Thin Ice

My religious friends keep warning me that God and I are skating on thin ice. Especially when God names himself Prostitute or Fat Boy. Especially when she manifests as many, and the guarantees are few. We shrug. It’s what we do.

A man named Mick once told me that our postings make him laugh until he cries. He was puzzled as to why. He reads them every Sunday in an alley where an apple tree drips fruit to no avail, and he sips a yellow beer for communion.

The peyote that is God brings paralysis. The river that is God brings release. It’s the author God who writes you using metaphor and mint, drawing symbols in the sand for your protection, throwing ashes to the wind to guide you home.

We are mostly made of water: a fluid interaction between energy and thirst, a form of transportation, a sacrificial lamb. A sheer veneer of ice embodies danger with a certain kind of grace. But the pace of truth exhausts me, and I’m tempted to give up.

God removes his mittens. Offers me bare hands. The crowd of God applauds as I stand on shaky skates and push off using boulders and other people’s dreams. The sheen of God beneath me, the sky of God above, I am hypothermic mercy and cold, defiant love.

My remaining bones grow brittle with God’s blessing. I no longer take the time to make my bed. God shakes her head. When salt dissolves in water, ions form electrons, positively charged. With saline in my veins, the poison makes a promise that I’ll live another day.

Fat Boy tries to juggle. My Prostitute wears pink. She says, “Look at me, I’m funny, and when I’m cold, I’m slick.” But when I look, it’s only water and a wiser way to die. There’s thunder in the distance. And like Mick, I start to laugh. Until I cry.

Stung

About an hour ago, I opened a shed door oblivious to the wasp nest this disturbed. The response was swift and precise. My right nostril exploded in pain, and I went a little crazy, swatting my own nose, jumping around, yelling, and running. My eyes watered, my face swelled, and a sneezing fit hit me.

I am now in recovery, subdued and holding still to keep the baking soda and Benadryl cream in place. God saw the whole thing. He raced to the house with me and is sitting nearby, but I’m not interested in chatting with anyone remotely responsible for wasps.

“Not fair,” God says.

“Whatever,” I say. “Who in their right mind would let a creature like that evolve?”

“Why do you keep assuming I have a right mind?”

“Clearly, you don’t. How about I stop thinking you’re responsible for anything?”

“That would be an improvement.”

We sit in silence. Me, nursing the sense of betrayal I feel when things go wrong, or I get hurt. God, sitting by. Just sitting by.

In a crisis, does it matter if there’s a God sitting by? Especially one who absolves itself of pestilence, pettiness, and pain? I don’t know.

God continues to sit calmly while I-don’t-knowness fills the room.

“In no way do I absolve myself,” God says. “But don’t worry. You cannot believe me into existence, and unbelief doesn’t get rid of me.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I ask, still feeling sorry for myself.

“You have a tendency to parse and attribute agency and blame. The greater Whole doesn’t come apart. There’s a reason for my name.”

“Which one?” I ask, but I know the answer. God’s first name is I AM. Simple. Overly inclusive, present tense, unequivocal, and far beyond interference or comprehension. It’s the big I AM, sitting by.

“Not sitting by,” God says. “Sitting with. Sometimes, sitting within.”

“The wasp is dead,” I say. “And I’m going to kill the rest of them.”

“I totally understand,” God says. “And for what it’s worth, I believe in you.”

“Well, that might be a badly misplaced belief.”

“I know. But it’s what I do.”

I put on layers of impenetrable clothing, grab the wasp spray, and prepare to do battle. I wish manna would drop from heaven and feed the hungry. I wish a great wind would arise to cleanse and save the earth. I wish self-absorbed liars would be seen for the vicious creatures they are. I wish the wasps would disappear like locusts at the end of a plague, but I know they won’t. Innocent others will be going through that door. Like Bonhoeffer plotting to kill Hitler, I am deeply conflicted, but it’s clear: This one’s up to me.

How I Hang On

The strands of God I braid into lifelines are made of rags, dried roots, aches, pains, snake skins, and sun. My images of God are stained by blood and the poison leaves of rhubarb, crushed, boiled, dried, and painted on muslin shipped from India, the cloth of royalty, spun with pride by beautiful brown people starving for a chance at life.

There are those who keep their meditations and rituals tight and tidy, like spiritual minimalists. They expect God to do the same. Variations on good and evil are not tolerated because of the mess that creates. But I can absolutely assure you, attempts to keep God simple and sorted out never work.

God appears or withdraws without warning. God ignores, intrudes, laughs, cries, gallops away, swims back, soars, grovels, snorts, pouts, lurks, flaps, crawls, and overstays any kind of real or imagined welcome. I lament the naïve worship of false saviors and the primitive ways we think we can protect ourselves.

“And what about plastic?” God asks, joining my foray into complexities and despair. “Tupperware was once regarded as a miracle.” God takes the shape of a vacuum cleaner, then a fridge; God infuses a book of photos of my chemo baldness and the breastless beauty of my friend’s short-term victory over cancer. God is flippant and fancy, playing the fool to cheer me up.

“Be ye still, God,” I say to all the moving pieces.

“Good one,” God laughs and pulls me onto the trampoline. God is protective, warning those close to me that I can’t be bounced as high anymore. Even though this signals the condition of my bones, I am comforted by the attention.

“I know you pretty well,” God says, watching me jump. “I wish you’d stay off ladders.”

“Oh, take a hike,” I say.

 “Good idea,” God says. And away we go.

This is the Big Truth. We can neither contain nor control God: not in rituals, not in words, not in ideas (simple or otherwise), not in rules, not in promises, not in skylines or photos—even from the Hubble telescope. God refuses to be shaken down, defined, spoken for, or reduced. Thus, it is wise to entertain sorrow, welcome the stranger, love the enemy, and find strength in the profound, complex joy that is life itself. God’s blood is the blood we bleed. It is on loan from eternity.

Outsourcing

People who insist on naming God after themselves irritate me. Same goes for people who display religious icons, symbols, carvings, or statues. Wise writers far before my time called these “graven images” (not a compliment) and indicated Yahweh (not their real name) isn’t thrilled with the idea of being portrayed in such limited, distorted ways. We invent names we can pronounce and create images we can use for signaling, comfort, or torture. The names and images come with suggested donations and membership guarantees. The in-crowd will be safe. The out-crowd will go to hell.

For convenience, I call this massive, creative, omnipotent bundle of compassion, wisdom, and potentiality “God.” Short, crisp, easy to spell. But wildly inaccurate, right God?

God slides into view, a pile of sticks, a taste of tea, an imagined joke, a yoga stretch, safety. An act of kindness, vivid forest green washing through a dream that would otherwise be drab. God isn’t shy or without preferences, but neither is God insistent. I wait.

“Ocean,” God says. “Egg of magpie. Eye of newt. Opposable thumbs. Lace. Elephants. Lilies. Those who are heavy-laden. Microscope, telescope, telltale stains on a well-worn soul. Yellow. Something gleaming on the far horizon. Mercy. Hallucinations, hallelujahs, hallways leading nowhere. Everywhere.”

“Stop!” I yell. “What in the world do you mean?

God laughs. “Not sure what you mean by “world.” Remember that just beyond your definitions, a little part of me is waiting for you. But no hurry. We have forever.”

“Blue,” I said. “Warm quilts, icy beer. Old friends. Leg of lamb, bark of dog, things that frighten me. Death. Justice. Slow arrivals. Snow falling innocent and pure. The brave song of a single child. A cracked bell ringing.” I stop and wink. “Am I getting the hang of it?”

God loves to play, but sometimes the rules of the game are hazy. The fire crackles and converts the dead apple tree to gas and soot. The temperature rises. A tiny fraction of feather escapes from a small tear in my down vest and floats on currents invisible to my naked eye. It appears to defy gravity in favor of other forces as it floats here and there. Or maybe it isn’t defiance. Maybe it’s a complex expression of faith: gravity, warm air, cool air, breath, the earth circling a star we’ve named the sun.

The wisp of feather finally settles, God fades, and I know that someday I will be free and undefined. But for now, I make up rules that suit me and name things that actually have no name.