Awakenings

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Every morning I wake up before I want to, and the pleading begins. First, I plead with my mind to quit racing, bladder to back off, and feet to stop tingling. I beg the other distractions to have mercy and cease the agitation so I can go back to sleep. Usually, this does not work, so I turn my focus outward and fervently repeat the word please, but I’m not pleading with my mind or body anymore. I am pleading with the Other—the Out-there, the Collective, the Wonderment, the Real. I call her God. You don’t have to. Neither of us minds much about names.

Usually, I don’t feel pathetic, nor particularly hopeful. I don’t feel desperate (very often), nor do I feel humble. Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be anyone there, and the pleading is a thin tributary flowing into the great river of human longing. Other times, God wakes with me, sits on the edge of the bed, takes in the pleading, and we commiserate.

And once in a while, she is awake before me. This morning, there she was, in the darkest corner, staring across the room, breathing all the available air. I woke in her gaze, fighting to get enough oxygen to begin the day. She emanated a largeness, an earthy, expansive decomposition.

“Could you shrink a little?” I asked. “You’re suffocating me. And you need a bath or something.”

God blushed and pulled some of herself back in. “I guess I overshot a little,” she said. “I got distracted waiting for you to wake up.” She didn’t say it in a mean way, but I rolled over and turned my face to the wall in shame.

Here was God, sitting around, getting bigger, sweaty, and out of breath waiting for me to wake up. I’ve been trying to wake up my whole life. There are so damn many temptations, such a draw to falsehoods. There are mental dead-ends, alleys filled with trash, and a certain alluring homelessness that both invites and frightens me.

“God,” I mumbled from under the covers., still facing away. But I stopped. Words are magic, but they are secondary to the primal wish for connection and comprehension. They’re slippery and can be used for nefarious purposes. I didn’t want to hide or obfuscate or excuse myself. I just wanted…I just wanted…I rolled back over to face God.

“Please,” I said. “Please.” Like most mornings, it was all I had. What I was longing for wasn’t clear. Who I am wasn’t clear. What might turn the tide wasn’t clear. The way back wasn’t clear, and the way forward wasn’t either. God was painfully present. Listening. I felt a rising sense of panic.

God opened her mouth. Oh no, I thought. Oh no. Here it comes. What was I thinking? I’m not ready. I’m stupid. I won’t understand whatever she says. I’m old. I’m too weak to do whatever she is going to say. I’m selfish. I didn’t dare plug my ears, but I considered it. The pause may have been brief, or may have lasted centuries. It was long enough for our eyes to lock.

“If you add thank you,” God said gently, “you’ll feel a little better.” Then she settled in beside me, releasing more air than I could ever breathe. I hid under her downy wings and slept the sleep of the holy. The innocent. The dead. This is the only place it is safe to be awake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Babies in Cages

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“Hey God,” I said, barely awake enough to keep my balance while getting breakfast together. It had been a long night, peppered with images of clergy trying to reclaim the name of Jesus and the faces of friends, offended or cheering, and images of crying children. Political pawns—all of us—political pawns in a game best named Greed. I’m a bit player, but I play. We all play.

“This thing about the name of Jesus, or the name of anyone for that matter. I’ve never quite understood it,” I said, spilling a little coffee on myself. I always fill the cup too full.

“Yeah, I know,” God said. “It’s confusing. Is a rose still a rose if you call it fruit-of-thorn-bush?”

I wanted to say yes, but I wasn’t sure. Essence versus label. Image versus substance. Symbol versus reality. At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow? The name? I don’t think so.

“You know I’m not a formula, right?” God asked, trying to be of help. “And you know I’ve tried my darnedest to urge humans along, to reduce the fear, to increase the joy, right? I’ve tried to make it safe to love. Safe to kneel.”

I nodded. Then an awful realization crept into my soul. God wasn’t talking about the usual kind of safety. The good ones suffer and die. The children of God don’t get a pass, no matter how they were conceived or received—named or framed. Having arrived at the evolutionary pinnacle of being able to see ourselves as made in the image of God means nothing in the realm of power, money, influence, safety, or ease of life. It only means we have a couple of choices the rest of creation does not appear to have: We can choose self-sacrifice. We can choose to defy hatred. We can give our lives for our friends. We can love our neighbors. And we can expect to get a whole lot of abuse while we do these things. Some of us will lose a great deal in the process. Some of us will die.

I sat on the couch, ashamed of my comfort. Agitated by urges to drive to the border and get in a cage. Unwillingly complacent. Lost.

“Stop it,” God said, reading my mind as usual. “You aren’t lost. Just a little frozen.”

“Fine, then. Thaw me out,” I said. I may have even crossed my arms in a kind of angsty defiance.

“Blow torch or balmy breeze?” God asked, smirking a little.

There are no words to describe the sound I made. I lost it. I lunged at God, hoping to land a sucker punch. “YOU’RE IMPOSSIBLE,” I yelled as I flailed and howled.

“That’s it, baby,” God said. “That’s the spirit. Take it and run. No gesture is wasted. Do what you can. Go where you must. I’ll be there. And remember–that Jesus thing has a happy ending. Most likely, you will too.”

An Email to God

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Yesterday, I got this email:

Dear Honest God,

I’m not sure how to reach you, so I’m sending this through your friend Rita.

I woke up at 3-something in the morning talking to you. Which is pretty odd since I don’t believe in you, and besides, you are Rita’s, not mine. I was talking with you about being a 72 year old woman – closer to my death than to my birth, although perhaps I am also reborn every day. You, of course, are ageless, so maybe you can’t relate. But if that’s true, what does “older than god” mean?

I have this fear which surfaces occasionally – especially at 3-am-ish, of getting old, losing my memory and my energy / strength. Losing my relevance in the world. Not that I was ever any big deal. My kids with their work and their marriages, kids and jobs and friends – well, I’m not that important any more. Side lined a bit.

My Buddhist brain chants placidly ” We are of a nature to grown old.. We are of a nature to die…” but another louder, more demanding part of my brain (at that hour) is saying “nononono” The image is of being on a big river, some big rocks ahead and then a big waterfall. And I can hear the roar of the falls….

I waited a bit, but then decided I was going to have to step in, so I wrote back:

 Dear Nancy,

So far, God has refused to email me. She’s an awful co-author—whimsical, contradictory, self-important, demanding, and sometimes frightening. She shows up on her own schedule, pesters me at all the wrong times, and provides few answers. But on the positive side, she doesn’t seem to care if anyone believes in her. She’s not needy in that way. And though humans judge “on her behalf”, I haven’t found a judgmental bone in her ephemeral body. Just infinite compassion for the human condition—a condition which includes an evolutionary leap into consciousness that we have trouble handling—thus that 3:00 AM torment of mortality, meaninglessness, and impending death.

I find comfort in the fact that I didn’t choose to be born. Likely, leaving the womb was terrifying, cataclysmic–something to resist. But I was born. From what I can gather, life’s a gift—mine to squander, live selfishly, cruelly, and in fear, or I can live  compassionately, generously, joyously…I can prolong it, or end it, or see what happens next. I can welcome the day or hide from it. And since I try to be as honest as God, I admit I do, or consider doing, all of the above. All of the above.

I used to think I wasn’t afraid to die, but I am. I would welcome eternal youth or at least less arthritis. But though we have choices, they are limited. I try to be at peace with aspects of being alive that I cannot fix or change—even if they totally suck. But one of my torments is this: could I fix more? Am I doing enough? This is where God comes in handy. I remind her I am NOT her, and therefore, it is her job to show me what to do—point me to a calling or two. Or not. I keep my ears tuned to loving frequencies and my eyes as open as I can.

Yes. Big bruising boulders. A roaring waterfalls. Our lives, a river. We drift along, occupying increasingly battered bodies and steadily declining minds. Sometimes, I like to maneuver to the shallow spots and dance. Or float on my back, find the sky, and dream. The raspberry harvest looks to be abundant this year.

Hope this helps.

Love,

Rita

Coping With the Bad Days

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As I pulled up on my bike to check on repairs underway on our van, God came out the back door in his underwear, bent over from the pain in his belly. He claimed it was the doughnut he’d eaten last night. He seemed confused–frightened about his prostate symptoms. “Got cancer down there. I think it’s spread to my nuts.” He motioned towards his testicles which I could have glimpsed if I tried, given the sparse and baggy nature of his attire. “This is my girlfriend’s house,” he explained. “I didn’t mean to stay here, but the police, and the people evaluating me…I’m not a hoarder. I’m autistic. I bought you some parts, but I can’t deal with it. Maybe next time.”

I could see the mottled top of his bald head where a nasty boil had crusted over. With one hand, he clawed at the air near me, seeking solace, coherence, connection. He wanted a kind of reassurance I could not possibly give. It’s the kind of reassurance I usually beg from him. And he’s stuck with the same dilemma. Such reassurances are hollow. Inane. In the short run, everything will not be okay.

I offered what I could. “God,” I said. “Some days will be better than this.”

He moaned and held his stomach. I gave him a teddy bear I’d found in a dumpster. It was clean and soft, tan, with a pink bow. He examined my gift. “This looks familiar,” he said. “I think I’ve met this bear somewhere before. Can’t recall for certain.” He held it against his pain.

Ordinarily, I might have been ashamed of a dumpster gift, but not with God. Our eyes met. Beyond his prostate and roiling intestines, far from his festering boils, half-truths, and tattered underwear, a firefly flitted across the back of our retinas and exposed the dark for what it is—nothingness waiting for light. A blanket. A good place to hide and lick your wounds. Easily done in.

“Sometimes, the dark should be left alone,” God said.

I knew this. I nodded and turned my bike toward home. God faded. I felt certain he was going to the river where there are always people who need to get across. It’s especially dangerous this time of year.

God Goes Microbial

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There are two kinds of people, three kinds of narrative plots, four seasons, five fingers, and fifty ways to leave your lover. But there’s only one of you, right God?

“No,” God said. “That doesn’t work for me.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “And your multiplicity, untethered creativity, unfathomable magnitude…these don’t work for me.”

“Yeah, I know,” God said. And we sat for a while.

“There might be water on one of Jupiter’s moons,” I said, making the kind of small talk I thought God might enjoy.

“Yes, I heard about that little discovery,” God said, feigning polite interest. “Would you like to go there?”

I thought for a while. “Probably not,” I said. “I’m going to plant some corn tomorrow, and I’d like to see how it does this year. We had a problem with our soil last summer.”

“Okay,” God said. “That’s fine. I’ve been feeling a little microbial anyway.”

“Microbial?” I said, narrowing my eyes. This is one of the many ways God makes me crazy. Shifting from planetary to cellular. Reminding me we’re not just surrounded, we’re invaded.

“Let’s stop talking, okay?” I said. Even though God co-authors this blog and is, generally, one of my main sources of inspiration, I wasn’t up for her antics . “You freak me out. Death freaks me out. Being human is harder than you seem to remember. Meaningless lives at my elbow. Suffering sometimes stays the night. How am I supposed to cope? You aren’t much help, you know.”

“I know,” God said. “Do you think it would be better if we’d never met?”

“Maybe,” I said. “But we have met, and I’ll remember that until, well, at least until my mind goes. You’re memorable, even in your haziest forms. Even in your fleeting appearances. Even in your gut-wrenching truths. Even in your damn contradictions and cosmic jokes. Even in your silence, your absence, your failed experiments. Oh, yeah. You’re memorable, you no-see-’em, no-name, no-limits, infinite Beyondness. Maddeningly, mystifyingly memorable.”

“Glad to hear it,” God said. “And you’re memorable too.”

“Fine,” I said, and made a guttural growling sound. “Want to help me in the garden?”

“Sure,” God said. “Thought you’d never ask.”

Slow Awakenings

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“You awake?” I ask God. We got home very late. Time zone hopping is hard for me. I assume God doesn’t love it either, but I want to talk through my disorientation. Maybe with a cup of strong coffee, I can rouse the sleeping giant.

Our travels took us to cities cluttered with Homo sapiens arrayed in colors and shapes one sees less frequently in Montana. Beautiful, disturbing fractals–repeating patterns of hope, defiance, and despair. God on stage. God embodied. God black. God white. God with a face no one could love. I was reminded that God is, by definition, homeless. Such exposures can be unsettling. My usual world is small. My town, smaller.

Here on the rising river, God groans and pulls the alfalfa field over his shoulders, a shimmering quilt, greening as I watch. A red-winged blackbird lands on the garden fence. Then a robin. The boulders of winter have been rolled away, leaving the tomb empty again. The eyes of God are bleary, the breath of God questionable. The garments of night are crumpled at the edge of the riverbed–riffraff to contain spring runoffs and preserve riparian areas essential to survival.

In the natural order of things named God, I catch my breath and await further instructions. God yawns and rolls over. The hills pillow his sleepy head, and he gives me a nonchalant wave before snuggling back in. Generally, I don’t like being ignored, but this morning, I can tolerate the slow awakenings. I am growing more patient as my years dwindle and my soul thins out. Reality has become more translucent. When I really concentrate, I catch glimpses of the beyond where my thin bones and thick arteries won’t matter anymore.

Closer in, everything seems to matter. There are hills to die on, but I don’t know which ones. This is why I wish God would wake up. The fight to survive winter is over, but the wrong-headed weeds of early spring romp through my dreams—nasty little gargoyles grinning and drinking while I stand in the rain, chilled and uncertain. Exactly which battles should I wage, God? And how will I know if I win?

God snorts in his sleep. Likely, he’s dreaming gargoyles too. In the underworld, they’re everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crumbs

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Lately,  my life has been disrupted by a lot of travel. I barely have time to clean things out and cram them full again. I over-pack. It’s good to have a lot of baggage–it gives me choices. I can distract myself, especially if the journey is troubling.

“Ha! You crack me up sometimes,” God says from the bottom of my backpack. “Baggage blinds you, and distraction is the main ingredient in denial. You know damn well these things aren’t good for you. What’s going on?”

“Ha yourself,” I say. “Like you don’t already know what’s going on. I’m tired. I have this little life to live, and no matter where I go, I find meaninglessness, finality, circularity, and suffering. Nothing is going right. Our window shades keep malfunctioning, the dirt in our garden has gotten contaminated, and the kitchen floor is littered with crumbs.”

“Funny you mention crumbs,” God says. “Not long ago, a wise woman taught me the importance of crumbs. If I remember right, she was a Gentile.”

“A what?” I say. God snaps her glorious fingers, and a hundred dogs appear–barking, jumping, fetching, tumbling–licking up those crumbs as if our floor was a five-star doggy restaurant. It’s a party. A festival of abundance. I lay down among the dogs, and they lick my cheeks, salty with self-pity. I think to myself, “In my next life, I want to be a dog.” I throw a heavy cloak of doubt over myself, and I wait.

God watches, arm’s crossed, enjoying the energy. She loves the dogs. The dogs love her. God reaches into the silverware drawer, finds more crumbs, and flings them in the air. The dogs leap up, eating them before they even reach the floor.

“Do you see, child?” God asks me. I don’t see. My ignorance is embarrassing. The doubt has crept up around my neck. It’s hard to breathe.

“Even the crumbs are sacred,” God explains in a patient voice. “And so is your doubt.”

Most of the dogs have romped away, but a golden lab lays down beside me, and we consider this mystery together. The dog pulls the cloak away, puts a paw on my belly and licks my neck. I’ve done nothing to warrant this comfort, this unconditional companionship. I don’t even deserve the crumbs, but I see now they are lovely.

 

Holy Saturday

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“Sit down,” I said to God. “Please just sit down and be something. I can’t stand you floating, digging, running, flying, vibrating, dying, living, and sizzling around me all the time. You don’t play fair. You don’t listen well. Even when you tell the truth, no one understands, so what’s the point?”

God’s eyes welled up. My eyes welled up. We were at an impasse. We’d hurt each other’s feelings. These are painful times. The shoulder of winter shrugged at the weak morning sun. As the last drifts recede, do they feel defeated? Had they planned to stay? All things are ambivalent. We wear uncertainty wisely–a ballast against the weight of being dead wrong.

“God,” I said. “I guess I was a little harsh. Sorry. I know how hard you’re trying. Last night, I saw your beautiful white smile gleaming from your shining black face. Your nine ebony children danced in the rain, your husband stood by, ready to rebuild. I’m in awe at how tenacious you are.”

God took my hands and put them to her soft face, her round belly, her greening fields, her billowing clouds. She plunged them into the last of the snow, blew on them with chinook winds, and marveled at my arthritic joints. “You have remarkable dexterity,” she said.

This was as close to an apology I was likely to get. “I’m not sure what to plant this year,” I said. “Any suggestions?” She shook her head. I wondered if God was having the same problem. Knowing what to plant, what to bury in the promising soil–this takes discernment. And the damn weeds have already put down roots. Nature hates a monoculture. I hate weeds.

The smallest seeds, like carrots, are the hardest to handle. But like God said, I have remarkable dexterity. And a dark uncertain faith. The earth is ferociously fertile and the possibilities of light are infinite. God is a fractured notion of things broken open.

“Yes,” God said. “I can live with that.”

“I know,” I said. And with reluctance, I added, “So can I.”

Dead Certain

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Hey God, a lot of people find the thought of you offensive. I mean even the possibility of you. This may be due to the extraordinarily cruel, hateful, judgmental, ignorant things done in your name(s). Me? No, you don’t offend me. The thought of you puzzles me. When you seem to disappear, or hide in obscure places, I get a little upset. But you always come sauntering in or floating by. This calms me down. I can’t say I’d do things the way you do, but then, I’m mostly happy that I’m not you.

Of course, I do get offended on your behalf. When people claim to speak for you and declare that choosing to end an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy is somehow wrong…or people claim you (yes, you!) favor owning a lot of guns to shoot down the “bad guys”… or those ugly posters claiming you hate gay people…or the straight-faced assertion that women need to submit to men…or slaves should stay slaves…or the rich are holier than the poor…Now that’s offensive. Remember that guy you loved so much in the Hebrew writings—the one who had sex with the woman he spied on the roof, and then had her husband killed? He was a character, wasn’t he? But he expressed things we all feel. Like him, I’d be willing to kill those who malign or misinterpret you. I’d be happy to smash their babies’ heads on rocks. Kidding. This is not something you’d approve of, right? Thank goodness, because there’s no way I’d actually do anything like that.

Here’s the truth: I’m still in kindergarten when it comes to the basics. Everyone is my neighbor and I’m supposed to love them. Ugh. And I’m supposed to love You-Who-Cannot-Be-Named (let alone understood) above all else. Yeah, right. I need a whole lot of help, big momma. I need a warm lap and a lot of bedtime stories, big daddy. I hang on by the tiniest thread, which is good. Otherwise, I’d end up all full of myself–ready to judge, shame, and kill in your name.  I’d rather be unsure and a little clingy than dead certain. Faith, hope, and love are, by definition, never dead certain.

But God, here’s what I’m fairly certain of: Our lives are tiny wisps of air, a twinkling of stardust. For these few moments we draw breath, we can choose to be compassionate, inquisitive, generous, creative, humble, joyous, honest, brave, and beautiful. Or we can choose to be selfish, prideful, ignorant, brutal, greedy, lying, cowardly, mean, ugly shitheads. Most days, I’d appreciate help choosing items from that first list. Thanks. I promise I’ll pay you back when I can.