Nothing to be Done

Sometimes I take God by the neck and shake him until he goes limp and falls like rain and dust and shards of stained glass at my feet—a deadly mix of elements within my power to restore but broken and unlikely. I walk away barefoot, continually astonished at the human propensity to self-destruct.

Usually, the high wind warnings are accurate. Anything of value or consequence must be weighted down or be lost. But somehow the birds stay light and navigate the currents of air with enviable grace. It’s easy to resort to anger. It’s tempting to bow down to lesser gods and find temporary nourishment by eating the tender parts of your own soul. Tempting, but not wise. This morning, I pause and chew my thumb nail instead. Penitent. Pensive. Wishing I had the patience of Job or the dark wings of Kali.

God assembles himself. I keep my hands in my lap. God swivels his hips. I nod noncommittally. God leans in and whispers, “I can tell you where the chickens are hiding their eggs.” He’s flirting. I resist.

“I can predict the next storm,” he says. I shrug.

“Hell, I can control the next storm,” he adds, trying to get a rise out of me. It works.

“Do you think I don’t know that?” I ask, exasperated. “Do you not understand how hard that is to hear? You can control a storm but not an army? You can make it rain, but things die of drought and starvation?”

When I’m like this, sometimes God gets irritable and defends himself, claiming to suffer along with everyone else. Sometimes, God gets all loving and huge and tries to instill hope. And sometimes, God just takes a single sip of my dark morning beer and waits.

And I wait. And the silence reminds me of wonder. And the slow-moving clouds remind me of water. And I remember the unusually fat worm I dug up yesterday. Of their own volition, my calloused hands come together in a kind of praise—a grudging acceptance of very thin skin.

There’s nothing to be done about God. Ground cover only lasts so long. Light breaks through. Dirt blows in. Rain eventually falls and the magical seeds sprout; rhizomes shoot along in the dark until they surface uninvited. The tenacity is a splendor and a curse.

“You remind me of quackgrass,” I tell God, breaking our shared revery.

“Funny,” God says. “I was thinking the same thing about you.”

What Makes God Sick

I sat down in my comfy place this morning to chat with God, but as we settled in, I noticed I’d left the kitchen lights on. I sighed, glanced at God, and went to turn them off. But before I got to the switch, there on the cluttered counter, I noticed the free sample of vitamins from my shopping trip yesterday, so I found the scissors, opened the packet, and spilled three extra-large tablets into my hand–dense, alfalfa green. The morning had been filled with horrifying images and tedious demands–and here were three ridiculously green promises of health and vitality. I laughed out loud, warmed some tea, brought the magic pills back to the couch, put my feet up on the big coffee table, turned to show God my stash…and of course, noticed the kitchen lights were still on.

I grimaced.

“What?” God asked, as I shook my head. I reached for a vitamin and swallowed it down, willing the vibrant green to restore my memory, increase my mindfulness, and make me whole, young, and beautiful. God chuckled, but she didn’t look well.

“I’ll take one of those,” God said, reaching toward me.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m not sharing. They might be my last hope. Besides, you can just blink yourself to beauty and youth. You don’t need alfalfa.”

“True,” God said. “You’ve got a point, there. But you don’t need it either.”

I suspected I knew what God meant, but I didn’t ask. I focused on digesting the vitamin, trying to detach from the outcomes I long for; God focused on digesting whole galaxies of compost, broken people, collusion, trashed planets, and collateral damage—byproducts of wrongheaded consciousness, fear, arrogance, and hatred.

I looked straight at God. “How can you stand to eat that stuff?” I asked. “I mean, I’m grateful, but I worry there’ll come a day you can’t handle one more bite, and your body will explode, and that will be that. We’ll be bits of God-vomit on the cosmic wall.”

“Gross,” God said, making a classic adolescent face. “That’s disgusting.”

“I know,” I said, pleased with myself. It’s not easy to get God to make that face. To witness the Eternal Vulnerability openly expressed. Such moments are vast and holy. Hard to handle.

I don’t fall on my knees. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. Instead, I fall on my words, circling myself with images and explanations, searching for an elaborate way out. I finally fall silent, but not before I whisper, “You win.” I hand over the remaining vitamins, go back to the kitchen to get a cold cloth for God’s sweaty head, and this time, I turn out the lights.

Letting Go

We all get our feelings hurt occasionally. Someone treats us unfairly; people intentionally do terrible things to us or to our loved ones. And suddenly, you’re plotting. The demonic forces of revenge travel around in the sewer lines of my soul, scheming ways to get even, screaming for vengeance. It isn’t pretty down there, but even so, I can spend hours exploring the byways and options, knowing full well my vengeful fantasies would lead to nothing but further misery.

Growing up in the wild west, God at my side, pistols cocked, ready to bring down the bad guys, I often heard tales of revenge. God and I would laugh with the cowboys regaling each other around the table after a round-up or a branding; the nasty horse with the vicious kick, the wily dog that ate the barbequed steaks, the ornery old cow that protected her calf with a deadly charge, head down, snorting. All shot dead. That’ll show em. Shot dead. No more dog. No more cow. No more horse.

These were funny stories, right? The women served coffee and cinnamon twists, but their laughter was far less convincing. God often refused a second cup and insisted on helping with the dishes. When that happened, I would slip away to my fort–a hollow cottonwood stump hidden from view along the creek. There’s a underbelly to revenge—fragile and deadly; I knew this even then, and I needed to curl up and push the images away. My dog, Max, would often come along.

As my own children were growing up, we had a rescue dog. She was part Chow, and she licked our hands and feet with her mottled black tongue, healing and steady. She did not eat anyone’s barbeque. She had huge guileless eyes, liquid brown and deep. She taught us about God and patience, balance and restoration. When we accidentally stepped on her paw, neglected her, or frightened her, she forgave before we asked. But she nipped strangers and followed us to work. We finally had to give her to a friend. She expanded her loyalties and lived out her happy life.

As I sit here decades later, licking my wounds alone, I can see her tail wagging from the great beyond, her eyes telling me what I need to do. “Let go,” the eyes say. “Forgive and get on with being who you are.” I lean toward the vision, and her breath fills my lungs—it’s the sort of CPR God offers when I collapse inward, drained by self-pity.

I gather what I need to gather and set out with renewed resolve. The trail is faint and rocky, but even at my age, going the extra mile isn’t so bad if you have a walking stick and the memory of a very good dog.

Placebo

God outright refused to help edit my first run of the godblog for this week. As Co-Author, that’s God’s prerogative, so I have bowed to the forces within and without and shelved the draft about death and composting until God’s in a better mood. I may have to chew my left thumb off, but I will work until at least three hundred words have coalesced into what God and I mutually agree we should say this week. I have the vague notion that God wants to focus on hope.

“Vague notion?” God says. “C’mon. Do you think the placebo effect is an accident?”

This makes me laugh out loud. God knows how much I adore the placebo effect–the authoritative administration of an inert nothingness that, by virtue of belief, triggers healing. Good medical research is designed to factor out the placebo effect. This tickles me. Faith has to be factored out because it is such a powerful force in and of itself.

Humans have evolved to believe in things. It isn’t an afterthought or a design flaw. The leaps of faith we make are sometimes comical, sometimes tragic, often pure magic. But they all point to the nature of the Grand Leaper, my friend God, whose greatest leap of faith ever was giving us some skin in the game. Giving us a say in the matter. Giving us choice. The stakes are high. Will we poison ourselves to extinction? Will we make war until there’s no one left to kill? Will greed remain ascendant and poverty continue to be viewed as deserved?

“Ah hem.” God clears his raspy old throat and hands me a cue card with the word “Hope” scrawled across the entire surface, which is sky. Which is my face reflected in all that I have. Which is you, reading. Which is a child eating a steaming bowl of sustaining gruel. That child will arise. Her name is Enough. Her name is Charity. Her name is Least Among You, and her first words are always, “Do not be afraid.” God surrounds her malnourished frame in his huge hands. The child relaxes and falls asleep, curled in the soft flesh of tomorrow. I’m surprised that such a tiny little thing can make God cry.

“It’s your move,” God whispers a little choked up. My heart skips a beat. I know it’s a trick. I take a deep breath and the right response comes to me.

“No,” I whisper back, “It’s our move. I’ll wait until she’s rested.” God grins and wipes his nose, and I add, “I know what you’re thinking. Old dog learns new trick.”  I give my own chest a congratulatory thump.

God’s grin widens until his face cracks into the full day ahead. My temporal self is sorely tempted to react and run amok, but I don’t. God will wait, and I will wait. The child will sleep.

Is you is or is you ain’t?

For the past 45 minutes, God’s been following me around while I fuss and mutter my way through the large piles of rocks in our house. It’s time to clean and sort. Smooth, thin, striped, white, broken, odd-shaped, heavy, pointed, round, speckled, flat, agate, sandstone, granite, petrified wood. I’m blessed with an inexhaustible supply of rocks. It’s awful. Blessings always come with a dark side. In this case, I have to sort and judge my rocks. Which stay? Which go? Sheep or goat? Precious or plebeian? In or out? Evil or good? Worthy or worthless?

I’ve been lazily indiscriminate about rocks, but there are limits. Life demands at least some discernment, and as we all know, discernment easily slides to judgment. Humans have many sayings about this.

  • One person’s treasure is another person’s junk.
  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. …And of course, there’s this one:
  • Do not judge, or you too will be judged. In the same way you judge others, you will be judged.

I hold an amber crystal and a friendly river rock in my hand, overcome with doubt. What makes anything or anyone precious? What makes anyone or anything worthless? Who or what belongs anywhere?

God sighs. His jazz band materializes and sets up in the kitchen. God positions himself on a stool, and in his sultry, seductive voice, begins singing that old Louis Jordan classic: Is you is or is you ain’t my baby? He sips bourbon. I’m afraid he’s planning to light up a cigarette. Clearly, he’s in one of his sarcastic moods. I briefly consider throwing the bum out.

The mood fades. The band packs up, leaving the kitchen littered with peanut shells and shot glasses stained with oily lipstick. God lingers and watches me clean. He’s smiling. Humming. Waiting. I’m a little put out, but God has cleaned up after me more times than I can count. And he’s always done a stellar job.

He’s unpredictable, unruly, unjudgable, stereotype-proof—but whatever God does, he does well. I know because I have a memory of perfection. An infinitesimal fraction of me was present when God and his jazz band crooned the Universe into being; when stars burst out of their atomic skins, when the planet I call home began to cool. In fact, we were all there—which puts us in the same boat—which makes judgment futile.

I wash the last glass; God sweeps the floor and opens the north facing window to a blast of late-November air. I endure the chill while I search through the rocks. I’m on a mission.

God laughs. “I don’t need a rock,” he says, accurately reading my mind.

“I know,” I say. “But I’d like to give you something anyway.” I feel nearly desperate to find the perfect rock.

“Okay, baby,” God says. He holds out his hand.

When for No Apparent Reason You Paint a Broken Rake

There are forces in the universe–neatly stacked wood, oranging pumpkins, stalks of hollyhocks gone to seed, fresh-cut alfalfa, twisted driftwood, cattle in the distance, air newly cleaned—these ferment my brain into dangerous effervescence. I approach the brink of God, dip my toes, and come undone, possessed by the moment that is not a moment that is full and tragic, achingly beautiful, and all that will ever be.

God is the God of mortar, lichen, and worn-away stone. God is the degradation of birth, the elevation of death, the definition color, an infinite splintering of light; wave and particle, energy and mass. God is the invasion of microbes, a dash of salt, the overweight cook in the kitchen where all is reformed into loaves that bake while the fish fry, and the fact of time is debated over expensive red wine.

“Fancy,” God says, settling. “I like what you did with that rake.”

“Thanks,” I answer, proud that he’d noticed. Yesterday afternoon, with unworthy fingers and no explanation, I had painted the tines of a broken rake. “And I like what you did with the morning,” I continue. “It’s taken me completely apart.” 

“I know,” God says. “I love you like this, all shredded and spikey.”

“Sure you do,” I say, the vertigo that is God making my eyes misfire so I cannot distinguish between inside or out, hand or foot. “Sure you do.” The crystals in my inner ear are mixing the signals. I snap the last carabiner open, and the chains fall to the ground.

“Wait,” God says as I begin to dissipate. “I wanted to give you a hug.”

“Can’t,” I say. “Covid.”

“Ha!” God laughs. “Good one.” The embrace is labyrinthian; my body folds in, flows out, reconfigures, settles, and I am ready. Again. For now. For nothing.

Slutty Shoes

Hulk and me and some new chairs (2)

Sometimes, life-on-earth sashays by in slutty shoes, feigning a seductive innocence. She beckons with a bend of her little finger and whispers. “Come here, you sexy thing. I want you.” But the delicacy is an illusion, the promise of eternal youth, false. Life-on-earth has muscular legs and sturdy ankles. A swift kick can leave bruises. Break bones. And then, who’s to blame? The idea of God is an easy target; I confess to using it myself on occasion. But the real God runs away from simplicity like a wild-eyed colt. The real God crawls onto your lap like an old dog. The real God knows what happened on Mars and is already aware of the first name of the last child. God can perfectly enact the mating dance of the Sandhill crane and knows how to apply a tourniquet to stanch the flow of blood.

I know this because the faint smell of wet dog often lingers on my clothes (and we don’t have a dog). I know this because I’m relieved that the Martians (and all our kinfolk from other planets) are loved, have been loved, will be loved. The Sandhill cranes glide by in pairs, the name of the last child will be as holy as the first, and when it’s chilly, I pull a patchwork quilt of tourniquets around my shoulders.

But none of this stops me from flirting shamelessly with life-on-earth, hoping to get more than my share. She’s so dazzling, so tasty. My DNA matters, doesn’t it? My ideas? Don’t I deserve second helpings and the rapt attention of those around me?

God floats into the room, shaped like lips, shimmering crimson. The lips pucker up.

“Unpucker,” I say, and sit up straight and tall. “Not ready.”

The lips relax into a goofy grin. “I know,” they say. “But don’t you love this shade of red? It’s called Kiss of Death.”

“Funny,” I say. “Very funny.” God and I have a good laugh. The luscious lips frame God’s open mouth, teeth like mountains, ribbons of saliva catching the light.

Life-on-earth sits down beside me. She’s grown pale in comparison to the glorious mouth of God. She’s wearing sensible shoes. “Shall we go?” I ask. She nods, looking a little worse for the wear. I pat her shoulder and add, “But let’s keep it honest. I like you as a friend, but it can never be anything more.”

She nods again, crying a little, but handling it. I cry a little too. The sadness is unavoidable, but there’s a lot to do today. We need to get on with it.

“You’re just a short-term expression of something much bigger,” I explain to her as we get in the pick-up and drive across the field.

“Yeah, I guess,” she says. “But so are you.”

“Oh, I know,” I say. I slow down so we can hold hands and watch the eagles circling the river. Majestic and hungry.

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.

Stillwater Storm

contemplation corner (2)

I’ve been transfigured by the river–my limbs and roots, light as driftwood, ideas torn asunder, mind and torso smooth as glass. The little that is left of me floats aimlessly while the storm blows me up, sky slashed open, thunder sudden and conclusive.

“I don’t live in your world anymore,” the water whispers.

I nod. “I don’t either.” But I’m reluctant to admit the obvious.

“Who are you?” the water asks. I have no answer.

There’s a small, perfect stone on the bank. I feel confident I’ll remember and come back–I’ll remember and give thanks. Little else will happen in my life but this.

Rain falls carelessly, everywhere. On the just and unjust, the living and the dead. If I wanted to hide, it would be impossible, but why would I want to hide? I am falling as carelessly as the rain, falling into sky. Land recedes below me and the tallest willows wave good-bye. Then the cottonwoods. Neither can be trusted. They’re fooling me again. I know this is the dream they wanted me to have. In this temporary life, we are destined to sleep. It’s just the way we’re made. But if the cradle didn’t fall, would we even need this endless salvation?

“Who wants to sleep?” I ask the trees.

“No one!” they say, too quickly, twisting in the wind.

“And who wants to be awake?” I ask.

“Everyone!” they say. These, too, are lies. Lies told to fools eager to believe.

The wind has died. The rain has stopped. The sky has begun to heal itself. The great arms of God surround the wounded little planet. These arms–a resting place, my ride back home. Nothing has been answered, solved, or saved. But I am cleaner, stripped to the momentary essence of myself. The day will reappear, ordinary. Beautiful. My familiar body will reassemble as I eat my fill of broken, scattered bread and drink from a shallow eddy until my thirst is quenched.

Allah’s Will

20160305_131954 (2)

Some people wear tight underwear on purpose. It doesn’t slide around as much, and certain appendages are less likely to droop, sway, wobble, or escape. But through the eons, God, the amazing artist has tinkered with the cosmos, including the design of the human body, so maybe it’s just the way it’s supposed to be for now. Therefore, are bodily interferences and management strategies a violation of God’s will? Like tight underwear? Or sexy underwear, or decidedly unsexy underwear? Or underwear itself? If those ancient Jewish authors got it right, Yahweh wasn’t all that impressed with fig leaves.

My mind wanders to tattoos and piercing. Spandex and Lasik. Obesity and anorexia. Facelifts and Viagra. To the death penalty and compassionate assistance when someone is ready to die. Birth control and abortion. Driving while tired, jogging in smog. Bikinis and burkas. Stents and suppositories. Aren’t we humans something else? We replace hips, drug ourselves silly, elevate or depress our moods, and bleach our teeth to neon white. We can prolong “life” with machines, almost indefinitely. Who’s to say how much fussing, prolonging, shortening, fattening, thinning, covering or uncovering is God’s will?

Our lives and bodies are gifts. I close my eyes, cross my legs, focus on breathing, and ask the Giver about gift management. The Giver wraps her arms around her enormous belly and winks. She’s always available, but always giving birth. I tiptoe around and watch.

I open my eyes and see the branches of the plum tree swaying under the weight of a scolding blackbird. Gifts. I see the onions and the peas growing. I see the river roaring by. Gifts. I know I need to pull weeds and water the garden. Gifts that need my attention. Gifts that I treasure or neglect.

It occurs to me that once I’ve given my beloved a gift, it’s his–to use or not use. To paint, hang, feed, cover or uncover, play with, give away, store, or use up. I might be sad if he doesn’t say thanks, or doesn’t like the gift, but I do not take it back or control it. That would be incredibly rude.

And as I deepen into this inquiry, it occurs to me that I, myself, have given birth. Twice. And after it was given, I worked hard to give these new lives what they needed to survive, and what they needed to gradually assume the autonomy that distinguishes human life.

I know the river, gift that it is, could kill me without a second glance if I just waded in right now. I won’t be wading in anytime soon. My life is mine. Other people’s lives are theirs. My body is mine. Other people’s bodies are theirs. Gifts. I decorate, doodle, abuse, and elevate. I stretch, exercise, and pamper. I overeat, undereat, and forget to hydrate. I imbibe in limited quantities of dark beer.

Someday, I will die. I may have a say in how and when. I may not. We live, temporarily, in a risky universe, and then we move on. That’s how it is. That’s how it should be. The Giver takes a minute, between contractions, to squeeze my hand. The beauty of being breaks my heart. She understands, and makes room for me in her bed. The thunder is deafening, but I no longer need to hear.