Not Fair

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My brother loaned me his rototiller and I haven’t returned it. He says he’ll come get it if he needs it. I say well, that’s not really fair. He says whoever said life was fair? I mutter something like well, at least I should try to make it more fair. He just smiles.

“Hey, God,” I yell, after my brother drives away. “Whoever said life was fair?”

“Not I,” says God. “I’m not in charge of that idea. In fact, it’s a childish notion I hope you’ll outgrow someday. Who gets more candy? Who sleeps on the top bunk? This is okay when you’re seven. Tiresome behavior for adults.”

It began to rain. It rained on the river and on the cracked, thirsty garden. It rained on the pavement and on a spring wedding somewhere. The wind picked up and blew so hard I gasped for breath. It blew down a tree, it blew waves in the water, it blew away the simplistic demands we make of our shrink-wrapped God. The rain came sideways and the real God shimmered, at ease in the liquid uncertainty we think of as life.

I started a fire. God shook like a dog and joined me. My fate in the hands of rain. My days in the arms of wind. This chills me to the bone. I rub my stiff hands and sip tea.

“Justice is different than fairness,” God says. “You know that eye for an eye thing?”

I nod, wary.

God continues, patient. “That’s the upward limit. No more than an eye for an eye. But less is better. In fact, I favor forgiveness and compassion. Your species is more likely to survive that way.”

“Duh,” I snap at God. “Justice. Mercy. Compassion. Humility. I get it.” I pause and calm myself. “But I don’t think it’s fair you aren’t helping us more.” I smile. God smiles. It’s good we have these little chats.

My twinkly-eyed friend with his infectious laugh will soon be dead from the cancer he’s carried for decades. I can eat a second or third salted caramel while I write this. When I turn on the news, likely I’ll see a child bloated with hunger, floating on a crowded raft. I won’t gag. Maybe I should. God, should I gag?

The rain pounds down and the river’s rising. No answer. No answer at all.

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.

The Kale and I

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You know how with certain friends, topics of conversation get redundant? You blah-blah along, engaging in excessive commiseration until you no longer hear each other? Well, this can be very bad for relationships, but it’s especially dangerous with God. She and I’ve been veering that direction lately, which is not surprising. Things here on earth are alarmingly dire on the surface, and few of us see balanced, loving ways forward with such apparently heartless, dishonest leaders and deep black chasms between us. Awful times for many, and awful times coming for more. I don’t pray on my knees. I talk with God with my fists in the air. I glare, stomp, wheedle, whine, kick, and cry. I threaten to leave the relationship altogether.

Sometimes, I drag God down. She’s more than willing to empathize with me. The face of God becomes a sea of deep emotion. It reminds me of when I had my tonsils out. My mom leaned over the hospital bed, her face tight with worry. “Honey, if I could, you know I’d trade places with you in a heartbeat,” she said, all choked up. Dad put his arm around her, and took her to the hallway. The surgery went fine.

God has said that same thing to me many times. Only when my mom said it, I got braver. When God says it, I get mad. This Life Force—this amazing creative generous wise beauty of an entity, this fucking confusing unfathomable inscrutable friend of mine—I want to rip my heart out—or her heart out—and bury it deep in the still-fertile soil and let things begin again.

Oh.

Wait.

It’s spring. I’ll be planting seeds. I will touch each one. They’ll grow. They’ll bring forth fruit. Surprisingly, the kale wintered over and so did I. For how many more winters, I don’t know, but I see my summer image in shallow waters, only a little worse for wear. And there’s God’s summer image, beside me, in the deep black earth, in the deep black faces, in the deep black gloom–smiling a ridiculous toothy grin, rays of light spewing from her mouth. What a maddening friend. Utterly ridiculous.

Stick in the Mud

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Again, this morning, the rain fell at all the wrong times and fist-sized snowflakes taunted spring’s attempt to arrive. But spring will win in the end. Until summer grabs hold and starts burning down the days, rivers rising and falling, hopes rising and falling, life and death in the usual tangle of grand schemes and undergrowth. Today, that’s as far as I’m going to go. Yes, likely, there will be autumn on the heels of summer. Likely, another vicious white winter will come.

Perhaps I’ll still be eating dark chocolate caramels. Parking my old van in the new garage. Burning firewood I’ve carefully stack and tarped. Perhaps not. I don’t ask anymore. I wait. God sends me junk mail and drives by in a ridiculous convertible, top down, hair flying out behind. I just wave. I don’t even open the mail. It opens me. I close back up as fast as I can, but not before I see myself, hoping I’ve won the sweepstakes, ignoring the pleas for donations, refusing to believe the sad, sad stories or the silly promises, hating the hype and the hubris of my fellow beings, and yes, of myself.

Sometimes, I consider hitching a ride in that convertible. No doubt, it’d be the ride of my life. Anytime I dismantle my disbelief, God seeps in, croaking like a frog, singing like a canary, dancing like a fool, driving like a maniac. But so far, I’m keeping my thumbs tucked in, head down, feet planted firmly in the mud. She’s one crazy dude, and I’m precariously human. She dives off the deep end, flailing and free.

God wedges herself into my head. “Nice little set of paragraphs,” she says. I roll my eyes. She continues. “And I get the mud. It’s not a bad thing to dig in and stay safe. In fact, I like mud.”

I feel a little defeated. Confused. It isn’t comforting that God likes mud. And she doesn’t leave it at that. “I like speed, and sky, and green. I like hot pink. I like jazz and country-western. Gays and straights, blacks and browns.” She pauses for a microsecond, then adds, “And I love the deep end.”

She sees my reaction. Smiles. “I think you’ve forgotten a key piece of the picture, sweetie.” I nod, hoping for something sane and solid.  Foolish me. God plugs her nose and leaps into an imaginary pool. “I AM the deep end,” she shouts. Air ripples like water as she swims gracefully away.

 

Easter

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Born of water and fire, born of wind and mercy, born of bread and wine, Easter has arrived.

Spring is a hungry season. We emerge lean from winter, enduring the bite of weakened bone. And we have this weirdly moving target–a holiday called Easter. Of course, down under, Easter signals the coming of autumn. And on other planets, spinning around their own stars, we can only guess what might be. But in Jerusalem, it’s spring this time of year. In fact, Accuweather says the high today will be 57 F.

Last night, I re-read the account of how terribly wrong that infamous Passover went a few thousand years ago. I read it as a mother. Usually, the focus is on the suffering of Jesus, the child. And granted, it’s horrific. But what of the parent? As a nonviolent person, I’m sometimes challenged by my gun-enthusiast friends who say, “If someone was threatening or hurting your child, you’d get violent. You’d kill.” And I admit I’m not sure what I’d do. But here’s a haunting truth: I don’t even have to believe the story to know what God would do, and does.

I live here on this planet, with my eyes as open as I dare. I see God, wailing in the eviscerating agony of the death of a child. “My child, my beautiful gentle son, my baby, my perfect one,” God moans and shrieks. “You’re killing him.” The sky darkens, the stars fall, the earth convulses. The parent’s beating heart, yanked from the chest, thrown on the fire. And then, it is over. But it isn’t. We know it isn’t. God knows it isn’t. Easter is a reprieve. A promise. A reminder that all things die into the hands of the Great Beyond. And the Great Beyond is not violent, or frightened. The Great Beyond is tender. Filled with love. But here, in this linear life, hour by hour, we drown with God in the futility of repeated violence. And on this hard, narrow road, in the Now of our existence, the Great Beyond does not spare itself one iota of the pain. Not one.

 

No Worries

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God and I were talking about how much blame she endures. And flat-out rejection. I told her I felt bad about that. “No worries,” God said. “Rejection is my middle name.”

This was strangely reassuring. Sometimes, I feel defensive for God, and try to run interference. Not because God asked me to, but because I think everyone would be happier if some kind of meaning or hope descended along with the greedy abyss of the evening news. Hope and Meaning are some of God’s first names.

“So it doesn’t bother you at all?” I said.

“Nope,” she answered, but her voice had a slight catch in it.

I took her at her word. God rarely lies to me. “Okay, then,” I said. “But could you try a little harder to be visible? That would help.”

“Nope,” God said, an evil little smile curling her lips. “I’ve gone as far down that road as I’m going to go for now.”

I could see God had slipped into one of her moods. Arms crossed, she towered over me.

“Listen, God. This is not okay with me,” I said in a firm, parental voice. “You have no reason to be so stingy. You’re very, very lucky to be God, and even though we need help, you can be proud of what you’ve accomplished here, with us humans, I mean.”

The room darkened. I gulped but held on. “No. Seriously, you might not be aware of how much prodding and coddling and proof we need,” I said. “You may assume we’ve got it together, but basically, we still don’t.”

God’s eyes burned neon orange through the blackened air. “In no way do I assume humans have it together,” she said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Okay, then,” I said, still confident I knew who I was dealing with. “You need to make more of an effort to let people know.”

“Know what, exactly?”

I could see this was going nowhere fast. Why couldn’t I argue with God and get results like Moses? I shrugged and backed away.

God got bigger. “Let me tell you something,” she said. “There’s nothing you can know in the way you wish you could know.”

“Why not?” I said, as loudly as I dared. “Why not? What would it hurt for you to prove yourself once in a while?”

“Oh. My. God.” God said. “I could ask you the same thing. Could you just look around? Do you have a clue what I mean when I say I AM?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Well, maybe. But I have to endure a little nausea when my mind opens up that wide. And it gets lonely.”

God gentled down and gave me a knowing look. Layers and layers of skin dropped from her face. “Delight is temporary,” she said, her voice clear and inviting. “So is death.”

We were suddenly at the river. Her bones softened, her hair turned magenta and blew upward in the rising wind. Her body spread across the expanse, a sunset that welcomed the coming night. Oh, how I wanted something to grab onto. Something to own. Something to know. But what I had was water and sky, hunger and soul.

 

Dust Mite

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Sometimes, my co-author pushes things a little further than seems appropriate and leaves me dangling. For instance, this morning I’ve had to gulp back my aversion and hide my incredulity while  I try to model polite acceptance. “Hello, God,” I said. “I see you’ve become a dust mite.”

No discernible answer. I try a little ingratiation. “Wow. You’re so tiny and translucent.” But I’m thinking UGLY! Of course, I realize beauty’s in the biased eye of the beholder. I continue on. “And bugs like you are impossible to eradicate.”

Without a word, God infiltrates my psyche and I drop a little deeper. Humans can dip very low. God can dip lower.

“God, you freak me out. You’ve taken up residence in the detritus of humankind, yet you remain essential and good. You’re living where we’ve been, transforming what’s fallen from our bodies into sustenance. You restore meaning to things that have been cast off and forgotten. You complete the circle. You’re like a mother clasping the old sweaty shirt of her child to her heart, weeping for all that has been, all that could have been. Taking courage from the scent remaining in the shredded cloth. You fearlessly find the way forward. Onward.” Still no answer, but I think God is in agreement.

“I’m like that today too, God,” I say, longing for some kind of affiliation.

I’m sitting beside my expanding rock collection–stones that were once fallen trees, transformed by minerals in the ancient putrid waters that sucked them down. I can’t fathom the pressure necessary to create these stones. And how is it they’ve come to be here, on my bench, in my house, absorbing the warmth of the morning sun?

Judging from the way things break down and are reconfigured, my place in this cacophony of life and death is a whimsical bit of happenstance. This upsets me a little bit.

“Sometimes, I wish you took me a little more seriously, Dust mite God,” I said. Of course, no answer.  “Okay, sometimes I wish you didn’t pay any attention to me at all. You’re a frightening, infinitesimal speck of persistence, patiently digesting, creating and re-creating this ragged world and all that is within it.” No comment. No reaction. I stumble on.

“Diminutive God, you’re nearly invisible to the naked eye.  I don’t know what to make of you. Why have you chosen to inhabit such a tiny space.?”

Finally, I realize there will be no reasonable answers. In fact, there will be no answers at all today. Only compassion. Only resurrection. Only the icy hope of rising water, the magical appearance of red-winged blackbirds, the ambivalent green of an ordinary day.

In this version of myself, I am the friend of dust mites, the builder who will not reject these temporary stones. I am a transitory being of ashes and dust, improvising the best I can with the materials at hand. I won’t get it entirely right. No one ever does. And it doesn’t matter in the least.

 

Brown God, White Bread

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Dear Brown God,

I ate white bread for you today. Yes, I did. I swallowed my aversion, draped a delicate veil of righteousness over my shoulders, and let the elements slide down my throat.

I did this without expectation. Frankly, it was mostly for show. But suddenly, there you were, sidling my direction. I shook my head, signaling you should leave me alone. My face said, “Do not sit anywhere near me.” You ignored my face.

We sat in uncomfortable silence on the back bench. When the time came for confession of sins, I scratched you a note, “Do not expect much from me. I’m white like the bread, inside and out.” But I didn’t have the courage to slide it over. We stared straight ahead. I felt myself starting to come apart. Like a shy lover, you gently took my hand, entwining our fingers one by one. No one noticed this merger, this complete dissolution of boundary and intent. In what was left of my center, a longing welled up to be poor, and brown, and hungry. To be courageous, worthy, alive. There, amongst acquaintances, I was a refugee—landless, homeless, stripped of my claims to humanity. Then I was a snowy owl, a field of lilies, a night, blackened by the turning of the earth, given a small reprieve by galaxies that refuse to be silenced.

A ragtag choir rushed to the front and began to sing the haunting plea, Dona Nobis Pachem. They were joined by the Gay Men’s Choir from San Francisco, and then by what appeared to be German children, mostly blond, and an orchestra, complete with a massive section of violins. They played. They sang. They begged for peace. You and I, God. You and I. We drank the music in like water. We sang until we dissolved, flowing in harmony toward the rising sea. All that remained was a little smear of hope on the new carpet. It glowed iridescent beneath the worn boots of those who will always stay faithfully behind.

And now, back in my tentative body, a howling wind is blowing me sideways. The evening is falling hard. I’m writing you this note to say I’m sorry. No matter how many times you stop by and remind me to be brave, and to eat with joy, I’m still a bit selfish and afraid.

Dona Nobis Pachem, Brown God. And rest well. Tomorrow will be another day.

Yours,

Rita