Holy Preppering

The question of what to believe and what to believe in has plagued humans since consciousness seeped into our thick skulls and we uttered our first Why? So many ways to explain what happens, what matters, and how things are related: Science, sorcery, nature, love, revenge, big bangs, money, freedom, justice, magic, self, country, and a wide variety of gurus, presidents, and Gods; it boggles the evolved mind.

When things don’t go our way, we also ask Why not? We assign culpability for painful, scary, disappointing events. Awful things must be someone’s fault: the failings of the various Gods, the devil’s doing, the stupidity of our fellow humans. It’s comforting to blame.

But such attributions are simplistic and often wrong. Absolutes are always nuanced. We naively pit cause and effect against chance because for a species of meaning-makers, meaninglessness is terrifying.

“Yes,” God agrees cheerfully. “It’s astonishing what humans think up to believe in. Accepting meaninglessness, ever-evolving truth, or limited comprehension is tough.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” I ask.

 God shrugs.

Recently, I had a brief encounter with a bona fide Doomsday Prepper. Talk about meaning-makers! Preppers believe fervently that a specific global disaster is imminent, and they enjoy actively preparing for it, honing their skills to endure against the odds, spinning conspiracy theories late into the night.

They hoard food, toilet paper, and usually, weapons. They have generators, animals, flour grinders, and secret stashes of who knows what else. If they are rich, they are building biodomes where they can live once the rest of the earth is uninhabitable.

Generally, they’ve formed God in their own image. This God wants them to have supplies and ammunition. This God wants them ready. This God wants them to survive.

“That’s so sad,” God says. “So isolating. Devastation around every corner. Enemies on every horizon.”

“I know,” I agree. “And it’s likely self-fulfilling.”

“Maybe,” God says. “But what matters is who you’re prepping to share with and who you’re prepping to kill.”

My heart sinks. “Well, that’s easy. We share with those who are like us and kill those who are not. And we kill anyone who threatens our loved ones or our supplies.”

 God nods. “It takes an enormous amount of prepping to be ready to love your enemies.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” I snap, crossing my arms.

“Oh, I think you do,” God says patiently.

“Nice chatting,” I say, backing away. “But I have things to take care of.”

“Going to order another crate of toilet paper?” God asks with a grin.

“Yes,” I admit. “But I’m planning to share the outhouse with anyone who needs it.”

Let the Mother Decide

I was yanked out of the waters of my first baptism by forceps used with such urgency that my head remained misshapen for years. I cry when I think about it, which isn’t often. Birth seems a silly thing to grieve, but my mother didn’t want a baby just then. She wasn’t ready. I was an accident, a burden arriving early. Not by her choice. Not by mine. She would have chosen an abortion, and I would have chosen to be aborted so I could have slid directly to the better place. This forced detour hasn’t been all that scenic. My mother should have been trusted. She knew. But the law required that she carry me from fetus to fruition. So here I am.

I’m lucky. Many born unwanted are never wanted. They remain objects of resentment and neglect. My parents had the internal means to adjust, and the external support needed to accept my birth, recalibrate, and carry on. But I think I speak for most fetuses. Straight to God is better. Let the mother decide.

My second baptism occurred when I was four. My hair was done up in little curls and sprayed with lacquer-like hairspray, so the sprinkling of water hardly ruined a thing. I’ve been told I went along with it, cheerful and apparently charming. I don’t remember much except that I was the focus of a somber ceremony, and it involved a God in white robes.

My third baptism occurred in my late teens, entirely my choice. It happened in a swimming pool in Connecticut, conducted by a fervent bleeding-heart Jesus freak in frayed cut-offs with an acne-scarred chest. The miracles, imagined and otherwise, continued, inspiring faith and madness in equal portions. Snakes haven’t bit me; lightening hasn’t struck me. God outgrew the robes and now arrays herself in tangibilities, acts of kindness, and the brilliance of the rising sun. She has adjusted things so that I can maintain a modicum of decorum and enough sanity to pass as ordinary.

“Ordinary?” God says, teasing. “No. Not you.”

“Hi, God.” I say. “Happy Mother’s Day.”

“Thanks,” God says. She looks happy. She’s carrying a wicker hamper, and though the world is resting on her shoulders as usual, for once, it is riding light and easy.

“What’s in the basket?” I ask, anticipating an invitation for a hike or a picnic. Afterall, it is Mother’s Day.

“Oh, the usual,” she says. “Sandwiches, carrots, water, dandelions, ants, umbrellas, music, cookies…and forceps.”

“Ah, c’mon God,” I say, probably looking a little pale.

“Better to be prepared,” God says. And basically, I agree.

“You didn’t need to bring the ants,” I say.

“You’re probably right,” God says. “But one never knows.”

Bullshit Makes Good Compost

“I started with the idea of green hills but quickly veered toward the more central question of water,” God said. “And when I was younger, I thought everything should have a touch of blue.”  We were considering the markers and wonders of seasons as we strolled along the rising river. Evening light bounced orange off the smoother surfaces. As is often the case, God was stoned, oblivious to the assumption that conversations should make sense. I was on guard. A barely lucid God can be both freeing and frightening.

We skipped a few rocks across white ripples. I squinted up at God and said, “Well, when I was younger, I swallowed the wrong words and have suffered bouts of vertigo ever since. Especially when it comes to you.”

“I know.” God admitted, with a goofy grin on his face. “That may account for your swollen joints and liberal leanings. Maybe it’s an immune system response.”

 “Nah,” I said. “Lately I’ve realized bullshit makes great compost. It was you all along, wasn’t it?”

God threw his head back and a majestic, maniacal mirth roared through the valleys. He whooped and howled and slapped his thigh. Small trees caught fire. He laughed so hard it turned into a coughing fit. I pounded him on the back. He wasn’t really in danger, but it was fun to have an excuse to beat on God.

Things settled and we sat ourselves down on a fallen cottonwood. “Bullshit makes great compost,” God repeated as he wiped his eyes. And he was off again.

“It’s not that funny, God,” I said after the second wave of tremors and surges subsided. “You’re just really messed up right now.”

“I know,” God said between lingering chuckles. “But don’t worry, sweetie. Like you said, the joke’s on me. Sometimes, I forget how hilarious I am.”

As night fell into place, we began walking back, guided by the string of blue lights blinking near the porch. It’s amazing how long those solar-powered bulbs last. And it’s equally astonishing that even with all the wrong words, queasy sensations, and primitive fantasies, God is still my favorite insanity.

He put his arm over my shoulder and in a stage whisper said, “Must you refer to me as an insanity?” His face was still glowing from the flames he’d lit. I shrugged. He grinned. “I mean, at least bullshit makes good compost. What’re you gonna do with insanity?”

It was my turn to laugh. “Give everything away,” I said, happy to have such an obvious answer. “I’ll just give everything away.”

“No, you won’t,” God said.

“Yes, I will,” I said in a calm voice, gazing up into the infinite sky, taking strength from the touches of blue lingering around the edges.

Bruised

God and I were sitting in our pajamas near a nice fire, watching the sky, hoping the storm wouldn’t bring the cold temperatures predicted. Hoping the planet would somehow survive the ravages of greed. I was examining an ugly bruise on my forearm. Essentially, bruises occur when capillaries near the surface break and spill blood. Thin skin increases the risk.

Thousands of years ago, a prophet wrote that God wouldn’t take advantage of a bruised reed. There was no mention of bruised arms, egos, or disintegrating hips, but why would this assertion be necessary? What kind of God would go around beating up injured, weakened people, or break an already bruised reed?

“Um, God,” I say, “What’s your point with that whole bruised reed thing?”

God’s full attention swings toward me, a lumbering presence, a set of boots. I pull my sleeve down to cover the purple blotch. A tiny fraction of God’s focus is enough to end life as we know it, but I risk such things because in the end, it doesn’t matter. We’re sitting on a second-hand couch. I don’t care if it gets scorched.

“Why do you ask?” God says, warm breath laced with lavender and the allure of summer.

“Nice move,” I mumble and shift my gaze to the sparrows landing on the icy fence. As most four-year-olds know, Why? has no final answer. Asking why is a way to prolong the conversation, to shift the burden back.

I turn again to the God on my couch. “I ask because…” I am inundated with unwelcome insights. I hate bruised reeds. If I were God, I’d make a bonfire out of those damned reeds. How is it possible to walk alongside the bruising and the bruised? I don’t like wounded healers, and I don’t want to be one.

We sit. The wind is picking up, the chill becoming dangerous.

The ancient gaze of God is kind. “You love what you think is whole and beautiful because your vision is shallow.”

I close my eyes.

The primordial voice of God is gentle. “You love stories with endings because the untold threatens your sense of control.”

I cover my ears.

The wounded hand of God is warm as it hovers over mine. “You love stones because the bruises don’t show.”

I open one eye.

It’s not a single hand but a thousand; mottled, thick veined, and open. I choose one, entwine our fingers, and wait. God willing, the frozen ground will eventually soften toward spring when both planting and burying will be easier.  “Oh, we’re willing,” God says as the sky dumps snow. “But are you?”

Outsourcing

People who insist on naming God after themselves irritate me. Same goes for people who display religious icons, symbols, carvings, or statues. Wise writers far before my time called these “graven images” (not a compliment) and indicated Yahweh (not their real name) isn’t thrilled with the idea of being portrayed in such limited, distorted ways. We invent names we can pronounce and create images we can use for signaling, comfort, or torture. The names and images come with suggested donations and membership guarantees. The in-crowd will be safe. The out-crowd will go to hell.

For convenience, I call this massive, creative, omnipotent bundle of compassion, wisdom, and potentiality “God.” Short, crisp, easy to spell. But wildly inaccurate, right God?

God slides into view, a pile of sticks, a taste of tea, an imagined joke, a yoga stretch, safety. An act of kindness, vivid forest green washing through a dream that would otherwise be drab. God isn’t shy or without preferences, but neither is God insistent. I wait.

“Ocean,” God says. “Egg of magpie. Eye of newt. Opposable thumbs. Lace. Elephants. Lilies. Those who are heavy-laden. Microscope, telescope, telltale stains on a well-worn soul. Yellow. Something gleaming on the far horizon. Mercy. Hallucinations, hallelujahs, hallways leading nowhere. Everywhere.”

“Stop!” I yell. “What in the world do you mean?

God laughs. “Not sure what you mean by “world.” Remember that just beyond your definitions, a little part of me is waiting for you. But no hurry. We have forever.”

“Blue,” I said. “Warm quilts, icy beer. Old friends. Leg of lamb, bark of dog, things that frighten me. Death. Justice. Slow arrivals. Snow falling innocent and pure. The brave song of a single child. A cracked bell ringing.” I stop and wink. “Am I getting the hang of it?”

God loves to play, but sometimes the rules of the game are hazy. The fire crackles and converts the dead apple tree to gas and soot. The temperature rises. A tiny fraction of feather escapes from a small tear in my down vest and floats on currents invisible to my naked eye. It appears to defy gravity in favor of other forces as it floats here and there. Or maybe it isn’t defiance. Maybe it’s a complex expression of faith: gravity, warm air, cool air, breath, the earth circling a star we’ve named the sun.

The wisp of feather finally settles, God fades, and I know that someday I will be free and undefined. But for now, I make up rules that suit me and name things that actually have no name.

Pick-up Truck

At the present moment, I readily admit I’d rather spend my time shopping online for a reliable used pick-up than hang out with God. Existentially, I know I’m not alone in this preference.

To be clear, I don’t mean just any pick-up. I want a humble, road-worthy little pick-up that will take me anywhere I want to go. Sadly, these are rare. In our current culture, driving a small, fuel-efficient pick-up has become a direct threat to one’s sense of superiority, a signal of submission to bigger trucks, a failure to flaunt one’s flagrant, entitled use of all things petroleum.

And I don’t mean I’m avoiding just any God. If I could find a God who would answer my prayers for a dependable rig, that would be one thing. But the God who shows up most of the time rides shotgun without regard for vehicular prestige or utility. Of course, there are times I like driving around with a good shotgun-riding God. But other times, I want a God who will take the wheel and get me what I want right now. And I want it sanctified, guilt-free, and easy; a blessing from a God who bestows blessings on those who deserve them. Like me.

If I had a little pick-up, I could buy big things and haul them around. I could load up furniture I no longer like and get rid of it. I could throw a sleeping bag in the back, drive anywhere I fancied, and take care of myself. I could escape into thingness, dislocation, and the illusion of having the right-of-way. I even imagine finding an offramp that turns me and my pickup around to give us another run at life.

If I had a God who would agree to be my Security Detail, my Bouncer, my Getter and Doer—a God I could prop in the corner to scare away the heathens and inferiors, wouldn’t that be nice? If I think of it that way, I could be God’s God.

“I don’t need a God,” God informs me in a gruff voice intended to disguise amusement. I’m neither startled nor dismayed. I grin sheepishly, my mind caught in the cookie jar of fantasized omnipotence.

“Uh, hi God,” I say. “Good thing you dropped by. It was getting a little crazy in here.”

“No worries,” God says. “There’s a pandemic of crazy going on. How about we quarantine together? I’ve got a couple of ventilators if we need them.”

“Sounds good,” I say. “I’ve got reams of bamboo toilet paper.”  Shotgun God slaps his thigh. Bouncer God lets people in. Cardboard God starts a fire, and I stir the cauldron of soup and feed the sourdough starter some nice, fresh flour.

Thanksgiving

            “Sometimes, your species is hard for me,” God said, looking a little haggard.

            “I know,” I nodded. “I don’t like people that well either. But it’s hard to write them off entirely.”

            “Yeah,” God agreed. “I often wonder what makes me hang in there.” She paused. I waited. “It might be the gratitude,” she said finally. “Humans are capable of saying thanks in a way that warms my heart. Nothing quite like it.”

            “Gratitude?” I asked. “You like that better than when they apologize?”

            God chuckled. Her corporealness was starting to fray. “Are you a worthy representative of all humanity?” she asked in an impish voice, a luminescent grin taking over what was left of her face.

            “No.” I shook my head emphatically. This was a trick question.

            The grin expanded. “Oh, no worries. You’ll do. Tell me how you feel when you’ve messed up and need to say you’re sorry.”

            I grimace. Confession of sins? Facing faults and shortcomings? Asking forgiveness? Not easy. Not fun.  

            “You already know this,” I said, giving God a look. “I hate failing and being wrong. I do not like needing to apologize.” I looked down at my hands and stopped talking, but in my mind, I went further. It’s complicated. I have my pride. Once in a while, I get stubborn and lie to myself or other people. And I blame others and feel sorry for myself…but I didn’t want to mention that to God.

            The eyes of God looked upon my soul. “My point, exactly,” she said. “People often make the same mistakes and sometimes, show up again, woeful and defeated. Or they get defensive and act like they’re not wrong after all. I accept apologies all day long, but I don’t enjoy the process, and I don’t think people do either.”

            God looked at her own hands, cracked a thousand arthritic knuckles, and stood into the stratosphere of herself. She wrapped the cloak of unknowability around her shoulders and set the sky on fire. “So, that’s why I like gratitude better than penance,” she concluded.

            “But how do you know it’s sincere?” I asked, but there would be no answer. The room, the land, the cities, the earth—everything had become one big party.

            God was center stage, doing an Irish jig. Darlings and demons cavorted across galactic dance floors, and all creation clapped and stomped, keeping the intricate beat alive. “Gratitude’s an attitude. Fake it ‘til you make it,” they sang. I couldn’t see who was playing the frenetic fiddle, but I did not want to join this ridiculous reverie. I needed some space, and God knew it. The scene receded and God’s merciful arms surrounded me. Only me.

            “Go in peace,” she said, dismissing me to my quiet place.

            “Thank you,” I whispered.

            “You’re welcome,” God said. We both meant it.

Burgers

“God,” I said. “In order to believe in some absolute form of you and thus be falsely assured of a thin, exclusive salvation, a lot of people have silenced their hearts and blinded themselves. You’re aware of that, right?” God rubbed his forehead and looked out the window. I continued.  “They put basic truths through mental meatgrinders, make up twisted doctrines, call this faith, and hang together in paranoid groups, ignoring the obvious and applauding the hateful.”

God drummed his fingers together and used his sleeve to wipe his nose. The tears were real, even if God isn’t always real. The idea of absolute has the same problem as the idea of the perfect quilt when it’s chilly, the day free of duties or doubts, possessions that need no maintenance, the weedless garden…. Absolute is a nice idea but in our small slice of temporary reality, there’s no such thing. The quilt has lumps. The day has worries. Things break down and end. There may be no weeds visible, but just under that dark sheen lurk roots and seeds patient and tenacious.

In time, all things show their fault lines–their contradictions, inadequacies, hypocrisies, and failings. But what if we could move out of the constraints of time? What if fault lines are passageways?

God wavered and disappeared as he often does. “Come back,” I commanded in my bravest voice. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Enlighten me. I’m wondering if anything is absolute, and I don’t have all day. Or maybe I do, but I like you best in the morning.”

“Why?” God asked silently.

“Not sure,” I said, happy to be back in dialogue. I often chew on my left thumb when God and I visit. Today, the thumb tasted like soap because I had just washed yesterday’s dishes, and I’m not great at rinsing. I swallowed the soapy taste. “You seem fresher. More possible.”

Still no visible sign of God. “Oh, I’m absolutely possible,” he said from nowhere. “All day. Late into most nights.”

With that amorphous assurance, I put myself in motion; hung the laundry, took out the trash, wiped some dusty surfaces, touched a couple of my favorite rocks, scrubbed three fat carrots that grew despite the weeds, combed my hair, found my phone, took some vitamins, and packed the car for a trip to town.

 “What do you want to do for lunch?” I asked God, politely ignoring his absence.

“How about burgers?” God said, chuckling.

“Or not,” I smiled. I don’t like burgers. God knows this. And I absolutely know God knows. And that’s what made this reassuring. And very funny.

Certain Realities

“I hope you don’t think I’m real by any of your standards,” God said, with a worried look. “It could set you up to be pretty judgmental.”

“Well, actually, I do,” I admitted. “On occasion. But not without reservations.”

“Fair enough,” God said. “I think I can help clear this up. Let’s talk about omniscience. Infinity. If you started counting out loud right now, it would take 31 years to get to a billion. And that’s just one little abstract billion. I mean, I don’t blame you for trying to reduce me to something you can comprehend, a set of easy answers, a source for whatever you think you want–but I’m beyond your gray matter, excuses, threats, formulas, and numeric systems.”

“Sheesh, God,” I said, running my hands through my wayward hair. “Could you just shut up for a minute? I don’t need this right now.”

“Sorry, but I think you do,” God said. “Bear with me.”

The kindly old gentlemen sitting across from me leaned in, stroking his beard thoughtfully. Santa Claus? Everyone’s idealized grandfather? Before he diverted to this ‘I’m not real’ sidetrack, we’d been talking about the trials and tribulations of being the kind of person I am. I’d been on a roll; confident I was convincing him to see things my way and help me out.

But he’d turned the conversation sideways. “With your current instrumentation, you can detect about two trillion galaxies in what you call the universe. Each galaxy has about a hundred million stars.” He paused, and in a tender voice, added. “I know them all by name.”

I tried to do the math. Stars. What’s two trillion times a hundred million? The wonderments and limits of being human blew my brain up. I grabbed at the shards flying everywhere, hoping to pull myself back together.

“Give it up,” God said. “I love you best this way.”

“What? All discombobulated, overwhelmed by the incomprehensible, creative web of whatever you are? Uncertain of what matters in my littleness? How to be of use?”

“Yup,” God said. “Exactly. It’s Otherness that troubles you. Let go of your crazed images and false guarantees. Don’t try to shape me based on your need for power or reassurance. Nothing defines me. I am Beyond.”

I felt lost and enraged. I thought to myself I might as well kill God off and go it alone. The kindly gentleman handed me weaponry and said, “Be my guest, sweet earthling. You wouldn’t be the first.” He raised his hands in surrender.

But the thought of dealing with a decomposing God stopped me cold. What would I do with the body?

“That is one of the problems, isn’t it?” God asked, quietly. “And it’s worse than you imagine.” He lowered his arms and drew me in. “I’m your inner albatross. An old dog sleeping in the warmth of your soul. Internal amputations are tricky, especially when you’re unsure of what to cut away.”

Rake Handles

Painting our shovel handles industrial yellow worked out well, but dark green for the rake handles was a mistake. I used to hate being wrong, but I’m more patient with myself now. I have red paint. I can fix it. Then, we’ll be able to see those handles hiding in the grass and be far less likely to step on the tines or lose the rake for months on end.

“Of course, there’s always the option of putting the rakes away after you use them,” God says with a laugh. I sneer. God continues. “And on the subject of mistakes, I’m getting more patient with myself, too. Perfection is a shifting concept—a process. Without mistakes, there are far fewer ways to learn.”

“Oh, I get that,” I say. But inside I’m thinking yeah, and what about people who won’t admit their mistakes? The people who believe they know more than the experts? The people who willfully destroy the earth? The people who put others at risk by not taking basic protective measures?

“You win some, you lose some,” God says. “You can quote me on that.”

I smile dubiously. I doubt I’ll be quoting God on that or anything. I am sick to death of supposed God quotes thrust at me through social media by people I know to be incredible hypocrites. And yes, we all have our hypocritical moments. That’s the thing about perfection. It brings out the worst in people.

“Sure is smoky,” I say.

God nods, rubbing her eyes. “Yeah, and hot as hell,” she adds.

I raise my eyebrows. God gives me a sly look and nods again. “Like I said, without mistakes, there are far fewer ways to learn. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

“God,” I say. “You scare me when you talk like that.”

“I know,” God says. “But I can’t help it. Fear is one of your bigger mistakes. Hatred is another. Paint those red and put them away when you’re not using them for the good.”

She sounds stern, but she opens her arms for a quick embrace. “The seasons don’t arrive at exactly the same time every year, honey. But they always arrive. You can’t stop them, and you shouldn’t try.”

“Can I quote you on that?” I ask, facetiously.

“No need,” God says. “Everyone who’s anyone already knows. And the rest won’t listen anyway.”

“That’s what it seems like,” I admit. “But you aren’t giving up on them, are you?”

“Never,” God says. “But I’m glad you asked.” The quick embrace is now a bear hug and God kisses the top of my head and for the briefest of moments, everything is holy. And perfect.