Risk Assessment

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Sometimes, God makes it look like prayer actually works. Other times, the apparent anarchy of the universe leaks through every layer of my consciousness, and it seems more productive to praise the wind and sky, the stones and soil–more logical to buy a lottery ticket than meekly ask about the right way forward. But then, things happen. Like when God stopped by Sunday evening with eroded teeth and a need for housing.

“First things first,” God said. “I’m a felon.” His hands were shaking a little. “I’ll understand if it’s beyond you to give me shelter.” He went on to explain that a church on the edge of town was praying he’d find a place, so if this didn’t work, that was okay. The right place would appear.

I resented this. It felt like a conspiracy. Who was this, really? God? The Devil? A broken human, standing in? The prayers of the people pelted me like driving rain. I was soaked in a matter of minutes, chilled to the bone, indignant.

“So, ahhh.” I said, stalling. “References?” God provided phone numbers.

“Children?”

God ducked his head. There were tears. He said “Yes, long story. They won’t be living here with me. I’ve gotta stabilize. Find a place.”

A combination of cologne and cigarette smell oozed from his clothing.

“Do you smoke?” I asked, looking for an easy out.

“Yes, but only outside. One thing at a time, y’know?”

It’s a terrible thing when God drapes himself in the needs of the world and crowds in alongside a regular day. Maybe this is why I keep my days so full–brimming with quirks, needs, fears, and imagined emergencies. Maybe, too, this is why I keep myself surrounded with the square footage I call home.

But way deep inside, I suspect there’s no such thing. We make up the idea of home, but it’s fleeting, easily blown away in a driving wind, swept downstream in the flood, or swallowed when the earth convulses. God and I often sit by the fire in my cozy living room and contemplate such things. When she’s like that, I’m happy and warm. When he’s like this—dependent, defenseless–I recoil.

My son-in-law offers a kind word and at least a dollar to every shady-looking street person who approaches him. Even some who don’t. He shakes hands. I’ve watched this many times, mentally making excuses for myself and my judgments. He’s strong and quick. I’m old and vulnerable. I shrink back.

But this time, I rally. A part of me I often ignore knows this: We’re meant to body surf on waves of compassion, not hole up with our cronies or shout clever slogans from behind police barriers. We’ve got to risk being used, bruised, fooled, and foiled.

“Okay, God,” I said. “I’ll call some references.” He nodded and left without pleading. I like that in a needy person.

The references were glowing. A parole officer, respectfully noting how hard these guys try. How little they have to work with. A business person, willing to crawl out on a limb. And me. Gullible? Maybe. But hell. What’s there to lose?

I’ve rented the basement to God. We’ll see how that works out.

Paint

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I caught God in the basement messing around in my modest assortment of half-full cans of paint. Or at least I thought it was God. It was dark, but there was an eerie glow emanating from the far corner that both attracted and frightened me. That’s God in a nutshell.

“What do you think of my paint collection?” I asked hesitantly.

“I like it,” came the cheery response. “Color. Texture. Latex. Stains. Oil-based stuff. You’ve got it all, more or less.”

God’s approval is a boon anytime, but admiration for my near-hoarding of old paint—now that was spectacular. I was ecstatic.

“Some of it’s dried up, some’s moldy,” God added. God has X-ray vision, so I knew this was true. “And you have at least four cans of that ugly, dull orange. Looks like you tried mixing bad stuff. Never works.”

My ecstasy was waning as God’s appreciation became more selective.

“Yeah,” I said. “I was trying to get a mellow, warm orange.”

God laughed, stepped out of the shadows, and slapped me on the back.

“I like how hard you try,” God said. “But mellow orange will not happen anywhere near sage green. You know giving up can be as holy as stubbornly plowing forward, right?”

“Well.” I said. “Same to you. I’ve met some people who are way uglier than that paint. At least I can use the paint in the chicken house. What’re you going to do with those disgusting lumps of humanity? I’ve been trying to love them, somehow, a miniscule little bit, but the best I can do is pretend. They’re destructive, lazy, lying, self-righteous jerks. A serious waste of protoplasm. And because you already know this, I’ll just say it. I hate them.”

“Yup. I knew that,” God said. “Why are you trying to love them?”

I did a double-take. “Because, well. I guess because I think you want me to.”

God gave me a quizzical look, then began to fade artfully away, wavering like fumes above the seven cans of turpentine. With a soft kiss on the top of my head, God repeated “I like how hard you try.”

I felt deflated. Thwarted. I sat down on a five-gallon bucket of neutral gray to consider my next move. I didn’t want a passing grade in effort. I wanted excellent marks. Perfect 10s, 5 stars.

“You’ll take some failures with you to the grave,” God said. “I’ll meet you there.”

 

Sin

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So much depends on the right weed-eater and a proper attitude toward sin. The root structures of unwanted plants and unwanted behaviors are similarly complex.

God explained this to me as we dragged out the various weed-eating options to face the onslaught of summer. I was making an attempt to consider my failings this past week. I don’t like weeds, but I try to be patient. My friend–a permaculture fan–is determined to teach me about biodiversity and tolerance. God, also a permaculture fan, constantly urges me to considering the grand scheme of things.

“Did you want me to confess anything in particular?” I asked God, as we checked the oil in the Husqvarna.

“No, not really,” God answered. “Sin is separation from Good Things. Which happens to be one of my names. One of my favorites, actually. Good Things, I mean. Not Sin. Damn Good Things in fact. You can call me DGT for short.” God chuckled at this little joke and then said, “But seriously, you don’t have to confess. Sin carries its own price. Disconnection sucks. For both of us.”

I nodded. Life is definitely harder when I’m all disconnected, my ego bloated and unwieldy. When I’m my best self, I fill a tiny, unique space in the garden, and I’m happy. When I get greedy, I trample on vital species, poison the soil around me, gobble up nutrients not meant for me, become increasingly undisciplined, and frankly, ugly, common, and boring. And when I get frightened, I yank my roots in close, breaking the thin strands of connection to the earth, and topple over in the dry western wind.

“But I’ve heard that confession is good for the soul,” I said, wanting a bit of encouragement.

“Oh, it is,” God said. “It is indeed. But what’s even better is compost.”

I sat on my favorite boulder, watching the sun go down. For once, God pitched in and did a fair amount of work. My feet and hands were still as I willed myself into the void, waiting for night to descend. I was confident I knew the way.

Saturday Morning, Me and God

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There was massive, unavoidable death on the horizon this morning. It’s there every morning, but I usually look away and eat toast with the radio on—the familiar lulling me into another manageable day. But God had gotten up quite a bit earlier, pulled the shades on all the other windows, and hid my coffee. I ran for the beer. God blocked the way. I feigned a coughing fit. God slapped me on the back and waited. I plugged my ears and said “Na, na, na, na, na…” but God sang along. So I unstopped my ears, opened my eyes, settled my soul, and looked the only direction I could see.

“Is this really how it ends?” I said to God. “So much suffering. So much violence. So much hate?”

“I don’t know,” God answered. “It might end more peacefully. I’m as curious as you.”

“I’m not curious,” I said. “I’m sad and terrified.”

“I know,” God said. “Me too. But aren’t you a little bit curious?”

I thought about it. Am I curious about which disaster ends life as we’ve known it on planet earth? Maybe a little. Because I’m old anyway. Will it be global warming or cooling, caused by us-who-shall-not-be-named? Forced population increase because no birth control or abortions, or even educational opportunities are available to the women? Will it be war, humans determined to kill each other for the sake of….ummm….ideologies? Money? Their idea of God? Will it be the rich, with their weapons amassed, or the poor, with their fists hardened in hunger and despair?

I snapped my attention back to my demanding guest. “God. I’ve mentioned this before, but how can you let people judge, abandon, hurt and kill each other, claiming it’s your will?”

God’s head sagged. “Yeah, I wonder that myself. But I decided on this free will frontal lobe experiment with you all. I’ve given you as many hints and examples as I dare, modeled options that would provide sustainable ways to live, and graceful ways to die. I’ve put nature in motion–wondrous, awesome, stunning works of art that should inspire. Do you have any idea what’s gone wrong?”

“Well, God,” I said. “Not really. I mean, I try, but I’m one of them. Remember? Just as susceptible to deception, greed and hatred as the next human.”

God nodded. “I know.”

We sat down and drank the coffee together in silence. God likes it black and strong. I prefer a fair amount of half-and-half.

 

The Nondominant Hand of God

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Peeling enough old carrots to make carrot soup involves a lot of peeling. As I made my way through the pile, my arm got tired and my fingers ached, so I switched and tried peeling with my left hand. Since I’m right-handed, this required an increased level of mindfulness, which I exerted for the few seconds it takes for my mind to wander off and my hands to surreptitiously switch back to their comfort zone. I caught them doing this three times.

Why do most humans even have a dominant side? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to be equally coordinated on both sides? Dualism bothers me at any level—dominant/nondominant, strong/weak, pretty/ugly…but the shallow assertions of good/bad bother me the most. Context and consciousness exert enormous influence on what is considered good or bad. Maybe this is why my buddy, God, said “judge not, lest ye be judged.” Well. God may or may not have said that exactly, but it’s a good thing to consider. And God went on to imply that we’d be judged by the same standards we use on others. I have a bit of work to do in this area. I cut myself a lot of slack that I don’t necessarily cut others.

For the fourth time, I switch to my nondominant hand. It clumsily scrapes the peel off the carrot, and I try a new tack. “Thanks, Left Hand. Not so easy for you, huh? Hang in there. You might not peel as fast, but you’re important. Look at the relief you’re providing Righty.” I feel a wave of affection for this left hand of mine. My hands don’t try to switch back. Lefty peels valiantly. I admire the tenacity, the humility. My left hand doesn’t aspire to much. It tags along.

Is it possible that God has a nondominant hand? And if so, could God’s nondominant hand be her favorite? The one she used to mold the rolling hills? The one that dispenses gentleness? The one that reminds her of the relativity and circularity she’s set in motion–the stuff we refer to as creation?

These orange carrots. These aged and battered hands. This moment. This body. Breathe in. Breathe out. The oneness and completeness we keep taking apart to examine and label–the fragments and shards that have no home. If time were real, I’d ask God how much longer we’d be living like this. Then I would forgive my enemies. My heart would expand and crack open, and this would be the beginning and the end.