, no strings attached, and fed us a hearty evening meal. Nothing about any of this was lovely or right. It just was.

Utterly exhausted, I rolled myself under a lilac hedge to sleep, but God stayed up until all hours, chewing the fat with the women, reliving the glory days. Their delight disgusted me. “We’re doomed,” I thought as I dozed off. “We’re all fucking doomed.”

An eternity later, God shook me awake. “Shhh,” he said as he took me in his arms. We flew straight toward the fiery orange sun, rising hot in the delicate lavender sky.

 

What the Worms Know

IMG_5790

Clear sky. Clear blue sky. Warm sun. Dark, wet soil. Worms at work underneath. Fat worms, translucent. Harmless. Grass. Green and growing aggressively. Dandelions with long roots. Grass with longer roots. Mint and iris, competing, roots and bulbs and a very blue sky. Me with a shovel. Me with dirt. Rich dirt, fully alive with whatever creatures live in dirt. Hello, creatures. Hello sun. Hello God. The backyard, dancing a circle dance, hands joined, feet first, collapsing into the arms of spring. Laughing. Not menacing, not hysterical, not messed up. There’s always rain in the forecast, blight on the horizon. But Now is perfect. Cautious, but perfect.

“Not quite,” God said. She was digging. “Drop the caution. Therein lies perfection.”

“Wrong,” I said. “Therein lies foolishness. Therein lies disappointment. Therein is falling on my face. I prefer a bit of caution with my Nowness.”

“Sorry to be insistent,” God said. “But I’m right on this one. Perfection exists only without caution. Let it go.”

“God,” I said. “Look at this worm. Have you ever seen a fatter, happier worm?” I didn’t want to keep arguing. God either wins outright, or my day gets all tangled up. Avoidance is an excellent strategy.

God took the worm in her hands and examined it. “No. Or at least hardly ever.” She gave the worm a holy kiss and ate it. “Thanks,” she said, licking her lips.

“Gross,” I said. “Why do you have to do things like that?”

“Protein,” God said. “Pure protein.”

“Yeah, but why not a nice charbroiled steak?” I said. “Or at least rice and beans? There’s something twisted in you, God. Very twisted.”

“YES!” God said, twirling around the raised beds, her skirt flaring, her eyes flashing fire. “Twisted. I am a twisted, uncautious dude. Therein lies my perfection. C’mon.” She held out her hand.

I was tempted. Sorely tempted. Overly tempted. The dirt was warm and welcoming. The melody, ancient, familiar. I took the hand of God and we joined the circle, dancing like folks at the end of a wake, loosened by liquor, sorrow, and song. It was a wake for all that is dead, all that is dying, all that will be born anew. It was my own wake, and I was dancing. It was a wake for what I’ve known and destroyed. We danced more and more frenetically. God and I. It was beyond. We were somewhere and nowhere. I couldn’t let go. I won’t let go.

“Fall,” God said. “Fall on your face.” I hesitated. She wasn’t taunting. She was serious.

“Okay,” I said. I was delirious. Intoxicated. I fell in the mud, naked and without excuse. I rolled in rotten leaves, ate the bitter buds of dandelions–and I was saved! Just like that. Saved.

 

Ordinary

IMG_5716 (2)

The morning had gone exceptionally well so I took a minute to say thanks. God shrugged and said, “Everything’s not about you, you know.”

This seemed harsh, but yes, I was a little self-focused. From my personal perspective, slightly magical things had been happening. I’d found four of my favorite coffee mugs at Goodwill, as well as decent boots, muffin tins, and a bigger strainer for my kefir projects. Why not give the Universe a hug back?

“Because smooth sailing and blue cups prove nothing,” God said, arms crossed. “Cancer, heart disease, bad breath, and broken hearts mean nothing. They just are. They are neither omens nor proof.”

“I don’t think you understand,” I said. “That’s cruel. You have no idea what it feels like to be chronically grasping at meaning, vacillating between faith and futility. You have yourself with you all the time.”

“You’ve got a point there,” God said. “But I don’t have it all that easy either. I like seeing you happy, but when you get bogged down in misattributions, I feel the need to adjust your sights.”

Now my arms were crossed. “Fine,” I said. “Adjust away.”

Nostrils flared, stars tumbled, oceans flattened, and rudely awakened from geologic slumber, mountains rose angry and jagged. My hair fell out, my eyes rolled, and there was nothing anywhere to hang on to. Nothing but the vague and slippery idea of God. It hardly seemed enough, but it was all there was. Believe me. All there was. No blue cups. No muffin tins. No loving reassurances. No monsters to kill, no diseases to fight, no paths to discern. Nothing but this idea beyond words—this translucent whisper of the only truth, the only source, the only finality.

“Uncle,” I said to God in existential agony. “I give up. You win. It’s all you. I’m sorry I’m so needy and temporary. I know you’re lonely, even though you’re everything. But what can I do? I’m nothing.”

God startled. “Sorry. I may have over-done it. It’s true you’re nothing, but I forgot to show you that you’re also everything.” God started to fill her lungs for another out-breath.

“Stop!” I shouted, hands over ears, eyes tight shut. “Maybe another time.” I didn’t want to be everything. I needed space to pull myself back together. I wanted a kind of coherence that cannot be spoken. I longed to get in my dented old green van and drive beyond the vanishing point, contained, alone, and untouchable.

“Shotgun,” God said, trying to open the door with the broken handle. Laughter burst from the center of my self-aborption. I was delighted that this bumbling, apologetic God was determined to ride along.

“Okay,” I said, and added, “Thanks for those blue mugs, you old scalawag. I’m not as gullible as you think.”

 

Your mama told you there’d be days like this

IMG_5475 (2)

In the southeast corner of my life there’s a perfect circle of stone visible to anyone uphill or airborne. The northern boundary is an entirely different story. It’s a river that shapeshifts with the seasons. Water washes over the fallen cottonwood, gouges the mountain, and settles in deadly eddies.

Today, it is all too much, and paradoxically, nothing is ever enough. Not God, not people, not earth, not sky. The small and large injustices plaguing me have metastasized and lit the landscape with a cold, blue fire.

Some small part of me lives in fear. Lives in fear. Lives in fear. I’d like to kill off that part and live with more grace. That part would like to kill me off and reign as a vicious sovereign. Usually, I keep her underground and undernourished. Today, I am sorely tempted to throw her red meat. Why not? The world is awash in sovereigns eating red meat. I myself am mostly red meat.

God is a stretch of long gray sky, atmospherically unstable. Dead in the way of winter. The first signs of spring arrive from the grave—weeds, spiders, mud, and hunger. Mating rituals begin. Some will die showing off their antlers or plumage. Some will be passed over and never bear fruit. So what? That’s what I say. So what?

The gardener has turned the soil. The physician has opened a vein. The old woman is wearing her apron. The migrant has crossed the border. A child has been born. They are all doomed with the dignity of temporary flesh, but as they hold hands, as the world turns, as the rivers flow, as rocks hold firm, as the ozone shreds, as the species evolve, as fatal floods fertilize and recede, a certain and tragic joy remains. I want none of it.

For now I will stubbornly inhabit the illusion of autonomy. God has agreed to stay west of here, busily mixing the colors that will mark the setting of this particular sun. “Thank you,” I murmur, aware of the costs of such holy self-restraint. God nods.

No one goes it alone, but glittering fools pretend otherwise, and sometimes, I join them, peering at the world through my homemade periscope. With carefully-placed mirrors, you can create endless images of the same thing.

Cookies

IMG_5440 (2).JPG

This morning, I stumbled into a nest of words that swarmed up like wasps and stung me. Disown, disavow, defy, dissent. Renounce, repudiate, reject, rebuff, refute, rebut. Deny. None of these words can ward off a root canal or undo a pregnancy. Even spoken together, they can’t change the meaning or length of any given life. They cannot change what is true. But they can do damage.

“Correct,” God said. She’d stopped by for coffee on her way to the city where these words are far more dangerous. “It’s tempting to deny rather than deal with things. Easier to disown than own up. But where’d you be without dissent when the tanks are at full throttle? Or refute when what is spoken is not true?”

Memories of Tiananmen Square…dissenting bodies flattened into dark stains of blood and flesh. Fast forward, flash back. Locations and causes vary, but it doesn’t end. People as pawns, people as predators. People fleeing or fighting back. People against people.

God turned the radio down and ate another cookie. “I’m not surprised that humans are a migratory species,” she said, rather randomly.

I thought about this for a minute. “Yeah, but it doesn’t seem voluntary,” I said. “People migrate because of disaster, violence, hunger…and they aren’t often well-received.” I pictured people jailed, children caged, battles, conquests, claims, displacements, paperless people pushed back or enslaved. I could see thick walls adorned with razor-sharp metal built to stem the flow of hope that comes disguised as desperation. Migration seemed even more dangerous than dissent.

“Sure,” God said. “Forced migration can be brutal. But humans also just explore. They get bored. They reach higher, dive deeper, and widen the circle. And sometimes, the stranger is welcomed with real hospitality. I like that.”

God’s placid mood slowly drained the toxins from my swollen oppositionalities. Or it could have been the beer. Or the turkeys pacing the fence. Or maybe the return of the Canadian geese, paired and gliding through the snowy sky. Whatever the source, I found the wherewithal to smile.

“I like that, too,” I said, and remembering my manners, I added, “I’m glad you stopped by. Thanks.”

“De nada,” God said. She put a cookie in her pocket. “One for the road.”

“Take more,” I said, pushing the blue plate towards her. “Take as many as you’d like.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” God said. She helped herself to every last cookie. Our eyes met. She grinned. I could see cookie crumbs caught in her teeth. Cookie crumbs on her jacket. Bits of cookie falling from her grasp, turning into a sea of cookies, mountains of cookies, a sky of cookies. A planet of fresh-baked cookies.

“How did you ever get involved with a God like that?” I asked myself as she and her cookie-filled fists faded. I shook my head, but to be honest, I have no regrets. Occasional terror, but no regrets.

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.”