Jogging with God

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It makes sense to run before it gets even hotter, but I’m fighting with myself. Making excuses, scolding, cajoling, promising rewards. I notice myself talking to myself. Sheesh. Consciousness is clearly evolution’s most daring experiment. I’m often in the vicinity of my intentions but sometimes I hang myself in that self-reflective loop.

God sits back on his haunches, watching. I see his silhouette on the far horizon, warming his fat hands over the fire of a steadily rising sun. I see myself, a speck of indignation, a tiny sip of fresh water; not impressive, but tenacious. The fallen angels are composting into something wonderful. There’s been too much rain this year. It’s unnaturally green, uncomfortably humid. Twin fawns leap back and forth over windrows of molding hay as I reluctantly start jogging up the lane.

It’s slow going. I’m drenched in sweat and my Nikes are slapping the pavement ungracefully. God slips alongside. His feet would make a thunderous noise with the weight he carries, but they don’t touch the ground today. He’s helicoptering along, a corpulent, cagey companion cawing with the crows, catching clumps of drifting cotton. I’m hoping the neighbors don’t drive by, but I’m glad for God’s presence, such as it is. I sometimes fall and break bones, get pelted by hail, bitten by bugs, or startled by rattlesnakes. Having God along…hmmm…well. Actually, it might help. It might not.

“I can hear you,” God says, a little sarcastically. He’s peddling backwards, a little ways ahead.

“And I can hear you,” I say back. “Beastly hot, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, this accelerated climate change is a bitch,” God says.

“I don’t like it when you talk like that,” I say. I try to pick up the pace.

“You want platitudes?”

“No.”

“Aphorisms?”

“No.”

“Big syllable reassurances?”

“No.”

“Ah,” God says. “I know what you want. You want a song.” He belts out his own version of Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, but shake it off. Shake it off.” He jiggles his bum.

God’s right. The song helps. I dance along, doing some jiggling myself, happily distracted. Shake it off. Shake it off. Oops! We both dive for the borrow pit as a big truck rattles by.

“These country roads aren’t the best for joggers,” God says, as we climb back up the slope. He resumes the hard-driving melody, and I use the beat to motivate myself toward home.

“I saw you watching the world this morning,” I say between breaths.

“Yeah. Up early. Couldn’t sleep. I love this little planet. Still hoping you don’t wreck it for yourselves, but all bets are off.”

“BETS?” I yell. “This is not a betting matter.”

“Right,” God says. “Sorry. You’re absolutely right. It’s all about consciousness. Human choice is pivotal on so many fronts. But if you were betting, where’d you put your money?”

“Not sure,” I say.

“Me neither,” God says. We find some shade, resting in the euphoria that follows a good work-out. “But thanks for the run.”

The Great Communicator

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“Let’s face it, God,” I said this morning, sleep deprived and stuffy with allergies. “You’re maybe the worst communicator ever.” God said nothing. I glanced across the back of my brain where bright-eyed children met my gaze more directly than God ever does. I usually don’t like children lingering at the edge of my consciousness, but today I welcomed them.

“Hello, Green-eyed Children,” I said. “Brown-eyed, Blue-eyed, Hazel-eyed, Black-eyed Peas. Hello, hello. How are you, eh? Futureless? Naked? Afraid?” The children were watchful. “Got an uphill battle, don’t you?” I continued. “Not much food on the table. No presents under any trees. No trees, actually. No soap. Well. Why are you here? Why did your mothers have sex? Where are your fathers? This is all your fault, you know. Your own fault.” The children moved closer together, sheltering each other. They’re accustomed to blame. Deprivation. Abuse.

I glanced at my expressionless God. “Say something,” I demanded. “Anything.” I needed to break the accusatory silence, but the silence was breaking me. “Some people think we have souls,” I continued, staring into empty space. “Receptacles where you could leave a message. Minds. Free will.” No reaction. No response. My mind returned to the children. I handed them a deck of tattered cards.

“Play,” I said. “Old Maid. Go Fish. Rummy.” They touched the cards, shy and curious. I pushed a box of Milky Ways toward them. “Eat,” I said. I handed them a jug of fake juice. “Drink,” I commanded.

The twisted charity nauseated me. I whirled, trying to locate the still-silent God. “You phony bag of wind. You know about leafy greens and educational toys. Most hymnals filled with praise to you cost more than a week of healthy meals. Who are they singing to? Who am I speaking to? Say something loud and lovely, something wise. Helpful. Anything. Just communicate, dammit.”

I saw a flash and heard a distant rumble. Was it thunder? The rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air? Was it God? Or the dull roar of an artificial nation sinking in the mire of itself? Actually, it was a truck, diesel engine roaring, lights flashing. The children looked hopeful for a minute, but then mystified as the drivers swung open the back and began handing them guns. Big guns, little guns, long guns, short guns–light-weight and loaded.

“This will be your best friend,” one of the drivers said as he rubbed the head of a tiny girl. “Just aim and shoot. The bad guys will fall down and be gone.”

“What’s a bad guy?” the child asked, as she examined the weapon with wide, iridescent eyes.

“God!” I yelled in utter disbelief. The child turned to me and repeated, “What’s a bad guy?” The gun, a semi-automatic, naturally swung my direction. I flinched, lowered myself to my knees, and raised my hands above my head. Her eyes deepened to holy purple, a luminescent acceptance of my surrender. She smiled like a beatific Madonna as her weapon turned to dust, and she slowly disappeared. I laid myself prostrate on the cool cement and waited. I knew she’d be back.

Cardboard

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Some people choose to refashion themselves into cardboard cutouts so fragile they’re in chronic danger of ripping, dissolving, or falling completely apart. They’ve armed themselves with knives–tips dipped in venom—and weaponry of all shapes and sizes, ready to defend against the shadows flickering at their cardboard feet. They don’t seem to know that rain falls on the just and the unjust; that shadows only define the light.

Today, I have turquoise hair, ivory teeth, ruby lips, and purple nails. Bright orange ideas curl around my head like steam. I breathe in a sober version of the living, illusive God and breathe out the drunken mess of trivial, egocentric gods that power most of us along.

“Hey, Source of All That Matters,” I say to the gathering clouds. “Is this the day?”

“Of course,” Source says back. “It’s always the day.”

This brings to mind time zones and happy hours, datelines, eclipses, sun spots, and lunar new years stacked end on end like shipping crates from China. “No, Source,” I say. “I mean from my perspective. Not global. Not cosmic. And not yours. Crawl in behind my eyes for a minute. Wrap up in my skin. Flex my biceps, rub my neck, touch that worrisome mole. Try to remember what you were going to do next. Limit yourself to my synaptic firings and misguided outcomes.”

Source of All That Matters sighs. “Okay,” she says in something other than a voice. “But turnabout’s fair play.”

I’m not going to back down. “Sure, fine.” I shrug. Being God for a day sounds easy. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could do a better job.  But right now, I want God to understand how hard it is to be me.  “What are you waiting for?” I say, taunting. “Come on in. The water’s fine.”

Source of All That Matters laughs and is gone. Or I think she’s gone. I must have scared her off. Could I have scared her off? What the heck? That was stupid. Why do I always, well, who do I think… Ah, the rain. The red-winged blackbird. The golden finch. A day so finely textured it will never come again: Manna from heaven; malice from hell. Cardboard armies, nuclear bombs, wasp nests, robin eggs, duct tape, baling wire.

Just over the horizon, the shimmering mirage of another day is forming in the womb of creation while this day bursts open like a seed pod. I turn my back to the lightening. Thunder loosens my bones. Under my fingernails, the black soil of now; in my pockets, choices. Chances. Tedium and change. The underbelly of God is soft and seductive. I’m too heavy to move.

Enough?” asks Source.

“Oh, yeah.” I nod with a head barely fastened on. “Enough.”

To Those Who Carry The Weight of The Dream

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God and I cried this morning as we listened to the conditions my government has imposed on migrant children. “Yours is the only species I’ve had to make any sacrifices for,” God said, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“I know,” I said. “I’m so sorry. You did such a great job on trees.”

“What do you think keeps going wrong?” God asked. I took a few swallows of stale beer, trying to rise from despair to contemplation. People should try this more often. It’s hard. I got caught in the downward suck of anger but kicked free and grabbed the buoyant green of early summer.

My old bike was nearby. I wanted to ride away, ride fast down a gravel hill, ride into the rising sun, buy things, crash, scare people—anything but hold steady. Somehow, I managed to keep my rear end glued to the chair and my soul open to the broken heart of this gentle God.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I think about this all the time. Is it fear? Do you let some people turn out evil just for the fun of it? What’s our attraction to suffering? Why do we inflict it? It seems like we are always in a great civil war, unable to identify the enemy.”

God was listening intently. This was unnerving. I babbled on. “Okay, so clearly the enemy is not hungry children or despairing parents…” I stopped cold. How do I know they aren’t the enemy? Their needs terrify me. The solutions might involve sacrifice on my part. The unwashed masses, the ignorant hoards, the surging Other. Their demands might overwhelm our systems and end life as we’ve known it. They may yank us down into their awful misery.

“Exactly,” God said. “They have that effect on me, too.”

We started crying again. I cried for myself. My lack of wisdom. My selfishness. My inability to channel my anger constructively. The bruising pain of hitting the wall with compassion thinned down to nothing.

God cried for the children. That’s all. The children.

“They aren’t pawns,” he choked out.

“Yes. they are,” I said in a cold voice I did not want to recognize.

God laid his head on the table, wrapped his arms tight so I couldn’t see his face, and continued to grieve. I found a stack of handkerchiefs and left them beside him as I slipped out the back where my friends, all white and wealthy, were waiting with easy answers. I needed this toxic comfort. I confessed my sins all the way to the bakery where I intended to buy everyone scones and double-shot Americanos. So tasty. So good.

I rattled off the order.

“Got it,” God said. “Can I get a name on that?”

Somehow, I wasn’t surprised in the least. “Don’t you remember?” I asked. “After all, you named me. Was it that long ago?”

God leaned over the counter and whispered, “They aren’t pawns.” He shook his massive head, and small children rained down, tumbling and laughing. A storm of pure of children. “They aren’t pawns,” he repeated as he gathered them like clouds and flew away.

Be Ye Perfect

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God noticed me flipping through the book of Job in the Hebrew Bible. “What do you make of that?” he asked.

“Ah!” I said, startled. “Welcome back.” God had been hitching through Idaho the last I knew. I’d offered him a ride, but he was having too much fun. Now, here he was, dirty, tired, thin, and hungry. “Want a sandwich or something?” I said.

“Sure. Got any hot dogs? No mustard. Milk?”

He ate with gusto, swallowing enormous chunks of hot dog, chased by gulps of milk. “Why’re you reading Job?” he said, mouth full.

I didn’t want to get into it, but God can be quite insistent. “Abortion,” I said. “I’m seeing how Job expressed his wish to have never been born. You know, his longing to go where the unborn go. But it doesn’t matter. It’ll get twisted whichever way the reader wants.”

“Yeah,” God said. “But I didn’t take you for a Bible-thumper anyway.”

I grinned. Me a Bible-thumper? “As if,” I said. “But people use the scriptures with such hatred. I was trying to use them back—for freedom. Justice. Mercy. Common sense. Compassion.”

“Don’t waste your time,” God said. “Back in a few.” He went to shower. I waited, nervous. God was in one of those moods. I hoped the shower would make him sleepy. No such luck. He reappeared, hair slicked back, reeking of sweet aftershave. He stepped to the middle of the room with an air of authority and multiplied. The atmosphere shimmered with many versions of an embodied God. They all wore reading glasses.

“Oh great,” I thought. “God’s brought his own book club.”

They sat cross-legged on my concrete floor. On their laps were copies of the Qur’an, the Bible, poetry anthologies, other holy books, and an array of travel digests. All I had was the Bible I’d been paging through. But that was enough, right?

God sighed in unison. “Never, ever, think you can contain me in the thing you call scripture, or for that matter, words of any sort.” I nodded. I’d known it for a long time. God is God. Words are abstractions. All the Gods nodded.

“Nothing written is without error,” one of them said.

“Nothing can be considered in completeness,” said the next. “We are the Only Completeness.”

“Yes,” said an especially beautiful, fluid God. “You humans are simultaneously healing and dying, growing and receding. The firmament and all your infirmities are in a symbiotic relationship that define each other. There is no perfection, save Process—the pure flow of Compassion.”

“Then take me with you,” I begged. “Please, can I just go with you?” I tossed the Bible aside. God gently put it back and handed me Joy Harjo’s poem, She Had Some Horses  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/141852/she-had-some-horses-590104cf40742

“Soon enough,” she said. “You have a bit more to learn.”

“What? What do I have to learn?” I said, pretending I didn’t have a clue.

God smiled. “We’re hitching to Alabama,” she said. “Can I borrow a twenty?”

I handed her a hundred, and they were gone.

Nada

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God wasn’t present in any noticeable way this morning, but I had that spidey sense she was hovering somewhere close by. I thought maybe a little chatter would draw her out. “God,” I said. “Sometimes you and I have a communication gap. And I can see why. There’s me. An average, timeworn human–two bumpy hands, a couple of creaky knees, an increasingly unreliable memory, sporadic compassion–and then there’s you. From what we’ve observed so far, you seem to have created 10 billion galaxies, each of which averages 100 billion stars—one, (one!) of which is the fiery orb asserting itself in my own little sky right now.” I tried looking deeply impressed. No response.

“You are absurdly, incomprehensibly intangible, nonbodied, nonbound. You are without need for breath. You are breath. You are beyond time. It’s a toy of yours. You have no name and every name. You are the namer. We have little to nothing in common, but here you are, hanging around.” I thought maybe admitting I could sense her would cause a response. Nope.

“God, look,” I said. “You’ve always treated us humans with respect, even when we amputate compassion, act like idiots, and appropriate the idea of you for our own ends. I wish we didn’t do that, but you have to admit you’re difficult, you big old lunk of creativity. You tiny speck, you source of suffering and disaster, comfort and shelter. You ladybug, sea monster, apple fallen close to the tree. You infectious laugher, chill of death, you decomposer. You teller of the final truth. Most of us don’t like the real you very much.

“I know,” God said, finally speaking up. “But I’m grateful when I can absorb even a little bit of liking. I make do with very little.”

“Someday, I won’t exist,” I said. “Then what?”

“Do I exist?” God answered.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Then, darling, we have something in common after all, don’t we?” God took a long swig of an awful tasting green smoothie I’d made and spit it back in the cup.

“Good lord!” she said. “Why in the world do you drink things like this?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “In fact, right now, I know nothing.”

“Excellent answer,” God said. “You’re lying, but that’s okay. It’s an aspirational nothingness. Another thing that we might have in common. Eventually.”

I thought about that for a minute. Yes, I know nothing for certain, but I speculate endlessly, grabbing what appears to be solid, holding on for dear life. We are splintered, me and God. But there’s something. Something. Or maybe I have it wrong. There’s Nothing. A deep, resonant Nothing where our trueness will finally be at peace.

“Could you give me some space?” I asked God. “Today, you’re too much.”

God gave me a regal nod and complied. In the dead silence, I was as bereft as I’ve ever been. And as loved. And as complete.

The Frogs of Summer

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Every damn morning, the frogs of summer ruin my dark, silent sleep. Their exuberant greetings of first light pull me into resentful consciousness. I don’t quite want to kill them, but I can understand people who do. This is never how I greet first light. Couldn’t they stay hunkered down, mudded over until midmorning? Why do they go on croaking even after night fall? And the birds. And the river running high and brown, reckless and noisy. And for that matter, the sun and earth, in a morbid relationship that results in harsh, insistent light for far too long. A hot radiance I can’t handle. I need my rest. Where is darkness when I need it? The silence that renews my soul? Creation is badly done. Royally screwed up.

“I should smite you,” God says, joining me on the couch. “You aren’t very grateful.”

“Yeah? Well, I should smite you,” I say back. I know who’d win, but when I’m in this kind of mood, I don’t care.

“Smite away,” God says.

I realize I don’t actually know how smiting works. “I may need some help,” I admit. God tries to hide the smirk.

“So, you want me to help you smite myself?”

“Yes,” I say. “Exactly.”

It occurs to me that this is a common conversation for God. The cursing and fist-shaking are familiar. The selfish pleading, blaming, walk-aways, come-backs, the stomping of little feet, crossing of puny arms. All these Centers-of-the-Universe, throwing cheerios on the floor, grinning, kicking, bowls on heads. God-directed road rage, drunken stupors, broken promises, punched out lights. Lack of skill is no barrier; we are blindly determined smiters. God absorbs as much smiting as possible, but there comes a time when God lays down on the pavement so we can see all the ways we are smiting ourselves.

In the raucous light of dawn, this smite-absorbing being has curled up tight beside me on our oversized couch, innocent as a napping puppy. So circular and cute, I’m lulled into complacency. But then I remember the sharp teeth, my thin skin, and the long day ahead.