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.

 

Evicted

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I’m sad to report that God is no longer living in our basement. He’s been incarcerated again. We were gearing up to evict him anyway, but he saved us the trouble. Harsh words. Incarceration. Eviction. Common words, jagged and judgmental, with a false finality that lets us think we can wash our hands of the subspecies we do this to. At least until God jumps in and goes down with them.

It seems to me that God could choose a more desirable group to identify with—but no, he has to do it the hard way. He crawls into the cage, meekly accepting severe limits on his dignity and freedom. On the outside, we sigh with relief, hoping he’ll learn his lesson.

I have to deal with our abruptly vacated basement. The residue of God lingers on everything I touch as I pack up the possibilities and promises left behind. The walls have changed from light green to mud brown. The windows have sunk so low they no longer allow in any light. All the air has been breathed at least three times, and I find somber warnings tucked in every crevice.

“God,” I say in a resigned voice. “Oh, God.” I don’t expect an answer and get none, but I keep up my end of the conversation anyway. “You found shelter here, but it didn’t hold, did it? You needed something stronger. Something deeper than a basement. Something with fewer doors.” I pause, but then admit, “I’m very angry at you. This was a pointless exercise in fear. Mutually-assured failure.”

I go into the bedroom. The closet is stuffed with the things God loved the most, but everything is twisted now. Nothing holds the shape of hope or love. Each item disintegrates with my touch, and little demons scamper like spiders from the joints and ligaments of my dismembered God. I have to sit down for a while. All the blood has drained from my day to day illusions.

Excuses come to me like angels. They fan my face and bring filtered water. This is what I need to continue.

In the kitchen, I find sprouting potatoes and moldy carrots, food from the Food Bank, and flavored coffee–so many artificial additives and outdated beliefs that most things cooked here would be toxic. My own addictions parade around, proud and petty, and like God, I am powerless to rise above the fray.

That phrase Rise above the fray grows legs. Arms. Becomes a troupe of hair-sprayed dancers singing a wicked little song. “Above the fray, above the fray, she thinks she should live above the fray.” I plug my ears and hang my head, immobilized by this damning chorus.

“Well, holy shit!” God says as he appears and shoos away the frolicking vixens. “Good thing I stopped by for the final inspection.”

I gasp. God winks. The dancers dissipate, their giggling refrain the last thing to fade.

“Gotta go,” God says. The hand he offers is bruised, with dirty fingernails, greasy knuckles, and a missing finger. We shake, and he’s gone.

On the counter, I find a hastily scrawled note. It says, “Please forward any mail that comes for me. My permanent address is The Fray.”

“Okay, sweetheart,” I shout to my evicted God. “You’re a better man than I.” And I laugh at my little joke as I scrub the tub. That’s one of my jobs—to lighten the mood while God faces the music for me. I’m pretty good at it. Walruses, sunsets, hummingbirds, and small children are better, but I’m not half-bad.

Emerging From the Night

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Last night my dreams were especially ridiculous and sometimes I was awake. Dead alive awake asleep human mortal disgusted frightened elated alone. These could be hashtags for the night. I take pride in dehydrating myself in the evening so my bladder can’t force me to get up very often. Of course, then I wake up thirsty, but this is a small price to pay in my never-ending quest to fool Mother Nature and stay asleep.

The evening news had the bird bones of Yemeni babies on replay again, so the eyes rolled round and round in their skulls and mine. What is it to me that somewhere thousands of miles away in impossibly dangerous hovels tens of thousands of children have starved to death? Their innocence is unbearable. I hate their parents, their governments, their cultures, their practices, their bones, their eyes, their deaths. I hate it all. I think, “If there was a God, this could not possibly happen.”

“Ah hem.” The God in my living room makes a throat-clearing noise.

“Oh, I know,” I turn, impatient. “There you are. Fat and sassy in my living room. This proves nothing.” Frumpy and gap-toothed, God sits complacent in a housedress on my leather couch.

“What would you give to save a baby?” she asks, unfazed by my dismissiveness.

“Which baby?” I reply.

“My point exactly,” she says.

“No, don’t do that,” I say. “You always get preposterously convoluted like that. I meant it. Which baby? You know damn well I’d risk my life to save a baby in front of me, a baby I knew, a baby I could touch. I’d cut off my arm to feed it. You know that. You wrote it in my genes.”

“Maybe you would,” God agreed. “But the dark ones, out of reach. Not them?”

I ground my teeth, gulped my beer, blew out my breakfast candle. I pushed my eyes deep into my head, rattled the cage of being, and screamed, “They aren’t mine. They aren’t here. They aren’t real.”

God breathed in and absorbed all the air in the room. “But they are mine, I am there, and they are all too real. Your genes are one thing. Your soul’s another.”

I waited for the outbreath. Mercifully it came before I asphyxiated. The outbreath of God filled my lungs before I realized that it is not the kind of air I want to breathe. I want easy air. Nice water. Pretty clothes. I want genetic absolution.

Too late. “What do you want from me?” I asked, filled with self-pity, afraid of the cost.

“Eyes that see, hands that reach, a tongue that speaks the truth,” God said. She patted the spot beside her on the couch. “Come snuggle with me.” I knew it was an invitation filled with peril, but I couldn’t help myself. I’m like that. God’s like that. Against the odds, it appears I’ve been given another day.

Feeding birds

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“Hey, God,” I said. “Should I feed the birds?”

“Say what?” God said, puzzled.

“Should I feed the birds? I mean like buy bird seed, put it in a feeder, fill it up, and feed them?”

“That is entirely up to you,” God said, gleaming bright yellow from the feathers of a goldfinch, scarlet from the blackbird wings. I remembered God’s hysterical laughter at the mating dance of the sandhill crane earlier this spring. Why would she not endorse the idea of bird-feeders? She obviously gets a kick out of birds.

“But should I?” I asked again. “I can afford bird feed. I could feed them and give them a place to splash around, too.”

“You sure could,” God said. “I’ve been doing it for eons. They like thistle seed. And they’re not that picky about where they splash around. They’re like little kids; they love puddles.”

“I don’t like thorns,” I said, frowning. “And I don’t like puddles. Mosquito breeding grounds.”

“Yes,” God said. “You aren’t a bird. Birds see things differently. You’re not a child anymore, either.”

“Sheesh,” I said. “I know that. Why do you have to point out the obvious instead of answering me directly?” This was becoming one of those exasperating conversations where the tables were soon to turn. I could feel it in my bones.

Sure enough, God said, “Excellent question. Why do I have to point out the obvious over and over? Why do I have to bend over backwards, forwards, sideways, up, down, and under? Why do I have to repeat myself ad infinitum? Why do you choose angst over joy? Why do you fear your mortality? Why do you hide in your greed? Why don’t you sing or dance or play more often?”

“I knew you’d do this to me. I ask a simple question, and you turn into a bird, and then get all defensive and blame me for not…”

“Not what?” God said, putting a big, oil-stained hand on my shoulder. The fingernails were atrocious. It was workaday God. “Not what?” he repeated.

I was stymied. I felt blamed and guilty but I couldn’t put my finger on why.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I’m sad, God. And angry. It’s making me dull-witted.”

God laughed. “Basically, just remember this: It’s all chicken feed and beautiful brown eggs. Get out there and love the most obnoxious people you can find. Grab my hand and listen to their hatefulness with interest and compassion. Smile beatifically.”

It was my turn to say, “Say what?”

And we left it at that. I had lists to make. Weeds to pull. A self to feel sorry for, and a country and world to feel sickened by. And God? Who knows? Probably busy forgiving someone. That’s my best guess.