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.”

What to do with the Minutes and Years

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“God,” I said while I gazed at my elevated feet clad in thrift store Christmas socks. “You’ve bothered me since I was four years old. Is it really necessary to keep doing that?” My mood wasn’t entirely God’s fault. For reasons obvious to a certain group of us, I had googled holy writings about God’s preferred treatment of the poor and hungry. Sure enough, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist…The writings from faiths all over the face of our little planet tend to agree on this point.

FEED THEM.

The average citizen may not realize that globally, every year over three million children die of starvation, malnutrition, and diseases that prey on the underfed. This is not something I want to realize either. This means God’s heart breaks three million times each year. Every hour that passes, tra la la, we lose 312 youngsters. Give or take. And that’s just children.

These simple statistics put me in a very bad mood. And it gets worse when I try to consider my role in all this. I had a nice, tasty breakfast. I have a couple of warm places to live. I have a lot of diplomas, good friends, loving family, and an impressive array of used snow boots. The few poor people I have any contact with bother me. The starving people I see on the news upset my stomach.

What to do? My supposedly-elected officials face a ridiculous amount of pressure, but it isn’t pressure to reduce suffering, clean up our toxic messes, provide better education, health care, or safety. Nope. It is pressure to reduce the amount of money the wealthy (me included) contribute to the common good. We are insistent about this. We don’t like taxes.

“How long do you plan to rant?” God asks. “And when you’re done, could we do some painting or play a party game or something?”

God and I have a stare-down. God wins. I get out the brightest colors in my collection and slather pink, orange, and lavender across the blankest wall I can find. I streak my hair red and blue. I sketch a tree on an ugly shelf and imagine spring arriving in neon green. I color my sadness yellow and my anger purple. My self-pity is burgundy now, with just the faintest suggestion of fuchsia. Around the shoulders, the immense, muscular, trustworthy, buff, and ready shoulders of Creation-infused-Creator, there’s a flax golden glow. And I know. I just know.

“I’ll do what I can,” I say.

“Yes,” God says. “I know.”

The Way of All Flesh

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“Um, God,” I said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you…”

I saw no way to ease into this topic, so I gulped and blurted. “I intend to end my life if I think it’s time.” My bravado belied my queasy stomach, but I don’t know why I bother to put on airs like that. God sees right through me.

“I know,” she said, almost tenderly. “And that’s an adaptive way to deal with your fear and sadness. A mental escape hatch.”

“So you don’t mind?” I asked. “You don’t care if people kill themselves?”

“Depends,” God said. “I care enormously about your suffering. I suffer with you.”

“I’m not suffering right now,” I said, ever the defensive, egocentric one.

“Then why are we having this conversation?” God asked.

My words tumbled out. “Because of the enormous pressure people feel to stay alive. To defend life at all costs. To survive. To frame death as the final defeat. They pin it on your will. Like when people finally die, it’s ‘God’s will’, or when they live, it’s ‘God’s will’. But then, somehow, it’s our job to keep inventing ways to prolong our lives, and no matter what, we eventually die, and sometimes, slowly, painfully, and without any brain left.”

God gazed out the window. “Scary,” she finally said, mostly to herself. “Expecting conscious mortals to make compassionate decisions…sometimes I wonder if I’m asking too much.”

“Compassionate decisions?” I echoed, thinking, “Could she possibly mean that choosing death, ending a life, could be a compassionate decision?”

The Eternal Allness, the Beginning and the End, the Ever-present Force, the Planner, Sustainer, Granter, Architect, Experimenter, Lover, Truster, Sufferer, Giver, Taker, Saver, Waster—my side-kick and nemesis—smiled like a patient third grade teacher.

“Sobering, isn’t it?” she said. “But yes. You already consciously end millions of lives without compassion, out of greed, neglect, or fear. You execute. And you honor those who give their lives for others. You end the suffering of your beloved pets. You can’t excuse yourself from these contradictions, nor can you legislate them away. Here it is: Sometimes, in the larger scheme of things, choosing to end a life, even your own, is choosing Life.”

“Stop!” I said. I’d lost my bearings, overwhelmed with the wrenching images and conflicts. The dialectics of existence. Ending suffering. Murdering thousands. Politics and greed that result in starvation. The human capacity to grow food; invent medications; toy with life; dole out death. The human longing for perpetual youth. Slippery slopes and higher visions.

“No worries,” God said. “I’ll stop. But I’m not going anywhere.” She grew galaxy-big and atomic-small. She swam in a sea of amniotic fluid, danced a bone-rattling dance, died in the arms of a weeping father, and pulled the sky apart so I could see through myself. She wrapped the individually-beating cells of my heart around her little finger and licked the rings of Saturn like they were strands of taffy. She was being light and heavy, silly and serious. She was kaleidoscopically steady as she pulled the arms of morning around me. Not my morning—her morning.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she repeated, stroking my forehead. “And in a way you cannot possibly understand right now, neither are you.”

Coffee

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This is hard to admit, but it appears my attitude toward life is dependent on a good cup of coffee and whole wheat toast. These are bedrock to my salvation from the tedium of the known world. Sure, I enhance my attitude by conscious efforts and limiting my exposure to the news, but a morning bereft of sustenance takes me down the rabbit hole of despair.

God arrives on the frozen wings of this morning’s wind. I’m ready to confess. “God, I wish I were more resilient, but without coffee and food, I don’t think I believe in you.”

God laughs. “No worries, darling. I still believe in you, and so far today, I haven’t eaten a thing.”

“Fasting?” I said, trying to move the subject away from belief.

“Not exactly,” God said. “When you’re God, eating is complicated. Basically, I wait until I’m invited.”

At first glance, this didn’t seem like much of a problem. If you had a chance to have God over for dinner, why wouldn’t you? There had to be a trick. Invite God for dinner? Why not?

The reasons started rolling in. What would I serve? Would God want salad and dessert? The right silverware? In what form would God arrive? There it was. The central problem. God would come parading in as a stinky homeless guy with a dog. The dog would snarl. The guy might steal things. Or God could show up as a whole camp of refugees, big-eyed, big-bellied, unable to speak in a civilized tongue.

And it wouldn’t be a temporary visitation. That invitation could lead to discomfort and displacement. My bank account would dwindle, my security would be shaken. Even fortified with coffee, and a dark beer waiting, this was too hard for me. I have plans for Pad Thai take-out tonight. I don’t want to ruin this cozy vision by inviting God along.

“I can’t finish this toast,” I said. “I always make about half a piece too much. Would you like it?” Even this was hard to admit. Hard to offer.

God nodded and rocked quietly in our gliding rocker by the stone fireplace. Sure enough, the ugly, hungry, hopeless people began crowding in. God took the crusts and broke them, and broke them, and broke them. There was laughter. God and the children playing tag. God and the old women sharing my beer. God and the young men, admiring the weapons they no longer needed.

“Such abundance,” God said. “Such ingenuity. And with time, you’ll do even better.”

Even full of toast and coffee, I have trouble believing this. But I’m willing to try.