Settling

There are short-lived truths that go sour, longer truths that offer comfort but eventually wear out like a well-loved quilt, and eternal truths that hide among the bulrushes, debts, and sanctuaries. Physical punishment or harsh words will stop unwanted behavior in its tracks, but the motives will dive underground and propel from below.

“Ok,” God says, “Then grace is like a shovel.”

Your offspring don’t own you, and you don’t own your offspring, and we are all the offspring of many. Boundaries are a constant negotiation, but we trundle along, fostering and adopting, breaking and healing, astonished and befuddled; the urges and joys of reproduction writ large.

“Of course,” God says. “My image in the darkened glass.”

There are forces that undermine balance, reduce generosity, and recast restraint as shameful. The meaning of enough is flattened by trucks exceeding the speed limit. Avarice can be dressed up to look like self-care, and acquisition is a seductive master, a damsel in distress, a mirage of power.

“Yes,” God says. “And forgiveness is a home-cooked meal.”

Fear is a natural response to the threat of pain, death, or humiliation. Belligerence is also a natural response. Hatred is the venom produced by fear and belligerence. The poison flows both directions—outward and inward.

“True,” God sighs. “And the antidote…”

God’s voice fades. I lean in, hoping God just needs to clear her throat or something. God is going to say the antidote is love, right? Or maybe compassion, or courage, or sacrifice? Silence reigns. No singing river. No chattering birds. No traffic. No wind. Not even the distant opening or closing of doors.

“Is this it? The antidote is nothing?” I think to myself.

“Noooo,” my inner self protests. I realize I’m dangerously close to settling for a short truth, even if i know it will grow bitter with time, even if I know it will lose its shape like cheap underwear. As long as it disguises the taste of the poison in my mouth–I don’t care.

I look straight into the vibrant universe and hope for a reassuring word.

“Sorry,” God finally says. “I’m all out of platitudes.”

“I don’t mind,” I say, thrilled that God has spoken. “I can handle that. Have a nice day.” I chuckle.

“You crack me up,” God says, laughing. We stand face to face, our foreheads touching, eyes closed, breathing. Then we link arms and walk to the garden to plant a few more marigolds among the rows of kale.

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.

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.”

Face Bugs

There are creatures on our faces that feast on cells and oils and then die because they have no body part to eliminate waste. This might be among the worst design flaws ever. Why do they dwell on our faces? Why do they even exist? To the naked eye, they are invisible. Ancient wisdom teaches that what is seen is transitory, but that which is unseen is eternal. This was before microscopes.

The same ancient sources suggest that God is very particular about his face and who can see it. In fact, seeing the face of God can be dangerous. But living on it could be far worse. I wonder if these microscopic organisms feast and die on God’s face like they do on mine.

“Um, God,” I say, scratching at my scalp (thinking about these creatures makes me itch). “Do you have Demodex on your face, mating at night, laying eggs around the rim of your pores, exploding with excrement when they die?”

“Of course,” God says. “They’re fascinating. I name each of them. Gives me something to do when I can’t sleep.”

“That’s gross,” I say. “Nasty.”

God looks straight at me. “Labeling something nasty means you’re afraid. It’s a primal, irrational response. You can do better than that.”

“No,” I protest. “No, I can’t.”

“Yes, you can,” God says. “Fear is the root of the problem. But fear leads to grabbing at power, which leads to lying, labeling, and leading others astray. Quite vicious. Quite sad.”

I’m befuddled. There are so many things that make me squeamish, so much nastiness…even if I somehow overcame my revulsions, I can’t see how it would help.

“Take each face in your hands,” God says. “Feel the skin, see the longing in the eyes, listen to the breathing. Layers and layers of life at work in the moment. Remember, you’re a bug yourself. A bug in a jar with holes in the lid.”

My claustrophobia hits as hard as the rest of the fears God is igniting in me: Vulnerability, insignificance, death. There’s a scream rising my throat. A howl of desperation.

“Hold the face,” God says. “Hold the face and pray.”

The alternatives are worse, so I glance at God and try to comply. In my mind, I take the jowly face crawling with hatred and look into the beady, belligerent eyes. Underneath the sheen of hatred, I see fear. My hands are on fire. I cannot find words to pray, but from the bones and ligaments of my being, a prayer arises, and my hands hold until the cold and holy silence of forever takes me entirely apart, and I am free.

“Nice,” God says in an admiring voice. “I’ll take it from here.”

Roots

In the bioluminescence of adoration, God stroked my bedhead hair, and I felt powerful. From the safe distance of her corpulent lap, I glimpsd the dark tentacles of fear wrapped tightly around the human heart. I saw the malevolent vine choking off compassion, strangling kindness, and feeding the voracious twins: greed and envy. I imagined taking an axe to the roots of fear and chopping us free. God laughed. Me and Paul Bunyan to the rescue. I laughed too and snuggled in, dreamy and half-conscious.

“What are humans so afraid of?” I asked my big-breasted comforter.

“The truth, honey,” God said. “You’re all deathly afraid of the truth.”

The innocent fun was over. I had to ask.

“What is the truth?” I whispered, hoping God would just gaze off toward the horizon and keep cuddling. But I knew she would not. Nor would she tell me fairy tales. Nor would she sugar-coat whatever I needed to face.

Her voice was even. Steady. Not cold, but compelling. “Honey, the truth is this: You are not perfect. You are mortal, restless, uncertain, and terrified of rejection. You are a member of a species that rapes, maims, tortures, enslaves, starves, and kills its own—a species frightened of all the wrong things.”

She paused and sighed. “Pain, loss, and death are immutable realities. They are part of the definition of life. Any number of accomplishments, offspring, accolades, facelifts, personal trainers, holy wars, conquests, or bank accounts will not take these realities away.”

“Stop,” I said and covered my ears. “I hate where you’re going with this.”

“You have no idea where I’m going with this,” God said. She pulled my hands away from my ears and crossed them over my heart. “In here,” she whispered. “Look in here.”

I felt waves of resistance but tried to hold still and listen. God continued. “Where I’m going is where you’ll go. But don’t worry. I’ve been there forever, and I’ve hidden some surprises.” She chucked me under the chin.

I stared at her, indignant. Defiant. What did God think I was? A child? Surprises? “C’mon, God,” I said. “Give me a break.”

“I already have,” God says, laughing again. “You have no idea.”

I gave up my pride and we settled back in. God, big and soft. Me, small and limited. Imperfect and afraid. God is wrong. I have lots of ideas. But God is also right. I do like surprises.

The City of God

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Last night God populated the street with threatening poses that grew increasingly dense: closed faces briefly lit by yellow streetlights; eyeballs flashing warnings in the gloom; mouths reluctantly exhaling into the thin haze of hopelessness. “Give nothing away,” I said. “Give nothing away.” But things were being taken. In Spokane, God nearly froze to the sidewalk last week. They’ve opened more shelters. In Syria, though, the little ones ice up and are gone.

In the restaurant, safe and warm, I ordered more than I could eat, but I tried to eat it all. The garlic was potent. It protected me as I walked back through that God-infested version of hell, that sinking ship, that over-burdened set of human systems cracking under the weight of evolution derailed. I wanted to touch each face. Instead, I touched my own. I had a dollar in my pocket. Earrings in my ears. Back in the artificial safety of my pale room, I pillowed my head and slept through the blaring sirens within and without.

It’s no easier this morning. God is in the hallway with a cart of towels, soaps, and other deadly products, waiting to clean up after me. I could make God’s day by leaving a generous tip. The life in me says what the hell, leave a twenty. The death in me says give nothing away. Give nothing away—after all, you’ve made your own bed. I see myself dropping diamonds for the groveling masses (I hate diamonds. I hate groveling masses). I see myself–a beheaded simpleton with a gnarly finger in a greedy dike. Mostly, though, I see that I want to matter.

“What to do, Black God?” I ask. “What to do, Brown God? Helpless God? Transgender, transported, translated God? How do I touch you and not get burned?”

The Laughing Buddha, belly large and round like earth, is on fire. The cherubim and seraphim descend with burning coals they have stolen from Allah. The Small One puts her icy hand in mine and says, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll cool your lips when it’s over.” I bow my head, then lift my eyes. I tell myself I’m ready. Nothing happens. Everything happens. I see now that the frozen child has come to save me. She has given everything away.

Vindication

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Big God is in rare form this morning. She’s on her fourth cup of coffee, rambling about my wayward neighbors and friends and how I might be as wrong as they are and how perfection is in the eye of the beholder so no one will ever be perfect or imperfect or right or wrong, but how in microcosms, beauty happens, and how fear is the human fault line she designed in to slow us down. What? I decide it’s time to slow her down. Caffeine-induced mania can lead to things being said that are best left unsaid. God should know this already.

“Fault line?” I say.

“Look it up,” she says.

I paraphrase from Wikipedia, “a fault line is a fracture or discontinuity in a volume of rock across which there’s been significant displacement as a result of rock-mass movement. Large faults within the Earth’s crust result from the action of tectonic forces… Energy release from rapid movement on active faults is the cause of most earthquakes… Faults do not usually consist of a single, clean fracture…rather, complex deformation.”

Fear. Fractures and complex deformations. Designed in? Big God nods her huge brown head, smug. Scores of wild turkeys are feasting on the winter wheat we planted as ground cover in our conflict-laden garden. I wish them dead. I wish them well. I wish them fat and harvested. I don’t know what I wish anymore. Big God is making me crazy. How can I not be right about things? How can God be the author of fear? I want to live unafraid. I need to live as though I’m right.

“Did I say you weren’t right?” asks the God of Tectonic Force. “You just need to get the fear situated comfortably. Then you’ll be as right as you are wrong.”

“But I want to be right,” I insist. “And when it’s all over, I want everyone to know I was right. I want to be vindicated.” I’m acutely aware of my active fault lines: my fears of irrelevance, conflict, and imperfection. I fired a semi-automatic once. It was like a toy, light as a feather. Fast and easy. The dark energy released when we act in fear is addictive. Hungry. Fast and easy.

“When the time comes for vindication, you will walk away,” Big God says.

I give her a quizzical look. “No, I won’t. I’ll relish it.”

“I don’t think so,” God says. “I think you’ll prefer forgiveness.”

“Are they mutually exclusive?” I say, in a taunting voice. “Are you endorsing a duality?”

“Google it,” Big God says. “And can I borrow this cup? I need to hit the road, but that’s damn good coffee you made this morning.” Big God is growing visibly bigger. “Merci, ma chérie,” she adds and bends to kiss my cheek. She has to turn sideways to fit out the door, and by the time she’s lumbered to the garden, her body is blocking the sun.