Jogging with God

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It makes sense to run before it gets even hotter, but I’m fighting with myself. Making excuses, scolding, cajoling, promising rewards. I notice myself talking to myself. Sheesh. Consciousness is clearly evolution’s most daring experiment. I’m often in the vicinity of my intentions but sometimes I hang myself in that self-reflective loop.

God sits back on his haunches, watching. I see his silhouette on the far horizon, warming his fat hands over the fire of a steadily rising sun. I see myself, a speck of indignation, a tiny sip of fresh water; not impressive, but tenacious. The fallen angels are composting into something wonderful. There’s been too much rain this year. It’s unnaturally green, uncomfortably humid. Twin fawns leap back and forth over windrows of molding hay as I reluctantly start jogging up the lane.

It’s slow going. I’m drenched in sweat and my Nikes are slapping the pavement ungracefully. God slips alongside. His feet would make a thunderous noise with the weight he carries, but they don’t touch the ground today. He’s helicoptering along, a corpulent, cagey companion cawing with the crows, catching clumps of drifting cotton. I’m hoping the neighbors don’t drive by, but I’m glad for God’s presence, such as it is. I sometimes fall and break bones, get pelted by hail, bitten by bugs, or startled by rattlesnakes. Having God along…hmmm…well. Actually, it might help. It might not.

“I can hear you,” God says, a little sarcastically. He’s peddling backwards, a little ways ahead.

“And I can hear you,” I say back. “Beastly hot, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, this accelerated climate change is a bitch,” God says.

“I don’t like it when you talk like that,” I say. I try to pick up the pace.

“You want platitudes?”

“No.”

“Aphorisms?”

“No.”

“Big syllable reassurances?”

“No.”

“Ah,” God says. “I know what you want. You want a song.” He belts out his own version of Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, but shake it off. Shake it off.” He jiggles his bum.

God’s right. The song helps. I dance along, doing some jiggling myself, happily distracted. Shake it off. Shake it off. Oops! We both dive for the borrow pit as a big truck rattles by.

“These country roads aren’t the best for joggers,” God says, as we climb back up the slope. He resumes the hard-driving melody, and I use the beat to motivate myself toward home.

“I saw you watching the world this morning,” I say between breaths.

“Yeah. Up early. Couldn’t sleep. I love this little planet. Still hoping you don’t wreck it for yourselves, but all bets are off.”

“BETS?” I yell. “This is not a betting matter.”

“Right,” God says. “Sorry. You’re absolutely right. It’s all about consciousness. Human choice is pivotal on so many fronts. But if you were betting, where’d you put your money?”

“Not sure,” I say.

“Me neither,” God says. We find some shade, resting in the euphoria that follows a good work-out. “But thanks for the run.”

The Frogs of Summer

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Every damn morning, the frogs of summer ruin my dark, silent sleep. Their exuberant greetings of first light pull me into resentful consciousness. I don’t quite want to kill them, but I can understand people who do. This is never how I greet first light. Couldn’t they stay hunkered down, mudded over until midmorning? Why do they go on croaking even after night fall? And the birds. And the river running high and brown, reckless and noisy. And for that matter, the sun and earth, in a morbid relationship that results in harsh, insistent light for far too long. A hot radiance I can’t handle. I need my rest. Where is darkness when I need it? The silence that renews my soul? Creation is badly done. Royally screwed up.

“I should smite you,” God says, joining me on the couch. “You aren’t very grateful.”

“Yeah? Well, I should smite you,” I say back. I know who’d win, but when I’m in this kind of mood, I don’t care.

“Smite away,” God says.

I realize I don’t actually know how smiting works. “I may need some help,” I admit. God tries to hide the smirk.

“So, you want me to help you smite myself?”

“Yes,” I say. “Exactly.”

It occurs to me that this is a common conversation for God. The cursing and fist-shaking are familiar. The selfish pleading, blaming, walk-aways, come-backs, the stomping of little feet, crossing of puny arms. All these Centers-of-the-Universe, throwing cheerios on the floor, grinning, kicking, bowls on heads. God-directed road rage, drunken stupors, broken promises, punched out lights. Lack of skill is no barrier; we are blindly determined smiters. God absorbs as much smiting as possible, but there comes a time when God lays down on the pavement so we can see all the ways we are smiting ourselves.

In the raucous light of dawn, this smite-absorbing being has curled up tight beside me on our oversized couch, innocent as a napping puppy. So circular and cute, I’m lulled into complacency. But then I remember the sharp teeth, my thin skin, and the long day ahead.

Wrestling Match

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I’m lost in a pile of morning words, thrashing like a rainbow trout that has taken the bait, uncertain if I am a victim of catch and release or soon to sizzle. The bait? Fame and fortune. Vast influence. The ultimate saving of the planet. Or at least meaning beyond pulling the stubborn cheat grass in the raised beds. The strawberries are in trouble and the chives. Even the mint is being overtaken.

“What if I were the governor or a movie star?” I think to myself.

“You’d still die,” God thinks back.

“What if I were rich beyond measure?” I think to myself.

“You are,” God thinks back.

“But I could be richer,” I counter with narrow eyes.

“Sure, but why? Even the outer limits are limits.”

“I don’t like that.” I shook my head.

“I know.” God smiled.

So apparently this day is going to inch forward and end–like every other day and no other day. It’s hardly begun, but as I argue with God, each moment slips quietly into the past. I watch the wind move the new leaves. They’re relatively secure for the coming season, assuming no tornadoes or killing frosts. What a brilliant celebration of all that is transitory.

“God,” I said, “You are a pain in the butt.”

“So are you,” God said as she sat down in one of the chairs that scratch the floor if you move around very much.

“What if I bought a camper van and drove to DC and parked and protested for the rest of my life? Huh? What then? Would that fix things? What if I piled my possessions on the sidewalk and labeled them ‘FREE’? What if I shaved my head and wore a robe? What if I climbed a tree and sat in the limbs on hunger strike? What if I chained myself to the wall? What if I gave everyone the right kind of light bulb? What if I broke all the glass in sight, shattering everyone’s phony security? What if, God? What if?”

“Sure,” God said. “Those all sound feasible. Which wall and how big of chain?”

I swore and threw my beer bottle at God. God ducked, spun around, and rammed a shoulder into my stomach. We fell like children wrestling in green grass and dandelion fluff. We shouted and shrieked in glee, startling a magpie and the neighbors. Our molecules were drunk on a bacterial invasion that made us come apart. To my surprise, I liked disintegrating. God and me. Me and God. The Great I AM. The Jokester, the Coyote, the Source of All That Is. And me. Me.

“Don’t forget the bacteria,” God said as we lied on our backs, panting. I shrugged.

“You know, God, I’m kind of artistic,” I said.

“True,” God said. “Maybe go with that.”

 

The God of Paunchy-Bellied Men

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“Hey,” God said, all cheerful and awake, sitting cross-legged in the living room. “I’ve been writing some poetry. Want to hear it?” It was way too early.

“Uh, sure,” I said, groping my way toward coffee. I suspected I’d need my half-beer too. I brought it along and sat down, as polite and attentive as I could be. God seemed a little shy. “It’s entitled Lavender,” he said. He took a breath and read:

I am the God of paunchy-bellied men

with emaciated butts

and their magnificent  

big-thighed women.

 I have gradually loosened my grip

on anything

that isn’t lavender.

God paused and looked at me. “Oh, boy,” I thought. “What do I say to that?” I waited, hoping there was more, but God sat silent, trying to hide his neediness. “Interesting,” I finally said. “Tell me about lavender.”

God crossed his arms. “It’s a poetic ploy.” He shrugged. “I like the sound of lavender…and that part about me losing my grip. Dramatic, right? Me losing my grip?”

“Hmmm. The sound of lavender,” I echoed, worried about where this could go.

“Lavender” God said in a frantic voice. “Budding lilac lavender, warm blanket lavender, baby lavender, calming lavender. Or what about acid lavender, neon lavender, dense, alarming lavender? That lavender on the edge of certain molds. So much to consider about lavender.” God’s breathing was ragged.

My therapist heart kicked in. There was something going on here that scared me, but I had to try and help. “Your grip?” I said gently. “And those paunchy-bellied men?”

Black clouds gathered and cracked. Lightning lit the bones of the room. Sadness flooded through broken windows, thin and murky. The apocryphal gruel they serve in soup lines came to mind. It was hard to think, hard to move. Something awful was afoot. I grabbed God’s hand and we fled out the back, down the alley. Hordes of paunchy-bellied men were strewn about like willow branches after a storm. We leapt over the spent carcasses, scrambling, tripping, picking each other up, laughing and crying hysterically.

The alley dead-ended, and a thousand big-thighed women were waiting, like they always wait. They took us in, no strings attached, and fed us a hearty evening meal. Nothing about any of this was lovely or right. It just was.

Utterly exhausted, I rolled myself under a lilac hedge to sleep, but God stayed up until all hours, chewing the fat with the women, reliving the glory days. Their delight disgusted me. “We’re doomed,” I thought as I dozed off. “We’re all fucking doomed.”

An eternity later, God shook me awake. “Shhh,” he said as he took me in his arms. We flew straight toward the fiery orange sun, rising hot in the delicate lavender sky.

 

Perfection

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A lot of my inventions don’t work out very well, but usually this doesn’t stop me from trying again. The lure of perfection shimmers on the horizon. For example, I dreamed up a way to install window trim that would reduce cold drafts, but it turns out that this  severely complicates the process of taking down the shades–to the point of aching arms, hammered thumbs, obscenities and temporary defeat.

So this morning, with the shade half in and half out, I’m thinking about perfection. Is intention enough? Does anything fit the definition for long? Does detaching transform imperfection? Achieving perfection seems both precarious and potentially boring. Some people think God is perfect, but if there’s a God, it’s unlikely she’s boring. Is perfection an end state or a process?

“Both,” God said, slowly materializing near the woodstove. “And hey, did I slip in gradually enough this time?” She was dripping eucalyptus oil into the hot water, trying to calm me down and perhaps, dilute the odor of this morning’s burned toast or maybe the toxic fumes from the varnish I’d applied to an imperfect tabletop last night.

I nodded. “Want some tea?” I asked, my voice tight, embarrassed about the window shades and the black crusts of toast.

“Sure,” she said.

The eucalyptus was stinging my eyes. “You may’ve overdone that essential oil thing,” I said, as I put the tea kettle on the stove.

“Well,” God said. “Essence is hard to calibrate.”

I gave God a glance. “Why do you say things like that?” I asked. “You’re so obscure and elusive.”

“Am not,” God said. It was such an adolescent response I smiled despite myself as I put tea leaves in the boiling water. The scent of spearmint mingled with varnish and eucalyptus. The aroma of burned toast had dissipated, being a more transitory odor.

“So, about perfection,” I said. “Is that what you are? Is it possible? How would you define it?”

God blew across the surface of her tea. “It’s like…well…” She eased back in the rocker, looking thoughtful. “Seeds,” she said finally, glancing out the window. This hit a sore spot. An irregular layer of snow blanketed the garden beautifully, but the last few summers, that damn garden had resisted anything near perfection. Trying to address the problems had only made them worse. Things had gotten ugly. I felt a bit defensive.

God continued, trying a different angle. “Perfection lives inside perception. Perfection is not the thing itself.” But my mood had deteriorated. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” I said. “Want some toast?”

“Sure,” God said, sighing. “But no jelly.” I nodded. “And I’ll try not to burn it,” I said in a self-deprecating tone.

“Perfect,” God said with an impish grin. I knew she was joking around, but I felt like burning the toast on purpose.

“Either way, sweetheart,” God said. “I’ll eat it either way.”

Snowbound

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Two feet of God fell through the night, pure white, yielding and silent–a worthy opponent, this friend of mine. “To what do I owe this honor?” I asked as I shoveled, and tried to mean it. “Nice of you to stop by,” I added, lying. No answer. I went back inside to stoke the fire and stare out the window.

A resolute sun broke through, brief and blinding. I could see nothing. Hear nothing. The tips of my toes and fingers felt nothing. This was the white of beguiling lies, seductive cover-ups. I was out of my depth, but it kept coming down. I’m ill-prepared, I thought. When you consider wind chill, even the burliest humans are easily frozen. The teeth of my cyberworld chattered. How do you love in this bitter cold? we asked each other, not actually wanting to know.

From the security of my couch, I contemplated the fields of deep, deadly white. For my people, black is the color of mourning–the color of absorption. But billions of people mourn in white–the color of reflection. White is what happens when light gathers force: blood red, sky blue, the yellow of fire and sun.

“That’s enough of that,” God said in a gruff, grandfatherly voice. “You’re trying too hard–too full of yourself. How about the red of that little wagon? The yellow of dog pee on snow?”

“But the situation is serious, God,” I said, embarrassed. “And I didn’t know you were listening. Could you knock, or at least make some noise before you barge into my head like that?”

God rolled himself into a single eyeball, a sheen of ice glazed over a deep, dangerous blue. He winked.

“Sorry,” he said. “I know it’s childish, but I love startling people. You thought I was out there, being weather, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said. “Or maybe not. You tell me, Mr. Know-It-All.”

An avalanche of laughter crashed against my dying world, my endangered species, bathing it in cold comfort, icing away the inflammation of ego and all things unsettled, unfiltered, and unattainable.

“Love can look like this,” God said, pointing at a single ember.

I knew the fire needed more wood, but I was reluctant. Winter isn’t over and the woodpile is precariously low.

Known

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“It won’t always be like this,” God said, perched high in the cottonwoods near the river. And sure enough, even as I watched, God lifted into the sky and disappeared. The wind spread a translucent blanket of snow across the field, and bitter cold blew into my bones while I fantasized flying after him. I sent what I could spare aloft and turned toward home, diminished.

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“It’s better to grow smaller,” God said, meeting me at the door with dark beer and bread fresh from the oven. I drank and ate and crawled into God’s warm chest, which is always cracked wide open.

“Why do you expose your heart like this?” I asked in a critical voice, even while I let the pulsing blood restore me. I could smell my own hypocrisy, taste my own selfishness. But I stayed anyway.

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“You’re tenacious,” God said. “I’ll give you that. But you’re not as tough as you think.”

“Yes I am,” I said. I heard the sound of cloth torn, stitches ripped, fire snapping and hungry. I heard waves crashing, thunder roaring, the shriek of fallen prey, the whimper of starvation. Stones rolled, ice cracked, rifles fired, and the earth groaned with the weight of voracious appetites and malignant neglect.

“Paint me a picture,” God said. “With lots of lavender and green.”

“All I have is this awful gray,” I said, apologetically. “And maybe a little brown.”

“Don’t lie to me,” God said.

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A broken sun climbed into limited sky. The foolish snow refused to do anything but reflect light–as if it could stay cold and drifted forever. “You have to melt sometime,” I said to the snow with an evil sneer.

“And so do you,” God said, rubbing my stiffened neck. Reluctantly, I nodded and went to the basement where I keep my secret supplies of recycled canvas and secondhand paint.

“Perfect,” God said, as I emerged, laden with a rainbow of options. I shrugged, trying to hide the awful relief, the fearsome comfort, of being known.

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