Cardboard

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Some people choose to refashion themselves into cardboard cutouts so fragile they’re in chronic danger of ripping, dissolving, or falling completely apart. They’ve armed themselves with knives–tips dipped in venom—and weaponry of all shapes and sizes, ready to defend against the shadows flickering at their cardboard feet. They don’t seem to know that rain falls on the just and the unjust; that shadows only define the light.

Today, I have turquoise hair, ivory teeth, ruby lips, and purple nails. Bright orange ideas curl around my head like steam. I breathe in a sober version of the living, illusive God and breathe out the drunken mess of trivial, egocentric gods that power most of us along.

“Hey, Source of All That Matters,” I say to the gathering clouds. “Is this the day?”

“Of course,” Source says back. “It’s always the day.”

This brings to mind time zones and happy hours, datelines, eclipses, sun spots, and lunar new years stacked end on end like shipping crates from China. “No, Source,” I say. “I mean from my perspective. Not global. Not cosmic. And not yours. Crawl in behind my eyes for a minute. Wrap up in my skin. Flex my biceps, rub my neck, touch that worrisome mole. Try to remember what you were going to do next. Limit yourself to my synaptic firings and misguided outcomes.”

Source of All That Matters sighs. “Okay,” she says in something other than a voice. “But turnabout’s fair play.”

I’m not going to back down. “Sure, fine.” I shrug. Being God for a day sounds easy. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could do a better job.  But right now, I want God to understand how hard it is to be me.  “What are you waiting for?” I say, taunting. “Come on in. The water’s fine.”

Source of All That Matters laughs and is gone. Or I think she’s gone. I must have scared her off. Could I have scared her off? What the heck? That was stupid. Why do I always, well, who do I think… Ah, the rain. The red-winged blackbird. The golden finch. A day so finely textured it will never come again: Manna from heaven; malice from hell. Cardboard armies, nuclear bombs, wasp nests, robin eggs, duct tape, baling wire.

Just over the horizon, the shimmering mirage of another day is forming in the womb of creation while this day bursts open like a seed pod. I turn my back to the lightening. Thunder loosens my bones. Under my fingernails, the black soil of now; in my pockets, choices. Chances. Tedium and change. The underbelly of God is soft and seductive. I’m too heavy to move.

Enough?” asks Source.

“Oh, yeah.” I nod with a head barely fastened on. “Enough.”

Random and Small Redemptions

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Lately, I’ve been having the weirdest experiences ever. I call them God, but they freak me out. Little serendipities. Parallel visions of fire. Random and small redemptions. Good things happen. Are they God? Bad things happen. Are they God? Can you pray yourself into an astounding win? Can you pray yourself out of a fatal car wreck? No wonder people yank God down into manageable formulas and comforting, though wildly implausible, explanations. Believing into an open, infinite God is hard.

“Oh baby,” God interjected. “I so hope you’ll grow up a bit more before you die.”

“So do I… And how would that happen exactly?” I said, somewhat sincerely. And then things came completely apart. The chains fell. Static and then silence. The call dropped. The line went dead. The station went off the air. The grid went down. My familiar body was suddenly defined by subzero isolation, white noise, and emptiness turning in on itself. Eternal nothingness. No self. No one.

“Can you hear me now?” God whispered. The words froze in the air and shattered. I forced my fists to splay into fingers and asked my bones if they still were there. The familiar rattle reassured me. I inhaled, filled what I assumed were my lungs, fell backward into oblivion, and flailed until I’d created an imperfect angel. Then I burrowed home on hands and knees, knowing the way instinctively.

“You crack me up,” God said as I emerged from my self-inflicted plummet.

I struggled for footing in a nonexistent present. “And obviously, you crack me up. But not in a good way,” I mumbled through unfamiliar lips.

“Emptiness is a good way,” God said. “Think about it. The fullness of time is the end of time.”

We sat for a while, breathing shared and splendid air. “Sometimes, I dream I’m weightless,” I said. “And I can fly.”

“Yes,” God said.

“And I can see forever and hear every beautiful sound ever made,” I said, lying.

“Nice try,” God said. “That’s not the kind of growth I was hoping for.”

“I know,” I said. “But you like it when I crack you up.”

“True,” God said. “There’s that. And I guess you realize you can’t really lie to me.”

“Yeah” I said. “But you let people lie all the time. I hate that. You don’t swoop in, smite them, or even clear things up.”

“True,” God said. “I just wait.”

“Okay,” I said. I’d had enough sparring for a while. “I’ll wait with you.”

“Promise?” God said, with a resigned, lonesome look.

The question didn’t surprise me, but my answer made me incredibly sad. “You know I can’t.”

God’s head dropped. I knew he was crying. I took him in my arms and said gently but firmly, “I can’t promise you anything, God. But I’ll try. I’ll really try.”

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.

On a date with God (again)

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God asked me out on a date, and I threw caution to the wind and accepted. Dating God has distinct disadvantages. First, we go nowhere. We sit in second-hand chairs, drinking stale beer, listening to tunes people posted on Facebook, and we cry. We cry for the homeless, the cold, the hungry, the uninsured, the unwelcome. We cry for those grieving, those healing, and those who will not heal. We cry as the embers stop glowing and the room grows cold. The saints and prophets, the angels and devils, the Buddhas and philosophers crowd together for warmth, and the sky stays bleakly gray. We cry.

“God,” I say, trying to stifle the sobs. “This…this…this isn’t helping.” But one look at God and I collapse back into the mire of all that is wrong, all that hurts, all that enrages. God is midnight blue, absorbing the light and the agony, mixing it up. God is alive with sorrow, awash in the dreadful choices humans keep making. We are destroying the earth. We torture, maim, consume, lie, steal, and kill, denying culpability past the point of absurdity. God gulps it down, takes the hits, stays the course.

Finally, God drains the last of yesterday’s special Yuletide brew and pulls himself together. He’s not a sloppy drunk, and I’m not a cheap date. We hold hands as the crashing waves of all that is true slowly calm into a serene sea of snow. It’s brutally cold. The shy sun pushes through cracks in the blanketed horizon, insisting we remember how beautiful–how devastatingly beautiful–the frozen earth can be when hit by light.

“May I have this dance?” God asks. I agree. This may not be the tune I was hoping for, but there’s no way to know when the band will stop playing. It seems wiser to make the best of it now, rather than wait for the perfect beat.

The Dangers of the News

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God grabbed me by the throat this morning as I listened to the news. I squirmed and glared. The news ended, but God held on. Garrison Keillor read a poem by Sharon Olds in his soothing voice on my cheap clock radio.

“Let go,” I yelled. “Get thee behind me.” I was pretty sure that would loosen God’s hold, if only for a moment. Long enough for me to run somewhere, anywhere, up out of this basement, away from the imperfect walls surrounding me and the awful reports of the hateful world.

It didn’t work. The grip tightened. It was hard to speak, but I managed to say “I didn’t do it. It’s not my fault. And I can’t fix it.” Then I passed out.

When I came to, my head was in God’s lap. He was sitting on our frayed hide-a-bed loveseat, stroking my hair. I felt nauseated. I held perfectly still, afraid I was going to throw up on God. He used his bandana to wipe cold sweat from my forehead.

“You’re small,” he said. “And confused and tired.”

He leaned down and I gave up, slipping body and soul into those burning eyes, so dark there was no visible pupil. Pure obsidian. Black is not a color. It’s what happens when all colors have been absorbed. You can let go so completely you have nothing left to be.

When the florescent light flickered on, and the colors returned, God was gone. I turned my head from side to side, sat up, and held myself for a minute. This was not okay. God was not playing fair.

“Get back here,” I said. My voice was scratchy and there were bruises on my neck. “You can’t get away with this, God.”

“Unfortunately, I can,” God said in a voice older than any I’ve ever heard. “I’m tired, too. But I’m not confused or mortal. If you ask nicely, I’ll show you how to be kind today. But that’s all I’ve got.”

“Okay,” I agreed warily. “But could I be wise, too? And powerful? And funny?”

“Nope,” God said. “Try kind, and see where that gets you.”

God faded. I sat and faced myself. I didn’t want to be kind. I wanted to be nasty, resentful, and discontent. I wanted to blame, demand, and focus on everything that’s all messed up. Kind, huh? That damn black-eyed trickster.

I covered my neck in a blue silk scarf and set sail on the day. Kind. Well, at least I had a focus to distract myself from the fatal fears just under the surface of every evil act. Mine or theirs. I knew the relentless news would dog my steps. But I also knew the deep black place would hold me again if I need it to.

 

Brittle

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“God,” I said. “Blogging with you is like trying to shovel water out of a fast moving river.” God said nothing. This is one of God’s favorite responses. Even though I’m used to it, I don’t like it.

My motivation wanes and I assess the strength of my arms, the shape of the morning, the level of courage left after the terrors of the night. It isn’t easy to let go and make contact with something that vibrates like God. My brittle convictions are always in danger of breaking. My perch is precarious and I don’t look down for very long.

“Down is the wrong direction,” God says, the voice rising from the frost on the windows.

This time, I give God a taste of her own medicine. I say nothing.

“Down is the wrong direction, and anyway, the only real escape is breakage. Don’t be afraid. I work best with colorful fragments, contrite hearts, and brave, belligerent foolishness. I’m more of an abstract artist. I like mixed media. Exotic combinations.”

Even though I intended to stay silent, I couldn’t stop myself. “You are one twisted dude, God,” I said. I thought I was angry, but when God started laughing and dancing and throwing small stones in the air, I melted. I let go. I fell, and broke.

“Look what you did,” I screamed, terrified of all the jagged edges, the false starts, the weakened beliefs. Utter incoherence where once there’d been an idea. An explainable self, shattered.

“Yes,” God said. “Look what I did.”

Landing

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In 40 minutes, I will land. We will land. The degrees of separation will fluctuate wildly while my internal Geiger counter recalibrates. Then all will settle, and I’ll make educated guesses about the radiance of God’s face and the relative dangers of the mundane.

No doubt the landing will be turbulent because in Mexico City, God looked bored and restless. Security singled me out, emptied my bags, patted me down. The apologetic guard had thin pink lips. She was extraordinarily short and efficient. God chuckled before boarding the plane like royalty, dressed in pilot’s regalia.

At 30,000 feet, I am beyond redemption, but then everything is. The question is less about redemption–more about restoration, which apparently, will be a real bitch. There’s nothing subtle about restoration. It extends beyond the absurd and tragic, earth scorched and drenched, bones burned clean. The lovely molds and mildew will recede only after, somehow, it’s over, and this particular crisis is removed from the cross and buried.

Explanations sit stoically beside me, overweight and ugly. Back in Mexico, they stare out the windows of the purple bus, flutter in the hands of children selling trinkets in the rain.

The seat belt sign is illuminated. Items in the overhead bins have shifted. Visibility is limited by smoke and tears. But we will be landing shortly. This is terrible. And perfect.