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.

Jerusalem

There is joy in an empty morning, especially if it is tinted slightly turquoise or gentile orange. Wait. I meant genteel. Not gentile. Where did that come from? Oh well. Too late. My mind has gone down the rabbit hole of the middle east and the histories of whole cultures and artificial delineations that have led to pathetic claims of superiority and audacious acts of murder or full-on genocide. Out of suffering has come suffering.

Oh, Jerusalem. You were meant to point us to wholeness but instead, you are irreparably cracked. You have a planet-full of earthborn children pretending to cry out for peace, but peace is boring. What we want is unfettered growth, unmitigated accumulation, endless storage space, and the assurance of a self-styled salvation. Gentile, Jew, Palestinian, Greek, African, White, Latino, Asian, Native, Alien, Influxers, Outgoers, Believers, and those bloated with greed. We’re all a blur in the eye of the passing God who named us Jerusalem and flew away. Named us Eve, Fig Leaf, and Pig’s Eye.

“Are there clues in our DNA?” I ask God as he makes another pass, and I continue to free associate, stimulated by the random events of typos and auto-correct.

“For what?” God says, slowing to a flickering presence, picking at a hangnail, disdainful and uninterested in being embodied.

“For how we’ve gone so wrong,” I say.

“Who’s to say you’ve gone wrong?” God says. “Maybe I planned it this way. And what do you mean by ‘wrong’ and am I included in your sweeping judgements?”

I lean in close to this flippant caricature with onion breath, ragged nails, and bruised feet. God leans away. I lean closer. God gets up and puts himself in the corner, a place of shameful contemplation. I wiggle past the hulking body and become as angular as any corner has ever been.

“Face me,” I demand. Then add in a pleading voice, “I have something you might like.”

God’s hair is greasy. His teeth are mostly gone. His longings are choking the life out of him. He can’t have what he most wants. He’s so lonely he’s willing to settle for fleeting liaisons, lies, and invitations to banquets where only poison is served. Why would anyone host a banquet and then serve poison?

In my angularity, I’ve chosen to serve ramen. It takes the shape of its container, but the long strands remain true to themselves unless they’re cooked too long, and that’s what matters. I try to make sure nothing tastes like soap, whitewash, or condemnation, but there’s a slight aftertaste anyway. I don’t blame myself. If I’ve learned anything from God, it is this: nothing in life will be completely free of aftertaste.

Comfort

God is thick like a down quilt this morning. Thick in the air, thick in the snow, thick in the garden dirt, thick in the fire, thick in sadness, thick in my chest.

Maybe lingering, maybe gone, is a loved one of such large heart and honest soul that the world has a hollow sound right now. An empty echo. The long vibration of the gong. The bell that tolls. I could look to the blackbirds for comfort or the white hills with their dusting of snow, but I don’t want comfort. I want wisdom. It eludes me.

Yesterday was warmer. I found evidence that the raspberry roots are taking life seriously and have begun to send up dark green signs of hope. We could have a bright red harvest next year and maybe even a few berries later this year. The long arc of transplantation requires patience and faith. I sat back on my haunches and gave thanks. But as the day ended, black doubts took hold, and I went to bed hungry.

“Good morning, little one,” God says gently as she shakes off the majesty of thickness and shrinks into human view. A gift. God’s body thrown across the railroad tracks of fear and despair. God, willing to be a slender apparition, glowing in momentary light. I’m torn. I know God is dead and alive, here and there, atomic and cosmic. But I’m no longer sure I speak the right language to be fully understood, and I have these wounds that open in the night. I use whatever pressure I can muster to close them, but they will never heal.

“Good morning, God,” I answer, staring out the one unshaded window. “I don’t feel like moving, or I’d offer you some coffee. Sorry.”

“No worries, honey,” God says. “I know where you keep the cups.”

Aerobics

On road trips, it is important to adapt. I just finished hopping around for 30 minutes in this guest house, urged on by a British man and two scantily clad women on YouTube. As is often the case, the women were silent, but they kept the beat. God sat on the edge of the bed, observing this ritual. My upper arms will be sore tomorrow because I do not routinely wave them around like that. I prefer the treadmill or the great outdoors.

“You’re always welcome to join in,” I say to God, as I wipe sweat droplets from the floor.

“Kinda busy,” God mumbles and turns to the map of the world on the wall.

I follow her gaze and feel the familiar plummet of significance. Not counting disputed regions, for now there are 195 independent (and artificially defined) nations on earth, populated by over seven billion of us. None exactly like me, but all of them a twinkle in God’s eye and a pain in God’s neck. All of them a whisper. Each of them a vision just out of reach.

“Remember,” God says. “The map is not the territory.” I do remember. Albert Korzybski, a Polish-American thinker, said that a century ago. Wise man, but still. Maps are something, right?

I grab my jacket and invite God along for a stroll in the park with the puppy and me. “Already there,” God says. I knew that, but I thought I’d ask. The proportionality of God is the issue. The map on the wall is a flat reminder of a round planet in serious trouble. Many of the flags along the bottom include red. I hold out hope that bleeding isn’t necessary, and weapons are not the final answer.

God sighs. “You left the key in the car and the car unlocked last night,” she says. “Might want to lock up on your way to the park.”

“Might not,” I say. “I like it when nothing happens.”

“Right,” God says with an eye-roll. “Your choice. A safe car is not a blessing. A stolen car is not a curse. Just so you have that straight.”

Of course, I don’t have that straight. I’m human. I manufacture imaginary blessings like that unstolen car all the time. “Sure thing,” I say to God with false bravado. “I get it. You had nothing to do with the car being safe.”

“That’s not what I said,” God says. “It’s just that I hate riding along in stolen cars, but I won’t blame you if that’s what I need to do. I’ll ride. I always ride. Even when it’s only a minor traffic violation, not a stolen car.”

“You ridin’ black or white?” I ask.

“Black,” God said. “Black and male. If they shoot me, call my mother, will you?”

I’ve not spoken with God’s mother for a while. I nod. “I will,” I say, imagining the cosmic grief the call would inflict. “But do you have to take such risks?” God gives me a disappointed look. “Yeah,” she says firmly. “Yeah. I do.”

Placebo

God outright refused to help edit my first run of the godblog for this week. As Co-Author, that’s God’s prerogative, so I have bowed to the forces within and without and shelved the draft about death and composting until God’s in a better mood. I may have to chew my left thumb off, but I will work until at least three hundred words have coalesced into what God and I mutually agree we should say this week. I have the vague notion that God wants to focus on hope.

“Vague notion?” God says. “C’mon. Do you think the placebo effect is an accident?”

This makes me laugh out loud. God knows how much I adore the placebo effect–the authoritative administration of an inert nothingness that, by virtue of belief, triggers healing. Good medical research is designed to factor out the placebo effect. This tickles me. Faith has to be factored out because it is such a powerful force in and of itself.

Humans have evolved to believe in things. It isn’t an afterthought or a design flaw. The leaps of faith we make are sometimes comical, sometimes tragic, often pure magic. But they all point to the nature of the Grand Leaper, my friend God, whose greatest leap of faith ever was giving us some skin in the game. Giving us a say in the matter. Giving us choice. The stakes are high. Will we poison ourselves to extinction? Will we make war until there’s no one left to kill? Will greed remain ascendant and poverty continue to be viewed as deserved?

“Ah hem.” God clears his raspy old throat and hands me a cue card with the word “Hope” scrawled across the entire surface, which is sky. Which is my face reflected in all that I have. Which is you, reading. Which is a child eating a steaming bowl of sustaining gruel. That child will arise. Her name is Enough. Her name is Charity. Her name is Least Among You, and her first words are always, “Do not be afraid.” God surrounds her malnourished frame in his huge hands. The child relaxes and falls asleep, curled in the soft flesh of tomorrow. I’m surprised that such a tiny little thing can make God cry.

“It’s your move,” God whispers a little choked up. My heart skips a beat. I know it’s a trick. I take a deep breath and the right response comes to me.

“No,” I whisper back, “It’s our move. I’ll wait until she’s rested.” God grins and wipes his nose, and I add, “I know what you’re thinking. Old dog learns new trick.”  I give my own chest a congratulatory thump.

God’s grin widens until his face cracks into the full day ahead. My temporal self is sorely tempted to react and run amok, but I don’t. God will wait, and I will wait. The child will sleep.

There is No Why

Some people claim we are supposed to be stewards of this planet which is hurdling through space at speeds we don’t often consider. Others say the earth is ours to use up indiscriminately, regardless of how fast we’re racing through the Universe. Me? God? Today, we’re just along for the ride. I’m listening as deeply as I dare. God’s whispering in that still, small voice. It’s maddening, but that’s what we do sometimes. I’m game. God’s game. The day arrived without my asking. It will depart the same.

“You’re a little bit afraid, aren’t you?” God’s voice was gentle.

“Afraid?” I said. “Ah, yeah. Duh.  It’s not easy hanging out with you. It’s like a single-celled organism snuggling up with a herd of elephants. Like an atom in the ocean. Like I took my tongue and licked Neptune, and now I’m stuck.”

“Hmmm,” God said, distracted. “Do something redemptive. It’ll ground you a little.”

“I could try, but isn’t that mostly your job?” I paused. There’s a corner on our property that’s in bad shape. I’d need gloves, a sledgehammer, a truck, wire snippers, and ultimately fire. But no fire today. Way too dry out there. There’s a time for fire and a time for restraint.

“My job, your job, who cares?” God said. “There’s no end of things that need to be rescued or renewed. Of course, there’s an easier way. You could tell some lies, hoard some money, ruin some pristine land for a nice profit, stone someone, or shoot them in the back. Destruction and cruelty will drive the fear underground and give you a little break.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “Like hitting my thumb with a hammer. Like hearing a fatal diagnosis. Like an oil slick taking down a dolphin. Like torturing a captive, raping a woman, or genocide…” I stopped with a gasp. God was writhing on the floor in pain.

“Oh, God,” I said, kneeling. “I’m so sorry. C’mon. Don’t cry.” I handed God a hanky. “It’ll be okay. I forgot how bad that stuff hurts. I won’t do those things. Or not many. Not often. Let’s head down to that corner, O.K.? We can pick up trash, and rake, and make a difference. C’mon God. I’ll let you drive the Hulk.” The Hulk is a Japanese delivery truck, one of my prized possessions. I don’t make that offer to just anyone.

God gave me a little smile, wiped his nose, and nodded. I handed him the keys. He handed me a pair of gloves. But then, he gave the keys back. “You’re not coming, are you?” I said sadly. It was more of a statement than a question.

“That’s how it will seem sometimes,” God said.

“Then why should I clean up that corner?” I said, fear rising again.

 God surrounded me with my own thin longings and murmured, “Relax, honey. There is no why.”

Faith

Black leopard headshot detail front view looking at camera.

The only reason I have any faith at all is that the alternatives are worse. That, and the incessant presence of this thing I call God bugging me, day and night, my face in her hands. My thoughts invaded, emotions mirrored, breath punched repeatedly out of my gut, eyes stinging, heart heavy. Is this any way to live?

“Hey,” God protests, perched like a bird on a very small branch. “I can hear you, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” I say. “I know.” I look the beast in the eye. “But it doesn’t matter, does it? There’s nothing I could think or say that would make you disappear anyway, right? Vamoose, God. Come here, God. Take a bullet for me, God. Cure me, God. Kill the bad guys, God. Elevate the good guys, make my team win, get me some of that human elixir, revenge. Okay, God? Okay?”

Human prayers—my prayers—flawed. Arrogant. The sheen of innocence rubbed raw by the abrasive sandpaper of reality. For instance, there are people in my life, people in the news, people on the street—all waiting around in my mind in case I muster the strength to love them. But I don’t want to love them. In fact, I wish some of them dead and gone.

“Hey,” God says quietly. “I can still hear you, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” I say. “But that’s your problem.” I offer God my ear buds. “Take a break if you’d like.”

I howl like a wolf, snarl like a jaguar, scream like prey being eaten. I consider the various abdications or aggressions at my disposal. God is an excuse, a drug, a cult leader, a fairy tale, a haven for the vicious and the weak. In the name of God, we’ve tortured, killed, subjugated, taken our fill of the first fruits, grown fat, hateful, and smug.

“Hey,” God whispers from the smallest place. “The ear buds are nice, but I can still hear you. It’s from the inside.”

“Oh, I know,” I whisper back, my voice hoarse, my throat on fire. “I know.”

The day begins despite my protests and misgivings. Morning is rolling across the hills, quivering with the potential of the moment lived, mine for the taking. If I leave it untouched, can it be returned? If I put my soul in my backpack and run for my life, can I escape?

“Hey,” God says without making a sound. “Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” I admit. “But with really good earbuds, I keep hoping…”

“Oh, I know,” God says. “I know.”

What to do with the Minutes and Years

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“God,” I said while I gazed at my elevated feet clad in thrift store Christmas socks. “You’ve bothered me since I was four years old. Is it really necessary to keep doing that?” My mood wasn’t entirely God’s fault. For reasons obvious to a certain group of us, I had googled holy writings about God’s preferred treatment of the poor and hungry. Sure enough, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist…The writings from faiths all over the face of our little planet tend to agree on this point.

FEED THEM.

The average citizen may not realize that globally, every year over three million children die of starvation, malnutrition, and diseases that prey on the underfed. This is not something I want to realize either. This means God’s heart breaks three million times each year. Every hour that passes, tra la la, we lose 312 youngsters. Give or take. And that’s just children.

These simple statistics put me in a very bad mood. And it gets worse when I try to consider my role in all this. I had a nice, tasty breakfast. I have a couple of warm places to live. I have a lot of diplomas, good friends, loving family, and an impressive array of used snow boots. The few poor people I have any contact with bother me. The starving people I see on the news upset my stomach.

What to do? My supposedly-elected officials face a ridiculous amount of pressure, but it isn’t pressure to reduce suffering, clean up our toxic messes, provide better education, health care, or safety. Nope. It is pressure to reduce the amount of money the wealthy (me included) contribute to the common good. We are insistent about this. We don’t like taxes.

“How long do you plan to rant?” God asks. “And when you’re done, could we do some painting or play a party game or something?”

God and I have a stare-down. God wins. I get out the brightest colors in my collection and slather pink, orange, and lavender across the blankest wall I can find. I streak my hair red and blue. I sketch a tree on an ugly shelf and imagine spring arriving in neon green. I color my sadness yellow and my anger purple. My self-pity is burgundy now, with just the faintest suggestion of fuchsia. Around the shoulders, the immense, muscular, trustworthy, buff, and ready shoulders of Creation-infused-Creator, there’s a flax golden glow. And I know. I just know.

“I’ll do what I can,” I say.

“Yes,” God says. “I know.”

Playing the Fool

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It’s been reported that God has a special fondness for fallen sparrows, fools, and small children which may be why he gets such a kick out of startling me. This morning, he arose in a ghostly puff of sawdust from the bottom of the woodpile and like a gleeful child, said “Boo.”

“NOT FUNNY,” I yelled, jumping back.

“Wrong. Very funny,” God replied, giggling. “You’re so easy to surprise. You forget where to look. You let your guard down. You have God cataracts. Gotta shake you up, wake you up, scare the dickens out of you.”

I sighed. “I’m not bringing you coffee until you settle down.”

“No need,” God said, quivering with energy. “Today, I am coffee. Black coffee and donuts. And firewood. I’m pure sugar, perfectly-aged bourbon, a romp in the hay. I’m a pulled tooth, the tooth fairy, the pillow and the sleeping child. I’m a hundred dollar bill flying by in the wind. You can catch me.”

“I don’t want to,” I said.

“That’s not the point,” God said. “What you want is not important. What you’ve been, what you will be, not important.”

Sometimes God acts like this—as if I’m not important—but I know I am. It’s a trick. “Define important,” I said, defiant and a little scornful.

God threw back his head, laughing. “Ha ha ha! Define important!” he wheezed. He slapped my back. “Good one.”

I tried to walk away, but he hopped in front of me on a pogo stick. “Look at me, look at me,” he shouted, filled with joy. I turned away. He turned with me. I back up. He backed up. The melting began—I cracked a small smile. What an idiot. Who can resist such a God?

“Walk like a turkey,” he said. “Or an Egyptian. Flap your arms. Eat bugs. Drink wine. Swivel your hips. Shake your bootie.” God was somehow doing all these things at once while I looked on, trying not to reward such goofiness. I shook a finger at him. “You’re a stubborn old coot,” I said. “Irresponsible, offensive, demanding, foolish…”

“Oh, you are so, so wrong,” God said. “I’m your youngest idea. Your most avid fan. Your faithful servant.” He paused. “Okay. Yeah. That demanding thing is true. I ask a lot of myself.”

My finger was still waggling at him, trying to induce shame, but he grabbed my hand, bowed low, and kissed my palm. “We are both of royal lineage,” he said. I pulled back, but he held on. “Not so fast!” He balanced himself on a large stump and proclaimed, “Poetry slam!” With a kind of gusto only God possesses, he read:

You cannot help but exist among us;
beer-drinkers, side-winders, men with big mouths;
wise-crackers, homemakers, coyotes, and cougars.
Miners, majors, midgets, and moles—
shame-laden fools and the overly proud.
Soul sisters, blood brothers, the quick and the dead.
All are long lost, and continually found.

With a flourish and bow, he shouted “Amen,” and began to fade. The kiss of God burned in the palm of my holy hand. I thought of applauding, but instead, I let the wonder dissipate and brought in a load of fragrant but imperfect wood.