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

The Evil Within

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Watching the news makes me hateful. I contemplate murder. I don’t like this. “God,” I said. “It’s hard enough to see all the disgusting, bad, abusive, selfish, dirty rotten deeds in the world, but worse, if I sit very still, the vicious beasts inside me peek out and eat a piece of my soul. Or take a bite out of someone else.”

“Hmmm. Interesting,” God said, not acting all that interested.

“I’ve considered a lot of remedies. Whack-a-mole, rat poison, denial, embracing the shadow…I like the poison idea, but it seems excessive. And I don’t like the image of bloated dead bodies, inside or out.”

“I agree,” God said. “And it makes my job a lot more complicated. Raising those rats from the dead isn’t my idea of a fun afternoon.”

“Ah ha!” I said, pointing my finger. “I knew it. You. You let things be. You bring them back. You’re worse than the Dark Web or the Deep State. I bet you practiced witchcraft a couple centuries ago. You consort with the enemy.”

“Guilty,” God said, laughing. She took my finger and curled it so that it was pointing at my stomach. The demons inside screamed like the spoiled children that they are—indignant, defiant, foot-stomping brats.

“Come out and play,” God said to the demons. “The light will do you some good.”

And they did. We had a little picnic–sandwiches with sweet pickles and fresh kale. God smoothed their foreheads, brushed their hair, tickled them. They crawled on her lap, and the youngest ones nursed at her breast and napped in her arms. God looked down with affection. “I can make something of you,” God whispered. They snuggled in closer.

“Run,” I thought to the little demons, but I didn’t say it out loud.

God heard me anyway. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt them. It isn’t possible to defeat evil with pain or torture. You can’t destroy it. It’s like energy. You can only transform it. Recycle. Compost. Start over.”

I felt sick and confused.

“Too much for you?” God asked. Her voice was soft but it penetrated my defenses and laid itself at my feet, a lamb’s wooly hide, a yoga mat, a warm bath.

“Yes,” I said in a weak voice. “I try pretty hard.” God nodded and sent the demons merrily on their way. They were saying true things to each other, waving and pointing back at God.

“What? How? They seem to know the truth,” I said, bewildered.

“Of course,” God smiled. “This is why you need them. The demons always know.”

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.

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.

 

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.

Eat Fat, Get Nicer

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“God,” I said. “What do you think of that eat-fat-get-skinny diet?” God looked at me like I’d lost the few marbles I have left. It wasn’t the best conversation starter but it was on my mind. Who better than the architect of this whole ragged universe to answer this? I know it’s a first-world question, but that’s where I live.

God sat quietly with her hands folded over her large, shapely belly. I ran my hands over the skin on my chest, which was all bumpy from having a few moles frozen off yesterday. Vanity is painful and expensive, and trying to stay alive forever is even worse. Omega 3, a key ingredient of this magical new way to eat, is a pricey substance for land lubbers. But it might save me from heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and post-nasal drip.

And if I manage all that, I want nice skin, right? As the dermatologist zapped the moles with liquid nitrogen, I mentioned that my lip had mysteriously swollen up yesterday. She pulled it down and said, “Looks like an allergic reaction. You need to see an allergist right away. Another reaction could kill you.”

Often, I find I don’t love the medical profession.

“Not a bad way to die,” I said. I wasn’t in the mood for further testing.

“What? Asphyxiation?” Her eyes narrowed as she wrote a referral I knew I’d throw away.

“Yeah,” I said. She was scornful. I was defiant. “It takes less than a minute to lose consciousness.”

I don’t have to see her for another year. But God’s sitting right here, messing with my thoughts, which are swirling like the snow outside. “It’s so much bigger than that,” she said. “So much bigger.”

Oh, yeah, I thought. That’s so helpful. Like I don’t know the planet will die some billions of years from now, and the sun will burn out, and the cosmos will birth new stars, new planets. There’ll be new steps to the dance. But in the meantime, do I eat sardines to prolong my short stay?

“Yes and no,” God answered. “If you eat them so you can be kinder longer, yes, eat away. But if you eat them out of fear, no. If you eat them with gratitude, yes. If you eat them like a life-hoarder, no.  She paused. I gulped. The air was crackling

She continued. “I cannot stress this enough, honey. The fiber you add to your diet matters little, but the fiber you are made of is screaming for a life well-lived. Transform your greed to charity, your anxiety to bravery. Transform your rage to action. Transform those little lies and excuses to outrageous honesty. Use your intellect to the max. Stroke each day like it’s a purring kitten or a happy dog. You’ll know when you should die.”

I looked at her in despair. I wasn’t sure I knew when I should do anything. She could sense my fear. My deep doubts and flailing good intentions. She rubbed my back and stoked the fire as the hills disappeared in the storm.

 

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.

Debt

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There’s a guy who’s owed me $50.00 for over a year. The original debt was much larger, but with steady reminders, he grudgingly paid it down until it hit the fifty-dollar mark, and I’m pretty sure that’s where it’ll stay. I won’t remind him anymore. I’ve run out of kind words to pair with little nudges, and I’m tired of this struggle.

For a while, it was about the money, but now that it’s dwindled to $50.00, he’s making a statement of entitlement and resentment, and if I hang on, I’ll have to continue using shame to wedge myself into his conscience–a small space that makes me claustrophobic. Not worth it. I will passively forgive this debt, but I feel a little sorry for myself. Indignant.

In graduate school, a whiny woman I didn’t like borrowed two stamps from me. She never paid me back. It is astounding that I remember this, since I cannot recall what I read a half-hour ago, nor what I need at the grocery store, nor whether I’ve taken my vitamins yet.

Forgiving is a complex endeavor. There’s a highly-activated receptacle in our brains for perceived injustice, debt, and harm, and a longing for justice if not revenge. I’m not entirely sure how to forgive sometimes. Since God ‘s a specialist, I decide to check in.

“Hey God,” I say. Nothing.

“Um, God, I have a question.” Nothing.

I squeeze my eyes shut in serious prayer. Suddenly, I’m in a graduate-level course on forgiveness.  I raise my hand from the back of the classroom, but the instructor has stepped out. I take my hand back down, glancing at my classmates. Whoa. I should have looked around earlier. There’s a guy with a bloody machete, a haggard woman lying face down on the floor, with four children underneath her. Two are dead, one with an arm shot off. I see the woman is actually dead too. There’s a man holding a picture of his wife. Three people are on fire. Five soldiers stand in the back, two have amputations. One has no eyes. They all have a vacant look, slumped shoulders, automatic weapons at their feet.

I manage to stifle a scream and slip out of the room, hoping to find a back door. Instead, I find God. She’s created a makeshift kitchen in the hallway and she’s cooking soup. Baking bread. Singing. She tosses me an apron. The man who owes me $50.00 is handing out apples. The woman who took my stamps is standing, confused and inadequate, near the end of a table filled with desserts.

“Help her,” God says. “She’s a little shaky today.”

I’m not thrilled with this idea, but I see few options. I muster up a small smile, pick up a mint brownie, and hand it to this pathetic woman. Her face transforms. Of course, it’s God. I should have known. She wolfs down the brownie, grabs my hands, and we swing dance while she yodels.

“Now, about those stamps,” she says, finally slowing down.

Yeah. About those stamps.

 

 

Just this

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Light begins to come in the windows. John asks if this is the earliest I’ve ever drank my half-beer. God asks why I don’t want to talk. The faucet drips. The leaves have turned and fallen. Well. That’s just what happens.

I’ve wrapped myself in layers of blankets. The deteriorating cushion on the loveseat has shaped itself to my angles, and here I sit. Today, I do not need to talk or move. The toast is just right. The suchness and otherness of the world is not my concern. I’m not even my own concern. This is just what is.

Moments from now there will be wind. News. Confusion. Beauty. Hours from now, someone will play a violin, a train will be late, a gun will go off, a declaration of love will cover a multitude of sins. I will tune in and out, find God under a stripped rock, laugh out loud in a way that will show my yellowing teeth, and I won’t care. I can already tell these things are unavoidable. In fact, I welcome them all.

Hello there, frost-bitten earth. How’s it going, scowling neighbor? What’s happening, you addicts and nurses, slouchers and dancers, lined-up children and barking dogs, you readers and writers, sayers and prayers, lovers and haters and wandering souls? Isn’t it something that we share this clean air and another funky morning floating in space? Isn’t it amazing that we’ve imagined each other, found a way out of the night, into something resembling consciousness? Yes, it certainly is, I tell myself. And I know the others agree.

God sits quietly. No comment. No need. No intrusion. No rejection. Just God. Just day. I’m confident I can dress myself and venture forward. I can choose my shoes, and find relatively safe places to put my feet. I can do this. You can do this. And this is the foundation of all that is. All that ever will be. Amen.