Letting Go

We all get our feelings hurt occasionally. Someone treats us unfairly; people intentionally do terrible things to us or to our loved ones. And suddenly, you’re plotting. The demonic forces of revenge travel around in the sewer lines of my soul, scheming ways to get even, screaming for vengeance. It isn’t pretty down there, but even so, I can spend hours exploring the byways and options, knowing full well my vengeful fantasies would lead to nothing but further misery.

Growing up in the wild west, God at my side, pistols cocked, ready to bring down the bad guys, I often heard tales of revenge. God and I would laugh with the cowboys regaling each other around the table after a round-up or a branding; the nasty horse with the vicious kick, the wily dog that ate the barbequed steaks, the ornery old cow that protected her calf with a deadly charge, head down, snorting. All shot dead. That’ll show em. Shot dead. No more dog. No more cow. No more horse.

These were funny stories, right? The women served coffee and cinnamon twists, but their laughter was far less convincing. God often refused a second cup and insisted on helping with the dishes. When that happened, I would slip away to my fort–a hollow cottonwood stump hidden from view along the creek. There’s a underbelly to revenge—fragile and deadly; I knew this even then, and I needed to curl up and push the images away. My dog, Max, would often come along.

As my own children were growing up, we had a rescue dog. She was part Chow, and she licked our hands and feet with her mottled black tongue, healing and steady. She did not eat anyone’s barbeque. She had huge guileless eyes, liquid brown and deep. She taught us about God and patience, balance and restoration. When we accidentally stepped on her paw, neglected her, or frightened her, she forgave before we asked. But she nipped strangers and followed us to work. We finally had to give her to a friend. She expanded her loyalties and lived out her happy life.

As I sit here decades later, licking my wounds alone, I can see her tail wagging from the great beyond, her eyes telling me what I need to do. “Let go,” the eyes say. “Forgive and get on with being who you are.” I lean toward the vision, and her breath fills my lungs—it’s the sort of CPR God offers when I collapse inward, drained by self-pity.

I gather what I need to gather and set out with renewed resolve. The trail is faint and rocky, but even at my age, going the extra mile isn’t so bad if you have a walking stick and the memory of a very good dog.

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.

Plagues, Pestilence, Fire, and Greed

Image credit: Aljazeera

It is terribly tempting to detach from the news. But I can’t. Protests, fires, floods, torture, gun accumulations, fascists, pandemics, stupidity, war, rape, riots, starvation—these are where the weakest live and die, where misery is chronic, where God makes her home—on the precipice of annihilation.

“I have to let them suffer,” God says as she darkens the room. “There is no other way to show you your failings. No other way to challenge you forward. But I die with them. Every single mangled body. Every single last breath. Each rotten, contorted act of injustice. I’m right there.”

“Yeah?” I say, feeling nauseated and furious. “Yeah? And are you there with the bomber? The shooter? The choke-holder? The fire-starter? The pompous politicians? The filthy rich?”

“Honey, you know I am,” God says in an imploring voice. “I know you’re angry, but you know I am.” And God’s right. I do know. That’s why I pray and swear my way through the sickening news. But it makes me crazy.

If God fully materialized, I’d punch her lights out. I’d go down swinging. If her ears were visible, I’d give her an earful. I’d look her straight in the eye and tell her she’s a failure. I might even reach for her heart, intending to pull it out and examine it with my angular fingers and ever-diminishing vision. But luckily for both of us, she’s staying safely out of reach.

“Honey, I’ve forgiven you,” she says. “And the polite thing to do would be to forgive me back.”

Forgive God for this lousy short existence? For the nightly exposure to the sufferings she could end? Forgive God for what’s happened to people enslaved, burned alive? Women abused? Children starved or beaten to death? Forgive God for the explosive human ego and the fanatical fears that are wiping us out?

“Forgiveness is an act of faith,” God says.

“Stop it,” I say to God. “You’re God. You can do whatever you damn well want.”

“I know that,” God says. “I’m fire and water. I’m beauty, compassion, blood, and guts. I’m beyond and under, alongside and within. And you need to try a little harder. You have to forgive yourself. And me. And carry on. You need to believe against the odds it will come out okay.”

“I can’t,” I say. “It won’t.

“You can,” God says. “It will.”

“I won’t,” I say.

“You will,” God says. “Like I said, forgiveness is an act of faith. And I believe in you.”

Raven

Courtesy of the amazing Ben Reed

I sit here now with my life in my hands, my future in my feet, thoughts in my mind, reluctance in my spirit. I’m trying to make myself throw a friendly arm over the shoulders of ignorant fools who eat propaganda for breakfast. False reassurances are so tasty. Comfort food for the complacent. Minute by minute, hour by hour, I do battle with the urge to hate. I want to hate those who deserve to burn in hell, but I will not. I will not hate the violent, scum-sucking, selfish, sadistic liars. I will not hate their tragically-seduced followers. Hate is comfort food for the self-righteous. We are all self-righteous, and we are hungry.

I will eat chard today and vegetables–the fruit of someone’s labor; sun beating down on dark soil, soil releasing what it has to offer. With gratitude, I will eat.

Raven lands to survey her world. What are you seeing, Raven? Decades ago, I watched a thin boy roast a cousin of yours over a small fire in India. In my world, eating crow used to mean eating your words when proven wrong. This saying has fallen out of use because no one can be proven wrong anymore. But in that child’s world, eating crow was literal. It meant he could live another day. What am I to make of this, Raven? You are my totem, my shiny black spirit guide. You are my wings.

Raven shrugs. The chokecherry bushes hold seven or eight red winged blackbirds, supple branches bending under the weight of this momentary group of dignitaries.

They won’t stay long, nor will I. As wisdom accumulates, flesh dissipates. While Raven lingers, my mind drifts to the exotic neon birds of the tropics, but Raven calls me back with shimmering shades of black. Maybe, someday I will understand iridescence and the angles of illumination. I will love my enemies and even bid them a fond farewell. “Until we meet again,” I will say, with warmth and conviction. “Until we meet again.”

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.

God’s Mothers’ Day Chat with White People Toting Guns

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I would like to speak with your souls today. We’ll need to bypass inflated egos and false defenses. Quiet those quick rationalizations. Lose the aches and pains, your fears and hungers, and gingerly touch the dark walls of your short lives. Let go of the protective gear hidden in your pockets, strapped to your ankles.

You would be wise to surrender. Don’t be afraid. You can drop the best of these words along the path so if you need to, you can find your way home. But for now, lay low. Lay down low. Lay down so low that all you see is your mother. Turn your ear to the earth and listen to her heart beating inches from your body. Curl inward. Remember, everything curls inward. Notice the pulsing cord attaching you to this good earth. For now, you are sustained.

The body broken is necessary. When you try to elevate yourself beyond terror or save yourself with weaponry, remember the trajectory of a bullet is not linear. It takes the curve of the earth. The kind you carry explode on impact. The fragments make their way back weeping and bloodied. They reassemble in the womb.

Did you know you shot my son? Did you know he was your brother?

The garden gates are open. I’ll be waiting there for you. We’ll plant spinach and daffodils, potatoes and beets. We’ll pray for water and pull the weeds. I will knit you back together with fine merino wool, and we’ll use your stony hearts to build a monument. A testament. A tomb.

And then, when you’re ready, here is what I’ll say: Let there be light. And with all creation, I will say again, “Let there be light.” And as the sun reveals your nakedness, your mother will hand you freshly laundered clothes.

Gate Open, Cow Out

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The blister on the inside of my right thumb is almost healed. I got it raking moldy straw and disgusting debris into a small fire intended to renew an abused and neglected half-acre of land. This was some weeks ago. Healing takes time. There will be scar tissue. While in human form, we get bunged up, knocked down, damaged, and sometimes, miraculously (but temporarily) restored.

For instance, a raging cow caught my sister by surprise a few days ago and roughed her up. My sister is tough. She’s bruised and sore, but she’ll be fine. That cow, however, has got to go. Her maternal instincts were disproportionate to the situation, and she was willing to kill to protect her ailing calf from the help it needed. This genetic disposition is unhelpful in a herd cow. Likely, her next life will involve dog food.

On my mind this morning is my wayward friend, likely in jail again because of his addictions and bad taste in romantic partners. Given how we treat prisoners, especially right, there’s a decent chance he’s sick or dead. We aren’t in touch anymore.

Such is life. Sometimes, we make slight advances, sometimes not. Next time, I might wear gloves; my sister might carry a baseball bat and close the gate behind her. Next time, maybe humans won’t disproportionately punish their fellow beings for mistakes. Maybe common sense will replace blind, projective revenge. In the meantime, I have to dispose of the possessions my friend left behind.

“Oh, I’ll deal with them for you,” God says as he settles in for coffee.

“Really?” I say with genuine relief. I should know better.

“And I’ll shut the gate, remind you to wear gloves, sketch some plans for the new addition, fix some lunch, check the kefir, return those calls, and write a thousand words by nightfall.”

I roll my eyes and give God a cookie.

“I’ll sell that cow, plant the kale, and do something about the potholes. I’ll buy some goats to eat the weeds, dig up the dead apple tree, clean the garden shed…I’ll be so moving so fast it’ll be nearly impossible to see me.” God’s beaming and spewing cookie crumbs everywhere.

“Oh, I’ll see you, you goofball” I say. “You’re hard to miss.”

God’s grin widens. “It’s all so easy,” he says. “Just dress the part. I hate to mention this, darling, but you’re a tad underdressed these days.”

Ha! This from an unshaven God in prison orange. A God in old purple running shoes. A God in sheep’s clothing howling like a wolf, a whirling dust devil, fanning the fire…a cookie crumb God demanding I top off his coffee.

His eyes twinkle as he offers me a cloak the color of kindness. It smells like fresh linens. I drape it over my shoulders. I realize it could also be a shroud, but oddly, I’m okay with that.

PS: Along with a few other writers involved in the MT+NY Collaborative (http://www.mtnyccollaborative.org/locations ) I’ll be reading a couple God Blogs tomorrow at 5:00 Mountain Standard Time. Feel free to tune in. And message me right away if you have a favorite you’d like to hear aloud.

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.

HOT

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“Let’s see,” God said. “Whom shall I forgive today?” She was sitting at our dining table, running her fingers down a long scroll like Santa Claus, deciding who’d been naughty or nice, or St. Peter deciding whether to open the pearly gates. God, hard at work, discerning the hearts of…of who? Where? Why?

I sat down across from her with my nicely-whitened coffee and watched. Granting forgiveness is a big job. I wondered if I was on the list of offenders, and if so, what I’d done to get there. Almost every day, I throw a blanket “Sorry” out to the universe–sometimes for my own hateful, selfish behaviors. Sometimes, more of a mass acknowledgement that we humans have really fucked things up.

After what seemed like an eternity, God stopped mumbling to herself and looked up. Her face was glowing. “That feels so darn good,” she said. “I should do that at least a couple times a day.”

“Do what?” I asked, trying to keep the envy out of my voice. I hardly ever see God looking this serene and happy. I felt like the customer in When Harry Met Sally who said “I’ll have what she’s having” as she watched Sally fake an orgasm over a plate of food.

God smiled, knowing exactly what I was thinking. “It is kind of orgasmic,” she said. “Forgiveness is like yoga for the soul. Rest for the weary. Truth for the inquisitive. So good.” She reached over and squeezed my shoulder. A friendly gesture, I guess, but her hands were like burning coals. My shoulder fell off. The intense warmth spread rapidly. Everything fell off. I would’ve screamed for help, but my voice was gone.

Whatever I had once been was now strewn all over the dining room floor—chunks of ego and defensiveness melting like ice. The hound of heaven, lapping me up. The insults and the injuries, the malice and the madness. For a fraction of a second, I loved my enemies. I loved my liquid self. I loved the scorching hot God—the strangest friend I will ever have.

“Thanks,” I thought.

“You’re most welcome,” God said. “You look good all puddled up like that.” She extended her foot, and with one exquisitely long toe, she touched the last of me. The toe glowed, sizzling, blistering, flaming hot.

“So that’s forgiveness?” I said, refusing to completely disappear.

“Yup,” said God. “So good.”

Inviting Abuse

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God and I were philosophizing as we watched the snow pile up. I was wound up—as in downright nasty. “The thing about power is that it brings out the worst in everyone. Like when people weaker than I am mess up and instead of owning up and apologizing, they lash out, make excuses, lie, threaten, and offend. What is wrong with them? Don’t they know they are squishable little bugs?” God raised an eyebrow, but it didn’t phase me. I ranted on. “It’s like they’re baiting me, inviting abuse.”

God frowned and held up her hand. “Whoa there cowgirl, let’s slow down a minute. Of course it’s an invitation. But not for abuse. It’s a screamingly clear invitation for compassion. You hold the cards. I think you know that.”

I glared. The way I saw it, if anyone should be screaming, it should be me. “Yeah, fine, compassion,” I snarled. “But what about me? What about justice? It isn’t fair. People act as if I’m to blame for their bad decisions and bad luck. At least they could say they’re sorry. A lot of people deserve a good whack, they need to be served papers, they need a call from my attorney.”

“You don’t have an attorney,” God said patiently.

“Well, I could damn well get one,” I snapped.

“So could I,” God said.

Unthinkable implications flood the room. God with an attorney. I grabbed the fragments of power I thought were mine, wove them into a raft, and tried to row away. “I’m worthless,” I shouted. “Leave me alone.” I broke into a sweat as I pulled on the oars.

“Here, let me help,” God said, as she settled herself beside me on the leaky vessel. We rowed shoulder to shoulder, gliding over all the angst and blame in the world. I began to let down my guard, but then I realized that the escape route I’d chosen was circular. I panicked and hyperventilated. “We’ve gone in circles,” I yelled, humiliated and filled with dread.

God smiled. “Honey, all escape routes are circular. That’s how I laid things out. Check Google Earth sometime.” She kept rowing, maddeningly cheerful. So, I just gave up. We spent the day exploring the concentric wonderments of creation, the gravitational guidance of long-suffering servants, critical masses of insects and starlings, visions and dreams. By evening, I was completely spent. I laid my head in God’s lap and reached for her hand.

“What are you so afraid of?” God asked as she stroked my hair. I thought as hard as I could, given my exhaustion, the rocking motion of the settled sea, and the distracting brilliance of her deep black eyes. “I don’t know for sure,” I mumbled.

The last thing I heard was the gravely laughter of God playing a game of poker with a rowdy crowd of whiners. She had a royal flush. Her winnings covered a multitude of sins, imagined or otherwise. God pulled the soft flannel blanket of mortality up to my chin, and I drifted off to sleep in the orbit of a forgiving moon.