The Eyes of Your Eyes

On the First Day, God said “I am a three-headed monster, a four-toed sloth, five stars, seven heavens, and fifty ways to leave your lover. I am without guile in my slinky nighty and seductive poses. There’s little doubt what I want. And no question I will get it.”

And as soon as I could, I responded.

 “Wow! Is there anything I can do for you?” I may have seemed a little obsequious and I was afraid it was too late.

“Relax,” God said. “You don’t have to sign up—the long arm of evolution conscripted you before time. You’re conscious of being conscious, but you’re distracted by abstractions of yourself. Let me ask you this: Will the eyes of your eyes stay open even as it appears there is nothing left to see?”

Will the eyes of my eyes stay open?

“Probably not,” I confessed. “I don’t even know if they’re open now.” I felt pathetic admitting this, but with God, it’s better to be honest than make promises you can’t keep.

“Do you know what I’ll say on the Last Day?” God asked.

I shook my head.

“Hello, gorgeous,” God said. “I’ll say hello gorgeous. I’ll say hello elements. Hello reformation. Hello darkness. Hello light. I’ll tell myself who I AM again. For your sake. And for mine.”

“And when, exactly, will that be?” I asked, thinking it would be nice to be ready.

God looked at me with sympathy. “Well, for me, it’s Now. And always. First and last are the same to me. But for you, it’s indeterminate. You can decide or it will be decided.”

“But couldn’t you give me a hint?” I begged. “I want to look my best.”

“That’s the spirit!” God exclaimed, beaming. “Look your best.”

It’s Everything but God

It’s everything but God this morning. My eyes are looking straight ahead, my ears tuned to my own frequency. My logical mind is busy with the mundanity and indignities of life.

If God were a little more forceful, a tad more insistent, I might be more respectful and self-disciplined, but she’s soft as down plucked without permission. Conforming and accommodating. Groveling like a beaten dog.

 I’d like to see some bared fangs. Some absolutes. I’d like to see the enemies of God cut down and the friends of God elevated to their rightful places.

 “Excuse me,” Meek God says. “But if you don’t mind my saying so, you’re a fool to think that’s what you’d like.”

In my miniscule corner of this nondescript town in this big state tucked into a greedy, powerful nation flattened on the face of this round little planet floating along in an increasingly cluttered stratosphere, the lights are on, the refrigerator is humming, and God has slipped in. But I am not reassured. I am not settled.

“Good,” Soft God says. “You should be neither.”

Unlove is flooding the lower elevations of what was once called civil society. I would like the steel-toed boots of an angry God to stomp out the wildfires of hate and wipe the sneer off the cocky faces of the very, very rich.

“Do you have a cold washrag I could put over my eyes?” God asks in a weak voice. “I’m feeling a migraine coming on.”

I help her lie down on the long orange couch. We both know it isn’t a migraine.

My children have futures. I have a past. We still have choices. This pale, eternal God has nothing. The patience required of omnipotence is infinite and painful.

I know this because God recuperates at my place sometimes. Even if all I do is sit or distract myself with idle bemoanings, I manage to offer a modicum of shelter and some nourishment.

For instance, I won a huckleberry pie at a political gathering last night. When God’s feeling a little better, I’ll share it. And then we’ll move into this day. Me, living as deliberately as possible. God, well. God. Elusive. Loving. An ever-mutating virus, a long-suffering containment, the final cure.

“Sounds like a plan,” God says from deep within my history and my compelling but scattered intentions. She pats my cheek as if I were a caring child or a faithful nurse. And for that brief moment, I am both.

Believing

Humans are natural believers but the things we choose to believe in vary radically: Exercise, Love, Money, Science, B vitamins, Power, God, Not-God, Red Meat, Medicine, Herbs, Famous People, even Wishes made on Falling Stars. The propensity to believe makes us vulnerable to being duped. And often, instead of being open or skeptical, we act as if loyalty to a belief is a virtue. It’s humiliating and painful to be wrong, so we ferociously defend what we believe in.

“And yet…” The Creative Force woven into all things seen and unseen jigs into view decked out as a troupe of Finnish dancers raising money for the war.

“Hello, God,” I say, waving. I clap to the beat as The Troupe does synchronous high kicks and fancy footwork. At intermission, they link elbows, pass the hat, and fly away. I assumed they were Finnish, but there’s an Irish feel in the remaining air.

What makes something Finnish or Irish or Nigerian? Who’s in? Who’s out? No matter how glittery or damning, all the fine distinctions are temporary. Driven by beliefs, such dichotomous thinking can cause great suffering. It’s deadly to believe rather than inquire. We overlook the still, small path that leads us alongside the unknown and unknowable.

“That path is narrow and dangerous,” God warns in the strained voices of those who’ve fallen away. “Unknowing isn’t safe.”

“It’s safer than pretending,” I say. “Safer than being certain something is true when it might not be.”

“And are you certain of that?” God teases in a thousand laughing voices. I laugh, too. I admire these courageous, vague expressions of the God Who’s Fallen Away. They don’t name themselves God, but I do.

“This may seem obvious,” God says. “But I need neither definition nor defense.”

“I beg to differ,” I argue. “What about the least of you?”

There’s a tall woman in a Russian prison, a short man beaten senseless, a desperate woman forced to be a mother, flood and fire victims, prisons burgeoning, the rich getting richer as the poor sink further into despair.

“Ah, I see what you mean,” God agrees. “But definition? Defenses? These won’t help. Justice. Mercy. Lives laid down, not weapons raised up. Wealth distributed, not hoarded.”

“Much harder,” I say in a sad voice. “Nearly impossible.”

And again, God agrees and without further ado, fades into the nightly news.

Why not admit I know nothing but do something outlandishly braver regardless? I ask myself as I get ready for bed. May as well take a few risks. You’re going to die either way.

This may not be the best way to fall asleep, but it’s an excellent way to wake up.

Thin Ice

My religious friends keep warning me that God and I are skating on thin ice. Especially when God names himself Prostitute or Fat Boy. Especially when she manifests as many, and the guarantees are few. We shrug. It’s what we do.

A man named Mick once told me that our postings make him laugh until he cries. He was puzzled as to why. He reads them every Sunday in an alley where an apple tree drips fruit to no avail, and he sips a yellow beer for communion.

The peyote that is God brings paralysis. The river that is God brings release. It’s the author God who writes you using metaphor and mint, drawing symbols in the sand for your protection, throwing ashes to the wind to guide you home.

We are mostly made of water: a fluid interaction between energy and thirst, a form of transportation, a sacrificial lamb. A sheer veneer of ice embodies danger with a certain kind of grace. But the pace of truth exhausts me, and I’m tempted to give up.

God removes his mittens. Offers me bare hands. The crowd of God applauds as I stand on shaky skates and push off using boulders and other people’s dreams. The sheen of God beneath me, the sky of God above, I am hypothermic mercy and cold, defiant love.

My remaining bones grow brittle with God’s blessing. I no longer take the time to make my bed. God shakes her head. When salt dissolves in water, ions form electrons, positively charged. With saline in my veins, the poison makes a promise that I’ll live another day.

Fat Boy tries to juggle. My Prostitute wears pink. She says, “Look at me, I’m funny, and when I’m cold, I’m slick.” But when I look, it’s only water and a wiser way to die. There’s thunder in the distance. And like Mick, I start to laugh. Until I cry.

Existential Angst

The explanation could be as simple as caffeine. Or scoldings by Ms. Manners. Or a niggling Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder whispering reminders of my failings and violations of the common good. I don’t know, but I can’t seem to get rid of the angst and sense of urgency that rob me of the peaceful existence I deserve. Something or someone is out to get me. I share the paranoia of my era. The exaggerated, anxiety-producing avoidance of death.

My father died nine days short of my 20th birthday. He exited life as I was exiting the teens. He was 44. Somehow, my grief-demolished mother hosted a random set of grandparents for a bleak commemoration of the day I was born. She made roast beef, potatoes, and a cake. It was a dark, dark birthday. I don’t know how we managed to swallow.

“But you did,” God says, joining me gently as I sit with memories flooding by on either side. “Your mother was as brave as anyone I’ve known, but I had to attend that party disguised and uninvited. She was done with me, and I don’t blame her.”

“I didn’t even know you were there!” I exclaim. “I brought a different god. He spewed platitudes and mumbled lies about God’s will and imminent resurrections and such. It was awful. Why didn’t you shut him up?”

“All in good time,” God says, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m not apologizing or defending myself, but there are days I just cry my eyes out.”

I put my arms around God while she sobs as if the loss were yesterday. And for God, it was. And is. And ever shall be. I cannot think of what to do. We are all baffled kings composing hallelujahs. Overthrown by instinct and libido, lust and love. Endless birthing. Endless dying.

“I never intend to fool or frighten anyone,” she says, taking deep ragged breaths to calm herself.

“I know, Sweetheart,” I say. I run my fingers through her unruly hair. “But we judge and fool and frighten ourselves. We can’t help it. The contradictions and losses are too much.” God slowly slips out of my embrace. She moves to the outer edges of the known, opens her thousand wings, and disappears. Behind her the path is littered with breadcrumbs, a trail of her broken self. As I follow, all things extraneous fall away, and I am slightly less afraid.

Life as a One-Act Play

Shades of green and lavender dance in the background. Even with eyes wide open, it’s impossible to tell if the room has walls or is defined more by water and isolation. Actors are vaguely aware of each other.

Me: (sermonizing to a nebulous offstage audience) Mother Earth is exhausted by this adolescent phase of humanity. We’re facing severe consequence. All it will take is one big planetary shrug and we’ll be a species known only by bones. We’ve failed to outgrow our epic selfishness, destructive impulsivity, and futile denial of mortality. Earth won’t clean up after us forever; our money and phony apologies won’t save us…

God: (muttering to self, pacing) She’s right. They should know better by now. Maybe I should have set firmer limits.

Me: (turning to God) Or maybe you’re sending mixed messages.

God: (slightly mystified) I thought love would be enough.

Me: (sad, defensive) I don’t know why you’d make that assumption. Love is a lot harder than you realize.

God: (indignant) You think I don’t know that?  I keep course-correcting with forgiveness and wearing my best clothes so that nature might have a chance to teach you something. I hate to mention this, but on other planets, things are going better.

Me: (shaken) But aren’t we your planet of choice? Aren’t we your favorites?

God: (thoughtfully muttering to self again) Too close to call. Tough to know how much more to invest. (Turning to me) Everyone wants to be my favorite, but actually, I’m my own favorite. It has to be that way.

Me: (indignant, arms crossed) Well then, I’m my own favorite, too.

God: (wryly) How’s your lumber supply? You’re aware of the supply chain problems, right?

Me: (trying to be funny) Are we talking ark? Greenhouse? Firewood?

God: (expanding to ginormous) All of the above. And more. Add marshmallows to your list.

Me: (despairing) And coffins? We’re gonna need lots of coffins.

God: (grabbing my hand with tenderness, a thousand eyes crying) Yes. I can’t change that. But eventually, they’ll be empty, baby. Empty.

Me: (trying to yank my hand free) Are we talking resurrection or decomposition?

God: (many heads nodding) Yes.

Light fades to the point where photoreceptor cells in the well-developed vertebrate retina are challenged, and the cones let go. Color dies but thanks to the rods, a set of hazy gray paths are still visible. They merge at the vanishing point.

Partying with God

“Hey, God,” I whisper, slipping quietly down the dimly-lit stairs. God’s an early riser, but others are still asleep. “Wanna party?” Sometimes, my morning mood is both desolate and overly energized. I don’t even know why I say what I say.

“You bet,” God answers with enthusiasm. “You mean like eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die?”

Exactly, I think to myself. I want a reassuring party with my adoring little God: a fatalistic precursor, debauchery-laced denial.

My eyes slowly adjust to the sunrise out the window. The pasture glistens far beyond a describable green. Turkeys have been eating the tops off my onion sets, and chokecherries are budding. Spring is arriving with her usual expectations, but each winter leaves another indelible mark on my psyche.

Inviting God to party is risky, but not inviting God is risky too. This one will cost me a bottle of beer, some lime-flavored chips, and the kind of scrutiny only fools and children are willing to endure. But right now, I am an unswaddled child. I’ll be fine, I tell myself.

“No, you won’t,” God says in a million joyful voices. “You won’t be fine. You are fine. There’s a difference. C’mon. Let’s get this party on the road.”  God is legion. They are many. They are beautiful. I don’t have enough beer. And even if the chips expand like the loaves and fishes, they’re stale.

“Ah, never mind,” I say. “Let’s skip the party. I need to go shopping and pull some weeds. I need to put things away, do the floors, make some calls.”

“But you invited us,” God protests. “We’re coming along, no matter how you spend your time. And we brought plenty of refreshments. You didn’t think we’d show up empty-handed, did you?”

I have endured scorn, exalted in adoration, sought invisibility, reveled in mastery, and played by myself on any number of shorelines and precipices. What possessed me to issue that rash invitation? A party with God at dawn? I might be an unswaddled child in my mind, but in reality, these stairs are a real challenge.

I sit on the bottom step, cover my ears, close my eyes, and will God to disappear. Instead, she scales down to singular and sits beside me in superhero pajamas. She hands me coffee. I hand her the day. She turns it this way and that, gazes at its beauty, touches its pain, and hands it back.

“All yours,” she says. “Enjoy.”

“I’ll try,” I say as I put the day in my pocket. And I mean it.            

“I know you will,” she says. And she means it, too.

Bullshit Makes Good Compost

“I started with the idea of green hills but quickly veered toward the more central question of water,” God said. “And when I was younger, I thought everything should have a touch of blue.”  We were considering the markers and wonders of seasons as we strolled along the rising river. Evening light bounced orange off the smoother surfaces. As is often the case, God was stoned, oblivious to the assumption that conversations should make sense. I was on guard. A barely lucid God can be both freeing and frightening.

We skipped a few rocks across white ripples. I squinted up at God and said, “Well, when I was younger, I swallowed the wrong words and have suffered bouts of vertigo ever since. Especially when it comes to you.”

“I know.” God admitted, with a goofy grin on his face. “That may account for your swollen joints and liberal leanings. Maybe it’s an immune system response.”

 “Nah,” I said. “Lately I’ve realized bullshit makes great compost. It was you all along, wasn’t it?”

God threw his head back and a majestic, maniacal mirth roared through the valleys. He whooped and howled and slapped his thigh. Small trees caught fire. He laughed so hard it turned into a coughing fit. I pounded him on the back. He wasn’t really in danger, but it was fun to have an excuse to beat on God.

Things settled and we sat ourselves down on a fallen cottonwood. “Bullshit makes great compost,” God repeated as he wiped his eyes. And he was off again.

“It’s not that funny, God,” I said after the second wave of tremors and surges subsided. “You’re just really messed up right now.”

“I know,” God said between lingering chuckles. “But don’t worry, sweetie. Like you said, the joke’s on me. Sometimes, I forget how hilarious I am.”

As night fell into place, we began walking back, guided by the string of blue lights blinking near the porch. It’s amazing how long those solar-powered bulbs last. And it’s equally astonishing that even with all the wrong words, queasy sensations, and primitive fantasies, God is still my favorite insanity.

He put his arm over my shoulder and in a stage whisper said, “Must you refer to me as an insanity?” His face was still glowing from the flames he’d lit. I shrugged. He grinned. “I mean, at least bullshit makes good compost. What’re you gonna do with insanity?”

It was my turn to laugh. “Give everything away,” I said, happy to have such an obvious answer. “I’ll just give everything away.”

“No, you won’t,” God said.

“Yes, I will,” I said in a calm voice, gazing up into the infinite sky, taking strength from the touches of blue lingering around the edges.

There Will Come a Day

When I got out my vitamin organizer to take my supplements this morning, today’s cubby was empty. I must have dipped in twice yesterday. No wonder I feel overwrought; too much B-complex and an overdose of magnesium may account for my anxious dream last night wherein Barack Obama helped me bandage the finger I cut making his family a salad. I don’t like forgetting, and I don’t like anxious dreams.

But dream we must. Forget we must.  Decline we must. Die we must. There will come a day when the puppy digging in the compost right now is an old, grey-faced mutt, and there will come a morning when no matter how watchful I am, I won’t glimpse my sister, half-crazed on her 4-wheeler, chasing down a skunk with her shotgun.

“Sorry I’m late,” God says as she rushes in. “You’ve rearranged your writing space. I like it.”

“Oh, hi God,” I say. “Coffee?”

God holds up her hand. “No, thanks. I had a cup with your neighbor, and I’m going to treat myself to a latte later. Still catching up on the fiascos of Easter/Passover/Ramadan. And Ukraine…” Her voice cracks.

“Hmmm,” I say. “Want some vitamins or something?”

God smiles and leans forward. “You know I’m not vengeful, right?” I nod and wait. “And you know I don’t play favorites, right?” I nod again, wishing I could be an exception. “And you know branches will always grow toward the sun and move gracefully in the wind, and things you drop will fall toward the center, right?”

I nod a third time suddenly feeling quite sad. “And where do the things you drop go?” I ask in a quiet voice, turning my face away. But God sees my eyes welling up anyway. She makes a fist of her giant hand and thumps herself hard in the chest. “Right here,” she says, and hits herself again. “Right here.”

When I sleep, I shroud the windows in purple velvet drapes. It occurs to me that I’d like my body wrapped in these before it is laid to rest in the garden. “Sounds like a good plan,” God says, voice fading. “I like purple.”

I have the intention of wiping my eyes and nodding again, but neither are possible because I have dissipated into the moment. The drapes are sun-streaked, dusty, and elegant. Granted, it may be an idiosyncratic or imagined elegance, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is the gravity-defying blackbird perched on the top branch of the wind-whipped cottonwood.

Bruised

God and I were sitting in our pajamas near a nice fire, watching the sky, hoping the storm wouldn’t bring the cold temperatures predicted. Hoping the planet would somehow survive the ravages of greed. I was examining an ugly bruise on my forearm. Essentially, bruises occur when capillaries near the surface break and spill blood. Thin skin increases the risk.

Thousands of years ago, a prophet wrote that God wouldn’t take advantage of a bruised reed. There was no mention of bruised arms, egos, or disintegrating hips, but why would this assertion be necessary? What kind of God would go around beating up injured, weakened people, or break an already bruised reed?

“Um, God,” I say, “What’s your point with that whole bruised reed thing?”

God’s full attention swings toward me, a lumbering presence, a set of boots. I pull my sleeve down to cover the purple blotch. A tiny fraction of God’s focus is enough to end life as we know it, but I risk such things because in the end, it doesn’t matter. We’re sitting on a second-hand couch. I don’t care if it gets scorched.

“Why do you ask?” God says, warm breath laced with lavender and the allure of summer.

“Nice move,” I mumble and shift my gaze to the sparrows landing on the icy fence. As most four-year-olds know, Why? has no final answer. Asking why is a way to prolong the conversation, to shift the burden back.

I turn again to the God on my couch. “I ask because…” I am inundated with unwelcome insights. I hate bruised reeds. If I were God, I’d make a bonfire out of those damned reeds. How is it possible to walk alongside the bruising and the bruised? I don’t like wounded healers, and I don’t want to be one.

We sit. The wind is picking up, the chill becoming dangerous.

The ancient gaze of God is kind. “You love what you think is whole and beautiful because your vision is shallow.”

I close my eyes.

The primordial voice of God is gentle. “You love stories with endings because the untold threatens your sense of control.”

I cover my ears.

The wounded hand of God is warm as it hovers over mine. “You love stones because the bruises don’t show.”

I open one eye.

It’s not a single hand but a thousand; mottled, thick veined, and open. I choose one, entwine our fingers, and wait. God willing, the frozen ground will eventually soften toward spring when both planting and burying will be easier.  “Oh, we’re willing,” God says as the sky dumps snow. “But are you?”