God’s New Job

“Hey, I just landed a job as an aerobics instructor,” God told me this morning, flexing his biceps. He struck a pose that accentuated his ripped thighs and taut butt. “Minimum wage, but it’s a union job with full benefits.” He was beaming. I was speechless. He continued. “Don’t look so shocked. It’s spiritual aerobics. We’ve been working on this idea that with the right music and attire, we could motivate humans to get their souls into better shape. Can you imagine a nice pair of Lulu Lemon leggings for the spirit?” He rubbed his giant hands together. “Now, that would be sexy.”

Occasionally, my job is to pop God’s bubble. Big ideas shimmer in the early morning light but they are transient. “God, darling,” I said gently. “You have some very creative notions, but…”

God interrupted with a toothy grin. “I knew you’d be a skeptic. I think pairing examples with music might do the trick. See, if I’m up front, and I shout something like bite back that sarcastic comment, swallow your pride, give beyond what you wanted to give while I jump around, it’ll look easy. I’ll make the heavy lifting of telling the truth appealing, and we can show people how they can increase their flexibility by offering the coats off their backs—all part of a good workout for the overweight ego.”

The thought of obese egos trying to keep their pulse rates in the optimal zone made me laugh, but I was unconvinced of the overall appeal even though God was ridiculously enthusiastic.

“I’m gonna convince people to try high-energy benevolence, to crawl out on some shaky compassion limbs. We’ll play the right tunes to inspire a few high-stakes sacrifices.”

“Sounds dangerous,” I said, a small knot forming in my stomach.

“Oh, totally,” God said. “But your job is not to stay alive as long as possible; your job is to stay as loving as possible. Get that soul in shape. Death is not elective, but cruelty is. It’s healthier to die trying to help than it is to live fat and sassy off the labor and poverty of others.”

I imagined my spirit in red spandex with an ivory sports bra. God smiled approvingly and turned to the drummer materializing in the kitchen. “We need a cosmic pulse,” he said. The drummer nodded, dreadlocks springing into action. She had multitudes of eyes and hands, and there were more snare drums than stars. Creation throbbed with the joy of now and the sorrow of wasted time as the walls dissolved. A blur of angels and devils leaped onto the dining table, guitars already wailing, hips gyrating. God handed me the bass. “Carry that bottom beat, baby,” he said. “Let’s rattle some bones.”

Goodwill

Today, I am wearing polka dot pants and a striped shirt. My hair is bedheaded in an unattractive way and my black and green socks feature a famous golfer. Yes, I’ve been to the church of Goodwill again, and as usual, God was present in abundance. I had to leave, but it was clear that God planned to stay until closing. While I was there, he managed to load five carts full of treasures as he chatted up the Russians and a shy woman who looked Asian. He commiserated with the disabled man and paid for three people’s purchases.

I don’t know what he did when the store closed for the night, but I came back to this borrowed house in this borrowed town and did laundry. We’re here because my friend Max is clinging, perhaps unwillingly, to the last strands of a well-lived life. At present, I’ve hidden myself upstairs to write and think. I hope God doesn’t come by. I’m preoccupied and sad, and it would be tedious to review all his finds.

“Tedious?” God says, incredulous. “You might be the slowest learner ever. How long have we been acquainted?”

“Depends,” I sigh. “At least half-a-century. But if we go with Psalms 139, then longer.”

For some reason, God thinks this is funny. Maybe I do too. Or maybe not. Who wants to count up every second they’ve breathed the rarefied air of this good earth? Music from downstairs drifts up. “I love it when you sing to me,” croons David Gabriel, singing Steven Merritt’s song, The Book of Love. It’s part of the Zoom pub quiz process that ends this semester’s happiness class. My job is to stay offline and out of sight. I’m fairly good at both, but I’m worried about God. He’s in a mood.

“Should I sneak down and wink at everyone on the screen?” God asks. “Or just check my Facebook page and download megabytes of things?”

“No,” I say firmly. “You’d bump him offline, and if you show up, you’ll cause trouble.”

“Exactly,” God says. “I’d like that.”

“What makes you happy, God?” I ask, hoping to distract him.

“Money,” God says. I roll my eyes. “Doing whatever I feel like doing. Driving a fast car. Taking more than my share. Getting drunk and stoned and all messed up. Keeping my wife pregnant.”

“Stop it,” I say, plugging my ears. This is not the time for irony.

God shrugs. “You asked,” he says. “Want to see some of my stuff? I found three navy blue shirts, this hat, and…” He glances at my face and stops mid sentence. His voice cracks. “There’s nothing more either of us can do,” he says. “Death will come when it comes.”

“But you’re hanging out there, right?” I manage to say.

“I can’t believe you’re even asking,” God says. But he says it in a soft, kind voice. It’s then that I notice the logo on the shirts and the baseball hat. Mariners. Max’s favorite team.

Windbreak

A crumpled pile of receipts rests on the table in front of me. And a beer. And a list of things to do. Outside, dawn light sparkles on the frosted frame of what might become a raised bed garden next spring, assuming spring arrives, and I can lift a shovel. A green wheel-barrel with a flat tire has blown over, hollyhock stalks bend and whip, and solar holiday lights that’ve twinkled for over a year still twinkle. The tool shed door has come unhinged in the screaming wind, brilliant red flashing helplessly back and forth. This view is not the one I will have when I become molecular, reconfigured, and nearly weightless, but I’m grateful for the shelter. It will do for now.

The troubles have been thinning God down again. His head looks too big for his skinny neck. He has no appetite for violence. The drug-induced haze of belief and disbelief, bad dreams, and short lives, twist around his frame like invasive weeds choking airways God had hoped would stay open. The assumption of permanence in a brutal, impermanent, world is just the kind of folly a hopeful God might fall for. I don’t want to make things worse, so I let God sit. And God lets me sit.

I wonder if the molecular structure of a Nazi or a billionaire is significantly different than God’s. Or mine. I wonder if the molecular structures of those whose actions have ended the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are similar to the molecular structures of those they’ve killed. I wonder if the wind will be able to tell the difference between strands of human humility and jagged fragments of human arrogance when it carries these remnants into the stratosphere. I suspect so. God rides this wind. God is this wind.

When we sniff the soft round head of a baby, don’t we realize we’re inhaling God? When we execute an inmate or take an officer down, the audacity is an accelerant for the fires lit by fear. The costs are horrific. I know. The receipts are scattered on the coffee table. God sometimes considers going back to the drawing board; he has lists and ideas. He has an app. He has a heart and bodies and a vision. His surnames are Evolution, Compassion. Charity. And Sacrifice. And no matter what he creates, who he marries, or which children he adopts, he’s not going to change those names. At least that much is permanent.

One of the reasons God and I drink a half-beer in the morning is that we dread the latest bad news here on this little earth. Ritual can be calming. All week, God’s been taunted, tortured, abused, executed, raped, starved, and burned alive; things done to feed cancerous egos in the names of various gods, all of which are vicious. All of which are dead. But whatever it is that God is, it is not dead. A word to the wise: Even when it’s howling, it’s best to befriend the wind.

Downhill

My downhill acceleration is alarming some days, but I reduce the gravitational pull by using switch backs and sensible shoes. God is one of my better switchbacks. She decreases the angle of decline and therefore the risks of freefall. Even though she refuses to make anybody immortal, she doesn’t mind being used as a switchback. Life on earth is unpredictable; sometimes brutal, sometimes disappointing, often too short, on occasion, too long. It is a brief opportunity to practice being kind.

I’m watching a couple of male deer lock horns in the snowy field, but I’m their only audience. Wisely, the females are focused on breaking through the crusty snow and grazing while they can. Sheltered in place, I like the visibility of dirt in the vacuum and the splintered wood with tough knots and gnarly twists waiting for the fire. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Day to day. Hand in hand.

On the other side of the pell-mell race that will never have a winner, the shimmering Now is a breakfast of excellent coffee, a blueberry scone, a vision beyond my nose, and the kind of silence that holds no threat. No demand. No promise. No direction. Only an abundance of breathable air.

God has moved into view carrying my best boots. She kneels and helps me slip them on. She’s shoveled a path through the snow that leads toward a certain horizon, but I linger over my scone. “Don’t make me move,” I beg God. “This might be the last blueberry I’ll ever taste.”

“Yes, it might,” God agrees. She pulls my snow pants down over the boots and tightens the drawstrings at the bottom. “And it might not.” She pats my thigh. “Either way will be fine.” She points to the hills and begins to die the thousand deaths required of her every day. She’s running a temperature, struggling to breathe, and there are gaping holes in the ozone.

On 9/11, the passengers on Flight 93 decided to bring the plane down rather than let it crash into the White House or the Capitol. Passenger Todd Beamer was recorded saying, “You guys ready? Let’s roll.” With whatever they had at hand, they stormed the cockpit. Right now, the cockpit is filled with plastics, poisons, hatred, and greed.

“Breakfast is over,” I say to my well-clad feet. “Let’s roll.”

Teeth

I have a friend we’ll call Albert who sends me Dark Web QAnon Planet X Antifa alerts on a regular basis, hoping to inspire me to get a gun, stop posting naïve declarations about compassion and forgiveness, and split more firewood. Albert likes me. He wants to help me and my family survive the coming apocalypse. I appreciate the intention, but I wish he could help me survive my arthritis and osteoporosis instead.

God stops by Albert’s place now and then. There’s always a pot of coffee on the back of the stove. Albert and his wife invite God in, and they have lively chats. Albert warns God about the evil afoot. God leans back, and from behind her Covid mask, she smiles a big, inclusive smile. I don’t think God means to be condescending, but she can be sarcastic in ways most people miss.

“What’s your take on survivalists?” God asked me. I was pretty sure she had Albert in mind.

“Depends,” I said. “I kind of like preppers and hoarders, but the conspiracy militia crowds freak me out.”

“Yeah,” God agreed. “They require a little more effort.”

“Effort?” I said with a snort.

“Un-huh. Effort. They’ve concocted some exhilarating realities to play with. It’s addictive. They roam around looking for something to make into an enemy, someone to blame and hate and shoot. It’s like they’re living in their own video game, and it’s a whole lot more fun than a being a grownup.”

I shrugged. Being a grownup is not all that easy. “God,” I said. “Humans have a lot of adolescent fears and fantasies that set us up for some very bad outcomes. And we have a lot of trouble outgrowing them. I, myself, have a few I’d like to outgrow.”

“I know,” God sighed. “Open your mouth.” I gave her a look but complied.

“Got some crowns. Fillings. And overall, your teeth look thinner. Not shiny white anymore.”

“So?” I asked, a little ashamed of the state of my teeth.

“So,” God said. “Teeth don’t lie. You can whiten them, cap them, pull them all out. You can just keep flossing and brushing ‘til the day you die. You have choices. They’re your teeth. But someone could come along and knock them out. Then you’d have a new set of choices.”

My tongue curled protectively around my chipped tooth. My mind curled protectively around the days I inhabit, the bones that carry me around, the ways and means I use to navigate these deep, choppy waters.

“God,” I said. “I don’t think I could kill someone to insure my own survival.”

“Of course you could,” God said. “But I hope you don’t. Survival is unattainable anyway. Your teeth won’t be with you forever, you know. No matter what you choose.”

We Have No Sheep

Any minute now, God is going to show up with a new tattoo. He calls them Prison Ribbons. Medals of Honor. He’ll be revving a stolen Harley. He’ll be broke. If arrested, he will be killed.

Any day now, God is going to knock meekly on the outside door, waiting to be welcomed in. She will be crying. There are things too painful to bear alone.

Sometime in the afternoon, God is going to hear someone praying to win a soccer game, begging for help with an obstinate child, asking for healing, or relief, or just one more day, alive on the planet.

This evening, God is going to corral the sheep for their own safety. There’s been a mountain lion sighting. Even the dogs are nervous.

And me? Oh, I’ll be friendly enough. I’ll do some weeding in the garden. Bake some bread. Read. Think. Write. Plan. Argue. And I’ll wait. That’s the hardest. The waiting.

Unbearable, unthinkable companion, could you wait with me? Unload the guns? Unpack the anger? Could we dismantle our fears together? Maybe we could examine our jagged little pieces of hatred and throw them in the river. They won’t skip, but over the eons, they’ll smooth into gleaming stones.

I want to build a translucent wall of agate and quartz that everyone can touch—the living and the dead—the livid and the lucid and the lame—the wayward sons and daughters of a very wayward God.

But I find myself chewing my thumbnail, drinking my beer, rocking in the recliner like the old fool I’m becoming. I want to buy a donkey to protect the sheep. We have no sheep. We have terror, borrowed time, and limited vision but, as of this moment, we have no sheep.

Those Little Brown Birds

Scott yellow bird

Something scares the little brown birds feasting on the front lawn, and most of them fly to the fence, using precious energy for no cause. This time, there’s no predator, only wind. A few of the dull ones stay behind, calmly pecking at the dirt. Those clad in coats of many colors are male and skittish. They drop back to the dirt, shiny and chagrinned.

But now the orange cat slinks by. All the little birds disperse; this time with good cause. They land on the wires, tailfeathers twitching, reminding me of the ragged and precarious ways I cling to life. Like dry grass in the fall, my longings could be braided into baskets or burned away like chaff.

There’s a shallow ravine I’ve known since I wandered the land as a child. I liked hiding there, lying on my back, sheltered from the winter wind. The long dream will continue in this small and private canyon because there’s so much sky. Sandstone gives way here and there to reveal outcroppings of flint and jasper, agate and granite. Someday, I will feed the wilder animals and join the great upheavals and slow erosions of creation.

For now, my dreams are short and dim. God reaches into them occasionally, and I chase him out with a broom, my hair covered in a kerchief, my voice low and menacing. But God crouches even lower, his tail snaps back and forth, his fangs perfectly white and bared. His amber eyes burn with a question, “Are you sure? Are you sure?”

And I admit I’m not. Not sure. Not solid. Frightened by wind and fire. The long-awaited greening seems as far away as justice. I did not waste my youth, but it has not come with me. Some days, I’m too tired to fly to the fence. How long can I hold these things at bay? God goes belly-up at my feet, the pads of his magnificent paws soft and tender. I see the spot that makes him limp and bandage it with my shirt. He thanks me. We rest.

DNA

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In many ways God and I have very little in common. The narrow gateway of our commonality is not the DNA I share with other humans, fruit flies, bananas, trees, or goats; not my uncertainties or my short journey in this limited body. And absolutely not my tendency to bite my thumb when I sense God is close. God doesn’t have thumbs. But sometimes, she borrows one and bites it while I write, just to demonstrate her solidarity. It’s a transparent solidarity. I slip my hand through and watch the world turn to fire. I am intrigued by the godness of fire as mass gives way to energy.

Often the godness around me is so dense I can hardly breathe. Billions of people seething and searching for the right ways to live their lives, afraid of all the wrong things. Even the stars are born and die, so what do we have to fear? One form godness takes is joy, a flower with roots that run deep in dark places. Another form of godness is suffering, and it will be with us until the end.

“Yes,” God says, affirming my pondering. “Maybe not DNA, but joy and suffering. Yes, these we have in common.”

“God,” I say. “I don’t always love it when you show up and agree with me.” I turn my gaze inward, where of course, I find God smiling between the strands that define who I think I am. I slide my consciousness back out, trying to think of other things. Deadlines. Vitamins. Bad travel conditions. Entropy. Anything but You-Know-Who.

“Okay,” God says. “Let’s play hide-and-seek. Shall I find you, or do you want to find me?”

“What does it matter?” I say. “It’s one and the same.”

God pretends to ring a bell. “Ding, ding, ding,” she says. “Folks, we have a winner.”

I can’t help but laugh. What a chump. I shrug. “Fine. So you’re here. What’ll it be today? Compassion? Sacrifice? Slippage? The mundane grip of reality? Painting sticks? Rearranging my rock collection? Maybe a small skirmish with the dark forces of hell and selfishness?”

God mimics my shrug. Then she leans over, examines my thumb, and kisses the bite marks away.

“All better,” she says, her voice tender and soothing. I stare at my thumb.

“Maybe,” I say, tears welling up. “But I don’t see the point. You know I’ll bite it again.”

“Exactly,” God says. “Exactly. Maybe that’s why I love you so much.”

To Those Who Carry The Weight of The Dream

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God and I cried this morning as we listened to the conditions my government has imposed on migrant children. “Yours is the only species I’ve had to make any sacrifices for,” God said, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“I know,” I said. “I’m so sorry. You did such a great job on trees.”

“What do you think keeps going wrong?” God asked. I took a few swallows of stale beer, trying to rise from despair to contemplation. People should try this more often. It’s hard. I got caught in the downward suck of anger but kicked free and grabbed the buoyant green of early summer.

My old bike was nearby. I wanted to ride away, ride fast down a gravel hill, ride into the rising sun, buy things, crash, scare people—anything but hold steady. Somehow, I managed to keep my rear end glued to the chair and my soul open to the broken heart of this gentle God.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I think about this all the time. Is it fear? Do you let some people turn out evil just for the fun of it? What’s our attraction to suffering? Why do we inflict it? It seems like we are always in a great civil war, unable to identify the enemy.”

God was listening intently. This was unnerving. I babbled on. “Okay, so clearly the enemy is not hungry children or despairing parents…” I stopped cold. How do I know they aren’t the enemy? Their needs terrify me. The solutions might involve sacrifice on my part. The unwashed masses, the ignorant hoards, the surging Other. Their demands might overwhelm our systems and end life as we’ve known it. They may yank us down into their awful misery.

“Exactly,” God said. “They have that effect on me, too.”

We started crying again. I cried for myself. My lack of wisdom. My selfishness. My inability to channel my anger constructively. The bruising pain of hitting the wall with compassion thinned down to nothing.

God cried for the children. That’s all. The children.

“They aren’t pawns,” he choked out.

“Yes. they are,” I said in a cold voice I did not want to recognize.

God laid his head on the table, wrapped his arms tight so I couldn’t see his face, and continued to grieve. I found a stack of handkerchiefs and left them beside him as I slipped out the back where my friends, all white and wealthy, were waiting with easy answers. I needed this toxic comfort. I confessed my sins all the way to the bakery where I intended to buy everyone scones and double-shot Americanos. So tasty. So good.

I rattled off the order.

“Got it,” God said. “Can I get a name on that?”

Somehow, I wasn’t surprised in the least. “Don’t you remember?” I asked. “After all, you named me. Was it that long ago?”

God leaned over the counter and whispered, “They aren’t pawns.” He shook his massive head, and small children rained down, tumbling and laughing. A storm of pure of children. “They aren’t pawns,” he repeated as he gathered them like clouds and flew away.

Be Ye Perfect

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God noticed me flipping through the book of Job in the Hebrew Bible. “What do you make of that?” he asked.

“Ah!” I said, startled. “Welcome back.” God had been hitching through Idaho the last I knew. I’d offered him a ride, but he was having too much fun. Now, here he was, dirty, tired, thin, and hungry. “Want a sandwich or something?” I said.

“Sure. Got any hot dogs? No mustard. Milk?”

He ate with gusto, swallowing enormous chunks of hot dog, chased by gulps of milk. “Why’re you reading Job?” he said, mouth full.

I didn’t want to get into it, but God can be quite insistent. “Abortion,” I said. “I’m seeing how Job expressed his wish to have never been born. You know, his longing to go where the unborn go. But it doesn’t matter. It’ll get twisted whichever way the reader wants.”

“Yeah,” God said. “But I didn’t take you for a Bible-thumper anyway.”

I grinned. Me a Bible-thumper? “As if,” I said. “But people use the scriptures with such hatred. I was trying to use them back—for freedom. Justice. Mercy. Common sense. Compassion.”

“Don’t waste your time,” God said. “Back in a few.” He went to shower. I waited, nervous. God was in one of those moods. I hoped the shower would make him sleepy. No such luck. He reappeared, hair slicked back, reeking of sweet aftershave. He stepped to the middle of the room with an air of authority and multiplied. The atmosphere shimmered with many versions of an embodied God. They all wore reading glasses.

“Oh great,” I thought. “God’s brought his own book club.”

They sat cross-legged on my concrete floor. On their laps were copies of the Qur’an, the Bible, poetry anthologies, other holy books, and an array of travel digests. All I had was the Bible I’d been paging through. But that was enough, right?

God sighed in unison. “Never, ever, think you can contain me in the thing you call scripture, or for that matter, words of any sort.” I nodded. I’d known it for a long time. God is God. Words are abstractions. All the Gods nodded.

“Nothing written is without error,” one of them said.

“Nothing can be considered in completeness,” said the next. “We are the Only Completeness.”

“Yes,” said an especially beautiful, fluid God. “You humans are simultaneously healing and dying, growing and receding. The firmament and all your infirmities are in a symbiotic relationship that define each other. There is no perfection, save Process—the pure flow of Compassion.”

“Then take me with you,” I begged. “Please, can I just go with you?” I tossed the Bible aside. God gently put it back and handed me Joy Harjo’s poem, She Had Some Horses  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/141852/she-had-some-horses-590104cf40742

“Soon enough,” she said. “You have a bit more to learn.”

“What? What do I have to learn?” I said, pretending I didn’t have a clue.

God smiled. “We’re hitching to Alabama,” she said. “Can I borrow a twenty?”

I handed her a hundred, and they were gone.