Plumbing

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In the wee hours this morning, God shook me half-awake and said in a swaggering voice, “You want a piece of me?” and from a place howling with threats of winter, I heard myself yell, “NO! Go away.” But my words were garbled. Embryonic. I didn’t think they’d made it to full expression. I assumed my body reabsorbed them like it reabsorbs so many of my ill-conceived notions and radical impulses. By the time I was eating toast, the wind had died down, and the day looked like it would roll out ordinary.

“Well, what would a piece of you look like?” I asked God in a conciliatory tone.

“Obviously, that depends on which piece,” God said in a chilly voice. Maybe my words had hit the mark after all. It was clear I’d hurt her feelings, but what’d she expect? It was night. She’d snuck up on me. God is quite reactive sometimes. I fought an urge to be cold back and instead, took a breath and forced the door to my soul open just a crack. It was early, but I thought I could handle a little exposure.

“What piece did you have in mind when you woke me up?” I asked sweetly. Okay. Maybe not that sweetly. I knew I was being passive-aggressive, and I knew this was a stupid way to be with God, but I couldn’t help myself. Being dependent runs against my grain—especially being dependent on a God like God—She He It They—defenseless child, free-range parent, doting auntie, stalking lion, friend and foe. Who can blame me? Any piece of God is bound to be hot.

“Well, for one, I can blame you,” God said. “But I don’t.”

“Right,” I said. “Exactly. This is the crux of the matter, God. Any piece of you is going to illuminate my pitiful little life, and my eyes are going to sting from trying to adjust, and the gloom will seem preferable, and I’ll know it’s not, but I’ll long for it anyway, and then, another day will have come and gone, and I won’t have saved the world, or myself, or even the rhubarb.

“Too bad,” God said. “But there’s not much I can do about that.”

“Yes, there is.” I glared. “For instance, if you’d stop letting pipes and valves corrode, break, freeze up. and flood the barn, I could devote more time to helping others.” This was feeble, but I was really, really tired of the mundane, thankless tasks of the average homeowner in the average community in the average scene in my average world. Wasn’t I destined for greater things?

God shrugged and grinned. “Dream on,” she said, and handed me a short-handled shovel. She looked determined. Pleased with herself. Ready for action. “Today is for digging,” she declared. “And if we find the leak, so much the better.”

The Frogs of Summer

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Every damn morning, the frogs of summer ruin my dark, silent sleep. Their exuberant greetings of first light pull me into resentful consciousness. I don’t quite want to kill them, but I can understand people who do. This is never how I greet first light. Couldn’t they stay hunkered down, mudded over until midmorning? Why do they go on croaking even after night fall? And the birds. And the river running high and brown, reckless and noisy. And for that matter, the sun and earth, in a morbid relationship that results in harsh, insistent light for far too long. A hot radiance I can’t handle. I need my rest. Where is darkness when I need it? The silence that renews my soul? Creation is badly done. Royally screwed up.

“I should smite you,” God says, joining me on the couch. “You aren’t very grateful.”

“Yeah? Well, I should smite you,” I say back. I know who’d win, but when I’m in this kind of mood, I don’t care.

“Smite away,” God says.

I realize I don’t actually know how smiting works. “I may need some help,” I admit. God tries to hide the smirk.

“So, you want me to help you smite myself?”

“Yes,” I say. “Exactly.”

It occurs to me that this is a common conversation for God. The cursing and fist-shaking are familiar. The selfish pleading, blaming, walk-aways, come-backs, the stomping of little feet, crossing of puny arms. All these Centers-of-the-Universe, throwing cheerios on the floor, grinning, kicking, bowls on heads. God-directed road rage, drunken stupors, broken promises, punched out lights. Lack of skill is no barrier; we are blindly determined smiters. God absorbs as much smiting as possible, but there comes a time when God lays down on the pavement so we can see all the ways we are smiting ourselves.

In the raucous light of dawn, this smite-absorbing being has curled up tight beside me on our oversized couch, innocent as a napping puppy. So circular and cute, I’m lulled into complacency. But then I remember the sharp teeth, my thin skin, and the long day ahead.

The Burden of Autonomy

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God and I are organizing my mom’s memorial. God keeps writing rhyming poems and trite drivel. This surprises me. One might think God would be a more free verse sort of entity.

“Why are you doing that?” I ask. Rude, perhaps, but this kind of writing seems so constricted and sentimental.

“What’s an uplifting word that rhymes with death?” God asks, chewing on a pencil, ignoring my question.

The word comes out unbidden. “Breath,” I say with a frown.

And then I cry. For three days and three nights, her body breathed on. Brain stem at work, they said. So we waited, and read to her, and sat by her, and combed her hair, and rolled her body gently to and fro. We talked, watched football, played music, and sat. Sat with life as it fought to hold on, sat with death as it waited with us.

She would not have wanted to die that way, but then, she didn’t want to die at all. She wasn’t one to give up. Ever. Her favorite saying was, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Obviously, she wasn’t Buddhist.

“God,” I say. “Why did you keep her alive those last days?”

“I didn’t,” God says, surprised. “She did. You did.”

I shake my head but I know it’s true. God looks on while we ignore basic quality of life issues, and invent ever more life-prolonging machines, medicines, and treatments, and provide them selectively to those with resources. God looks on while we starve and murder, deny help, and blame the poor for their conditions. God looks on while some people rake in millions of dollars as providers of interventions, medications, or insurances, and others go bankrupt trying to save a loved one.

If God fell from scaffolding and broke up his body, would Worker’s Comp fight to minimize the costs of his rehabilitation? Would we deny him Medicaid? If God slipped on the marble floor she was mopping…if God got cancer as a child…if God…

God interrupts. “I did not invent dialysis, chemo, or the electric chair. You did. I don’t set bones, prescribe blood pressure medications, or do CPR. You do. I don’t distribute food, goods, or services—nor do I withhold them. That’s all you.”

“But what about “thy will be done” and all that?” I ask. “Aren’t the fortunate fortunate because of you? Aren’t the rich rich because you blessed them? And the healthy? Isn’t it your will for people to live as long as they possibly can?”

God’s eyes roll and she makes a gagging sound. “No,” she says, steely-eyed. “Absolutely not. I’m sick of being used as an excuse. My will is, frankly, for you all to get a clue. You’re so self-absorbed and short-sighted, I have to repeat myself endlessly. Mercy. Justice. Compassion. Self-sacrifice. Translate those, would you? Your finite lives are your own. You have autonomy. You have choices. Stop blaming me.”

The weight of human prerogative pushes the air from my lungs. I have no reply.

“Breathe,” God says. “Breathe.”