Volcanic

God slept rough last night alongside the cooling embers of volcanic rock from the eruption of Mt. Nyiragongo in Africa. She awoke exposed, porous and pure as the lava itself, but this did not make her happy. She shook me awake to ask if I would bury her under the acres of rich loam currently planted in alfalfa so she could begin reclaiming her complexity. To be simplified to lava is painful.

“Oh no!” I exclaimed as I opened my eyes in the dim light of dawn and ran my hands over a face so jagged and pitted it made terrible acne seem easy. “Oh sweet God. You’ve become stone.”

“Yes,” God said, woeful, but with a shred of hope. “Lava stone. I’ve heard it has healing properties, but I’d rather move along. Bury me in the topsoil, please. There’s still time. I’ll take care of the rest.”

I reluctantly agreed. We held hands as we walked through the verdant fields made fertile by thousands of years of runoff from the surrounding and willing hills. I was glad I’d remembered my cowhide gloves, both because the hand of God was razor sharp and because the shovel I was dragging along was old. The handle was splintered, and I knew I would be digging for a long time, possibly the rest of my life.

The squawking of the wild and noisy geese nesting across the river helped me find my center as God chose the perfect place to be interned. I wished for another way, but life consists of trying to solve things that are not solvable. This is something gradually revealed over the years allotted to those defined as alive. They say that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. This is true, but then the same can be said for all deaths; ultimately all problems are subjective and temporary, and all deaths seem permanent.

The bounce of sound across water is predictable but not guaranteed.

“God,” I said. “Are you sure?” I was wondering why God insisted on being buried on such a beautiful day. I wondered why I had to be the one digging. I wondered where this weathered old shovel came from.

“Yes,” God said, the nod of her head causing tremors under my feet. Her voice is not measured in decibels but rather revealed in the marrow of reverberating bone. I broke ground, putting body and soul into the sink of the shovel, giving thanks for the leather protecting my thin, unlovely skin from slivers and blisters. I have callouses, but they are often an insufficient defense for these long hot days and the softening effect of sweat.

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.

Co-Author Explodes Again

My co-author blew up yesterday. This happens when realities clash or there are temperature extremes. First, hairline cracks appear in God’s image–like they do in cement when you’ve poured a slab but failed to make the relief cuts required to handle the stress of shrinkage. The cracks widen into fissures. The rumbling grows into thunderous protests working their way up from the bottom of soul. And then as they say in the comics: Ka-boom. The Confetti of God swirls in the sky while bits of fuselage and bone drift down. It can have a chilling effect, so I usually position myself in direct sunlight and wait. Sometimes I add a layer or two of outerwear. Right now, I have on pajamas and two fleece vests.

In a little while, I’ll start picking up the pieces–carefully and without judgement. That’s not to say I won’t cry, but for now, I can handle it. God has strange ways of saying “I love you.” I try to allow for the idiosyncrasies involved in our intimate but elusive relationship. There are other ways I could make it through life but none of them are very appealing.

While I wait, the little gods wash downstream like easy plastic, insisting on their right to kill the dolphins and coral reef. The bigger gods don’t float. They’re a series of bad ideas that reposition their fat hinnies after each disruption, causing damaging aftershocks, gluttonous wealth, and great misery.

A manifestation of Nothing is caught in the crystal formation to my left. “Hello, God.” I say, as I watch the same sun at work, warming what will always be Nothing as it warms my vested, innocent shoulders. “Why do I feel so guilty?”

The Voice of God is green and unbelievably forgiving. The Eyes of God are as reassuring as last year’s nest blown down, still lined with soft feathers plucked from the underbelly of creation. The ways I defend myself are ineffective over the long haul and the ways I try to care for other aspects of creations…equally so. Maybe that’s why God needs to explode, but I don’t like it. The responsibilities for reassembling weigh me down.

“They weigh me down, too,” God tells me, as we slide westward, following the light and warmth, stiff from chronic disappointments and damaged joints. “There seems to be no end to the adjustments required.”

“I know,” I say. “That’s why I’m glad you invented Sabbath. Let’s rest a bit. I’ll put you back together tomorrow.”

“Sounds good,” God agrees. And we curl into the perfect fractal for an afternoon nap.

Revenge is an Autoimmune Disorder

Lately I’ve been creating words with great deliberation because I’ve voluntarily immobilized some of my fingers with a splint to reduce the pain of a swollen joint. And I am unreasonably enraged. Every keystroke counts. Every option must be carefully considered. That’s how old this has all become: God and I exist almost beyond recognition, agitated by self-imposed limits and unrealistic longings as arbitrary and simplistic as the arrival of spring.

“Dear God,” I say, in a voice laced with ice. “Is there anything that would be enough?”

“No,” God answers, unapologetic. ”It’s more about hunger. Less about satiation.”

“But isn’t there a way to set the table so people get their just deserts?” I think my play on words is pretty funny.

“Depends on the menu,” God says, going with the analogy but staying on the serious side.

“Revenge,” I say, unwisely honest. “Revenge is on my menu today. Injury. Insult. Revenge.”

“Oh,” God says. “So that’s what you’re shopping for. Those aren’t commodities I distribute directly. But I can make some recommendations.”

“No thanks,” I say. “I’ve got reliable dealers.”

“I’m sure you do,” God says. “But time is short. Sleep in white sheets and don’t decorate to deceive.”

I consider this bizarre advice. The wounds I wish to inflict have surfaced in my joints and sinews. They limit my range of motion; they dwarf my imagination.

“God,” I say. “Doesn’t everyone decorate to deceive? And why worry about sheets?”

Sometimes, God explains. Sometimes God does not. As we sit quietly, it seems likely this is one of those times I’ll be stuck trying to explain things to myself. But after a moment, God adds, “Revenge is an autoimmune disorder.” He removes the splint, takes my hands, anoints them with coconut oil, kisses each swollen knuckle, and turns my palms up. I see down through the calloused layers of my life.

“If you sleep nude on white sheets, the colors of your dead skin leave distinct markings. Like a map—a recognition. A way forward.” God says. “It is good to shed dead skin. Good to leave evidence of your slow, distinct transformations.”

“But sometimes, I don’t want to transform, God. I want to get my offenders by the neck and do some transforming of my own.”

“Me, too,” God says. But he continues to hold my hands. Slowly, I move God’s hands up to my neck, cover God’s hands with mine, and wait. There is a pulsating warmth but no pressure. Then God gently slides his hands free and puts them around his own neck which has become a Giant Sequoia.

“I can’t reach,” I say.

“I know,” God says. “And I’m O.K. with that.”

Illusions

Almost every morning, though I’m never quite sure why, I willingly rise to meet the occasion of dawn. Lately, I’ve been finding God already busy in the kitchen baking massive amounts of bread and eating chocolate between virtual meetings. Today, she’s humming to a shadowy companion who is also God. Above me, someone scuffles, below me someone coughs. They are also God. As usual, I’m surrounded, and as usual, I surrender—a prisoner of a war I don’t remember starting.

“Toast?” God asks and winks. “My inmates never go hungry.”

From the far corner of a certain cold reality, I am tempted to refuse. But I love breakfast. “Sure,” I say. “Thanks.” I pour my own coffee and situate myself where the news of the world murmurs in the background, not close enough to harm me—or so I think. But behold. It harms me anyway.

I have a friend who wastes no time. She gets up early for advanced instruction in her second language. Yesterday, she forgot the word for garlic and all was lost. But not really. We both know better. We grew up with Joni Mitchell. We were lucky.

Each day I am reminded of lilies as I dress myself. The petals of lilies hold moisture. If you crush them, the nectar of the gods will glisten in the palm of your unfamiliar hand, and you will ask forgiveness even if you’re sure you haven’t sinned. But how can anyone be sure?

God sits down for a breather, wiping flour dust across the front of her dark silk blouse. Her face is flushed and sweaty from leaning into the oven. So many loaves. So much redemption. “Uh-oh,” I say, as I try to brush the flour streaks off her chest. “You have to look good from the waist up. Remember?”

I offer her a hanky, feeling oddly chivalrous. She mops it across her forehead and gives it back dripping. I contemplate the holy sweat of God pooling in my hand. Could I use this hanky to absolve myself? The world? Could I water the broken lilies and restore them to their former glory?

“Eat your toast,” God smiles, her voice rich and motherly. “Just eat your toast.” She glances down at her smeared shirt and disappears, presumably to change. Maybe I’m supposed to entertain the other Gods and do the dishes. Maybe not. Their sufficiency is both reassuring and destabilizing. I’m never sure what I’m called to do so I make things up. In graduate school the professors said we should not act without a theory to undergird our actions. For some time now, my theory has been love. It’s a weak theory with limited explanatory power. That’s why I like it so much.

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.