Cowboy Up

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God showed up in a cowboy mood this morning. It’d been a while, and I was ambivalent. I don’t love his cowboy moods very much. “Hey puny human, whatta you been up to?” he said, winking at me.

I used to freeze at that sort of question. I’d do a quick moral inventory and find myself falling short, no matter what. But now I just shrug and give a quick account of whatever comes to mind. I said, “Watching TED talks by women, trying to ignore the most frightening parts of the news. Exercising. Writing. Avoiding. You know. The usual.”

“Oh yeah, baby. Sounds good. You got any whisky or some pot?” His jeans were tucked into his boots and the hair he’d chosen to have on his head hung long and stringy.

“Make up your mind,” I said. “Cowboy or pothead?”

“No, you make up your mind,” God answered. “Mortal or immortal?”

There may have been a cock that crowed three times. The archangel Gabriel may have alighted on a Bodhi tree. Kali’s wild black hair may have whipped in the wind, sending fire to the frozen ground. I’m not sure what crashed the morning into the eternal, but something did. I sat like the temporary lump of chemicals and electrical stimulations that I am and swore at God.

“I DON’T KNOW!” I said, as loudly as I dared. (We live in a basement right now. The upstairs people already wonder about me. ) “Most of me is clearly mortal. Maybe the whole damn ball of wax.”

“You’re so cute when you’re angry,” God said.

“SHUT UP,” I yelled, forgetting about the neighbors. “None of this is funny. How dare you act like a fat chauvinist pig? You gonna shoot me with your AR 15?”

“My point, exactly,” God said.

“What? What is your point exactly? I don’t get it,” I said. “That nothing matters? That you can be anything or anyone you like? That you’re the ultimate expression of privilege? A big white idiot of a God?”

Coping with mortality makes me a little touchy sometimes. Besides, I was trying to make him mad enough to tell me something true, or mad enough to leave.

“Your doctrines won’t save you,” God said. “Nor your weapons. Nor your pacifisms. Nor your writing. You’re gonna ride outa here on the horse you rode in on.”

I put my fingers in my ears and started singing, “La la la la…”

“It’s a horse named Dependency. You can’t change that.” God often slices through denial like a hot knife through butter. “And you’re already about as saved as you’re gonna get.”

With a sigh, I stopped trying to ignore him and glared.

“Doesn’t feel like it,” I said.

“And that’s on you, sweet cheeks,” he said, with another maddening wink. “Joy is always optional. Eternally optional.” Then, hunched and bow-legged, he ambled away.

“Wait,” I shouted. “I have more questions!” But he was gone.

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.

God Comes Back

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After that short break, God came back rested, full of new ideas, in one of those rare moods where I knew I could say pretty much anything that came to mind. Over the years, I’ve liked these times a great deal. I’ve asked crazy questions or pushed God for proof of something or the other, often getting dramatic responses. Rooms filling with liquid orange. Inner voices warning me not to jump. Lightening. Severe clairvoyance. One time, the face of God went by, inches from the window of my van. He was driving a semi, loaded with cars. Thanks to the ice, all hell had broken loose on I90. God made eye contact and I knew my life had been handed back again.

Today, the topic on my mind was drag queens. A famous drag queen had made the statement that we’re all God in drag. This seems unlikely. No matter how dressed up I get, I know I’m not God, even though I’d like to be. But the other direction? In my experience, when God comes by, the drag queens sigh in envy.

“You sure look happy,” I said as an opener. God grinned and nodded. I continued. “So I’m assuming you had a good vacation.”

God acted like I’d said something very funny. He belly-laughed for a while and then said, “Vacation?”

“Yeah. Remember? Your break?”

“Oh, that,” God said. “That was all about you, chickadee. I never go anywhere.”

My defenses went up, anger flared. “Don’t call me chickadee,” I said. God can make me unbelievably mad sometimes.

“I’m not blaming you,” God said. “I totally understand your frustration. Yes, I took a break, and of course, I never left. I’m still in the Garden. You’re there with me. Your substance is mine. Mine is yours. It’s just that you have boundaries. And it turns out, I don’t. I’m God.”

I stuck my fingers in my ears, sang la-la-la-la-la, closed my eyes, and staggered out of view. From a cosmic perspective, I’m sure I looked ridiculous. A whirling dervish of denial. But as any alcoholic will happily tell you, denial is useless.

After a few minutes. God caught up and tapped me on the shoulder. She was wearing bright red heels. Her platinum blond hair was piled high, her face heavily made-up. She was oddly beautiful. Oddly safe. She wrapped me in the baby blue boa around her neck, slowed the music, and we swayed in the outrageous splendor of being together, moving exactly to the beat.

Unadorable

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God was puttering around outside my window in the translucent glow of sunrise, looking pleased and peaceful. The sun and similar stars and cosmic wonderments are working out more or less as planned, which is a great comfort to the creator. Other ideas seem to be working out less well.

I put on my boots and stomp out to visit, but God waves me away. I understand. Sometimes, we get a little too much of each other.

To tell the truth, most of the time, I don’t actually adore God. By human standards, God’s a freak. Too big, too little, gargantuan, minuscule, too packaged and narrowly defined, but then expansive beyond the expanses—so utterly Alpha-Omega that it blows any honest mind to smithereens. A glimpse of God is far worse for the average brain than serial concussions on the football field.

But God, embodied in our evolution as a species, is my only hope. At times, this feels feeble indeed. But the great forgiver hangs in there with me, within me, around me, through me, and I hang in with her, even though for the life of me, I don’t get why it has to be this crazy. The planet lumbers along, at risk of becoming another rock orbiting the lovely sun, our species cavorts perilously close to extinction for no good reason, and she suffers along with us instead of zapping the motherfuckers responsible for this mess.

Since I’m dressed for the cold anyway, I fall backwards in the snow and flap my arms and legs in an effort to leave a mark on this transitory day. A gesture of defiance. A plea.

Sky above falls open, snow rolls up like carpet, and the filmy veil between time and eternity melts. A strong wind blows the seasons by, and in an act of pure mercy, God kneels to gather my whitened bones.

“Thank you,” I whisper. She nods. Something vastly beyond adoration breaks my heart, and I see all the people that ever were glowing golden in the backlit dawn, not one of us worthy of a goddamn thing. Not one.

“Take a picture,” she says. “This will be hard to remember.” I slug her in the arm as hard as I dare and get to my feet, shaky but ready. It’s time to go back in, fry some eggs, and mumble my usual incoherent prayers.

On a date with God (again)

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God asked me out on a date, and I threw caution to the wind and accepted. Dating God has distinct disadvantages. First, we go nowhere. We sit in second-hand chairs, drinking stale beer, listening to tunes people posted on Facebook, and we cry. We cry for the homeless, the cold, the hungry, the uninsured, the unwelcome. We cry for those grieving, those healing, and those who will not heal. We cry as the embers stop glowing and the room grows cold. The saints and prophets, the angels and devils, the Buddhas and philosophers crowd together for warmth, and the sky stays bleakly gray. We cry.

“God,” I say, trying to stifle the sobs. “This…this…this isn’t helping.” But one look at God and I collapse back into the mire of all that is wrong, all that hurts, all that enrages. God is midnight blue, absorbing the light and the agony, mixing it up. God is alive with sorrow, awash in the dreadful choices humans keep making. We are destroying the earth. We torture, maim, consume, lie, steal, and kill, denying culpability past the point of absurdity. God gulps it down, takes the hits, stays the course.

Finally, God drains the last of yesterday’s special Yuletide brew and pulls himself together. He’s not a sloppy drunk, and I’m not a cheap date. We hold hands as the crashing waves of all that is true slowly calm into a serene sea of snow. It’s brutally cold. The shy sun pushes through cracks in the blanketed horizon, insisting we remember how beautiful–how devastatingly beautiful–the frozen earth can be when hit by light.

“May I have this dance?” God asks. I agree. This may not be the tune I was hoping for, but there’s no way to know when the band will stop playing. It seems wiser to make the best of it now, rather than wait for the perfect beat.

Charitable Giving

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I positioned my cold feet in the warm sunlight, determined to sit until the embers in the stove or the chickadees outside the window convinced me that anything matters. So far, it hasn’t worked. I’m in a wicked post-holiday mood. I just threw out three beautifully-rising loaves of bread after discovering that flax can indeed go rancid, and this is not good for you. I’d taken a little taste of the dough. It was unusually bitter, which led to the research, which led to the painful placement of the loaves in the compost bucket. I hate that things go rancid.

I want everything to stay whole and healthy, even in large quantities. I often cloak my hoarding tendencies under colorful claims of creativity and eventuality. But I know the truth about me. I’m a mixture of pioneer ancestors and an excessive culture. Like God, I see potential redemption in even the worst of the worst, and try to make use of everything. I hate letting go.

The chickadees are gone. Wild turkeys are pacing the perimeter of the garden, calculating whether flying over the tall fence will result in enough nourishment to justify the energy expenditure. They don’t know about the rancid flax-laden dough about to appear. This may sway their decision. I trust their digestive systems can make use of rancid flax, or they’ll know enough to turn up their pointy beaks and strut away.

“And you?” God says gently, speaking from deep within the pile of nearly-rotten wood I’m trying to burn up.

I pause to think of myself as a calculating turkey, pacing the outer edge of Eden. “No idea,” I answer. That kind of wisdom is a distant memory in the oldest part of my aging brain. But what I do know is that a great, rancid toxicity is blanketing the earth from massive accumulations of wealth. And I don’t know how to shake it off. Even as I scorn the greed of those who have too much, I wonder how I can get a little more. I hate this about myself.

I try my usual cure. “Give until it hurts, you selfish hypocrite,” I say in a nearby mirror.

God rushes toward me like a grandmother saving a child from a coiled rattlesnake.

“No!” she shouts, waving her arms. “No. Stop it. That kind of talk doesn’t help anyone.”

I jump back, startled. She throws a blanket over the mirror.

“Take a beer and sit among your possessions,” she says sternly. “Be in your body. Be in my body. Open your soul. And notice where it hurts, darling. Then, gently, give. But give until it heals. That’s all. Give until it heals.”

This is a complete impossibility. But that’s one of the things I like about God. She often pairs the impossible with dark beer.

 

Shotgun

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Driving along I 90, God and I spotted an ominous black billboard with red letters proclaiming “After you die, you WILL meet God.” The absurdity made us laugh. When God rides shotgun, the drive gets much more interesting.

“Now there’s an eyesore! Who do you think put that up?” God asked. Oh fun, I thought. A road game, like I spy with my little eye. (I play this with the grandchildren.) We’ll call this one Who put up that billboard?

“Well,” I said. “I’m guessing it’s someone you know quite well, but who only knows you through the lenses of judgement or vengeance. Am I right?”

“You’re warm,” God said.

“Okay. Let’s see. It’s got to be someone who’s unaware of all the places you hang out. Someone who doesn’t understand you make everyone’s acquaintance long before they open their eyes.” God nodded and gazed out the window, wispy tendrils of lavender floating around his head.

“And someone who has trouble understanding your infinite, ongoing, outlandish forgivingness. A bully, even. Trying to scare people into thinking you’re a bully too.”

God looked at me, grinned, and adjusted the seat. “These Prius seats are worse than economy class on the newer airplanes. Really hard on my lower back,” God said. “Think you can get the answer before Butte?”

I shrugged. The game was losing its appeal. I realized I didn’t like the person behind that billboard. I wanted to put another one alongside that said “You’ll meet God too, buddy. He’ll be gay. She’ll be the hungry one to your left. The homeless, uninsured drunk. He’ll be the one you put in the private, for-profit prison. She’ll be cold. Broke. Possibly abused. You will have crucified her more times than I can count.”

“Any more guesses?” God interrupted my line of thought. An answer had occurred to me. I didn’t want to say it, but with God, there’s no such thing. I hemmed and hawed. Then I just blurted it.

“It’s my neighbor, isn’t it?” I tightened my grip on the wheel, eyebrows knit together, angry tears welling up in my eyes.

“Right!!” God said. “Ding, ding, ding. You win. Way to go.”

“Ah, shit,” I said, using a word I usually avoid. God had tricked me again. “I should’ve known. I can’t love people like that, God. I just can’t.”

“Sure you can,” God said. His gnarled black hand covered mine for a moment, sending a wave of heat through my body. “I believe in you. Go for it. Remember, I’ve got your back.”

“Nonsense,” I said, giving God a punch in the shoulder.

“Nonsense,” God answered. We stopped in Butte for coffee.