Inviting Abuse

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God and I were philosophizing as we watched the snow pile up. I was wound up—as in downright nasty. “The thing about power is that it brings out the worst in everyone. Like when people weaker than I am mess up and instead of owning up and apologizing, they lash out, make excuses, lie, threaten, and offend. What is wrong with them? Don’t they know they are squishable little bugs?” God raised an eyebrow, but it didn’t phase me. I ranted on. “It’s like they’re baiting me, inviting abuse.”

God frowned and held up her hand. “Whoa there cowgirl, let’s slow down a minute. Of course it’s an invitation. But not for abuse. It’s a screamingly clear invitation for compassion. You hold the cards. I think you know that.”

I glared. The way I saw it, if anyone should be screaming, it should be me. “Yeah, fine, compassion,” I snarled. “But what about me? What about justice? It isn’t fair. People act as if I’m to blame for their bad decisions and bad luck. At least they could say they’re sorry. A lot of people deserve a good whack, they need to be served papers, they need a call from my attorney.”

“You don’t have an attorney,” God said patiently.

“Well, I could damn well get one,” I snapped.

“So could I,” God said.

Unthinkable implications flood the room. God with an attorney. I grabbed the fragments of power I thought were mine, wove them into a raft, and tried to row away. “I’m worthless,” I shouted. “Leave me alone.” I broke into a sweat as I pulled on the oars.

“Here, let me help,” God said, as she settled herself beside me on the leaky vessel. We rowed shoulder to shoulder, gliding over all the angst and blame in the world. I began to let down my guard, but then I realized that the escape route I’d chosen was circular. I panicked and hyperventilated. “We’ve gone in circles,” I yelled, humiliated and filled with dread.

God smiled. “Honey, all escape routes are circular. That’s how I laid things out. Check Google Earth sometime.” She kept rowing, maddeningly cheerful. So, I just gave up. We spent the day exploring the concentric wonderments of creation, the gravitational guidance of long-suffering servants, critical masses of insects and starlings, visions and dreams. By evening, I was completely spent. I laid my head in God’s lap and reached for her hand.

“What are you so afraid of?” God asked as she stroked my hair. I thought as hard as I could, given my exhaustion, the rocking motion of the settled sea, and the distracting brilliance of her deep black eyes. “I don’t know for sure,” I mumbled.

The last thing I heard was the gravely laughter of God playing a game of poker with a rowdy crowd of whiners. She had a royal flush. Her winnings covered a multitude of sins, imagined or otherwise. God pulled the soft flannel blanket of mortality up to my chin, and I drifted off to sleep in the orbit of a forgiving moon.

 

Wink

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In the lecture hall, down near the podium, I spotted God floating among the performers. I waved, and God winked–a massive slow wink that dimmed the lights and blew my head open. Time slowed to the pace of a heartbeat and then circled like the dancers, like the globe, like the unfamiliar sun. The Maori and Lakota, the Bashada, Samurai, Brahmins, Untouchables, Princes and Queens. Unsung women and disproportionate men.

After so much travel, so many miles, I was feeling alien. Insignificant.  But the wink changed all that. I fell into the inner vision of first home, the fiery cosmos, the place where the Creator serves breakfast and wipes his hands on a dirty apron, happy to watch us eat. The place where the tables are long and the memories longer. The place where we remember that once, we were protons and neutrons, innocent waifs, glowing translucent blue and delicate ivory. We weren’t afraid, cradled in such a vast vision; there was no reason, no excuse, no boundary. Just the womb of God, waves breaking, white noise.

And even now, billions of years later, we’re sand on the shore, dust underfoot, waiting for the wind to lift us. We’re so small we can hardly even see ourselves, hard at work, stubborn and vicious, achieving little—unaware that we are irritants on the perfect surface of God’s gaze.

“Not exactly,” God interjected. “Not irritants. Just reasons to wink. So many reasons to wink.”

“I know,” I admitted. “I said that because I irritate myself. And these people irritate me to no end.”

“Jet lag?” God asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “And pavement and single-paned windows. Traffic and tariffs and men who’ve forgotten who they are.”

“I’m sure you’d be happy to remind them, heh?” God sounded Canadian. He elbowed me in the side.

“You bet I would,” I said, arms crossed, starting to see the humor. “And I’m sure that’d be well-received, don’t you think? Most men love instruction from feisty old white women.”

God and I had a good laugh, though I admit I had the thought, “But who are they going to listen to?” As far as I know, God ignored this mental query. He gradually rejoined the warriors dancing in the inferno, weapons ready, drums beating, feathers rising like sparks.

So much, I don’t know. But this, I’ve recently discovered: At the edge of the lower world, the little brown birds will eat from your hand if you hold absolutely still and you offer something they recognize as food.

 

When God Is Old

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God was so old today, I hardly recognized him. Not a vision of loveliness, by any stretch. But should God be lovely? Youthful? Sexy? Yes, in my opinion, that would be nicer. But I didn’t turn away. I gazed on the decrepit body, looked into eyes filmy with cataracts. Tolerated the musty odor. Sank my teeth into the putrid truth of decline, flesh draped loosely on frail bones, a framework coming apart.

“What’re you up to?” I asked with false cheeriness, hoping for a rapid transformation. God can do that—one thing one moment, another the next. In the blink of an eye, God can go from bird to mosquito, river to refugee, pauper to king. But the only blink today was a slow one, as God’s focus landed laboriously on me.

“Hi, stranger,” he said, with a wry smile. That was all it took to transform my feeble friendliness into open hostility. This passive-aggressive, accusatory, guilt-inducing shriveled up mockery of life, insinuating I hadn’t been visiting him enough? Acting as though we’re such good friends, like I should visit every day, like I should move in, like I owed him something? I sat silent, but I fumed inside. How dare he try to prevail on my time? I have a life, you know. Why is he old like this?

But with God, if you think it, you may as well say it. His head dropped to his chest, clearly hurt, maybe even afraid. “Sorry,” he said, drawing into himself even further.

I was stricken and ashamed. God weathers all sorts of rejections, but mine seemed to cause him real pain. “No, I’m sorry,” I said, and I meant it. I calmed myself and waited for him to lift his head again. I showed him pictures of the grandchildren and garden. I gave him three small beets, an onion, and a large bouquet of deep green parsley. I reached over and patted his translucent hand. “When will this be over?” I asked, with the little patience I could muster.

He didn’t respond, but I knew the answer. Always. Never. God is a transitional verb, unconstrained. God is a hall of mirrors, a blaze of glory on a far horizon. A voluptuous virgin, a greasy-haired teen. But today and forever, God is an old, old man. None of this is acceptable to my primitive mind. My digital watch constantly flashes an ever-changing hour, but the knobby joints in my fingers still bend. God and I hold hands. He eventually nods off and I am free to go. I step into the slipstream of an apparent day, trying to accept the transitory nature of all things real.

 

Babies in Cages

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“Hey God,” I said, barely awake enough to keep my balance while getting breakfast together. It had been a long night, peppered with images of clergy trying to reclaim the name of Jesus and the faces of friends, offended or cheering, and images of crying children. Political pawns—all of us—political pawns in a game best named Greed. I’m a bit player, but I play. We all play.

“This thing about the name of Jesus, or the name of anyone for that matter. I’ve never quite understood it,” I said, spilling a little coffee on myself. I always fill the cup too full.

“Yeah, I know,” God said. “It’s confusing. Is a rose still a rose if you call it fruit-of-thorn-bush?”

I wanted to say yes, but I wasn’t sure. Essence versus label. Image versus substance. Symbol versus reality. At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow? The name? I don’t think so.

“You know I’m not a formula, right?” God asked, trying to be of help. “And you know I’ve tried my darnedest to urge humans along, to reduce the fear, to increase the joy, right? I’ve tried to make it safe to love. Safe to kneel.”

I nodded. Then an awful realization crept into my soul. God wasn’t talking about the usual kind of safety. The good ones suffer and die. The children of God don’t get a pass, no matter how they were conceived or received—named or framed. Having arrived at the evolutionary pinnacle of being able to see ourselves as made in the image of God means nothing in the realm of power, money, influence, safety, or ease of life. It only means we have a couple of choices the rest of creation does not appear to have: We can choose self-sacrifice. We can choose to defy hatred. We can give our lives for our friends. We can love our neighbors. And we can expect to get a whole lot of abuse while we do these things. Some of us will lose a great deal in the process. Some of us will die.

I sat on the couch, ashamed of my comfort. Agitated by urges to drive to the border and get in a cage. Unwillingly complacent. Lost.

“Stop it,” God said, reading my mind as usual. “You aren’t lost. Just a little frozen.”

“Fine, then. Thaw me out,” I said. I may have even crossed my arms in a kind of angsty defiance.

“Blow torch or balmy breeze?” God asked, smirking a little.

There are no words to describe the sound I made. I lost it. I lunged at God, hoping to land a sucker punch. “YOU’RE IMPOSSIBLE,” I yelled as I flailed and howled.

“That’s it, baby,” God said. “That’s the spirit. Take it and run. No gesture is wasted. Do what you can. Go where you must. I’ll be there. And remember–that Jesus thing has a happy ending. Most likely, you will too.”

The Evil Within

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Watching the news makes me hateful. I contemplate murder. I don’t like this. “God,” I said. “It’s hard enough to see all the disgusting, bad, abusive, selfish, dirty rotten deeds in the world, but worse, if I sit very still, the vicious beasts inside me peek out and eat a piece of my soul. Or take a bite out of someone else.”

“Hmmm. Interesting,” God said, not acting all that interested.

“I’ve considered a lot of remedies. Whack-a-mole, rat poison, denial, embracing the shadow…I like the poison idea, but it seems excessive. And I don’t like the image of bloated dead bodies, inside or out.”

“I agree,” God said. “And it makes my job a lot more complicated. Raising those rats from the dead isn’t my idea of a fun afternoon.”

“Ah ha!” I said, pointing my finger. “I knew it. You. You let things be. You bring them back. You’re worse than the Dark Web or the Deep State. I bet you practiced witchcraft a couple centuries ago. You consort with the enemy.”

“Guilty,” God said, laughing. She took my finger and curled it so that it was pointing at my stomach. The demons inside screamed like the spoiled children that they are—indignant, defiant, foot-stomping brats.

“Come out and play,” God said to the demons. “The light will do you some good.”

And they did. We had a little picnic–sandwiches with sweet pickles and fresh kale. God smoothed their foreheads, brushed their hair, tickled them. They crawled on her lap, and the youngest ones nursed at her breast and napped in her arms. God looked down with affection. “I can make something of you,” God whispered. They snuggled in closer.

“Run,” I thought to the little demons, but I didn’t say it out loud.

God heard me anyway. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt them. It isn’t possible to defeat evil with pain or torture. You can’t destroy it. It’s like energy. You can only transform it. Recycle. Compost. Start over.”

I felt sick and confused.

“Too much for you?” God asked. Her voice was soft but it penetrated my defenses and laid itself at my feet, a lamb’s wooly hide, a yoga mat, a warm bath.

“Yes,” I said in a weak voice. “I try pretty hard.” God nodded and sent the demons merrily on their way. They were saying true things to each other, waving and pointing back at God.

“What? How? They seem to know the truth,” I said, bewildered.

“Of course,” God smiled. “This is why you need them. The demons always know.”

Cowboy Up

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God showed up in a cowboy mood this morning. It’d been a while, and I was ambivalent. I don’t love his cowboy moods very much. “Hey puny human, whatta you been up to?” he said, winking at me.

I used to freeze at that sort of question. I’d do a quick moral inventory and find myself falling short, no matter what. But now I just shrug and give a quick account of whatever comes to mind. I said, “Watching TED talks by women, trying to ignore the most frightening parts of the news. Exercising. Writing. Avoiding. You know. The usual.”

“Oh yeah, baby. Sounds good. You got any whisky or some pot?” His jeans were tucked into his boots and the hair he’d chosen to have on his head hung long and stringy.

“Make up your mind,” I said. “Cowboy or pothead?”

“No, you make up your mind,” God answered. “Mortal or immortal?”

There may have been a cock that crowed three times. The archangel Gabriel may have alighted on a Bodhi tree. Kali’s wild black hair may have whipped in the wind, sending fire to the frozen ground. I’m not sure what crashed the morning into the eternal, but something did. I sat like the temporary lump of chemicals and electrical stimulations that I am and swore at God.

“I DON’T KNOW!” I said, as loudly as I dared. (We live in a basement right now. The upstairs people already wonder about me. ) “Most of me is clearly mortal. Maybe the whole damn ball of wax.”

“You’re so cute when you’re angry,” God said.

“SHUT UP,” I yelled, forgetting about the neighbors. “None of this is funny. How dare you act like a fat chauvinist pig? You gonna shoot me with your AR 15?”

“My point, exactly,” God said.

“What? What is your point exactly? I don’t get it,” I said. “That nothing matters? That you can be anything or anyone you like? That you’re the ultimate expression of privilege? A big white idiot of a God?”

Coping with mortality makes me a little touchy sometimes. Besides, I was trying to make him mad enough to tell me something true, or mad enough to leave.

“Your doctrines won’t save you,” God said. “Nor your weapons. Nor your pacifisms. Nor your writing. You’re gonna ride outa here on the horse you rode in on.”

I put my fingers in my ears and started singing, “La la la la…”

“It’s a horse named Dependency. You can’t change that.” God often slices through denial like a hot knife through butter. “And you’re already about as saved as you’re gonna get.”

With a sigh, I stopped trying to ignore him and glared.

“Doesn’t feel like it,” I said.

“And that’s on you, sweet cheeks,” he said, with another maddening wink. “Joy is always optional. Eternally optional.” Then, hunched and bow-legged, he ambled away.

“Wait,” I shouted. “I have more questions!” But he was gone.

Eat Fat, Get Nicer

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“God,” I said. “What do you think of that eat-fat-get-skinny diet?” God looked at me like I’d lost the few marbles I have left. It wasn’t the best conversation starter but it was on my mind. Who better than the architect of this whole ragged universe to answer this? I know it’s a first-world question, but that’s where I live.

God sat quietly with her hands folded over her large, shapely belly. I ran my hands over the skin on my chest, which was all bumpy from having a few moles frozen off yesterday. Vanity is painful and expensive, and trying to stay alive forever is even worse. Omega 3, a key ingredient of this magical new way to eat, is a pricey substance for land lubbers. But it might save me from heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and post-nasal drip.

And if I manage all that, I want nice skin, right? As the dermatologist zapped the moles with liquid nitrogen, I mentioned that my lip had mysteriously swollen up yesterday. She pulled it down and said, “Looks like an allergic reaction. You need to see an allergist right away. Another reaction could kill you.”

Often, I find I don’t love the medical profession.

“Not a bad way to die,” I said. I wasn’t in the mood for further testing.

“What? Asphyxiation?” Her eyes narrowed as she wrote a referral I knew I’d throw away.

“Yeah,” I said. She was scornful. I was defiant. “It takes less than a minute to lose consciousness.”

I don’t have to see her for another year. But God’s sitting right here, messing with my thoughts, which are swirling like the snow outside. “It’s so much bigger than that,” she said. “So much bigger.”

Oh, yeah, I thought. That’s so helpful. Like I don’t know the planet will die some billions of years from now, and the sun will burn out, and the cosmos will birth new stars, new planets. There’ll be new steps to the dance. But in the meantime, do I eat sardines to prolong my short stay?

“Yes and no,” God answered. “If you eat them so you can be kinder longer, yes, eat away. But if you eat them out of fear, no. If you eat them with gratitude, yes. If you eat them like a life-hoarder, no.  She paused. I gulped. The air was crackling

She continued. “I cannot stress this enough, honey. The fiber you add to your diet matters little, but the fiber you are made of is screaming for a life well-lived. Transform your greed to charity, your anxiety to bravery. Transform your rage to action. Transform those little lies and excuses to outrageous honesty. Use your intellect to the max. Stroke each day like it’s a purring kitten or a happy dog. You’ll know when you should die.”

I looked at her in despair. I wasn’t sure I knew when I should do anything. She could sense my fear. My deep doubts and flailing good intentions. She rubbed my back and stoked the fire as the hills disappeared in the storm.