To Tell The Truth

“Hello, God,” I said. “I’m glad to see you.”

“No, you’re not,” God said. “And besides, you can’t see me. You’re pretending again.”

“Ha,” I said. “I’m not pretending; I’m extraordinarily brave. I tell it like it is, and I see you as you are.”

“No,” God said, smiling. “To tell the truth, you see me as you are. Yes, in your timid sort of way, you’re brave. I’ll give you that. But at best, on a good day, you see a fraction.”

“Whatever,” I said. “Hide all you want. Bury yourself in round river rock. Roll to the sea and come back as rain. Write one of your names in the sky and erase it before anyone notices. I’m on to you, God.”

God threw back her head and laughed a belly laugh that turned into thunder that turned into earthquakes that turned into fire that burned the forest to ash, and yet…the hatching and birthing and sprouting continued in a clamorous flurry of all that might be and all that has always been. And nothing was essential. And nothing was missing except the deadly little part I was clinging to as if it could save me.

“Don’t look,” I said to God, as I tried to pry open the rusted metal box where I hide most of myself. “Nothing of interest here.” It opened a crack and I could see my inconsequential self looking back at me, pleading.

God stopped laughing and stared at her feet. She traced the grain in the wood floor with her toe. It was clear she had something difficult to say. I started crying. “It’s too late, isn’t it?” I sobbed. “I need one more life. Just one more. I’ll get it right next time, I promise.”

God shook her head solemnly and took my cold hand into her warm ones. We went to harvest the last of the carrots, me still sniffling, thinking my sorrow might generate a bit of sympathy. God, big and earthy. We dug for a while and then God paused, shovel in hand. “Lie down in the weeds and look up,” she said.

“I don’t want to,” I said, wiping my nose. “The ground is hard. The weeds have thorns, and we don’t have time for your nonsense. Winter’s coming.”

God held my gaze and sighed a long sigh that became a steady wind that became flying leaves that became fine dust. “That’s true,” she said, as she laid herself down between the rows. “Winter is coming.”

There is No Why

Some people claim we are supposed to be stewards of this planet which is hurdling through space at speeds we don’t often consider. Others say the earth is ours to use up indiscriminately, regardless of how fast we’re racing through the Universe. Me? God? Today, we’re just along for the ride. I’m listening as deeply as I dare. God’s whispering in that still, small voice. It’s maddening, but that’s what we do sometimes. I’m game. God’s game. The day arrived without my asking. It will depart the same.

“You’re a little bit afraid, aren’t you?” God’s voice was gentle.

“Afraid?” I said. “Ah, yeah. Duh.  It’s not easy hanging out with you. It’s like a single-celled organism snuggling up with a herd of elephants. Like an atom in the ocean. Like I took my tongue and licked Neptune, and now I’m stuck.”

“Hmmm,” God said, distracted. “Do something redemptive. It’ll ground you a little.”

“I could try, but isn’t that mostly your job?” I paused. There’s a corner on our property that’s in bad shape. I’d need gloves, a sledgehammer, a truck, wire snippers, and ultimately fire. But no fire today. Way too dry out there. There’s a time for fire and a time for restraint.

“My job, your job, who cares?” God said. “There’s no end of things that need to be rescued or renewed. Of course, there’s an easier way. You could tell some lies, hoard some money, ruin some pristine land for a nice profit, stone someone, or shoot them in the back. Destruction and cruelty will drive the fear underground and give you a little break.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “Like hitting my thumb with a hammer. Like hearing a fatal diagnosis. Like an oil slick taking down a dolphin. Like torturing a captive, raping a woman, or genocide…” I stopped with a gasp. God was writhing on the floor in pain.

“Oh, God,” I said, kneeling. “I’m so sorry. C’mon. Don’t cry.” I handed God a hanky. “It’ll be okay. I forgot how bad that stuff hurts. I won’t do those things. Or not many. Not often. Let’s head down to that corner, O.K.? We can pick up trash, and rake, and make a difference. C’mon God. I’ll let you drive the Hulk.” The Hulk is a Japanese delivery truck, one of my prized possessions. I don’t make that offer to just anyone.

God gave me a little smile, wiped his nose, and nodded. I handed him the keys. He handed me a pair of gloves. But then, he gave the keys back. “You’re not coming, are you?” I said sadly. It was more of a statement than a question.

“That’s how it will seem sometimes,” God said.

“Then why should I clean up that corner?” I said, fear rising again.

 God surrounded me with my own thin longings and murmured, “Relax, honey. There is no why.”

Feet on the Ground

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“Crowd in here, God,” I said, patting a narrow spot on the couch. It seemed unlikely anyone would notice; there was child-induced mayhem in the air. It involved a lot of bouncing, simultaneous verbalizations some would call clamor, and wonderment in abundance. These energies were sandwiched between adult conversations and consternations. I wasn’t sure which level God would prefer, but I wanted to be hospitable.

“Uh, sure. Thanks,” God said, distracted, like maybe a couple billion others right now. Distracted. Tempted to discount, deny, whine, or freak completely out. Not God, but maybe the rest of us on those last descriptors. “Are you ready to die?” I asked myself. “Of course,” I told myself. And in some ways, this is true. I’ve had an extraordinary life. In no way do I deserve anything further, and in some ways, I don’t want anything further. But then, it isn’t about deserving, is it?

My elbow hurts—the result of ever declining proprioception and the mysterious narrowing of doorways just as I’m squeezing a table through. My sense of importance in the world has suffered, leading to a fair amount of indignation. My little personal values are all askew, and I don’t want to straighten them out. “Lean times,” I whispered to God. “I could use some help getting my feet under me.”

“Fuck that,” God said. Well. This caught me a bit off-guard. God continued, “Your feet are down there where they should be. Mop the floor. Do the dishes. Brush the dog. Observe. Think. Settle.”

“Hey!” I protested God’s language, hoping to ignore the content. “There are children present.”

“They’re busy,” God said, but the room emptied into God and me, perhaps signaling the importance of our conversation. “Your life is a whisper, little one,” God said. “Even the lives you think are big, important…they are flickering flames in a variable wind. Don’t be envious. Sit yourself down when you need to. Observe. Think. Settle.”

“But I want to know I’m loved,” I said. “I want to matter.”

“You are. You do.”

“But I want proof,” I demanded.

“Fuck that,” God said again. “I’ve done all I can on that score.”  This was said without malice. In fact, there was a hint of a chuckle in his voice, and I caught God’s eyes twinkling. From a certain perspective, the absurdity of my fretting was hilarious, and we laughed. Threw back our heads and laughed. Laughed louder than the river, the owls, the barking dogs. We laughed belly laughs until we were crying, and we just kept laughing. I breathed in some ragged air. Clean air, as far as I know.

“Oh, wow,” I said. “I needed that.”

“Yes,” God said. “You did.”

 

 

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.”

Just Get on the Bus, Gus

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Sometimes I’m enchanted by words as I type them, or I lose myself in the beauty of an orange-tipped brush meeting untouched canvas. At these moments, I’m a believer. In the act of creating, the creature knows the Original Source. In acts of compassion, we connect with the Lover. A grateful heart knows the author of joy.

Other times, blinded by the lightness of being, I try to provide my own inspiration. I’ve never known anyone quite like me. This is exhausting. The dark side of knowing grabs me by the throat, and the day clangs and rattles with loose bolts, bad connections– bone on bone. The cartilage of interdependence wears away, and my brain takes false readings that assure me I’m alone. I endure the subdivisions of the infighting self, snarling like a caged lion. Dangerous.

All options are on the table. Fangs and claws, bitter deterioration. Acceptance. Inclusion. Rejection. Isolation. Hermitage or solitary confinement. Impotence or celibacy. Fasting or starving. Just when I think I have it all figured out, I paint something the wrong shade of red or find a dead mouse in the pantry, and I’m reduced to elemental forces, poisonous gases, rust and mold, birds who sing too early and too long.

At the crack of this kind of dawn, I believe that I’ve survived a list of daunting adversities, but by evening, it will be clear that I’ve survived nothing. Nothing is ever over; nothing lets go. It all comes along. I ride through life in a repurposed bus that boards passengers to the point of bursting, but no one gets off. We circle the city. Parts of me hang out the doors and windows, fighting for air, looking for a savior. I wave like I’m in a parade–a clever disguise. Will I be discovered in time?

If the answer was simple, I’d share it. I’d own it. But there’s no such thing. The unifying force of the Universe, the Cosmos, the Beyond, the Forever, is a Question with beautiful baby answers that sparkle in the sun as they evaporate. I’ve already been discovered, and I will never be discovered. I’m known but will never be known. The extent of my unloveliness is the extent of my belovedness. And my enemies? I see now they’ve been painted the wrong shade of red.

Mercy

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A confused Canadian Muslim wants to go home after veering into a nightmare that hasn’t ended yet. He wandered off to Syria to fight his version of the enemy. We’ve got him now, somewhere off some coast, in solitary confinement. He admitted to having thoughts of suicide.

Soon, if certain people have their way, there will be women in Alabama with unwanted pregnancies. These women, too, will be having thoughts of suicide. And when God was living in our basement, after he started using meth again—I’d be willing to  bet suicide occurred to him as well.

Our house is made mostly of trees that died in a forest fire but were not consumed. We peeled the scorched bark and ran them through a sawmill, creating slabs and beams, trim and studs, enormous posts, and artistic pieces good only for admiring. Our house makes a lot of noise. It cracks and pops like an arthritic skeleton. It scares me. Impermanence. Sounds from the dead as they twist, protesting their static existence. Once they were proud Douglas fir trees, drinking rain, basking in sun, rooted. Now, they hold the frame. They are flammable shelter. They are already dead, but even so, I wonder if they wish for transformation into smoke and ash.

“They do,” God said, confirming what I already knew. “I assure you, they do.”

“Some days, I don’t think I can stand the guilty anymore,” I said, touching one of the larger, smoother posts. God nodded, but said nothing. I blathered on. “Some days, I am afraid of fire. Other days, dry rot. Other days, mold. And I tell myself I deserve whatever happens to this house. This land. This earth.” God listened, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. This is always unnerving.

“But no one deserves anything, right God?” I thought of men and women deprived of basic freedom. Their bodies legislated, their mangled souls desperate. Penitent. Defiant. We are all once-burned trees. Waiting. Uncertain of how to go on.

“Walk with me,” God said. “Let’s go to the river.”

We sat on a fallen cottonwood, watching the muddy water. God was quiet for a while, but then said, “You know what you need? You need mercy.” I teared up. God went on. “Mercy is beyond forgiveness. Beyond fairness. Beyond sympathy. Entwined with justice. This is what you need. Mercy.” God paused to make sure I was listening.  “And you know I’m willing. I’m always willing.”

I felt a rush of relief, but it was quickly followed by indignation. I have a house and a truck and a savings account. Mercy? Who wants to be in need of mercy? “You do,” the cottonwood said as it continued its descent. “You do.”

Motives

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“God,” I said, early one morning this week. “How can you have so many obscure names? So many exotic stories? You’re here and not here. Everywhere. Nowhere. And so far, we humans don’t seem to have evolved enough to grasp much about you. Oh, sure. We say we’re doing things ‘in your name.’ We make things up, fill in the gaps, comfort ourselves with spiritual insurance policies. Do this. Do that. Say these words. Pray this way. Torture this infidel. Crucify that one. Engage in rituals. Give lip service to words. Declare some things to be from you, others not. We make deep divisions to assure ourselves we’re on the right side of the chasm or the winning side of the wall. But we’re not, are we?”

“My, my,” God said. “Too much caffeine?”

I hate when anyone says that to me, but I’ll admit, good coffee does tend to clear the channel from brain to tongue, removing the sludge, organizing random synaptic activities into a perceived coherence I’m quite fond of.

“It’s not caffeine,” I said, with dignity. God gave me a look. “Okay, it is caffeine. But I still want to know.”

“That’s one thing I like about humans,” God said. “Most of you do, at least occasionally, want to know.”

This made me happy. Proud, even. Until God continued. “But what you do with what you think you know–your motives for wanting to know–these things almost always get you in trouble.”

“What d’you  mean?” I asked, deflated.”

“I don’t think I have to answer that,” God answered, not unkindly.

Sometimes when God puts things back on me, I get angry or sad. This time, I just sat with it. And sat with it. And, yes, sat with it. This is a good and brave thing to do.

“One of your names is Science, isn’t it?” I asked, finally.

“Yes, of course,” God said. “It’s one of my given names. It’s a path. And I’m a path. A way of knowing.”

“And you’ve picked up a lot of other names along the way, huh?”

“Mmmm. Yes, I guess. Some more accurate than others. Truth is one of my favorites.”

“When people say they’re doing something in the name of one of your names, how does that make you feel?”

“Motive, baby. Motive,” God said. “Think motive, not label. Remember, my family name, my forever name, my defining name is love. Easily mangled. Not easily grasped. Like you said, not easily grasped.”

With a deep sigh, God turned his back. This frightened me until I realized God has no back. He calmly washed his hands in the fire of the sun, and the harsh light was extinguished. The world grew darker than a womb. It was beautiful. Reality receded into mercy. I was weightless and warm, floating in the amniotic fluid of creation.

I had no mouth, but I managed to ask, “Can I stay here forever?”

“Not yet,” God said, in a voice both sad and loving. “You need to bring yourself back.”

“Why?” I asked as my fragments began to reassemble. But I knew. I knew. Motive, baby. Motive.

 

A Farewell to September

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September has begun picking at the clothing summer gave her, refusing to eat, and sighing a lot. There’s little doubt it’s about over. October is waiting in the wings, audacious, pregnant with color, unafraid of snow.

“What’s your favorite month?” I ask God. I say this just to get a little conversation going. I don’t actually care about God’s favorite month, and usually, I hate these kinds of questions.

But I ask because God seems distant today. God is in a very big mood. Bigger than sky or any of the planets in our solar system. Bigger than whatever is beyond what we can see. Big. You might think such a big God wouldn’t have time to contemplate her favorite month, but you’d be wrong. As God and I have gotten better acquainted, certain subtleties of her personality have surfaced. She can be stubborn and compulsively attentive to minutia. She likes chit chat. For someone who created the known and unknown universe, she can seem quite shallow and petulant, although she’s also the ultimate role model for apologies and forgiveness. There’s a steadiness I appreciate, even if some of her ways annoy or confuse me.

“I like them all,” she answered. Her voice was knowing. Patient. “But there’s something intriguing about December in Montana, don’t you think?”

I regretted asking. I could feel some kind of lesson coming on. “Depends on what you mean by intriguing,” I said. “I don’t like snow, or the holidays, or bare branches, or slick roads. If you mean the fight to survive is intriguing, then yeah, I guess.”

God didn’t answer directly. Instead, she blurred herself into the gray ash of a cremated body. The bruised purple of sunrise filtered through the translucent storm that was God. I watched wide-eyed and afraid as she rolled the months into a blanket with an impatient flourish. She grabbed my soul, wrapped me tight in the distorted jumble of seasons, and suddenly, we were on the shores of Hawaii. There, clad in bright strips of rags, she scrubbed out the differences on sharp volcanic rocks, welcoming waves of salt water with the wrinkled solemnity of the ancient ones. Gradually, all beautiful, all dangerous, all vital distinctions gave way and floated out to sea.

“There you go,” she said. “An occasional hurricane, but otherwise, totally placid. Bland. Uniform. Predictable. Safe. Are you happy now?”

I hung my head and said, “No. Not really.”

And then I was alone. September doesn’t need me anymore but I know the perils of October all too well. Before the ground freezes, I will transplant rhubarb and stack the split and fragrant wood high against the coming winter. I’ll warm myself in the crackling circle of fire, and with the few words I have left, I’ll resurrect the seasons, even those that will eventually do me in.

A Dog in the Fight

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God and I don’t usually get into theological discussions, but recent claims on Facebook—that we shouldn’t worry because GOD IS IN CONTROL—forced me to bring this up. “Are humans autonomous?” I asked God.

“Yes,” God answered, looking a little wary. “It’s a package deal. Comes with consciousness.”

“So when people say ‘You, Oh Most Amazing, Most Loving, Most Majestic Creator, YOU are in control’…”

God interrupted. “They’re wrong. You know I’m the biggest forgiver you could ever hope to meet, but I’m not a control freak. I made it possible for you to love each other and tend the earth responsibly. To save things and make things better. That’s my contribution.”

“So, um, you’re not going to do it for us? You’re not going to intervene? Even if we’re sinking like bags of rocks? Acting worse than pigs? Lying, torturing and starving each other?”

“Right. But you always have the option to save yourselves.”

“How?”

God looked impatient. Maybe even a little angry. “Haven’t I made this painfully clear?”

“You mean like, um, love our neighbors? Give our lives for our enemies? Share? Tell the truth? Ten Commandments. Golden Rule. All that?” I was stammering.

“Exactly. Do you watch the news at all? Do you think, even for a minute, I don’t LOVE the Rohingya? That I’m not starving with the 870 million who are hungry right now? Do you think it was ME who built nuclear bombs? You think I profit from gun sales? C’mon.”

I looked away. God ranted on. “You can’t be serious. Me, in control? What have you been smoking?”

I think God thought this was funny. I wasn’t laughing. God continued. “Okay, I’ll admit, I hold out hope that you’ll do my bidding, but I realize it’s damn hard to give all that you have to the poor, forgive everyone, stop building walls, stop amassing riches, stop hoarding weapons, and just hang out with me in the cloud of unknowing, unselfish, unbearable love.”

“But, God, aren’t you on my side?” I whined. This was my co-author, my sometimes gentle friend, cutting me no slack.

“No,” God said in a big voice. “No. No sides. Your football games? Your stunningly stupid, shortsighted selfishness? Your empire-building? Your big winners and dead losers? No. I have no dogs in your fights. No. NONE.”

God took a deep breath which led to a coughing fit due to the smoky air. I held still.

After some throat-clearing, God went on. “I do have one dog, though. She’s a rescue mutt. I call her Gracie. Look at those eyes.” God’s voice was playful and gruff. I looked. Huge brown eyes, liquid with love. Her fur was long and scruffy, her tail, wagging. God continued. “She’s not a fighter though. She’s a lover, aren’t you girl?” Gracie licked God’s hand. God leaned down and went nose to nose, soaking up some doggy kisses.

I waited. God’s head stayed down, but Gracie offered her paw, and we shook. She licked my hand. I threw a stick, she brought it back. I threw it again, she brought it back. One more time, she brought it back. And then they were gone and I was alone, but Gracie had left me a pile of sticks. Enough to last a lifetime.

New Shoes

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This morning, on the Stillwater, smoke from both the fires of Canada and the fires of hell invade my body and soul with every shallow in-breath, and I endure the artist at work–yesterday’s ashes glazing the face of granite into something too terrible to touch, too beautiful to behold.

Not long ago, I began to pack for yet another autumn transition. I picked the last of the purslane-choked green beans, pulled the onions, undid the hoses, and with sickening ambivalence, bought poison to deal with mice. Traps or poison? I’m not a rodent, but I’d rather be poisoned than trapped. If we had a decent God, we wouldn’t have to use our crude, projected empathy to make these wrenching decisions. Maybe we’d even feed the mice and marvel at the prodigious quantities of seashell pink offspring. Or maybe in the spirit of the grand circle of life, we’d learn to eat said offspring. A delicacy. Except for their tiny spasmodic appendages, curled baby mice do bear a remarkable resemblance to shrimp. Wait. That wouldn’t solve the problem.

Eat or be eaten. Poison or be poisoned. By and large, the weeds won this year. And now, forests are being blazed out of existence, flood waters gorge on land, and lives are lost. I sit in unearned comfort, grimly examining the karmic consequences of nonaction, trying to goad my flesh into movement, my mind into comprehension. It feels useless. Why bother? Such is my mood today.

Yesterday was a different story. I had new running shoes, and there’d been rain. And God, I know you don’t like it when I imply you’ve engaged in miracles for my sake, but it seemed you’d reduced the gravity along the highway where my stride was effortless and I bounded along like a deer, legs spring-loaded, heart lifted and extraordinarily light.

“It was the shoes,” God says.

“I don’t believe you,” I say.

And God laughs. I can barely see the big, sharp teeth through the haze, but I can hear the riotous sound of a happy God.

“No, really,” I say in my loudest voice. “I don’t believe you.”

“I know,” God says. “Next time, run in old shoes with rocks in your pocket.”

“Fine,” I say. “That’s just what I’ll do.”

“And what will you prove, darling?” God asks, suddenly all innocent and interested.

“Nothing,” I shout. “I’ll prove nothing. There’s nothing mortals can prove. You shift the odds, change the playing field, turn down the volume, distort the light. We’re mice in an endless maze. Where are you, God? That’s what I want to know. Where are you?”

“Sheesh, oh ye of little vision. Calm down. You cannot look anywhere I’m not. I’m the maze and the fire, the weeds and the water, the new shoes and the rocks. And by the way, you got a good deal on those Sauconys, but I liked the yellow Asics pretty well too.”