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.
“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.
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.”
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?”
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.
From Whence We Came
Almost every day, God and I sit in a ratty blue recliner angled toward the window and sip beer. God expects me to hold still and listen. I try, but it seems nonsensical—an inefficient and unreasonable request.
Then I remind myself that efficiency isn’t the only road to success and not everything worthwhile is reasonable. The ability to reason is one ingredient in the soup that defines us, but it’s not the entire recipe. There’s sausage, kale, and wonderment. There’s an extravagance in creation that can’t be explained. Abstract thought and scientific inquiry may be the pinnacles of evolution, but pinnacles need foundations. Humans rationalize cruelty as readily as they eat that second donut.
“Working on some interesting similes and metaphors this morning, aren’t we?” God teases, sliding from chair to mirror to window to bird, sashaying to music I can barely hear.
“I’m thinking about foibles and do-overs,” I answer, happy that God seems loose and crazy today. “Could I have the last ten minutes back? I went down the wrong rabbit hole.”
“Nope,” God says. “Why do you even bother to ask? You know better.”
“No, I don’t,” I say, gleeful and untethered. “YOU know better.”
God winks and pulls me out of the chair. We do a four-pig jig creaking around the room in old bodies. We dance straight through the newly purple wall and fall, barriers breaking like bones.
I am blissfully unaware of dinosaurs, dodos, and all the hapless creatures currently facing extinction before they even have a name. They can all be Adam. They can all be Eve. I love them fiercely, but I can’t save them. I can’t even save myself (and truthfully, I don’t want to).
God’s reading glasses fly off while we’re cavorting. They shatter against the edge of a light green piece of granite I keep nearby for thermal mass, and small pieces fly everywhere. But no worries. The dangerous shards gather themselves into a coarse form of collective compassion, willing to return to the fire from whence they came. The fire from whence we all came. The fire to which we will all return.
“Sorry about your glasses,” I say. “I could read to you until they’re fixed if you’d like.”
“I’d like that very much,” God says.
“Do you mind if I start in the middle?” I ask. “I’ve already read the first chapters.”
“Not at all,” God says. “I suspect I know the plot.”
“I’m sure that’s true,” I say, oddly defensive. “But the descriptions are spectacular. And the details matter.”
“Yes, they do,” God agrees. “They really do.”
God was clipping her nails this morning and a luminescent fragment the shape of a crescent moon landed in the backyard: a beautiful asteroid, a source of light, the end of the raspberries.
My entire garden is now filled with holy DNA. If this were a crime show, I could easily make a positive identification, but would there be a conviction? Even with humans, that’s never a sure thing. With God, highly unlikely.
“Sorry about that,” God says as she lifts the massive sliver of fingernail from earth and tosses it into the cosmos. “Careless of me to clip so close.”
“You could’ve wiped me out,” I say in an accusatory tone. “I can’t handle these jagged leavings and dangerous castings off.”
“I said I was sorry.” God can be a little defensive sometimes. She pauses, then adds. “Ah, c’mere. You don’t look so good.”
“Yeah, I’m not feeling all that well,” I admit as I crawl into the downy nest that God and I have created for the coming hibernation.
“Me neither,” God says with a sniffle. “Probably just a cold, but with all the upheaval, it’s hard to know for sure.”
“Isn’t it peculiar that before execution, the prisoner can choose a last meal?” I ask as we snuggle in. I ignore God’s quizzical look and continue. “So, what would you order?”
God is silent for a minute, then asks, “Sometimes, you’d like to kill me off, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah,” I admit. “You’re precarious and whimsical. Inscrutable and endless. I need something easier. Less promise. More substance.”
Again, silence. Then, “I’d have nuts and berries mostly. Goat cheese. A little pasta. And three or four stiff drinks. White Russians, maybe.”
I whack God with a roll of political flyers from the recycle pile and offer her a megadose of vitamin C. She flinches dramatically, smiles, and takes two of the chewable tablets.
“How ‘bout a siesta?” she asks.
I shake my head. “You go ahead. I’ve got to transplant the rhubarb and that poor little pine tree.”
“Oh, good grief,” God says. “Can’t you leave well enough alone?”
The pine tree is a sore subject. I’ve moved it four times because I keep changing the layout of the garden and it’s in the way again. I want it to thrive but only where I want it to thrive.
To my chagrin, I start to cry a little. “I’m tired of everything,” I say. There’s a catch in my voice. “Especially myself.”
“I know, honey,” God says. “That’s why a little nap is such a good idea.”
The explanation could be as simple as caffeine. Or scoldings by Ms. Manners. Or a niggling Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder whispering reminders of my failings and violations of the common good. I don’t know, but I can’t seem to get rid of the angst and sense of urgency that rob me of the peaceful existence I deserve. Something or someone is out to get me. I share the paranoia of my era. The exaggerated, anxiety-producing avoidance of death.
My father died nine days short of my 20th birthday. He exited life as I was exiting the teens. He was 44. Somehow, my grief-demolished mother hosted a random set of grandparents for a bleak commemoration of the day I was born. She made roast beef, potatoes, and a cake. It was a dark, dark birthday. I don’t know how we managed to swallow.
“But you did,” God says, joining me gently as I sit with memories flooding by on either side. “Your mother was as brave as anyone I’ve known, but I had to attend that party disguised and uninvited. She was done with me, and I don’t blame her.”
“I didn’t even know you were there!” I exclaim. “I brought a different god. He spewed platitudes and mumbled lies about God’s will and imminent resurrections and such. It was awful. Why didn’t you shut him up?”
“All in good time,” God says, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m not apologizing or defending myself, but there are days I just cry my eyes out.”
I put my arms around God while she sobs as if the loss were yesterday. And for God, it was. And is. And ever shall be. I cannot think of what to do. We are all baffled kings composing hallelujahs. Overthrown by instinct and libido, lust and love. Endless birthing. Endless dying.
“I never intend to fool or frighten anyone,” she says, taking deep ragged breaths to calm herself.
“I know, Sweetheart,” I say. I run my fingers through her unruly hair. “But we judge and fool and frighten ourselves. We can’t help it. The contradictions and losses are too much.” God slowly slips out of my embrace. She moves to the outer edges of the known, opens her thousand wings, and disappears. Behind her the path is littered with breadcrumbs, a trail of her broken self. As I follow, all things extraneous fall away, and I am slightly less afraid.
The Constant is Change
“A kennel is different than a fenced yard,” I explained to God last evening as we problem-solved the nature of limits, dogs, and human frailties. Dogs naturally dig, bark, jump, protect, chase, growl, and express exuberant affection. This presents problems to the elderly, newly planted marigolds, and other tender things. God seems to think containment should include flow.
“I know the difference,” God said with a twinge of disdain. “But I want to be able to open the door and be done with it. I like things simple.”
What a lie! I risked looking straight at God who then splintered into a hungry blackbird, a broken bike, unearthed seedlings, an abandoned fawn, an icy river, and hops vines using last year’s growth to climb heavenward. A teaspoon of topsoil, a glance at sky–this is all the evidence anyone needs; God does not like things simple.
“Fine. So we’re not that simple,” God admitted, fading into the late-blooming lilacs. I filled the bird feeder, replanted snapdragons, marigolds, and basil, and imagined how I could upcycle the bike. It has a kickstand. That gave me hope. Even though the river is high and noisy, I slept well.
But an intrusive idea about yet another way to rearrange the living room occurred to me this morning, and a Paul Simon tune is on replay in my head. The bike is still broken and I need to build a fence. I’m trying to focus, but distractions take root like invasive weeds—they have no natural enemies. Possibilities plague me. What should I transform next?
The angelic face of change is often made of plastic and other petroleum products designed to enslave and deplete. And yet…
Change is what we are made of.
What would we do without rust and mildew, the molding peach, the dry rot spreading through brick and mortar? Should we bow down to the power of deterioration and thank the gods of decline? I think not, but I suspect it’s all the same to the Many-Sided God; unlike me, they are free and untethered.
“Ah, but you are free to choose your tethers.” God intrudes midsentence–appearing as punctuation and grammar, a parenthetical phrase gone rogue, coauthoring away, as unbidden as Paul Simon, as pernicious as bindweed. And as dangerous as an unruly dog who is way too happy to see me.
“Get down!” I yell. This is not an ideal way to interact with God, but I have no treats or tennis balls to throw, so I drop to my knees where it’s safer and tell myself it’s not a bad thing to be adored.
God and I were sitting in our pajamas near a nice fire, watching the sky, hoping the storm wouldn’t bring the cold temperatures predicted. Hoping the planet would somehow survive the ravages of greed. I was examining an ugly bruise on my forearm. Essentially, bruises occur when capillaries near the surface break and spill blood. Thin skin increases the risk.
Thousands of years ago, a prophet wrote that God wouldn’t take advantage of a bruised reed. There was no mention of bruised arms, egos, or disintegrating hips, but why would this assertion be necessary? What kind of God would go around beating up injured, weakened people, or break an already bruised reed?
“Um, God,” I say, “What’s your point with that whole bruised reed thing?”
God’s full attention swings toward me, a lumbering presence, a set of boots. I pull my sleeve down to cover the purple blotch. A tiny fraction of God’s focus is enough to end life as we know it, but I risk such things because in the end, it doesn’t matter. We’re sitting on a second-hand couch. I don’t care if it gets scorched.
“Why do you ask?” God says, warm breath laced with lavender and the allure of summer.
“Nice move,” I mumble and shift my gaze to the sparrows landing on the icy fence. As most four-year-olds know, Why? has no final answer. Asking why is a way to prolong the conversation, to shift the burden back.
I turn again to the God on my couch. “I ask because…” I am inundated with unwelcome insights. I hate bruised reeds. If I were God, I’d make a bonfire out of those damned reeds. How is it possible to walk alongside the bruising and the bruised? I don’t like wounded healers, and I don’t want to be one.
We sit. The wind is picking up, the chill becoming dangerous.
The ancient gaze of God is kind. “You love what you think is whole and beautiful because your vision is shallow.”
I close my eyes.
The primordial voice of God is gentle. “You love stories with endings because the untold threatens your sense of control.”
I cover my ears.
The wounded hand of God is warm as it hovers over mine. “You love stones because the bruises don’t show.”
I open one eye.
It’s not a single hand but a thousand; mottled, thick veined, and open. I choose one, entwine our fingers, and wait. God willing, the frozen ground will eventually soften toward spring when both planting and burying will be easier. “Oh, we’re willing,” God says as the sky dumps snow. “But are you?”