For Paula

This morning I awoke in the land of the living but someone I loved for decades did not. Her long life ended peacefully last night, and the world is emptier this morning. God wants me to edit that last line because it isn’t quite accurate from God’s perspective, but I’m not going to. From my perspective, one of the gentlest, most generous people I’ve ever known is gone, and the world is emptier. From God’s perspective, all things transform. Time is an elastic metaphor God uses to teach us about love. I don’t like today’s lesson. Love is costly and painful for linear beings.

The last time I saw her, with some hesitation, she let me hold her hand, birdlike bones covered in bruised, paper-thin skin. She recognized the warmth of my hand. That’s all. Most of her had already melted away. During that visit, God spent his time in the kitchen making chocolate cake. She and her roommates, the vacant people in their vacant chairs, still relished a bite of warm cake with a touch of ice cream.

But there comes a time when there is nothing left to relish. The curled body tightens into a perfect circle, and it is done. Finished. A life has been accomplished. The final grades are in. The eternal vacation of liquid soul has begun. But God objects again. He claims there is no beginning. No end. Only flow. And again, I refuse to edit. And I cry. And God cries.

This is the thing I like about God. He willingly gets linear and crawls right into the pain. He sobs, surrounds, and sits with me. He reminds me how many ways there are to die, and we marvel together that I have this day. This moment. That’s all.

The Mystery fractures into light. Photosynthesis begins. The Bread of Life is chocolate cake. The Living Waters of her endless kindness flow to the sea, and there the kindness shall flow again. There we shall all flow again. She loved walking on the beach, collecting sand dollars, remembering the clam digs. I wish we’d walked there more, but I’m grateful for the times we did. I see her knobby feet in the sand, her old-lady pants rolled to the knee, her face turned to the endless horizon. “Safe travels,” I whisper as the Mystery takes her away. I’m pretty sure I saw her wave.

Cerulean Blue

A while back, God asked to borrow a few tubes of my acrylic paint. How could I say no? I have an abundance of paint. He took the most exotic colors and has yet to return them. This morning, I’m working up my courage to demand that he either order replacements or return my paints. There was a tube of cerulean blue that I always used sparingly because of the magic it could evoke. I can’t say for certain but knowing that tube is missing may be the reason I’ve not touched my paints for months. So, I’m sitting here, waiting for God, planning how I’ll broach the subject.

“Just broach it already,” God says from the darkest corner in the room. I can barely see him, but he sounds present and impatient.

“Well, that cerulean blue was my favorite,” I say, equally present and impatient. “I think you knew that when you took off with it.” I’m standing my ground. God’s got nothing on me this morning. The fires are raging, the air is dense, and as usual, I’m predicting a bitter end to humanity.

The room goes blue. The bluest blue. The blue of perfect sky, calm ocean, deep lake. So blue I can taste it; I can hear it. I can feel it sinking in. My wayward hands and desolate heart are blue. My smirky face is blue. The insides of my eyelids are blue, and the claw marks I’ve made trying to escape are blue. Everything is exceedingly, abundantly blue.

“Enough?” he asks, grinning. His teeth and saliva are a dazzling blue.

Transformed, absorbed, I run with blue legs into the blue universe and throw my arms around a miraculous blue marble floating in blue nothingness. I am renewed. I will paint until my fingers fall off. I will paint with my body, my hammer, my shoes, every ounce of me. I will fling color around like confetti, and it will be God. Layers and layers of God. It will always be God.

“I still see you,” I tell God as he slowly removes himself from visibility. “I see you just fine. And I hear you humming blue. And I taste you in this beer. And I know you aren’t going anywhere. And I’m happy. But could you give me back that paint you borrowed? Please?”

“Sure,” the Blue murmurs. He hands me a bag of paints with more colors than I’ve ever seen. “Break a leg,” he says.

“Oh, good grief,” I say. “That’s what you say to an actor about to go onstage.”

“Right,” God says, hitting himself on the side of his blue, blue head. “I knew that.” But it wasn’t a mistake. God always means what he says. When God encounters headstrong humans, he often wrestles with them. They don’t come away destroyed, but they definitely limp. With these colors, I will not come out unscathed. Or even alive. But I’m okay with that. I’m going to paint anyway.

Legacy

Reportedly one symptom of Covid 19 is the loss of taste, which in rare cases could be a blessing. The worst thing I’ve ever tasted was a stink bug hidden in a bowl of fresh raspberries. Stink bugs emit a foul odor when disturbed, but they taste far more foul when bitten.

I doubt God has ever bitten a stink bug. I imagine the worst thing God has ever tasted is hatred. Even a little bit of hatred can ruin the whole savory stew of a creation born of love. I spat that stink bug out, brushed my teeth, and gargled, but the taste lingered. I shudder to think what we’re doing to God right now. But maybe it’s God’s own fault. The stink bug was entirely accidental. We’re not. There’s nothing accidental about us.

Some of you may wonder about the motivation, sanity, and content of this blog…as have I. Right now, you are reading my 200th post. Just over five years ago, I had a chance encounter with cancer. Facing imminent mortality yanked my consciousness around. Disbelief and indignation got all tangled up with gratitude, terror, and determination. My connections to the Great Beyond, the God of Bigness, Littleness, Cosmos, Critters, Creative Urgency, and Salvation expanded like stretchy strands of spider web, tenacious as dry rot eating through brick; God, the ever-branching tentacles; me, the crumbling brick.

I’ve gotten to know my bothersome Co-Author fairly well because I live by a river, and it’s quiet sometimes–quiet enough to hear the continual cracking of God’s fractured heart and green enough to witness the courageous mending wrought by the small yellow flowers as they befriend their fate.

Every day, I try to follow suit and befriend my fate. Bark peels off the fallen tree into my hands, and even this has become more beautiful than I can bear. I lay the best pieces on the water and send them downstream to people I do not know and cannot name; gay, black, beaten, homeless…the hungry and the dead.

No one comes back to tell us anything about legacies or regrets, but I am convinced everything matters a little. Like attending. Showing up. But to really show up, to take it all in, I have to pry myself open to touch and see, listen…and yes, to smell and taste. Even after the stink bug incident, some days I bravely sniff the breeze and roll the taste of God around in my mouth. No matter how fresh or putrid, bitter or sweet, I try to savor. Some days, God bravely does the same with me.

I wish each ferocious moment of connection would be enough, but that’s not how it works. Thus, I ponder and write. Thank you for reading these blogs and for prying yourselves as open as you dare. Openings create legacies, fleeting and fine-boned, as all legacies should be. For that, I am grateful.

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere

Lately, I’ve been taking the world apart little by little. Originally, I had planned to put it back together once I understood how everything worked, but I’m afraid I’ve misplaced some key pieces, and occasionally, I’ve gotten impatient, pulled too hard, and broken things. So, my new plan is a simplified version. Let things come together as they will. Sandstone with lichen. Rain that soaks the just and the unjust. Lightening that strikes on a whim. Fire that burns selective and incomplete. I can’t keep track of the passing hours or the imagined threats anymore.

I told God about my undoings and lingering responsibilities, hoping he’d take a hint and be of some kind of help, but he’s so busy. “It’s July and I haven’t even got my snow tires off,” he said.

“Yeah, but it’s snowing somewhere,” I said–an old happy hour joke—it’s 5:00 somewhere. We like being happy, me and God. We laughed.

“I know you could use some help with your projects, but with all the cotton blowing off the cottonwood trees and old people dying like honeybees, I just don’t have the kind of time it would take to put your world back together,” God said. His face had a pointed, parental look.

I didn’t believe him because God is not bound by time or space, but then I’m not always honest either. For instance, I’m not actually taking the world apart. The world is taking me apart, and it’s me who won’t be coming back together. Someday, I will be the lichen on the sandstone and the falling rain.

“If you’re lucky,” God interjected.

I knew God was still joking around, wanting to laugh and keep the mood light. And why not? When the time comes, I’m guessing God will give me a different way to see what has always been and will always be. I’ll have new jobs and a new name.

“But not yet,” God said to my wandering mind, sounding impatient with my inwardality. “Your old name still works. Like you said, it’s snowing somewhere. Let’s get a move on. Make hay while the sun shines. Don’t you trust me anymore?”

“What’s not to trust?” I muttered, mostly to myself. But I got dressed anyway, found my purple work boots exactly where I’d left them, and dragged out the mower. God was right. My old name still works. For now.

Driftwood

Today, I examine the curves and contradictions of driftwood and stones rolled by the river while I sip small amounts of soothing beer and let ideas of God come and go as they will. Some stay longer than others. Some wake me up. Some put me to sleep. Some are a comfort; others are profoundly disturbing. Even when I utter prayers beyond words, I laugh at myself. I don’t ask for much. No, that’s a lie. I ask for everything.

Everything. Why not? Ask and ye shall receive, right? But here’s something I’ve noticed: Don’t ask and ye shall receive anyway. Or ask and ye get nothing ye asked for. So ye makes up ridiculous sayings like when God closes a door, she opens a window. What? A window? I’m too old to crawl through most windows. See why I laugh? Windows let in light and air. It’s nice to sit and look out a window. It is not nice to crawl through one. So if God has shut a door, maybe sit on the couch and appreciate the view.

Maybe invite God to sit with you. Maybe give God a chance to explain herself. She won’t, but that’s okay. Humans are ingenious inventors, projectors, and deniers. I have no doubt you can think up more clever sayings about God or about Not-God to offer the grieving family, to scold the misbehaver, to justify your choices, judge yourself or others, get even, or get ahead. It’s so easy. Just sit there and make things up, drawing from ancient writings, evangelists, humanists, feminists, misogynists, economists–whatever your sources, brew up an elixir, gird your loins, and… No. Wait. Touch the driftwood.

Wait. Take the fingers on your left hand, run them gently up and down the tender skin on your right arm, feel the tingle, and marvel. Marvel. Fill your lungs with air you cannot see, and marvel. Blink your eyes, wiggle your toes, taste the inside of your mouth, and marvel. Glance at God, smile sheepishly, and apologize for everything. Then regroup and ask for everything. Eternity. Driftwood. Stones shaped like broken hearts. Everything. God will hold the ladder as you crawl out the window. Try to laugh all the way to the ground. It will help you manage your terror and the enormous sadness you should never wish away.

Those Little Brown Birds

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Something scares the little brown birds feasting on the front lawn, and most of them fly to the fence, using precious energy for no cause. This time, there’s no predator, only wind. A few of the dull ones stay behind, calmly pecking at the dirt. Those clad in coats of many colors are male and skittish. They drop back to the dirt, shiny and chagrinned.

But now the orange cat slinks by. All the little birds disperse; this time with good cause. They land on the wires, tailfeathers twitching, reminding me of the ragged and precarious ways I cling to life. Like dry grass in the fall, my longings could be braided into baskets or burned away like chaff.

There’s a shallow ravine I’ve known since I wandered the land as a child. I liked hiding there, lying on my back, sheltered from the winter wind. The long dream will continue in this small and private canyon because there’s so much sky. Sandstone gives way here and there to reveal outcroppings of flint and jasper, agate and granite. Someday, I will feed the wilder animals and join the great upheavals and slow erosions of creation.

For now, my dreams are short and dim. God reaches into them occasionally, and I chase him out with a broom, my hair covered in a kerchief, my voice low and menacing. But God crouches even lower, his tail snaps back and forth, his fangs perfectly white and bared. His amber eyes burn with a question, “Are you sure? Are you sure?”

And I admit I’m not. Not sure. Not solid. Frightened by wind and fire. The long-awaited greening seems as far away as justice. I did not waste my youth, but it has not come with me. Some days, I’m too tired to fly to the fence. How long can I hold these things at bay? God goes belly-up at my feet, the pads of his magnificent paws soft and tender. I see the spot that makes him limp and bandage it with my shirt. He thanks me. We rest.

God’s Mothers’ Day Chat with White People Toting Guns

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I would like to speak with your souls today. We’ll need to bypass inflated egos and false defenses. Quiet those quick rationalizations. Lose the aches and pains, your fears and hungers, and gingerly touch the dark walls of your short lives. Let go of the protective gear hidden in your pockets, strapped to your ankles.

You would be wise to surrender. Don’t be afraid. You can drop the best of these words along the path so if you need to, you can find your way home. But for now, lay low. Lay down low. Lay down so low that all you see is your mother. Turn your ear to the earth and listen to her heart beating inches from your body. Curl inward. Remember, everything curls inward. Notice the pulsing cord attaching you to this good earth. For now, you are sustained.

The body broken is necessary. When you try to elevate yourself beyond terror or save yourself with weaponry, remember the trajectory of a bullet is not linear. It takes the curve of the earth. The kind you carry explode on impact. The fragments make their way back weeping and bloodied. They reassemble in the womb.

Did you know you shot my son? Did you know he was your brother?

The garden gates are open. I’ll be waiting there for you. We’ll plant spinach and daffodils, potatoes and beets. We’ll pray for water and pull the weeds. I will knit you back together with fine merino wool, and we’ll use your stony hearts to build a monument. A testament. A tomb.

And then, when you’re ready, here is what I’ll say: Let there be light. And with all creation, I will say again, “Let there be light.” And as the sun reveals your nakedness, your mother will hand you freshly laundered clothes.

The Will of God

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At 3:00 AM I was unwillingly awake with an old church song stuck in my head. I tried to breathe it away. I tried to layer another song on top to cancel out the insistent tune. I finally fell asleep, but now, with the dawn, the song is back. Coffee, Paul Simon, a nice Vimeo poetry reading—nothing has obliterated this song. So, like any sensible, mystically-oriented writer, I Google the lines to see from whence they come. Alas. It was an easy Google. New Testament. Writings of a fellow mystically-oriented writer called Paul in the book called Romans. Here are the words of the song:

We are heirs of the Father, we are joint heirs with the Son.
We are children of the Kingdom. We are family. We are one.

But guess what? The song is a bit selective. The whole verse has a disturbing caveat. We are one, alright…IF we share in the suffering. But isn’t God’s love supposed to free us from suffering? Sometimes, I like a good paradox. An enlightening dialectic. But this morning, I don’t like the song, I don’t like the verse, I don’t like suffering, and I hate my internal judge who says maybe I haven’t suffered enough, so I can look forward to more or die a total slacker.

God arrives gently. “How’s the book coming along?” he asks. He’s talking about a book I’m writing on suicide.

“What’s the point of anything?” I answer. “The book is freaking me out, and I doubt anyone will publish it anyway. And why is suffering even a thing?”

“Bones break,” God says. He sighs. “Fire burns. Hunger happens. I don’t like it any better than you do.”

I believe this is true even though I’m talking to the Biggest God. The One who could fix it all. The One with perfect pitch who plucks the strings of the cello, paints the sky, births the morning, ties the knots, upends the endings, buries the dead, begins with no beginning, ends the day with no end.

“I’ve been working on my will,” God says. “What would you like to inherit?”

My insides drop. “You can’t die,” I say from a very cold place.

“Of course I can,” God says. “I do it millions of times a day. It’s a job requirement.”

“That’s stupid,” I say. “You’re God. You wrote the job description.”

“Yes, I did,” God says. “Now, what would you like to inherit?”

I look at God, utterly astonished at the ridiculous question and impossible answer.

“Nothing,” I mumble.

“What’s that?” God says, leaning dramatically across the couch.

“NOTHING,” I shout. And I mean it.

But God snaps open his briefcase, and a fully formed day leaps out, intensely pigmented, filled with the aroma of baked goods and lilacs, songs in my head, words at my fingertips, and a horizon barely out of reach. Just the way I like it.

“Okay,” I say. “For now.”

“Yes,” God says. “For now.”

 

 

The Harbinger

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On this somber morning, the chalky smell of old lessons fills my nose, and I remember posing beside a piece of art created to decompose. The Artist lingers nearby, a tortured soul, ready to recompose when the time is right.

Broken birds and fallen women find redemption in the great yellowness of a steady sun. This has always been the Artist’s intention, but it’s hard to admit because we like to make our own little plans and pretend the forts we build will protect us forever. What can we make true by pretending? What do you want to count on? Which lies are you willing to live by or tell the children?

If you mix pure gold with tired red blood you get a burnt orange that catches and holds the holy light so gently even tiny things are seen and safe. I am old, but I miss my mother. I am wise but certain of nothing. I know I’m of use, but I’m not sure why. Even the forgotten are of use, but they don’t know why either.

Once, we were butchering chickens. The uproar was astounding, the panic widespread. My lover, a city boy, was in charge of catching the fat, terrified hens and handing them to the person with the ax. He’d grab one by the leg, cradle her in his arms, and stroke her downy white feathers. “It’ll be okay, little buddy,” he’d say in a soothing voice. “It’ll be okay.” But then, for some reason, he heard himself. He stammered and stepped back, pale and appalled. I think he wanted to abandon his post. But there was no point. It was harvest time. The chickens were plump and ready. It had to be done, and it would be okay. The cosmic joke was on him and the chickens and anyone who fails to grasp redemption. It is neither cheap nor easy, but it is guaranteed. The chickens were perfect and delicious.

When the Fat Lady Sings

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For the 17th time, we’re remodeling our interior space(s) with upcycled materials that require varying levels of tolerance and creativity. In this, as in all things in my life, God worms his way in and turns whatever I’m doing into a parable. It’s all about him. Some might find this reassuring. I don’t. Here’s what I know: In contrast to me, the Contractor-in-Chief always obtains the correct permits to begin remodeling. Then he rolls up his sleeves and works like the devil to upcycle your innards. Seventeen times is nothing to him. It’s a rolling remodel–a lifetime composting project. And here’s something ugly: In your innermost being, there’s asbestos, black mold, dry rot, and highly combustible chemical substances that must be properly stored but often are not.

Fire happens frequently. Like many in my species, I start little blazes that if left unchecked would burn the entire project to the ground. God’s a skilled firefighter, but sometimes he decides to call in the whole damn volunteer fire department. It’s embarrassing. After the flames subside, platitudes and excuses abound. The crowd is pleased, hell freezes over, and I skate away on ice I know to be very, very thin. The cows start for home, and the Fat Lady warms up in the wings, octaves surging like a dangerous river. There’s no doubt she will sing. She’s the most voluptuous incarnation God ever assumes. Such lungs. That dark cleavage rising, those magnificent breasts; objects of desire and dread. This is where we’ll all find ourselves eventually; in the arms of the Fat Lady smothered in love; upcycled beyond recognition. Transformed.

“And in the meantime?” I wonder to myself. God smiles, soot clinging to his mustache, circling his nostrils. He tosses me a hard hat, a yellow suit, and a big, cherry red fire extinguisher. “Keep trying,” he says. “You’ll improve over time.”

“Why?” I moan. Doubt lines my face. “Even if I get good–really, really good–it won’t be enough.” God remains silent, eyes generating their own searing light. “And I might get burned trying,” I add, feeling sorry for myself. Who really wants the eyes of God focused on them?

“Of course you will,” God says, his voice kind but firm. “But what’s a little scorch here and there?” He waves a crusty hand out the window of his firetruck, slips into the turn lane, and disappears.