New Shoes

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This morning, on the Stillwater, smoke from both the fires of Canada and the fires of hell invade my body and soul with every shallow in-breath, and I endure the artist at work–yesterday’s ashes glazing the face of granite into something too terrible to touch, too beautiful to behold.

Not long ago, I began to pack for yet another autumn transition. I picked the last of the purslane-choked green beans, pulled the onions, undid the hoses, and with sickening ambivalence, bought poison to deal with mice. Traps or poison? I’m not a rodent, but I’d rather be poisoned than trapped. If we had a decent God, we wouldn’t have to use our crude, projected empathy to make these wrenching decisions. Maybe we’d even feed the mice and marvel at the prodigious quantities of seashell pink offspring. Or maybe in the spirit of the grand circle of life, we’d learn to eat said offspring. A delicacy. Except for their tiny spasmodic appendages, curled baby mice do bear a remarkable resemblance to shrimp. Wait. That wouldn’t solve the problem.

Eat or be eaten. Poison or be poisoned. By and large, the weeds won this year. And now, forests are being blazed out of existence, flood waters gorge on land, and lives are lost. I sit in unearned comfort, grimly examining the karmic consequences of nonaction, trying to goad my flesh into movement, my mind into comprehension. It feels useless. Why bother? Such is my mood today.

Yesterday was a different story. I had new running shoes, and there’d been rain. And God, I know you don’t like it when I imply you’ve engaged in miracles for my sake, but it seemed you’d reduced the gravity along the highway where my stride was effortless and I bounded along like a deer, legs spring-loaded, heart lifted and extraordinarily light.

“It was the shoes,” God says.

“I don’t believe you,” I say.

And God laughs. I can barely see the big, sharp teeth through the haze, but I can hear the riotous sound of a happy God.

“No, really,” I say in my loudest voice. “I don’t believe you.”

“I know,” God says. “Next time, run in old shoes with rocks in your pocket.”

“Fine,” I say. “That’s just what I’ll do.”

“And what will you prove, darling?” God asks, suddenly all innocent and interested.

“Nothing,” I shout. “I’ll prove nothing. There’s nothing mortals can prove. You shift the odds, change the playing field, turn down the volume, distort the light. We’re mice in an endless maze. Where are you, God? That’s what I want to know. Where are you?”

“Sheesh, oh ye of little vision. Calm down. You cannot look anywhere I’m not. I’m the maze and the fire, the weeds and the water, the new shoes and the rocks. And by the way, you got a good deal on those Sauconys, but I liked the yellow Asics pretty well too.”

 

Piano

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God and I took a piano apart today. We had help. Even so, it didn’t go especially well. The carcass, keys, pedals, hammers–everything had been overrun by mice, so the smells were unpleasant. The rusted screws and bolts were unpleasant. The mouse nests were worse than unpleasant. But the conversation we had with the backbone of the piano—the tightly strung strings that make the music—that was worth it all. The intricate innards whispered otherworldly commentary every time we made a move. We salvaged the motherboard, serenaded by jangled synchronicities and disturbing harmonics.

Now we are resting. God is a broken, decrepit piano. I am a nymph with a sore back. God is a stone, gleaming among stones in the hot sun. I am a glass of clear water. God is dimming the sun, pulling clouds around in the sky. I’m old, longing for ice cream. God is a worry and a bother. I am a sweaty artist, a two-bit wordsmith. God is color and dirt. We are calm together.

“Ah, it is good to work hard and then rest, isn’t it?” God asks. “I like you this way.”

“What way?” I ask. “And anyway, aren’t you supposed to like me no matter what?”

God laughed. “Yeah. You got me there. But I mean, relaxed. Not anxious or angry. You spend so much time revved up. And I spend so much time reminding you that you’re wasting energy. You aren’t as good looking when you’re worried. Sometimes, you aren’t even nice.”

“But, but…” I sputtered. I knew it was true. In fact, there are days I like not being nice. There are times I’m happy to be a cynical hypocrite–driven, desperate, and nasty.

“It’s okay,” God said. “I get there myself occasionally.”

“I know,” I said, relieved and then stricken. “And at those times, you are REALLY not good looking.”

For a nano-second, I knew the magnitude of God’s misery even though it vastly exceeds human understanding. The writhing pain of God screams through eternity, collapsing galaxies in its wake. It’s the vicious emptiness of black holes, lonely dark matter avalanching through the space-time continuum. We carry only the tiniest portion of this desolation in our deepest bones. We have no choice. I have to remind myself it is an honor.

“It’s hard, but I try to love you,” I said to this pitiful face of God. It seemed a paltry offering, but it was all I had.

“I know,” God said, the face regaining some of the vibrant color that feeds my soul. “And it helps. Let’s go strum those piano strings again.”

It was hot, but we went back to the shed to touch the vibrating center of all things salvaged. All things sacred. In the end, there is only one song.

Slow Awakenings

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“You awake?” I ask God. We got home very late. Time zone hopping is hard for me. I assume God doesn’t love it either, but I want to talk through my disorientation. Maybe with a cup of strong coffee, I can rouse the sleeping giant.

Our travels took us to cities cluttered with Homo sapiens arrayed in colors and shapes one sees less frequently in Montana. Beautiful, disturbing fractals–repeating patterns of hope, defiance, and despair. God on stage. God embodied. God black. God white. God with a face no one could love. I was reminded that God is, by definition, homeless. Such exposures can be unsettling. My usual world is small. My town, smaller.

Here on the rising river, God groans and pulls the alfalfa field over his shoulders, a shimmering quilt, greening as I watch. A red-winged blackbird lands on the garden fence. Then a robin. The boulders of winter have been rolled away, leaving the tomb empty again. The eyes of God are bleary, the breath of God questionable. The garments of night are crumpled at the edge of the riverbed–riffraff to contain spring runoffs and preserve riparian areas essential to survival.

In the natural order of things named God, I catch my breath and await further instructions. God yawns and rolls over. The hills pillow his sleepy head, and he gives me a nonchalant wave before snuggling back in. Generally, I don’t like being ignored, but this morning, I can tolerate the slow awakenings. I am growing more patient as my years dwindle and my soul thins out. Reality has become more translucent. When I really concentrate, I catch glimpses of the beyond where my thin bones and thick arteries won’t matter anymore.

Closer in, everything seems to matter. There are hills to die on, but I don’t know which ones. This is why I wish God would wake up. The fight to survive winter is over, but the wrong-headed weeds of early spring romp through my dreams—nasty little gargoyles grinning and drinking while I stand in the rain, chilled and uncertain. Exactly which battles should I wage, God? And how will I know if I win?

God snorts in his sleep. Likely, he’s dreaming gargoyles too. In the underworld, they’re everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crumbs

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Lately,  my life has been disrupted by a lot of travel. I barely have time to clean things out and cram them full again. I over-pack. It’s good to have a lot of baggage–it gives me choices. I can distract myself, especially if the journey is troubling.

“Ha! You crack me up sometimes,” God says from the bottom of my backpack. “Baggage blinds you, and distraction is the main ingredient in denial. You know damn well these things aren’t good for you. What’s going on?”

“Ha yourself,” I say. “Like you don’t already know what’s going on. I’m tired. I have this little life to live, and no matter where I go, I find meaninglessness, finality, circularity, and suffering. Nothing is going right. Our window shades keep malfunctioning, the dirt in our garden has gotten contaminated, and the kitchen floor is littered with crumbs.”

“Funny you mention crumbs,” God says. “Not long ago, a wise woman taught me the importance of crumbs. If I remember right, she was a Gentile.”

“A what?” I say. God snaps her glorious fingers, and a hundred dogs appear–barking, jumping, fetching, tumbling–licking up those crumbs as if our floor was a five-star doggy restaurant. It’s a party. A festival of abundance. I lay down among the dogs, and they lick my cheeks, salty with self-pity. I think to myself, “In my next life, I want to be a dog.” I throw a heavy cloak of doubt over myself, and I wait.

God watches, arm’s crossed, enjoying the energy. She loves the dogs. The dogs love her. God reaches into the silverware drawer, finds more crumbs, and flings them in the air. The dogs leap up, eating them before they even reach the floor.

“Do you see, child?” God asks me. I don’t see. My ignorance is embarrassing. The doubt has crept up around my neck. It’s hard to breathe.

“Even the crumbs are sacred,” God explains in a patient voice. “And so is your doubt.”

Most of the dogs have romped away, but a golden lab lays down beside me, and we consider this mystery together. The dog pulls the cloak away, puts a paw on my belly and licks my neck. I’ve done nothing to warrant this comfort, this unconditional companionship. I don’t even deserve the crumbs, but I see now they are lovely.

 

Coffee

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This is hard to admit, but it appears my attitude toward life is dependent on a good cup of coffee and whole wheat toast. These are bedrock to my salvation from the tedium of the known world. Sure, I enhance my attitude by conscious efforts and limiting my exposure to the news, but a morning bereft of sustenance takes me down the rabbit hole of despair.

God arrives on the frozen wings of this morning’s wind. I’m ready to confess. “God, I wish I were more resilient, but without coffee and food, I don’t think I believe in you.”

God laughs. “No worries, darling. I still believe in you, and so far today, I haven’t eaten a thing.”

“Fasting?” I said, trying to move the subject away from belief.

“Not exactly,” God said. “When you’re God, eating is complicated. Basically, I wait until I’m invited.”

At first glance, this didn’t seem like much of a problem. If you had a chance to have God over for dinner, why wouldn’t you? There had to be a trick. Invite God for dinner? Why not?

The reasons started rolling in. What would I serve? Would God want salad and dessert? The right silverware? In what form would God arrive? There it was. The central problem. God would come parading in as a stinky homeless guy with a dog. The dog would snarl. The guy might steal things. Or God could show up as a whole camp of refugees, big-eyed, big-bellied, unable to speak in a civilized tongue.

And it wouldn’t be a temporary visitation. That invitation could lead to discomfort and displacement. My bank account would dwindle, my security would be shaken. Even fortified with coffee, and a dark beer waiting, this was too hard for me. I have plans for Pad Thai take-out tonight. I don’t want to ruin this cozy vision by inviting God along.

“I can’t finish this toast,” I said. “I always make about half a piece too much. Would you like it?” Even this was hard to admit. Hard to offer.

God nodded and rocked quietly in our gliding rocker by the stone fireplace. Sure enough, the ugly, hungry, hopeless people began crowding in. God took the crusts and broke them, and broke them, and broke them. There was laughter. God and the children playing tag. God and the old women sharing my beer. God and the young men, admiring the weapons they no longer needed.

“Such abundance,” God said. “Such ingenuity. And with time, you’ll do even better.”

Even full of toast and coffee, I have trouble believing this. But I’m willing to try.

 

Holy Saturday

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“Sit down,” I said to God. “Please just sit down and be something. I can’t stand you floating, digging, running, flying, vibrating, dying, living, and sizzling around me all the time. You don’t play fair. You don’t listen well. Even when you tell the truth, no one understands, so what’s the point?”

God’s eyes welled up. My eyes welled up. We were at an impasse. We’d hurt each other’s feelings. These are painful times. The shoulder of winter shrugged at the weak morning sun. As the last drifts recede, do they feel defeated? Had they planned to stay? All things are ambivalent. We wear uncertainty wisely–a ballast against the weight of being dead wrong.

“God,” I said. “I guess I was a little harsh. Sorry. I know how hard you’re trying. Last night, I saw your beautiful white smile gleaming from your shining black face. Your nine ebony children danced in the rain, your husband stood by, ready to rebuild. I’m in awe at how tenacious you are.”

God took my hands and put them to her soft face, her round belly, her greening fields, her billowing clouds. She plunged them into the last of the snow, blew on them with chinook winds, and marveled at my arthritic joints. “You have remarkable dexterity,” she said.

This was as close to an apology I was likely to get. “I’m not sure what to plant this year,” I said. “Any suggestions?” She shook her head. I wondered if God was having the same problem. Knowing what to plant, what to bury in the promising soil–this takes discernment. And the damn weeds have already put down roots. Nature hates a monoculture. I hate weeds.

The smallest seeds, like carrots, are the hardest to handle. But like God said, I have remarkable dexterity. And a dark uncertain faith. The earth is ferociously fertile and the possibilities of light are infinite. God is a fractured notion of things broken open.

“Yes,” God said. “I can live with that.”

“I know,” I said. And with reluctance, I added, “So can I.”

Dead Certain

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Hey God, a lot of people find the thought of you offensive. I mean even the possibility of you. This may be due to the extraordinarily cruel, hateful, judgmental, ignorant things done in your name(s). Me? No, you don’t offend me. The thought of you puzzles me. When you seem to disappear, or hide in obscure places, I get a little upset. But you always come sauntering in or floating by. This calms me down. I can’t say I’d do things the way you do, but then, I’m mostly happy that I’m not you.

Of course, I do get offended on your behalf. When people claim to speak for you and declare that choosing to end an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy is somehow wrong…or people claim you (yes, you!) favor owning a lot of guns to shoot down the “bad guys”… or those ugly posters claiming you hate gay people…or the straight-faced assertion that women need to submit to men…or slaves should stay slaves…or the rich are holier than the poor…Now that’s offensive. Remember that guy you loved so much in the Hebrew writings—the one who had sex with the woman he spied on the roof, and then had her husband killed? He was a character, wasn’t he? But he expressed things we all feel. Like him, I’d be willing to kill those who malign or misinterpret you. I’d be happy to smash their babies’ heads on rocks. Kidding. This is not something you’d approve of, right? Thank goodness, because there’s no way I’d actually do anything like that.

Here’s the truth: I’m still in kindergarten when it comes to the basics. Everyone is my neighbor and I’m supposed to love them. Ugh. And I’m supposed to love You-Who-Cannot-Be-Named (let alone understood) above all else. Yeah, right. I need a whole lot of help, big momma. I need a warm lap and a lot of bedtime stories, big daddy. I hang on by the tiniest thread, which is good. Otherwise, I’d end up all full of myself–ready to judge, shame, and kill in your name.  I’d rather be unsure and a little clingy than dead certain. Faith, hope, and love are, by definition, never dead certain.

But God, here’s what I’m fairly certain of: Our lives are tiny wisps of air, a twinkling of stardust. For these few moments we draw breath, we can choose to be compassionate, inquisitive, generous, creative, humble, joyous, honest, brave, and beautiful. Or we can choose to be selfish, prideful, ignorant, brutal, greedy, lying, cowardly, mean, ugly shitheads. Most days, I’d appreciate help choosing items from that first list. Thanks. I promise I’ll pay you back when I can.