Inner Ear

In the basement there’s a machine that lets me hang upside down to improve my spine. Today I overdid it to the point of complete disequilibrium. I managed to pull myself upright and crawl up the stairs, but my eyes will not hold their focus because sinus pressures are distorting their shape. The world is falling around me at odd angles, and I have to look straight ahead, or I will vomit. The inversion of perception can seriously confuse the inner ear.

Three more books on suicide, death, and dying arrived yesterday. God and I have started a book club, but we’ve limited our membership to the two of us. Digging into death is as disorienting as hanging upside down. Even God looks queasy when we consider the ramifications of human mythology and cruelty, vulnerability and stupidity.

“Let’s skip our assigned reading for today,” God says. “We can go for a nice walk. You don’t look well, and I’m tired of the topic. It’s intense. Here. Let me hold your elbow.”

I give God a look intended to communicate both agreement and accusation. Tough topic. His fault—as in who invented death?

“Not invented,” God says. “Byproduct.”

“Of what?” I already know the answer, but I like it when God gets all cosmic and chatty.

“Creation. Consciousness. You see death as an end. I see it as the rearranging of raw materials and all that was learned along the way. I waste nothing. I am within. Without. Over. Under. Throughout.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I say. “Big talk. But you don’t like the outcome of human foibling any better than I do. I’ve seen you in excruciating pain. I’ve seen you die with a knee on your neck.”

“No, you haven’t,” God says.

“Yes, I have,” I say. I don’t always recognize God when I see him, but I was pretty sure about this one.

“Okay, yes, but what you’ve seen is me sharing the pain. Shared pain. You haven’t seen me in my own pain. Not possible. Not sharable. Not visible. The size and magnitude of my pain is beyond your ability to perceive just yet. Your word for it is pain. Mine is love.”

The iris buds are swelling. They will bloom soon. I found the bulbs discarded in an alley. In this small truth I take refuge.

In Praise of the Human Way

Stubbed my toe this morning because I left the light off thinking I’d reduce my carbon footprint by groping my way through a dark place. If I’d been more mindful the plan might’ve worked. My toe paid the price. The capacity to learn from our mistakes is a human phenomenon that squares off with denial–a constant horse race; the outcome undecided.

“Why?” I ask God as I run my fingers over the rough surface of a threatening sky and remember my overfilled barns. I have long splinters festering with resentment. The rain advances and recedes. I live in the eye of my own perfect storm, held together with frayed orange twine.

“Pain is not the best instructor, ” God says, looking slightly impatient. “You don’t have to hurt yourself to get things done.”

“Oh, but I do,” I counter with righteous indignation. “Isn’t that what suffering is all about?”

A flash of anger crosses God’s face, and the earth shudders. Angels with enormous teeth bite their own fingers, knuckles crunching like popcorn. Birds feathered in brilliant blue dip and glide as if they owned the air and then crash into the window. I bow my head and wait, penitent but unwilling to cede my point. Never back down in a fight with God. She’ll spit you out like bad water. Her respect for you will fade like the waning moon and rebuilding things will be costly. Better to ask forgiveness but hang on to what you think you know. You’ll be proven wrong, or you won’t.

God reaches toward me. I flinch but stand my ground. She runs her fingers over the deep contours of my misshapen ideas so tenderly I barely feel the touch. It’s the warm, moist exhale of creation, the murmurings of the Mother.

She moves me to disturbed terrain and directs my gaze to the dandelion– vixen and vagabonds, mavens and madrigals–all things brilliantly defiant. Flattened and subdued, shy strands of spring bend toward me, and I almost understand. In the place where I can still expand, I do, and there’s God bustling around, her apron filled with eggs, rhubarb in her fists. She is going to bake something nice for dessert, and I will help. I am setting this intention: I will help. This is what humans can do. And, yes, perhaps sometimes, it doesn’t have to hurt.

Those Little Brown Birds

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Something scares the little brown birds feasting on the front lawn, and most of them fly to the fence, using precious energy for no cause. This time, there’s no predator, only wind. A few of the dull ones stay behind, calmly pecking at the dirt. Those clad in coats of many colors are male and skittish. They drop back to the dirt, shiny and chagrinned.

But now the orange cat slinks by. All the little birds disperse; this time with good cause. They land on the wires, tailfeathers twitching, reminding me of the ragged and precarious ways I cling to life. Like dry grass in the fall, my longings could be braided into baskets or burned away like chaff.

There’s a shallow ravine I’ve known since I wandered the land as a child. I liked hiding there, lying on my back, sheltered from the winter wind. The long dream will continue in this small and private canyon because there’s so much sky. Sandstone gives way here and there to reveal outcroppings of flint and jasper, agate and granite. Someday, I will feed the wilder animals and join the great upheavals and slow erosions of creation.

For now, my dreams are short and dim. God reaches into them occasionally, and I chase him out with a broom, my hair covered in a kerchief, my voice low and menacing. But God crouches even lower, his tail snaps back and forth, his fangs perfectly white and bared. His amber eyes burn with a question, “Are you sure? Are you sure?”

And I admit I’m not. Not sure. Not solid. Frightened by wind and fire. The long-awaited greening seems as far away as justice. I did not waste my youth, but it has not come with me. Some days, I’m too tired to fly to the fence. How long can I hold these things at bay? God goes belly-up at my feet, the pads of his magnificent paws soft and tender. I see the spot that makes him limp and bandage it with my shirt. He thanks me. We rest.

God’s Mothers’ Day Chat with White People Toting Guns

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I would like to speak with your souls today. We’ll need to bypass inflated egos and false defenses. Quiet those quick rationalizations. Lose the aches and pains, your fears and hungers, and gingerly touch the dark walls of your short lives. Let go of the protective gear hidden in your pockets, strapped to your ankles.

You would be wise to surrender. Don’t be afraid. You can drop the best of these words along the path so if you need to, you can find your way home. But for now, lay low. Lay down low. Lay down so low that all you see is your mother. Turn your ear to the earth and listen to her heart beating inches from your body. Curl inward. Remember, everything curls inward. Notice the pulsing cord attaching you to this good earth. For now, you are sustained.

The body broken is necessary. When you try to elevate yourself beyond terror or save yourself with weaponry, remember the trajectory of a bullet is not linear. It takes the curve of the earth. The kind you carry explode on impact. The fragments make their way back weeping and bloodied. They reassemble in the womb.

Did you know you shot my son? Did you know he was your brother?

The garden gates are open. I’ll be waiting there for you. We’ll plant spinach and daffodils, potatoes and beets. We’ll pray for water and pull the weeds. I will knit you back together with fine merino wool, and we’ll use your stony hearts to build a monument. A testament. A tomb.

And then, when you’re ready, here is what I’ll say: Let there be light. And with all creation, I will say again, “Let there be light.” And as the sun reveals your nakedness, your mother will hand you freshly laundered clothes.

Gate Open, Cow Out

Big cow

The blister on the inside of my right thumb is almost healed. I got it raking moldy straw and disgusting debris into a small fire intended to renew an abused and neglected half-acre of land. This was some weeks ago. Healing takes time. There will be scar tissue. While in human form, we get bunged up, knocked down, damaged, and sometimes, miraculously (but temporarily) restored.

For instance, a raging cow caught my sister by surprise a few days ago and roughed her up. My sister is tough. She’s bruised and sore, but she’ll be fine. That cow, however, has got to go. Her maternal instincts were disproportionate to the situation, and she was willing to kill to protect her ailing calf from the help it needed. This genetic disposition is unhelpful in a herd cow. Likely, her next life will involve dog food.

On my mind this morning is my wayward friend, likely in jail again because of his addictions and bad taste in romantic partners. Given how we treat prisoners, especially right, there’s a decent chance he’s sick or dead. We aren’t in touch anymore.

Such is life. Sometimes, we make slight advances, sometimes not. Next time, I might wear gloves; my sister might carry a baseball bat and close the gate behind her. Next time, maybe humans won’t disproportionately punish their fellow beings for mistakes. Maybe common sense will replace blind, projective revenge. In the meantime, I have to dispose of the possessions my friend left behind.

“Oh, I’ll deal with them for you,” God says as he settles in for coffee.

“Really?” I say with genuine relief. I should know better.

“And I’ll shut the gate, remind you to wear gloves, sketch some plans for the new addition, fix some lunch, check the kefir, return those calls, and write a thousand words by nightfall.”

I roll my eyes and give God a cookie.

“I’ll sell that cow, plant the kale, and do something about the potholes. I’ll buy some goats to eat the weeds, dig up the dead apple tree, clean the garden shed…I’ll be so moving so fast it’ll be nearly impossible to see me.” God’s beaming and spewing cookie crumbs everywhere.

“Oh, I’ll see you, you goofball” I say. “You’re hard to miss.”

God’s grin widens. “It’s all so easy,” he says. “Just dress the part. I hate to mention this, darling, but you’re a tad underdressed these days.”

Ha! This from an unshaven God in prison orange. A God in old purple running shoes. A God in sheep’s clothing howling like a wolf, a whirling dust devil, fanning the fire…a cookie crumb God demanding I top off his coffee.

His eyes twinkle as he offers me a cloak the color of kindness. It smells like fresh linens. I drape it over my shoulders. I realize it could also be a shroud, but oddly, I’m okay with that.

PS: Along with a few other writers involved in the MT+NY Collaborative (http://www.mtnyccollaborative.org/locations ) I’ll be reading a couple God Blogs tomorrow at 5:00 Mountain Standard Time. Feel free to tune in. And message me right away if you have a favorite you’d like to hear aloud.

The Will of God

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At 3:00 AM I was unwillingly awake with an old church song stuck in my head. I tried to breathe it away. I tried to layer another song on top to cancel out the insistent tune. I finally fell asleep, but now, with the dawn, the song is back. Coffee, Paul Simon, a nice Vimeo poetry reading—nothing has obliterated this song. So, like any sensible, mystically-oriented writer, I Google the lines to see from whence they come. Alas. It was an easy Google. New Testament. Writings of a fellow mystically-oriented writer called Paul in the book called Romans. Here are the words of the song:

We are heirs of the Father, we are joint heirs with the Son.
We are children of the Kingdom. We are family. We are one.

But guess what? The song is a bit selective. The whole verse has a disturbing caveat. We are one, alright…IF we share in the suffering. But isn’t God’s love supposed to free us from suffering? Sometimes, I like a good paradox. An enlightening dialectic. But this morning, I don’t like the song, I don’t like the verse, I don’t like suffering, and I hate my internal judge who says maybe I haven’t suffered enough, so I can look forward to more or die a total slacker.

God arrives gently. “How’s the book coming along?” he asks. He’s talking about a book I’m writing on suicide.

“What’s the point of anything?” I answer. “The book is freaking me out, and I doubt anyone will publish it anyway. And why is suffering even a thing?”

“Bones break,” God says. He sighs. “Fire burns. Hunger happens. I don’t like it any better than you do.”

I believe this is true even though I’m talking to the Biggest God. The One who could fix it all. The One with perfect pitch who plucks the strings of the cello, paints the sky, births the morning, ties the knots, upends the endings, buries the dead, begins with no beginning, ends the day with no end.

“I’ve been working on my will,” God says. “What would you like to inherit?”

My insides drop. “You can’t die,” I say from a very cold place.

“Of course I can,” God says. “I do it millions of times a day. It’s a job requirement.”

“That’s stupid,” I say. “You’re God. You wrote the job description.”

“Yes, I did,” God says. “Now, what would you like to inherit?”

I look at God, utterly astonished at the ridiculous question and impossible answer.

“Nothing,” I mumble.

“What’s that?” God says, leaning dramatically across the couch.

“NOTHING,” I shout. And I mean it.

But God snaps open his briefcase, and a fully formed day leaps out, intensely pigmented, filled with the aroma of baked goods and lilacs, songs in my head, words at my fingertips, and a horizon barely out of reach. Just the way I like it.

“Okay,” I say. “For now.”

“Yes,” God says. “For now.”

 

 

The Pockmarked Rock

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Sometimes God looks at me with big soulful eyes that say “I know what you know and I know that you know I know so why bother to hide?” And I say, “You know why.” And God nods. And I say, “Why do you bother?” And God says, “With what?” And I say, “With pockmarked rocks, knots in wood, burned out doctors, and the achingly slow evolution of the human spirit.”

There are tons of rocks in our house. Found, acquired, given. A few approach perfection, worn so smooth it would be hard to imagine anything smoother or rounder. Most have their reasons, but some are a mystery. How did this ugly, misshapen rock make its way into the collection? It is irredeemably ordinary, commonplace, without any distinction other than the irregularities it has not overcome. I don’t like this rock. I want to take it to the river and throw it in, but I can’t. Once a rock crosses the threshold it is beyond me to push it back out.

Without another word, God wraps strong fingers around the pockmarked rock, and it begins to glow and shimmer. Then it melts, and the demons escape, screaming into the haze. They form an astonishing acapella chorus, their screams subside into a river song, and the rock wants them back. God laughs.

“See, little one?” God says. “You already knew that story. It’s a grand one, isn’t it? One of my favorite plots.”

“You mean the inextricability of imperfection and perfection?” I ask. “Or are you just reminding me how ordinary I am?”

God takes my face into her hands, her palms under my jaw, those same strong fingers winding up the sides of my skull.

“Don’t bother,” I say. “The demons will just come back.”

“Yes,” God says. “But they always come back singing.”

I nod.

Morning Report

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Yesterday, I washed a week’s worth of dishes, sorted emails, moved the compost bucket to the door, raised the blinds, took a swipe at my hair, put my morning half-beer within arm’s reach, and decided to stay in my pajamas a while longer. It appeared I’d survived another night and still inhabited my corporeal body. Perhaps this was cause for rejoicing. Perhaps this was ordinary. Banal, even. As that thought crossed my mind, I glanced over my spiritual shoulder, waiting for a rebuff or reassurance. Nothing. Then some random curiosity prompted me to google daily global death rates from various causes. It was a terrible mistake. Of course, I myself might get Covid, but the rates are comparatively low. Cancer is pretty high, but I’ve already had cancer. Heart disease takes a lot of people out, and it does run in my family. But here’s what got me by the throat: every single day, 25,000 human beings die of causes related to malnutrition and hunger. Given my hearty breakfast and plans for a snack midmorning, I did not believe I was in imminent danger of this particular fate. But my morning had been trashed.

I stopped glancing over my shoulder and sat very still. I did not want God stopping by. I wanted to sit there by myself, imagining what I would do if I were God instead of the human-inspired insipid bastard who flits around the universe enjoying fame and good fortune. All manner of religious expression seemed as vapid as the press conferences we’re currently being subjected to. God made in the image of humans; human longings pinned as promises to the robes of this almighty manmade tongue-twisted idol. Born out of wedlock, born out of nothing, elevated, emaciated, eternal; God stands accused and convicted. But really does God stand at all? I sipped my beer and waited to be struck dead by lightening.

Instead, I heard a meadowlark. The tom turkeys strutted by, hoping to impress the ladies. The sun had raised itself and was hard at work greening up the earth. I could hardly stand how small I was. Across the valley, my eye caught a movement: It was my archenemy waving a white flag. I swore under my breath and sighed. Then, reluctantly, I raised the arm still attached to my limited body, waved the hand attached to the arm, and warmed a cup of sweet tea. It’s a favorite of his. No words were exchanged. A long day of tiny miracles and cleansing fires ensued, and then I slept.

This morning, before I was fully awake, a dense, resonant essence laid down beside me, enveloped me, and wrapped me in unearned perfection. The holy phantom was tattered and torn, hopeful and helpless, blameless and fully alive. I was defenseless and unafraid. “Good morning, God,” I said. “Happy Easter.’

Covid God

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John and I have been trying to make some short upbeat videos for people struggling with our current global crisis. I’ve asked God if she wants to sit in or be of any help at all, but as the song says “…I get no offers. Just a come-on from the whores on 7th avenue…” Paul Simon knew back then, sometimes we get so lonesome, we take some comfort there—from the lesser ones. The ones whose bodies are for sale—or whose lives are always on the front lines to feed and serve us.

“I love that song,” God says, suddenly overly present. “And I love that line about how a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

“Well. Hello, God,” I say, more exasperated than surprised. “Where’ve you been?”

“The usual,” God says. I take a closer look. She doesn’t look well. She’s got a ridiculous looking homemade mask on her face. She coughs. “I’ve decided to forgo the ventilator,” she says. “I’m definitely old enough to be in the high risk group, but I think I can beat this thing…and if not…” She shrugs and sits down, winded and gray. I back up six feet. She looks up and nods.

“Yes, go wash your hands,” she says. “Wash your hands of me. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I say. There’s no point in lying to God. “You make me crazy mad. I don’t understand how you suffer with those who suffer, rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Are you God or are you not?”

“Up to you,” God says, struggling to take a breath.

“Lie down,” I say, fluffing a pillow. I run to scrub up and get a mask. She’s stretched out, eyes closed. I put God’s head in my lap, and with gloved hands, I touch her sweaty forehead. “Can I get you anything at all?” I whisper. She opens her fever-glazed eyes and looks into my soul. I can see it takes a lot of effort. She says nothing. She just looks straight into my center for as long as either of us can stand. She touches her chest. A wave of nausea hits me as I realize the entire earth is short of breath. “Feels like a ton of bricks,” she murmurs.

I give her a sip of water. It’s all I have.

The Harbinger

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On this somber morning, the chalky smell of old lessons fills my nose, and I remember posing beside a piece of art created to decompose. The Artist lingers nearby, a tortured soul, ready to recompose when the time is right.

Broken birds and fallen women find redemption in the great yellowness of a steady sun. This has always been the Artist’s intention, but it’s hard to admit because we like to make our own little plans and pretend the forts we build will protect us forever. What can we make true by pretending? What do you want to count on? Which lies are you willing to live by or tell the children?

If you mix pure gold with tired red blood you get a burnt orange that catches and holds the holy light so gently even tiny things are seen and safe. I am old, but I miss my mother. I am wise but certain of nothing. I know I’m of use, but I’m not sure why. Even the forgotten are of use, but they don’t know why either.

Once, we were butchering chickens. The uproar was astounding, the panic widespread. My lover, a city boy, was in charge of catching the fat, terrified hens and handing them to the person with the ax. He’d grab one by the leg, cradle her in his arms, and stroke her downy white feathers. “It’ll be okay, little buddy,” he’d say in a soothing voice. “It’ll be okay.” But then, for some reason, he heard himself. He stammered and stepped back, pale and appalled. I think he wanted to abandon his post. But there was no point. It was harvest time. The chickens were plump and ready. It had to be done, and it would be okay. The cosmic joke was on him and the chickens and anyone who fails to grasp redemption. It is neither cheap nor easy, but it is guaranteed. The chickens were perfect and delicious.