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.

Rita Takes a Break

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As Rita’s co-author, I help proofread, but she usually takes the lead on reporting our encounters. Lately she tells me she’s been unable to locate the spiritual space she needs to write something up for you. The failings of the human race, toxically condensed in the daily news, have gotten to her. So I’ve reluctantly offered to step in.

How shall I address you? My dear wild herd of bison? Covey of spell-binders? Murder of crows? Flock of mutinous sheep? Beloved, befuddled, beholden? Partners, priests, paupers or pawns?

And how might you identify me? Sanctuary? Grove of Aspen? Dark Chocolate? Collector of Rubbish? Renewer of Vision? Thickness of Midnight? Thinness of Dawn? Wallflower, river, mountain, sky, sower, lover, fool? I guess it doesn’t matter. You know who I AM, and I’ve always known you.

Writing is redundant. I’m the Creator. I like creating, not revisiting. How about I write whatever comes to mind? Random food for thought until Rita gets her act together.

  • Did you know that I’m a recycling fanatic? Nothing goes to waste. I don’t throw things away. Of course, far more seeds end up fertilized than should ever be planted or brought to fruition. The earth accommodates this excess nicely. With your new-found consciousness, you need to learn to do the same.
  • Have you noticed that I don’t stand up for myself or insist on more than my share? I don’t try to get even. Ironically, vengeance is only safe with ME because my ways are not your ways. You get carried away when you try to get even. It backfires, and the cycle you’re in is indeed vicious. Nota bene: Revenge provides regressive relief. It never heals the original loss. Give forgiveness a try.
  • Most of you avoid thinking about mortality, but life is defined by death. Anything that does not die has actually never been alive. Death can be met with consciousness and grace. A transition made easier by forgiveness, compassion, faith, and holding hands. I’m always available.
  • Your species starves, tortures, and kills each other. This puzzles me. I’m still not sure if it’s a design flaw or something you’ll eventually grow out of. I won’t give up on you, but I’m worried you might give up on yourselves. In the meantime, if I could ask one small favor: Do not deprive, amass wealth, lie, steal, abuse, or kill each other in my name. I shouldn’t have to ask. You know better.
  • And finally, little ones, when you dare to love the serpent (that writhing mass of malice, embodied in the ignorant and insecure) be assured it will rise up and strike you. Protect your throat. You don’t need to lay down your life trying to love your enemies, but you might. Either way, I’m there.

Okay, then. That should take care of it for now. I’ll admit, this effort has given me a little more empathy for Rita. Yes, in the beginning was the Word, but these little knockoffs are awkward.

Brittle

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“God,” I said. “Blogging with you is like trying to shovel water out of a fast moving river.” God said nothing. This is one of God’s favorite responses. Even though I’m used to it, I don’t like it.

My motivation wanes and I assess the strength of my arms, the shape of the morning, the level of courage left after the terrors of the night. It isn’t easy to let go and make contact with something that vibrates like God. My brittle convictions are always in danger of breaking. My perch is precarious and I don’t look down for very long.

“Down is the wrong direction,” God says, the voice rising from the frost on the windows.

This time, I give God a taste of her own medicine. I say nothing.

“Down is the wrong direction, and anyway, the only real escape is breakage. Don’t be afraid. I work best with colorful fragments, contrite hearts, and brave, belligerent foolishness. I’m more of an abstract artist. I like mixed media. Exotic combinations.”

Even though I intended to stay silent, I couldn’t stop myself. “You are one twisted dude, God,” I said. I thought I was angry, but when God started laughing and dancing and throwing small stones in the air, I melted. I let go. I fell, and broke.

“Look what you did,” I screamed, terrified of all the jagged edges, the false starts, the weakened beliefs. Utter incoherence where once there’d been an idea. An explainable self, shattered.

“Yes,” God said. “Look what I did.”

Tweets

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God tweeted “Not white” and followed that with “Not male.”  Followers gasped and tweeted “Not God.” God laughed and tweeted “Not moon.” And then “Not American,” using gleeful hashtags and emojis. This triggered such a massive unfollowing, Twitter managers pitied God, and granted a stay of execution.

“People.” God shook her massive head as we sat with our feet dangling in the water. “Do you think there’ll come a day when they stop squeezing me into their image?”

“Doubt it,” I said. “I do it all the time, and I know better. You’re impossibly big, and we’ve discovered how vast, how tiny….Um, let’s just say the Known Universe isn’t even known very well. And yes, we did appear to be evolving nicely there for a while, but the wheels have come off. Looks like the retrenchment will be hell to pay.”

God sighed. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Okay,” I said. “Do you know how foolish I feel continuing to hope compassion will overcome hatred?”

“Yup,” God said.

“Or that gratitude will outstrip greed?

“Yup,” God said.

“Well, how about this: I like to imagine you’re going to swoop in and get even with all the bad guys—utterly destroying them. Bam. Humans are really into revenge. Including me. We all hope you are too.”

“I knew that,” God said. “And I’m not.”

I gave up. I wasn’t really trying. We were just making small talk. By the river. On an innocent day. Time enveloped us and came to an end. I slept, body on stone, as the sky thickened, turning the colors of a Navajo blanket. God lifted me in fatherly arms, and I snuggled into that hollow spot where shoulder meets neck. The essential scent of God filled my lungs. I roused myself enough to invite the entire world—no, the entire cosmos–to come sleep there with me. Protected. Somewhere beyond fear or reason.

And God made room. Just in case.

Attacking the morning

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I’ve attacked the morning, vacillating between quiet desperation and grim  determination. God stopped by numerous times yesterday, causing internal turmoil and external chaos. Things went wrong. The septic system backed up, the radios all stopped broadcasting, the window coverings failed, the befuddlement of age scrambled my thoughts. I said sarcastic things, and was almost mean—okay, maybe full-on mean–thus failing the most elementary of God’s little exams. Oh feeble creature that I am. Yes, I can hear the fundamentalist among us quoting Romans to me. Fine. But are you aware that God is both the heckler and the heckled? The wound and the balm? God’s the hot dogs and beer–and God’s the hangover. God’s the 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon with a side of caviar, and the species endangered by such excess. God is the manna, and the little organism that made the manna rot.

Here’s what I say to myself: Get real. Get humble. Get over yourself. Get going.

And God, what do you say?

The alfalfa is vibrant; the sky, hazy. The river runs clear, the turkey vultures eat carrion. All the while, the sun grows more brutal and insistent. God is late. She has that prerogative, but I find it nearly intolerable. In my impatience, I run my hand over my face and half of it falls off. Then the other half. My worst fears explode. I am faceless. Nameless. Alone. An old fool, thinking that I matter in some unique way. Thinking I’m something other than ordinary.

My grandmother once told me I was plain. She met my glare directly, squared her shoulders and added, “But you have piercing eyes, and I like the way you see the world.”

My eyes are still in my head, God. But the world looks jagged. My ears hear sabers rattling. My heart is blunted, predicting disaster, doing nothing. I’m glad my face fell off. I don’t want it anymore.

But the potter has finally arrived. With strong, sure fingers, she takes thick clay soil from an undisturbed spot in the garden and recreates the face I will continue to inhabit. It has loose, permissive skin. She calms my soul and kisses the top of my head. “Take heart,” she says. And I know I will try.

We sit down together on a pallet filled with rusted metal I’ve collected. Survey the stones I’ve gathered. It is the sixth day. “It’s good,” she says, finally. “Very good.” And then she is gone.

Purple Chair

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Some weeks ago, I had three ugly chairs to deal with. Donate? Trash? Hide them away in the abandoned chicken house? I also happened to have three small cans of paint. Lime green, purple, and burgundy. And a paint brush, and a what-the-hell attitude. No one I know will live long enough to entirely declutter. Yanking something back from the brink of the landfill is one of my favorite things. This is why God and I relate so well.

Now, in this lonely morning space, the purple one holds my gaze, shiny and redeemed, imperfect but gracious. The worn sofa accommodates my shifting weight, and the three of us form a temporary universe.

To my left, the accusatory past, the glory days, my living children, my dead friends. The seductive urge to rewrite. Compelling grief mingled with steady resurrections made possible because I remember and remember. But I can’t stay long. The urgency of Now will overpower, as it should.

To my right, the slim future bulges with what-ifs and how-abouts. Ungainly opportunities, bloated with longing and contradictions. Oh, I know the future is not an all-you-can-eat affair, but I wish it were. This is brave of me to admit. I’m a greedy hog, wanting unlimited, tasty dishes served to me, day and night, forever.

The purple chair shimmers in light filtered by fire. Thick smoke has hidden the mountain. My lungs are burning and I’ve begun to cry for help, like a child lost. But I’m not lost. I’m centered in this precarious place between myself and a world growing dryer and more flammable in the glaring clarity of heat.

Soon, I’ll lift myself from the stillness and drive, a long solo journey. I’ll fly across expanses that reverberate with a humble God. A dying God. A green God, pregnant with an eternity no one can grasp. But I know a little about it, thanks to the purple chair, and this moment, the fire, and a slew of generous gifts from departed friends and long-forgotten enemies.

It is enough. Oh, wait. One more confession: I always want more than enough. But I’m slowly learning that more than enough can be a very toxic blessing.

Just so. Enough