What You Are Now

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Sometimes I pedal around town on my bike meditating. The alleys, the streets, even the funky traffic patterns are as familiar as my hands. I’ve lived in dozens of locations and left my DNA all over the place. It’s my town.

God rides along wearing my memories; scarves and beads, seven chickens, a hundred trees. I try to accept the shocking truth that the world goes on without me, but I resent it. God is relatively gentle about this, pointing out how tall the trees have grown.

“What good are these damn memories?” I ask as they pelt me like sheets of sudden rain. I’m drenched. Shivering. Sad. The bygone days are a howling pack of coyotes; phantoms that leave teeth marks, longings without names.

“Not everything is good in isolation,” God says. “You’re not what you remember.”

“Oh, thanks.” My voice drips with sarcasm. “That helps a lot.”

“It will,” God says. “Give it time.”

I stop the bike and sit on the curb beside a large mound of fallen leaves. I remember crawling under a pile like this. October. Centuries ago. But the sound of the rain on the brittle leaves was yesterday. It occurs to me that I would like to be buried in a pile of leaves, here on a side street, in a ceremony so quiet no one is inconvenienced in the least.

“You already are,” God says. “C’mon. Let’s ride. I’m getting restless.”

“Fine,” I say. We pedal toward a steep hill and begin the climb, me seeking perspective, God enjoying the ride. I’m so easily seduced by the idea of my own importance, sucked into the undertow of imagined glory. The view helps. I watch the little city move itself here and there as I catch my breath. Then I turn the bike around. The downhill stretch is littered with rocks and potholes, but my tires are full and the light is good.

God and I gather speed as we cruise back into the thick of it. I think to myself, it’s probably after 3 already, but I check my watch. It’s nearly 5. Too many young people smile at me. Newer model cars zip by. My brakes squeak, and my resolve weakens, but I find solace in the alleys. Discarded grace, throw rugs, pottery, and a pile of sticks for firewood.

God hops off. A thousand wings begin designing the sunset dipping liberally into orange and magenta. I strap the rugs and pottery on my bike, drape the grace around my shoulders, and make a mental note to pick up the firewood later. I wonder if I’ll remember. I wonder if it matters. I wonder whose elongated evening shadow is peddling ahead of me. It’s vaguely familiar, but God is right; I’m not what I remember.

Infinity and beyond

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“God,” I said.  “Do you care if humans believe in you?” We were gazing out the filmy curtains in a motel in West Virginia. God was relaxed and amicable. I wasn’t. My physical being was tormented by lack of sleep, stiff joints, road food and irrefutable evidence that the world was in big, big trouble.

“What do you mean by ‘believe’?” he asked.

Oh great. God was in a rhetorical mood.

I fought the impulse to shout YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN and said instead, “I mean like feeling sure you exist.”

Exist is an odd word,” God said, stroking his chin like a retired philosophy professor. “I actually don’t exist in any sense of the word you can grasp. I just am. And to answer your question, yes and no. I don’t care for my sake. I’m perfectly sufficient unto myself. But for your sakes…”

His voice cracked. He looked away, smoothed his robes. “For your sakes…” He shook his head and took a couple deep breaths. “I wish I could be of help.” His longing was clear.

This scared me. I said, “Well, some rather large groups down here have formulas. If we believe a certain way, you’ll save us. And forgive us, and reward us in heaven, or something like that.”

God shrugged. “I know. Humans seem to need that. It’s basically okay with me, but they waste a lot of time judging, fussing, and worrying when they could just relax and live the Truth. And there’s not a lot of time to waste.”

I did double-take. This is how I feel—apocalyptic—but I didn’t want God feeling that way.

“What?” I said. “There’s eternity, right? You’re the beginning, the end, the middle–the forever, right?”

“Sure,” God said. “I’m infinite. But you’re linear. For now, you’ve got this chance to do good things, little by little. To get better, deeper, wiser, kinder. To figure it out. I’ve mostly cleared the way. Opportunities abound.”

“Ugh,” I said. “That’s so hard. I’d rather be infinite.”

“Oh, don’t I know it,” God said. Then he burst into laughter, slapping his thigh, screeching with glee. “There’s the problem, right there. What a truly bad idea. You, in your current condition, infinite.”

I laughed, too. Tentatively. God laughed harder. He could barely breathe. His eyes squeezed shut. The jagged linearity in the room softened, as infinity dribbled down God’s weathered cheeks. I touched my hand to the shimmer, hope against hope, but the seconds on my digital watch blinked relentlessly forward.

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.

 

Tweets

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God tweeted “Not white” and followed that with “Not male.”  Followers gasped and tweeted “Not God.” God laughed and tweeted “Not moon.” And then “Not American,” using gleeful hashtags and emojis. This triggered such a massive unfollowing, Twitter managers pitied God, and granted a stay of execution.

“People.” God shook her massive head as we sat with our feet dangling in the water. “Do you think there’ll come a day when they stop squeezing me into their image?”

“Doubt it,” I said. “I do it all the time, and I know better. You’re impossibly big, and we’ve discovered how vast, how tiny….Um, let’s just say the Known Universe isn’t even known very well. And yes, we did appear to be evolving nicely there for a while, but the wheels have come off. Looks like the retrenchment will be hell to pay.”

God sighed. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Okay,” I said. “Do you know how foolish I feel continuing to hope compassion will overcome hatred?”

“Yup,” God said.

“Or that gratitude will outstrip greed?

“Yup,” God said.

“Well, how about this: I like to imagine you’re going to swoop in and get even with all the bad guys—utterly destroying them. Bam. Humans are really into revenge. Including me. We all hope you are too.”

“I knew that,” God said. “And I’m not.”

I gave up. I wasn’t really trying. We were just making small talk. By the river. On an innocent day. Time enveloped us and came to an end. I slept, body on stone, as the sky thickened, turning the colors of a Navajo blanket. God lifted me in fatherly arms, and I snuggled into that hollow spot where shoulder meets neck. The essential scent of God filled my lungs. I roused myself enough to invite the entire world—no, the entire cosmos–to come sleep there with me. Protected. Somewhere beyond fear or reason.

And God made room. Just in case.

Mirrors

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The mirror this morning was blurry. Dim light showing only the essential outline of myself. I wanted no further clarity. “Does anyone want to see clearly?” I ask myself. “We’ve all fallen in love with this hazy image of ourselves. Aren’t we pretty? Aren’t we smart? Aren’t we worth saving?”

“Well, yes and no,” God says, startling me. I don’t know why God has to be so stealthy sometimes. In certain contexts, it could be devastating, but I’ve grown grudgingly accustomed to these sudden visits.

“Hello, God,” I say, not in a friendly tone.

“Hello, my dear,” God says. Is there mockery in that tone? Is that a smirk on God’s face? Why are the clouds gathering? Why are the birds so jittery? Is this it? Was it a mistake to paint the old bicycles bright colors and pretend they could fly? Was it sinful to spray the weeds with poison? Trap the mice? Carve out a selfish sanctuary, filled with food, and sustenance for my soul? Am I violating the stone when I slice it open to see what’s inside? Am I a fool to drink dark beer at dawn? Tell me, God. What is it?

“Good lord, what’s wrong with you?” God says. “Calm down.”

“I can’t,” I say. “Your plans frighten me. Your ways enrage me. There are too many stars. I don’t know who I am.”

“That’s totally understandable,” God says in a calming voice. “Perhaps it would be better if you suspended your faith for a while. I don’t need you to believe in me, you know. You can cut me loose. I’ll be fine.”

I swallow and keep my stinging eyes closed. “What good would that do?” I ask. “The sparrows will still eat the strawberries before they’re ripe. I’ll grow more feeble and gray. The children will blossom and fade. I won’t finish half of what I wish I could, and I doubt it would make me, um, whatever it is that I think I want.”

“Exactly,” God says. “Exactly. And I’ll love you, either way. I actually don’t need anyone to believe in me. The belief that matters flows the other way.”

The blurred mirror begins to splinter, cracks threading their way through the once-solid glass. My image is webbed with tributaries. Then it disappears as shards rain down, sharp and dangerous. I sweep them up and set out for the landfill, where it’s free to get rid of almost anything. Shattered lives, broken glass, carcasses of little yellow birds.

Sometimes, the guy at the dump saves something back for one more round of usefulness. Maybe, today, there’ll be a treasure to redeem. Or maybe not. I’ll be fine, either way.

Purple Chair

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Some weeks ago, I had three ugly chairs to deal with. Donate? Trash? Hide them away in the abandoned chicken house? I also happened to have three small cans of paint. Lime green, purple, and burgundy. And a paint brush, and a what-the-hell attitude. No one I know will live long enough to entirely declutter. Yanking something back from the brink of the landfill is one of my favorite things. This is why God and I relate so well.

Now, in this lonely morning space, the purple one holds my gaze, shiny and redeemed, imperfect but gracious. The worn sofa accommodates my shifting weight, and the three of us form a temporary universe.

To my left, the accusatory past, the glory days, my living children, my dead friends. The seductive urge to rewrite. Compelling grief mingled with steady resurrections made possible because I remember and remember. But I can’t stay long. The urgency of Now will overpower, as it should.

To my right, the slim future bulges with what-ifs and how-abouts. Ungainly opportunities, bloated with longing and contradictions. Oh, I know the future is not an all-you-can-eat affair, but I wish it were. This is brave of me to admit. I’m a greedy hog, wanting unlimited, tasty dishes served to me, day and night, forever.

The purple chair shimmers in light filtered by fire. Thick smoke has hidden the mountain. My lungs are burning and I’ve begun to cry for help, like a child lost. But I’m not lost. I’m centered in this precarious place between myself and a world growing dryer and more flammable in the glaring clarity of heat.

Soon, I’ll lift myself from the stillness and drive, a long solo journey. I’ll fly across expanses that reverberate with a humble God. A dying God. A green God, pregnant with an eternity no one can grasp. But I know a little about it, thanks to the purple chair, and this moment, the fire, and a slew of generous gifts from departed friends and long-forgotten enemies.

It is enough. Oh, wait. One more confession: I always want more than enough. But I’m slowly learning that more than enough can be a very toxic blessing.

Just so. Enough

Sun Stroke

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It is early afternoon. God has arrived wrapped in a comfortable silence, a silence more welcome than river or sky. Profound. Eloquent. Invisible. Soothing. I drink in big gulps, aware of how perilously close I was to sun-stroke of the soul. Here, in the shade, the sweet darkness, the shelter of the womb, I am restored. I curl fetal. Passive. Receptive.

“Hello, weakness,” I say. “Hello, futility. Hello, starkly cold breath of God.”

Silence holds me like a baby. I’m a simple puzzle, easily taken apart. The silence doesn’t mind. I’m easily put back together as well. It’s been unbearably hot lately, an unforgiving sun claiming the right of way, scorching anything exposed. Defying the clouds, reducing the breeze to an occasional sigh. The meaningless heat strips my excuses to the bone. Subtleties melt away, dreams forgotten. The God of heat is relentless, deadly. The only way to survive is to find the darkness and repent. Crawl down, dig deep, sink into a place below the surface, where shadow befriends the weary.

God politely waves from a respectful distance, leaving the holy silence unmarred. I wave back. God pulls the silence closer and shakes it a little, like someone fluffing a pillow. God likes it here in this moment. In this nothingness. I’m glad we’re both at ease. I put as much gratitude into my gaze as I possibly can. Then God and I nod off. A little siesta, a full relinquishment of our ambitions and fears. We give up together, letting the afternoon be whatever it might be. We rest.

There’s a dark night just over the horizon, and after that, more sun. I’m vaguely aware of this, but I stake no claim on what might come. God’s breathing has slowed, deepened. Like my own, it rattles a little on the exhale.