Stick in the Mud

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Again, this morning, the rain fell at all the wrong times and fist-sized snowflakes taunted spring’s attempt to arrive. But spring will win in the end. Until summer grabs hold and starts burning down the days, rivers rising and falling, hopes rising and falling, life and death in the usual tangle of grand schemes and undergrowth. Today, that’s as far as I’m going to go. Yes, likely, there will be autumn on the heels of summer. Likely, another vicious white winter will come.

Perhaps I’ll still be eating dark chocolate caramels. Parking my old van in the new garage. Burning firewood I’ve carefully stack and tarped. Perhaps not. I don’t ask anymore. I wait. God sends me junk mail and drives by in a ridiculous convertible, top down, hair flying out behind. I just wave. I don’t even open the mail. It opens me. I close back up as fast as I can, but not before I see myself, hoping I’ve won the sweepstakes, ignoring the pleas for donations, refusing to believe the sad, sad stories or the silly promises, hating the hype and the hubris of my fellow beings, and yes, of myself.

Sometimes, I consider hitching a ride in that convertible. No doubt, it’d be the ride of my life. Anytime I dismantle my disbelief, God seeps in, croaking like a frog, singing like a canary, dancing like a fool, driving like a maniac. But so far, I’m keeping my thumbs tucked in, head down, feet planted firmly in the mud. She’s one crazy dude, and I’m precariously human. She dives off the deep end, flailing and free.

God wedges herself into my head. “Nice little set of paragraphs,” she says. I roll my eyes. She continues. “And I get the mud. It’s not a bad thing to dig in and stay safe. In fact, I like mud.”

I feel a little defeated. Confused. It isn’t comforting that God likes mud. And she doesn’t leave it at that. “I like speed, and sky, and green. I like hot pink. I like jazz and country-western. Gays and straights, blacks and browns.” She pauses for a microsecond, then adds, “And I love the deep end.”

She sees my reaction. Smiles. “I think you’ve forgotten a key piece of the picture, sweetie.” I nod, hoping for something sane and solid.  Foolish me. God plugs her nose and leaps into an imaginary pool. “I AM the deep end,” she shouts. Air ripples like water as she swims gracefully away.

 

Fear

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Across an expanse of greening alfalfa, a mated pair of Sandhill Cranes use legs, thin as sticks, to pick their way along–resigned, ungainly, slow. They scold the world, aware that few are listening. Aware of the coming storm. Morning is a burden, the sky unattainable, heavily gray. Their staccato calls, made sonorous by windpipes coiled deep in their bodies, drift across the land and dissipate like smoke.

I am startled by rain, arriving sudden and cold. The hills disappear in the downpour and the Gray God of Unknowing washes away the dusty assumptions we use to comfort our selfish selves. Few things are fully true. We are made of approximations. Sometimes, we feed the children; sometimes, we feed the brutal urges coming up from the underbelly of fear. I matter as much as the lilacs, the lilies, the lizards. I am capable of fire.

“Yes,” God says in a sleepy voice from the corner. “You’ve been capable of fire for a long time now.” I pull my gaze from the pouring rain and nod. God looks rumpled. Sweet and a little disoriented. She stretches like a cat. “Good day for napping, isn’t it?” I nod again. It looks like she might go back to sleep. That’s for the best, I think, so I hold very still. I guess God finds this funny. Laughter fills the room, the house, breaks the windows, spills out and floods the valley. Laughter shakes the clouds, astonishes the cranes, brightens the hills, fills the river. Only God can laugh like this. I don’t even try to join in. In fact, I’m a little bit afraid.

Finally, it winds down. God wipes her nose and curls back up in her cozy blanket. “There is wisdom in fear,” she says, before closing those smoldering eyes. “But choose your fears wisely. They’re as powerful as your loves.

The Nondominant Hand of God

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Peeling enough old carrots to make carrot soup involves a lot of peeling. As I made my way through the pile, my arm got tired and my fingers ached, so I switched and tried peeling with my left hand. Since I’m right-handed, this required an increased level of mindfulness, which I exerted for the few seconds it takes for my mind to wander off and my hands to surreptitiously switch back to their comfort zone. I caught them doing this three times.

Why do most humans even have a dominant side? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to be equally coordinated on both sides? Dualism bothers me at any level—dominant/nondominant, strong/weak, pretty/ugly…but the shallow assertions of good/bad bother me the most. Context and consciousness exert enormous influence on what is considered good or bad. Maybe this is why my buddy, God, said “judge not, lest ye be judged.” Well. God may or may not have said that exactly, but it’s a good thing to consider. And God went on to imply that we’d be judged by the same standards we use on others. I have a bit of work to do in this area. I cut myself a lot of slack that I don’t necessarily cut others.

For the fourth time, I switch to my nondominant hand. It clumsily scrapes the peel off the carrot, and I try a new tack. “Thanks, Left Hand. Not so easy for you, huh? Hang in there. You might not peel as fast, but you’re important. Look at the relief you’re providing Righty.” I feel a wave of affection for this left hand of mine. My hands don’t try to switch back. Lefty peels valiantly. I admire the tenacity, the humility. My left hand doesn’t aspire to much. It tags along.

Is it possible that God has a nondominant hand? And if so, could God’s nondominant hand be her favorite? The one she used to mold the rolling hills? The one that dispenses gentleness? The one that reminds her of the relativity and circularity she’s set in motion–the stuff we refer to as creation?

These orange carrots. These aged and battered hands. This moment. This body. Breathe in. Breathe out. The oneness and completeness we keep taking apart to examine and label–the fragments and shards that have no home. If time were real, I’d ask God how much longer we’d be living like this. Then I would forgive my enemies. My heart would expand and crack open, and this would be the beginning and the end.

 

In Praise of Sky

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I sing the praises of blue, blue sky, diving magpies, hawks, and ravens. Perfectly still air, and a calm soul. I shout thanks for the excellent sleep and the waking, consciousness and sustenance, and the rusty metal relics I’ve made into toys and works of art. Pumpkin pie and beer for breakfast. Lotion for my itchy legs. A plan that will help me sequence as I meander. A charger for my phone. I am among the blessed. My good fortune extends so far beyond what I deserve that the comparison is spurious. What I deserve and what I have are unrelated. To prove otherwise would involve such massive statistical analyses, only God could give it a go.

My mind wanders. Imagine God with 7 billion independent undeserving variables lining up with their blessings and curses, their riches and hunger, their longings and fears. What connects to what? What would the dependent variables be? Clean air? Laughter? Breast milk? Weapons? Money? Love? A full belly? A fantastic sexual partner? Healthcare?

Correlation is NOT causation. This is the single spiritual truth I learned in Advanced Statistics. But, my or my, aren’t we tempted to draw the easy conclusions? Isn’t it hard to let go of those judgements about who deserves what? Some graceless days, I deserve nothing. Some malevolent days, I’d willingly get rid of half the world’s population, convinced I’d be doing the Universe a favor.

Tune in here, God. Don’t you realize how maddening it is to be us? Well-fed, fulfilled human beings who’ve invented politics, the nightly news and the Internet? I didn’t ask to be born who I am, where I am. Why am I not a dead Syrian child? Why am I not a billionaire? God, you’re inconsistent and nearly inscrutable. What am I? What am I supposed to do?

“Enough,” God said. “You’re enough. You’re a stitch in the quilt I’ve been working on, a glimmer of light through water, you add to the harmonics, and help with the boredom I face occasionally. I set you free before you knew what that meant, and I’ve been trying to teach you ever since. Most humans are frightfully slow learners, but luckily, I invented education, and if you’re willing, I’ll keep teaching you.”

“Ok,” I said meekly.

“Good to hear,” God said. “You can back off the statistics. I was enjoying your revelry before you drifted. Do what’s in your heart to do. Let your joy make you brave, compassion make you strong. That’s how I do it, and remember, we’re a lot alike.”

“Yeah. I hate when you point that out,” I said, loosening up a little.

God laughed and blew me flirtatious kisses, like fireworks on the horizon. I blew some back and began again to praise the blue, blue sky. But frankly, it didn’t seem like enough. I crossed my arms, ill at ease with my comparative wealth. God laughed again. “Keep trying,” God whispered. “Keep trying.”

Sad

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This morning, long before daylight, I woke to the sound of someone crying. It was God. She’d been crying quietly all night, but as the wee hours waned, her sobs grew louder. The darkness just before dawn is a tough time for a lot of us. Years ago, when I first heard God crying, I was shocked. If anyone should be able to cheer themselves up, wouldn’t it be God? Just go make another planet or something, I’d thought, wanting to get away from that oceanic, gripping sorrow.

But if you’ve ever loved anyone or anything at any time, you know that backing away from the sadness only twists and distorts—it doesn’t make it go away. So after I realized I wasn’t going to abandon God or hide from the grief, we made a little deal. God doesn’t back away when I’m sad, and I try my best to stay present when God’s heart is breaking. The roughest times are when she considers how much hatred is leveled in her name, how much suffering we inflict on each other, or how trashed this stunning little planet has become. These things catch up with her sometimes.

I often find comfort in the lap of God. It’s far more awkward when God tries to fit on mine, but that’s what needed to happen. My lap expanded to the size of a mountain range, my arms grew a million miles long, and I wrapped them around her, nice and snug. Then I swayed to the subterranean beat of the cosmos, murmuring the bits of hope I could muster, singing fragments of lullabies that came to mind.

“Sweet Lord,” I whispered. “You try so hard. You love so deeply. You’re a worthy, excellent God.”

Her head was tucked, body curled. Her vibrations were pulling me to pieces. She was in real pain.

“Gentle God,” I said. “Remember the good old days? When you were having so much fun, setting earth in motion, and sprinkling stars everywhere. Remember that? It must have been awesome.”

“Yes,” she said, her voice murky with grief. “So much I remember. So much I hoped.”

“And you can still hope, right? I mean, it isn’t over yet, is it?”

“I don’t know, my friend,” she said, with a deep, unsteady breath. “I honestly don’t know. You tell me.”

Dawn arrived. God wrapped herself in light, splashed her face in the falling snow, and thanked me as she became the song of the great horned owl, calling it a night. Heading for bed. This was good. We both desperately needed some rest. And then, it’s clear, I have work to do. We all have work to do.

Choice

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God left in the evening again. He’s doing some shift work and right now, he’s on nights. I watched him pull out, his hands gripping the wheel, his ragged head tipped forward, determined. Frustration burned in my soul and I wanted to scream. Night shifts are not good for anyone, especially when the company flips people back and forth every five days or so. In the next life, I hope God’s experience with this kind of work insures that no one has to give up their pleasant, warm, cozy bed and venture into the cruel, cold darkness to earn their way along. But the next life, who knows? God plays that one close to the vest.

It’s been hard to resist talking politics with God lately, but he’s too tired. Luckily, we’ve covered a lot of this ground at other points in our relationship. One time, when I was honestly considering whether abortion was wrong, and if so, whether society should take the choice away, God grabbed my attention. We were standing under an apple tree (true story) in early fall, and of course, apples are a result of a fertilized seed, and they were lovely. But each apple also contained a lot of fertilized seeds. And the weeds I hadn’t quite gotten pulled had an astounding number of fertilized seeds in fragile snowy circles, and the juicy tomatoes, and the tender corn. Fertilized seeds everywhere.

There are millions more fertilized seeds than could or should be brought to fruition in both the plant and animal worlds. This fact slammed me alongside the head. “Hey God,” I said. “They wouldn’t all fit, would they?”

All things fertilized are not meant for fruition. And bean sprouts are sprouts, not beans.

And humans have frontal lobes and consciousness. We anticipate the future, analyze the past, and make choices that greatly affect those around us. Some of our current choices might determine if human life can continue on this generous, bodacious earth. That’s how much choice God gives us. If there was ever a god who endorsed choice, it’s you, isn’t it God?

I said all this to God. I was not struck by lightning. Instead, the enormous responsibility of love descended on my shoulders. Mercy, not judgement. Justice, not expediency. Humility, not insistence. Wisdom, not rigidity. There are times when a pregnancy should not continue. This is a private matter. Usually painful and difficult. God’s warm lap and huge comforting arms are available, but not required.

In the soft humus of rotting leaves, I sat under the tree and ate my way around the worm holes in a crisp, tart apple. I raked up the bruised windfalls and gently put them in the compost where they’ll decompose—their essence a sweet scent, rising off the altar of endlessness, where Alpha and Omega play fearless, holy, circle games, propelled by joy.

This apple seed revelation was decades ago. I’ve still not been struck by lightning. I still wear the mantel of love, wrapped tight. God still turns to me, and me to God. In fact, I have some warm bread ready for when he stumbles home, and a darkened room where he can rest, undisturbed.