Alarm

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God isn’t usually an alarmist. But it’s not like things have been easy lately. We were jogging yesterday, or rather, I was jogging and God was flitting along, reminding me to hydrate. God doesn’t need to hydrate. I like to think God doesn’t need anything, but I know this isn’t true.

“You know I’m the First Author, don’t you?” God asked as we crested over a small rise in the road.

I nodded curtly. I don’t like to talk when I’m running. Oxygen is an issue.

God continued. “I’m wondering about how much to edit. You know your little world is in tough shape, right?” I snorted. I hate it when God sounds worried and states the obvious. It throws me off. I get panicky.

“I love this place,” God continued, sad and pensive. “I’m proud of the way it’s woven together. A fine and delicate piece of work. And I’m intrigued with the little nubbins of consciousness and compassion appearing in your species. I’ve waited a long time for that.”

God was ruining my run. I stepped into the borrow pit to let a large RV roar by, glared at God, and said, “Like you said, you’re First Author. Write a different story line.” I was panting. “If you like this place so much, save it. If you think we’re a cool species, speed up our evolution.”

God sat down on a pile of sandstone. I paused, running in place, trying to keep my heart rate up.

“I’m doing what I can,” she said. “But I’m stumped. My compassion is yours for the taking. I’ve published ads, made special two-for-one offers, pointed out the folly of greed…I’m not sure what keeps going wrong. Maybe I should have designed the reproductive systems differently. If three of you were required…Or maybe, if I ramped up what seems obvious…your mortality–the brief time you have here to make any difference. But that just seems to frighten you. And you don’t just resort to violence, you cultivate it.” God was mumbling and scratching her head, lost in thought. “…this is a species willing to kill each other for money or sport…willing to let children starve…ripping up their own little planet, poisoning it…” Her face was grim.

I considered sitting down beside God to try and be of help, but I needed to get home, and it was hot. I started moving again. To be honest, I ran as fast as I could manage. But one thing I know; God always catches up. One minute, you think you’ve left God in the dust. The next minute, you are the dust, and the earth is turning on an unfamiliar axis. It is then you realize the way forward is the way back, and those who are beloved lie utterly defenseless, waiting. Not moving at all.

 

 

 

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.”

Rita Takes a Break

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As Rita’s co-author, I help proofread, but she usually takes the lead on reporting our encounters. Lately she tells me she’s been unable to locate the spiritual space she needs to write something up for you. The failings of the human race, toxically condensed in the daily news, have gotten to her. So I’ve reluctantly offered to step in.

How shall I address you? My dear wild herd of bison? Covey of spell-binders? Murder of crows? Flock of mutinous sheep? Beloved, befuddled, beholden? Partners, priests, paupers or pawns?

And how might you identify me? Sanctuary? Grove of Aspen? Dark Chocolate? Collector of Rubbish? Renewer of Vision? Thickness of Midnight? Thinness of Dawn? Wallflower, river, mountain, sky, sower, lover, fool? I guess it doesn’t matter. You know who I AM, and I’ve always known you.

Writing is redundant. I’m the Creator. I like creating, not revisiting. How about I write whatever comes to mind? Random food for thought until Rita gets her act together.

  • Did you know that I’m a recycling fanatic? Nothing goes to waste. I don’t throw things away. Of course, far more seeds end up fertilized than should ever be planted or brought to fruition. The earth accommodates this excess nicely. With your new-found consciousness, you need to learn to do the same.
  • Have you noticed that I don’t stand up for myself or insist on more than my share? I don’t try to get even. Ironically, vengeance is only safe with ME because my ways are not your ways. You get carried away when you try to get even. It backfires, and the cycle you’re in is indeed vicious. Nota bene: Revenge provides regressive relief. It never heals the original loss. Give forgiveness a try.
  • Most of you avoid thinking about mortality, but life is defined by death. Anything that does not die has actually never been alive. Death can be met with consciousness and grace. A transition made easier by forgiveness, compassion, faith, and holding hands. I’m always available.
  • Your species starves, tortures, and kills each other. This puzzles me. I’m still not sure if it’s a design flaw or something you’ll eventually grow out of. I won’t give up on you, but I’m worried you might give up on yourselves. In the meantime, if I could ask one small favor: Do not deprive, amass wealth, lie, steal, abuse, or kill each other in my name. I shouldn’t have to ask. You know better.
  • And finally, little ones, when you dare to love the serpent (that writhing mass of malice, embodied in the ignorant and insecure) be assured it will rise up and strike you. Protect your throat. You don’t need to lay down your life trying to love your enemies, but you might. Either way, I’m there.

Okay, then. That should take care of it for now. I’ll admit, this effort has given me a little more empathy for Rita. Yes, in the beginning was the Word, but these little knockoffs are awkward.

Charitable Giving

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I positioned my cold feet in the warm sunlight, determined to sit until the embers in the stove or the chickadees outside the window convinced me that anything matters. So far, it hasn’t worked. I’m in a wicked post-holiday mood. I just threw out three beautifully-rising loaves of bread after discovering that flax can indeed go rancid, and this is not good for you. I’d taken a little taste of the dough. It was unusually bitter, which led to the research, which led to the painful placement of the loaves in the compost bucket. I hate that things go rancid.

I want everything to stay whole and healthy, even in large quantities. I often cloak my hoarding tendencies under colorful claims of creativity and eventuality. But I know the truth about me. I’m a mixture of pioneer ancestors and an excessive culture. Like God, I see potential redemption in even the worst of the worst, and try to make use of everything. I hate letting go.

The chickadees are gone. Wild turkeys are pacing the perimeter of the garden, calculating whether flying over the tall fence will result in enough nourishment to justify the energy expenditure. They don’t know about the rancid flax-laden dough about to appear. This may sway their decision. I trust their digestive systems can make use of rancid flax, or they’ll know enough to turn up their pointy beaks and strut away.

“And you?” God says gently, speaking from deep within the pile of nearly-rotten wood I’m trying to burn up.

I pause to think of myself as a calculating turkey, pacing the outer edge of Eden. “No idea,” I answer. That kind of wisdom is a distant memory in the oldest part of my aging brain. But what I do know is that a great, rancid toxicity is blanketing the earth from massive accumulations of wealth. And I don’t know how to shake it off. Even as I scorn the greed of those who have too much, I wonder how I can get a little more. I hate this about myself.

I try my usual cure. “Give until it hurts, you selfish hypocrite,” I say in a nearby mirror.

God rushes toward me like a grandmother saving a child from a coiled rattlesnake.

“No!” she shouts, waving her arms. “No. Stop it. That kind of talk doesn’t help anyone.”

I jump back, startled. She throws a blanket over the mirror.

“Take a beer and sit among your possessions,” she says sternly. “Be in your body. Be in my body. Open your soul. And notice where it hurts, darling. Then, gently, give. But give until it heals. That’s all. Give until it heals.”

This is a complete impossibility. But that’s one of the things I like about God. She often pairs the impossible with dark beer.

 

Taxes

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God and I stayed up really late last night, watching pretty much anything we could get on regular TV. Except we avoided the news, or anything like the news. Being both omniscient and omnipresent, God has a harder time avoiding current events than I do, but we colluded as best we could. I ate left-over soup. God wasn’t hungry.

God stretched out on the loveseat, and I got my yoga mat, intending to do a few sit-ups during advertisements. The TV droned on.

“What’s on your mind?” God asked.

Nothing,” I said. “Why do you think we’re watching Big Bang reruns? Just call me Empty Mind. Checked Out. Clueless. In fact, let’s not talk right now.”

“Okay,” God said. The TV droned on. God got another pillow and dozed. I turned the lights down low and watched her instead of the TV for a while.

“What’re we going to do?” I silently asked the sleeping God. She was so beautiful. The steady rise and fall of her chest, the perfection of her eyebrows, her out-breath filling the room with a wild mixture of sage and lilac, animal musk, homelessness, and newly-minted money.

My human condition crept into the room, and settled beside me. I tried to slap it away and just watch God at rest, but it snuggled up, greedy, ugly, lazy, mortal, needy, vengeful, and as afraid as ever.

Look,” I whispered to it. “What if we could rest like that?”

My human condition gave me a sideways glance. Almost a dare. Then it eased itself alongside God and went to sleep. I curled up fetal on the floor. The TV flickered, grabbing at my attention like it was for sale. Which it is. Everything is for sale. We all have our price. Except God. Some may not realize this, but you can’t buy God off. And God really isn’t into tax breaks that hurt the poor. With God, it’s more of an all or nothing kind of thing. But she’s never believed in trickle down economics. Never.

God stirred. “Rough week,” she said sleepily. “C’mere.”

My human condition had sprawled itself into all the available space. The loveseat looked uncomfortable to say the least, and I was about to refuse, but God had opened her eyes. I can never resist those deep pools of unspeakable welcome.

So I awkwardly squeezed in, between my human condition and God. In the tangle of all those urges, elbows, and defeats, God found my hand. “Tomorrow, do what you can do,” she said. “Tonight, rest.”

“But that’s the problem,” I said, already drowsy. “I don’t know what to do.” Then I slept. And now she’s gone. And my human condition is awake, demanding breakfast. I’m struggling to be hospitable.

“That’s it,” I hear from the corner. I make more toast and watch the snow drift down.

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.