Preparing for Guests

Not long ago, God and I were kneading dough, trying to time things so the smell of fresh bread would greet our guests at the door. Homemade sourdough is one of my staples, and I wanted to impress these acquaintances with my earthiness. I had a hunch they were our kind of people.

Most of us need a few homies; a posse, an inner circle of those who know us well enough to hold our fears and failures–and reveal their own. Recently a chunk of our inner circle fell to the forces of mortality, and the wound is still tender, keeping me acutely aware that anyone can fall at any moment and no longer be. God puts the dough in a cool place to slow the rise. She gives me a knowing glance. “You’re ambivalent, aren’t you?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “There are days I think it’s best to be disconnected. Less risk. Less pain.”

“Slight correction, if I may?” God says. “What you mean is that the illusion of being disconnected offers a bit of respite, but…”

I hold my hand up. Mercifully, the Center of All that Is and Isn’t, the Author, the Plot, the Weaver of the Tapestry, the Queen of Connection stops talking. I know where this is headed. I know about Oneness, and I know about loss. Many’s the time I’ve tried to make God understand how it feels to be on my side of the perpetual falling away, but God only sees it as falling into, not away. I think that’s callous and naïve. God thinks I’m tiresome and unsympathetic. So, once in a while, to show God how hard it can be, I sing to her–usually James Taylor’s Fire and Rain–and she cries a little for our sakes. But being the thing we fall into is also hard. She borrows Paul Simon (himself, a borrower of ancient hymns) and sings to me.

“…I’ve often felt forsaken, and certainly misused. But I’m all right, I’m all right. I’m just weary to my bones. Still, you don’t expect to be bright and bon vivant so far away from home, so far away from home.”

And I cry a little for her sake. The best homies remind us we aren’t home, and the wisest among us realize there is no home, only the lonely journey and the shared and cherished resting places. Most dreams have been driven to their knees, but it’s all right. It’s all right. Even when exhausted, God kneels alongside the dream. And shatters with the dream. And sings.

The oven is ready, the table set. We will break bread together, drink leftover wine, and in those rare moments, we will bravely partake of a singular and temporary joy.

Parallel Parking

Today, God and I drove slow miles on familiar streets through neighborhoods that were once mine. I remembered parties I attended, work I did, meetings I conducted, flirtations, indignations, victories, defeats. Everything was distorted in the ways the past distorts itself. Soft and gone. We drifted in and out of shops where nice people helped us reduce our lists of irritating errands. God chattered, waved, and pointed as I coped with the exhaustion of nostalgia. She steered for a while, but then abandoned the front seat altogether because she did not have my full attention.

Texting while driving is a bad idea. Driving around with a buoyant God might be worse. She floods the interior with visions and boundless energy. It was not only distracting, it was paralyzing. “God,” I finally said as I struggled to parallel park, “You need to quiet down and let me focus.”

God saluted, unbuckled, leaped out, opened my door, and bowed like she was a valet at a five-star hotel. And I willingly stepped into the mud of the world, the DNA of impending disaster. Black ice. It was slicker than I thought, and I nearly fell. The carpet of God spread itself thick, and the arm of God shot out. The mouth of God said, “Whoa there, Nelly.” I resented the assistance.

“Let go,” I said, shaking my elbow free of God’s hand. “I’m fine.”

“Of course, you are, dear,” said my snappy young God. She melted into razor-sharp shadows cast by the midday sun. My parking job wasn’t stellar. God leaned against the building and watched me consider my next move. Being with God is like being alone only worse. The fantasy of self-sufficient isolation is rendered pathetically transparent if you get caught in the gaze of God. We are seen and seen through. It doesn’t seem fair.

I don’t know how long I stood there, regrouping, asserting my right to a modicum of privacy, but I know I made it home in time to cook a nutritious dinner of vegetables I peeled myself. I don’t know how many more streets will become familiar before God and I no longer navigate exploratory routes, but every day I remind myself that at least for now, I know how to read a map. I dig into that idea like a dog in soft dirt, and I bury reminders and markers and idle thoughts, fully aware someone else will find them. That’s why I add incantations, blessings, and instructions for how to jitterbug. Who knows what might be needed?

The Not God

The Not God stops by frequently and introduces herself as if we’re meeting for the first time. I play along. No need to upset her; she’s lonely and vicious. I offer the same cookies, coffee, beer, and fruit I offer Real God. The Not God refuses with a condescending comment about her restrictive diet. This makes me want to eat like a voracious pig, stuffing my mouth so full that crumbs fly like gnats every time I chew. I doubt many of us welcome visits from the Not God, but they happen. Shit happens. The Not God happens. I curl my hands into fists under the table, extending my middle finger. In my head, I sing “Eff you, Eeeeffff you, oh yeah, yeah, yeah.”

This helps.

But the Not God ignores social cues. She’s so full of Not Self, so sure of royal status, so human. She exists at Absolute Zero. Not fluid or spirit. Solid, jagged, arrogant, overjoyed by the apparent demise of all things bright and beautiful. In her spare time, she writes video games and mini-series with endless carnage, but her main source of income is discord sown generously in ground made fertile by fear and greed.

Her harvests are plentiful.

The Not God often stays the night, insisting on clean towels every morning. She’s working on a trilogy and uses our internet even if we aren’t home. She might be a bot. She might be Russian or Chinese. She has refused to fill out the census paperwork, won’t open the door, and screams at children who cross the lawn. Childhood is an irritation. Old age disgusts her. She wears expensive perfume.

She smells of death.

The Not God dresses up in fancy formulas, promises, and guarantees. The Not God baits and switches. The Not God has a lot of drunken orgies, discount sales, and prayer breakfasts. Give her a nod, she’ll take your head. Give her an inch, she’ll write you into the trilogy or turn you into an avatar that avenges her imagined slights. She assures you she’s the only one who knows you.

She lies.

The Not God wants to be God in the worst way. She longs to sit on the throne issuing commandments. The fantasy of judging the quick and the dead is orgasmic. Addicted to power, she preens in the mirror and carelessly exposes the dark places we try to cover. She has a lot of money. Quite a few guns. And millions of frightened followers that she plans to eat someday—from the inside out. But as Real God gently reminds her; that restrictive diet of hers makes a final feast unlikely.

Exceedingly unlikely.