God Takes a Break

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“I need a break,” God said as we walked gingerly down the icy sidewalk in the gathering dusk.

“Me too,” I said. “Those beaches in Aruba look pretty enticing about now. Why’d you let my ancestors settle in Montana anyway?”

“Ha ha,” God said sarcastically. “They were as stubborn as you. And there weren’t a lot of options, since they’d barely escaped the potato famine in Ireland, right?”

I made a noncommittal snort and we kept walking.

“No, really,” God said. “I’m thinking about leaving for a while. You know. Engage in a little self-care. Sharpen the old perspectives.”

“You can’t,” I said with my usual unearned authority. “You’re God.”

“And you are…?” God said. Three words.

Panic surged through the atoms that comprise this thing I call myself. I began to deconstruct. I told myself it didn’t matter. Wholeness is an illusion. I have a vague memory of being stardust, and yes, golden. But the path back to the garden is littered with grotesque distortions, slick with blood and oil.  Far too treacherous to consider. Not humanly possible to traverse. The gates have been shut for a long, long time.

Even so, I suspected that was where God was going. This is exactly the kind of break God would take. A morning stroll in the Garden of the Beginning. Alone. Contemplative. Enduring the solitude of the imagined and the dead.

God seemed unafraid, but I was terrified. Swimming through illusions of myself in an existential whirlpool. Nose barely above the surface, clinging to a singular vision of companionship. Grinding my teeth against the uncharted terrain of not-self, not-ego, not-my-way.

Amazingly, even in such disarray, I remembered my manners. I knew I should wish God safe travels. That’s what friends do. Suck it up and extend a sincere fare-thee-well.

We walked a bit further. I searched for words. “Well, bon voyage, God,” I said, pushing aside the primal scream lodged in my throat, ignoring the bereavement washing over me. “If anyone deserves a nice vacation, it’s you.”

“Well done,” God said, and smiled. For a minute, I hoped maybe it was all a joke. A test. But God continued.

“I’ll send messages in the evening, or deep in your dreams. You’ll be fine. And I won’t be gone that long. Carry on.”

The words lingered in the solitary air. “Carry on,” God had said. “Carry on.”

Unadorable

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God was puttering around outside my window in the translucent glow of sunrise, looking pleased and peaceful. The sun and similar stars and cosmic wonderments are working out more or less as planned, which is a great comfort to the creator. Other ideas seem to be working out less well.

I put on my boots and stomp out to visit, but God waves me away. I understand. Sometimes, we get a little too much of each other.

To tell the truth, most of the time, I don’t actually adore God. By human standards, God’s a freak. Too big, too little, gargantuan, minuscule, too packaged and narrowly defined, but then expansive beyond the expanses—so utterly Alpha-Omega that it blows any honest mind to smithereens. A glimpse of God is far worse for the average brain than serial concussions on the football field.

But God, embodied in our evolution as a species, is my only hope. At times, this feels feeble indeed. But the great forgiver hangs in there with me, within me, around me, through me, and I hang in with her, even though for the life of me, I don’t get why it has to be this crazy. The planet lumbers along, at risk of becoming another rock orbiting the lovely sun, our species cavorts perilously close to extinction for no good reason, and she suffers along with us instead of zapping the motherfuckers responsible for this mess.

Since I’m dressed for the cold anyway, I fall backwards in the snow and flap my arms and legs in an effort to leave a mark on this transitory day. A gesture of defiance. A plea.

Sky above falls open, snow rolls up like carpet, and the filmy veil between time and eternity melts. A strong wind blows the seasons by, and in an act of pure mercy, God kneels to gather my whitened bones.

“Thank you,” I whisper. She nods. Something vastly beyond adoration breaks my heart, and I see all the people that ever were glowing golden in the backlit dawn, not one of us worthy of a goddamn thing. Not one.

“Take a picture,” she says. “This will be hard to remember.” I slug her in the arm as hard as I dare and get to my feet, shaky but ready. It’s time to go back in, fry some eggs, and mumble my usual incoherent prayers.

On a date with God (again)

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God asked me out on a date, and I threw caution to the wind and accepted. Dating God has distinct disadvantages. First, we go nowhere. We sit in second-hand chairs, drinking stale beer, listening to tunes people posted on Facebook, and we cry. We cry for the homeless, the cold, the hungry, the uninsured, the unwelcome. We cry for those grieving, those healing, and those who will not heal. We cry as the embers stop glowing and the room grows cold. The saints and prophets, the angels and devils, the Buddhas and philosophers crowd together for warmth, and the sky stays bleakly gray. We cry.

“God,” I say, trying to stifle the sobs. “This…this…this isn’t helping.” But one look at God and I collapse back into the mire of all that is wrong, all that hurts, all that enrages. God is midnight blue, absorbing the light and the agony, mixing it up. God is alive with sorrow, awash in the dreadful choices humans keep making. We are destroying the earth. We torture, maim, consume, lie, steal, and kill, denying culpability past the point of absurdity. God gulps it down, takes the hits, stays the course.

Finally, God drains the last of yesterday’s special Yuletide brew and pulls himself together. He’s not a sloppy drunk, and I’m not a cheap date. We hold hands as the crashing waves of all that is true slowly calm into a serene sea of snow. It’s brutally cold. The shy sun pushes through cracks in the blanketed horizon, insisting we remember how beautiful–how devastatingly beautiful–the frozen earth can be when hit by light.

“May I have this dance?” God asks. I agree. This may not be the tune I was hoping for, but there’s no way to know when the band will stop playing. It seems wiser to make the best of it now, rather than wait for the perfect beat.

Charitable Giving

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I positioned my cold feet in the warm sunlight, determined to sit until the embers in the stove or the chickadees outside the window convinced me that anything matters. So far, it hasn’t worked. I’m in a wicked post-holiday mood. I just threw out three beautifully-rising loaves of bread after discovering that flax can indeed go rancid, and this is not good for you. I’d taken a little taste of the dough. It was unusually bitter, which led to the research, which led to the painful placement of the loaves in the compost bucket. I hate that things go rancid.

I want everything to stay whole and healthy, even in large quantities. I often cloak my hoarding tendencies under colorful claims of creativity and eventuality. But I know the truth about me. I’m a mixture of pioneer ancestors and an excessive culture. Like God, I see potential redemption in even the worst of the worst, and try to make use of everything. I hate letting go.

The chickadees are gone. Wild turkeys are pacing the perimeter of the garden, calculating whether flying over the tall fence will result in enough nourishment to justify the energy expenditure. They don’t know about the rancid flax-laden dough about to appear. This may sway their decision. I trust their digestive systems can make use of rancid flax, or they’ll know enough to turn up their pointy beaks and strut away.

“And you?” God says gently, speaking from deep within the pile of nearly-rotten wood I’m trying to burn up.

I pause to think of myself as a calculating turkey, pacing the outer edge of Eden. “No idea,” I answer. That kind of wisdom is a distant memory in the oldest part of my aging brain. But what I do know is that a great, rancid toxicity is blanketing the earth from massive accumulations of wealth. And I don’t know how to shake it off. Even as I scorn the greed of those who have too much, I wonder how I can get a little more. I hate this about myself.

I try my usual cure. “Give until it hurts, you selfish hypocrite,” I say in a nearby mirror.

God rushes toward me like a grandmother saving a child from a coiled rattlesnake.

“No!” she shouts, waving her arms. “No. Stop it. That kind of talk doesn’t help anyone.”

I jump back, startled. She throws a blanket over the mirror.

“Take a beer and sit among your possessions,” she says sternly. “Be in your body. Be in my body. Open your soul. And notice where it hurts, darling. Then, gently, give. But give until it heals. That’s all. Give until it heals.”

This is a complete impossibility. But that’s one of the things I like about God. She often pairs the impossible with dark beer.

 

Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

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“Hey, Original Source,” I said, feeling magnanimous. “Want to borrow a brush? I’ve made a lot of extra orange.” It’s hard to mix a good, true orange.

“Sure,” Original Source said. “I love orange.”

“Cool,” I said, growing self-conscious as she scrutinized my cheap paintbrushes.

Lately, I’ve been painting sticks and other smooth surfaces. Furniture. Old wooden boxes. Broom handles. Sometimes, I follow the patterns in the wood. Other times, I find an image and sketch it on whatever recycled object is available. I feel a little guilty, but the truth is, I’m a copyist. A reconfigurist. What I add is imperfection, which turns out to be an oddly satisfying addition.

No one creates from emptiness. There’s always preexisting light, or former acts of creation, partially dismantled. Digested. Great artists translate and solve problems. I envy their inner vision. But even then, Original Source is present, sometimes made more salient by denial.

“Look,” I said, showing Original Source a picture of a trout I’d painted on a piece of discarded trim board. “I saw this fish on the internet and painted it. I call it fish stick.”

She laughed. Original Source laughed. She howled. Her mouth opened wide; her beautiful teeth gleamed. Her mouth was a river. The room filled with clear water and rainbow trout. They swam in adoring circles around her, and after I grew my gills and fins, I joined them. Original Source troubled the waters with ribbons of lavender light. I longed to grab them, but I had no hands. In fact, there wasn’t much left of me, and it was such a relief. I wanted to give the rest away. I offered myself to the fish.

“Oh no you don’t,” Original Source said, as the waters receded and the fish went home. My limbs regrew, my old body reassembled. The awkward mixture of secondary colors that define me returned. I didn’t want any of it. I wanted to dissolve into a single, primary color. “Not an option,” she said. “Your complexity is my delight.”

I lifted my hands to protest, but she continued. “When I lean into your soul and whisper a secret, you naturally mix it with what you already know, and when you pass it on, it takes a fraction of you with it.”

“Well,” I said. “That seems like a bad idea.”

“Not necessarily,” she said. “It’s one of the ways the universe expands. Keep painting. Whisper the truth. There are so many reasons for violet. Chartreuse. Magenta. Glaucous and marengo. In time, you’ll learn to love them all.”

“I already do,” I said.

“Ok, then,” she said. “Let’s use up this orange before it dries.”

 

Eat Fat, Get Nicer

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“God,” I said. “What do you think of that eat-fat-get-skinny diet?” God looked at me like I’d lost the few marbles I have left. It wasn’t the best conversation starter but it was on my mind. Who better than the architect of this whole ragged universe to answer this? I know it’s a first-world question, but that’s where I live.

God sat quietly with her hands folded over her large, shapely belly. I ran my hands over the skin on my chest, which was all bumpy from having a few moles frozen off yesterday. Vanity is painful and expensive, and trying to stay alive forever is even worse. Omega 3, a key ingredient of this magical new way to eat, is a pricey substance for land lubbers. But it might save me from heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and post-nasal drip.

And if I manage all that, I want nice skin, right? As the dermatologist zapped the moles with liquid nitrogen, I mentioned that my lip had mysteriously swollen up yesterday. She pulled it down and said, “Looks like an allergic reaction. You need to see an allergist right away. Another reaction could kill you.”

Often, I find I don’t love the medical profession.

“Not a bad way to die,” I said. I wasn’t in the mood for further testing.

“What? Asphyxiation?” Her eyes narrowed as she wrote a referral I knew I’d throw away.

“Yeah,” I said. She was scornful. I was defiant. “It takes less than a minute to lose consciousness.”

I don’t have to see her for another year. But God’s sitting right here, messing with my thoughts, which are swirling like the snow outside. “It’s so much bigger than that,” she said. “So much bigger.”

Oh, yeah, I thought. That’s so helpful. Like I don’t know the planet will die some billions of years from now, and the sun will burn out, and the cosmos will birth new stars, new planets. There’ll be new steps to the dance. But in the meantime, do I eat sardines to prolong my short stay?

“Yes and no,” God answered. “If you eat them so you can be kinder longer, yes, eat away. But if you eat them out of fear, no. If you eat them with gratitude, yes. If you eat them like a life-hoarder, no.  She paused. I gulped. The air was crackling

She continued. “I cannot stress this enough, honey. The fiber you add to your diet matters little, but the fiber you are made of is screaming for a life well-lived. Transform your greed to charity, your anxiety to bravery. Transform your rage to action. Transform those little lies and excuses to outrageous honesty. Use your intellect to the max. Stroke each day like it’s a purring kitten or a happy dog. You’ll know when you should die.”

I looked at her in despair. I wasn’t sure I knew when I should do anything. She could sense my fear. My deep doubts and flailing good intentions. She rubbed my back and stoked the fire as the hills disappeared in the storm.

 

Texas hold ’em

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Just outside my window, near my elbow, a mourning dove is calling. It’s God. I know because of the way the sound has cracked me open. There are days when I wear layers of down, warm and pliant. It’s easy to move, propelled by gratitude, aware of eternity. And there are days I when I roll out of bed straight into my specially-made armor—harder to make breakfast but easier to hold it together. In my armor, there’s very little light, even less wonder, and it’s a bad idea to cry. This day began with armor. Now, I’m going to take it off. This may be a day I’ll need to cry.

The wind howled from the mouth of hell through the night. Only a breeze remains. Enough to lift the blue spruce branches so they can wave and remind me of what they’ve seen. Later, I’ll gather the fallen bits and pieces and make a wreath from the shedding and stripping of all we endure. Nothing goes unnoticed. Nothing goes unused or unattended. Nothing goes uncounted. And nothing remains unscathed. This is the promise of second-hand ribbons and wind-fallen sticks.

Usually, I think God is the source of pain in my heart, forming and reforming the never-ending questions of compassion, autonomy, endurance, and finality. Of course, alternatively, the pain in my heart might be indigestion or cardiac blockages soon to dislodge and take me out.

Life is one big game of poker. I like to sing along with Kenny Rogers, my spiritual guide: You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run. You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.*

I’m still sittin’ at the table, grinning like a damn fool. I know my face gives me away. I suspect I’m in hock up to my ears, but I know the Dealer. He happens to own this place. I wish he had higher standards. Some of these players smell terrible, some appear almost dead. And the table needs work. But the cards keep coming, so I’ll ante up. For now.

 

*Kenny Rogers sang it. Don Schlitz wrote it in 1976.