Senses

Smell is our oldest sense. Collectively, humans can detect billions of different odors. This has played a central role in our evolution, leading to such literary declarations as Fe Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. The sense of smell has made headlines recently because a microscopic organism has been infecting human brains, disabling the senses of smell and taste: a virus not to be trifled with. But then, evil is rarely to be trifled with, right God?

No answer. The silence isn’t holy. But some days, I just keep talking.

And about this notion of evil, God. Who’s evil? What is it? As you know, I don’t like dust settling on things again and again or ashes as a final destination. I like fresh sheets, crisp salad, and good news. Call me shallow, but that’s the way it is, God. I would prefer to be comfortable, adored, young, well-fed, and smart. And whatever deprives me of what I want, well, let’s call that evil, shall we?

My one-way chat takes a nasty turn as the sun intensifies through the window and I see myself reflected on my computer screen in all my dismal glory. “No wonder God is busy elsewhere,” I say to my image in a mean voice. “You’re all the things you dread.” I consider the procedures and surgeries available to make me seem younger, more adorable, smarter. This breaks my fall. My distended ego deflates, and I give myself a smile that naturally lifts the wrinkles.

See, God? Here I am, smiling. All done judging. C’mon by.

I sit. I force myself to say prayers of lovingkindness for the twisted senator, the mouth-breathing fools on the airplanes, lazy neighbors, unkind people, even those who torture, deprive, and dehumanize. I give thanks for my senses, even though I can smell the blood of the disgusting humans who are destroying the planet. Oh, I wish I were the giant.

This last thought finally rouses The Presence. Holy Words, like sleek black animals, invade my brain. “You can’t eat your way to heaven,” they say in a low growl. “You can’t smell your way to salvation. You can’t see the face of God, and you can’t force your way in.” The Words collect around The Presence, and The Presence turns to me, taking the shape of a very old friend.

“The thing that shines in the broken moment, the shelter of translucent skin, these are lessons. Very little of who you are or what you do is to your credit or entirely your fault. Regardless, you will never be the giant. For this, be grateful. Go listen to holiday music. Inhale cinnamon and vanilla.”

“But that seems so…” I pause.

“Shallow?” asks my Very Old Friend. “Simple?”

“Yeah,” I nod. “It’s like giving up. Surrendering.”

“Yes,” my Very Old Friend says. “Much harder than it seems. But you can do it.  I’ll help.”

Sphincters and Other Lesser Parts of the World

In the process of letting go (a euphemism for aging) I’ve grown more conversant with my inner workings. Organs, nerves, limbs, skin, circulatory systems, hairline–we’ve all befriended each other. For instance, on a recent road trip miles from anywhere, my bladder urged me to pull over. I squatted (a humble pose if there ever was one) and waved cheerfully at the driver of the pick-up that happened by. She waved back. A warm calm spread throughout my body as my bladder and I drove on home.

Some of us think of creation as parts of The Body. Others are more exclusive about who’s in and who’s out; what’s to be honored, who’s to be enslaved. These are ego-based pretendings, wrong-headed derivations. In the Oneness, every molecule has a voice. For instance, when stubbed, the oft-overlooked third toe suddenly takes center stage.

This is the kind of pondering that almost always guarantees a visit from God. Sure enough. She’s arrived on the west wind with a flood-inducing chinook on her tail.

“Why, hello there, God,” I say. “What a nice surprise. C’mon in.” My automatic hospitality reminds me of a poem my grandmother had on her kitchen wall:

            Guest, you are welcome here. Be at your ease.

            Get up when you’re ready. Go to bed when you please.

            We’re happy to share with you, such as we’ve got,

            The leaks in the roof and the soup in the pot.

            You don’t have to thank us or laugh at our jokes.

            Sit deep and come often. You’re one of the folks.

I memorized the rhyme, but I didn’t know what it meant to sit deep, and I didn’t like people partaking of my grandmother’s kindness. I wanted her all to myself. Now, I want God all to myself. I want singular adoration, endless comfort, and permission to be at my ease forever without the hassles of caring for others.

“Sorry,” God says. “Doesn’t work that way.” We gaze at the fire. She strokes her chin. “If you had a choice, which part of The Body would you be?”

I chew my thumb and think. Brain, eyes, ears all come to mind, but they’re too obvious. “Bladder,” I say. “I’d be the mop bucket.”

God laughs. “You know you’d have to cooperate with the sphincter, right?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I’ve known that for a very long time.” I raise my right hand. “I do hereby solemnly swear to love and honor the sphincters of the world. My own and others.”

I expect God to chuckle, but instead, I realize we are sitting deep; God and me. And I see that nothing functions without cooperation and mutual respect, internally or out there in the nasty, brutal, fractured Oneness we live within. I know I’m not alone, but sometimes I wish I were.

The Flower Show

Photo of Roxy Paine’s original work

It’s morning in New York City. I’m leaning against a pile of fluffy white pillows, gazing out the window, seven flights up, with a warm dark beer balanced on my belly. Across the narrow street, I see bricks, mortar, and shiny ventilation systems. I’m trying to quell my claustrophobia. Thank God for the beer. It wasn’t easy to find. “I guess anything worth anything is not easy to find, right?” I say to my faithful co-author.

“You tell me,” God says, her feet wrapped in the hotel’s luxurious comforter.

“Okay, I will,” I say. “For instance, you. You’re not easy to find.” But I catch myself. “No. Wait. Not true. You’re actually too easy to find. You smell terrible, you speak other languages, you have needs. It’s what the hell to do about you that’s hard to find. The Tao. The long and winding road. The way…it’s so foggy, steep, and dangerous. It’s slick. Nasty. And brutally beautiful.”

God leans over. Takes a sip of my beer. Rearranges her pillows, and sighs. “You are so right,” she says. “I do smell terrible. Not everyone is pretty, you know. Cut me some slack. Not everyone is perfect.”

I nod, but I don’t apologize. God continues. “Some of my favorite islands are going under. I make you this nice planet. You rip it to shreds. I make you all so similar, like family. You rip each other to shreds. Over money. Pride. Jobs.” She says ‘jobs’ with a sneer, pauses, and finishes with, “And you think I stink? Ha!”

I throw my arm over God’s familiar shoulder. “Yeah, you’re right. This is old terrain between us, isn’t it? Alive or dead, we mortals stink up the place. I’m glad you stink, too.”

God laughs. Suddenly, there are flowers. Funeral flowers. Wedding flowers. Light pink. Baby blue. Lilacs, clematis, columbine. And I am young, winning the junior division of the local flower show with flowers my grandmother grew. Then, I am old and all I grow are sunflowers, hollyhocks, and poppies. It seems we are doomed to seek comfort, solace, and the easy, deadly way.

“No, you’re not,” God says. “I’ve made sure you have reasonable options.”

I settle back in the pillows, take one more sip of beer, cork it, look straight at the New York God beside me, and shrug. God knows I won that flower show because my only opponent was particularly ugly and inarticulate. The sad truth is that her flowers were spectacular. Nearly perfect. And she grew them herself. My grandmother was proud anyway. I tried to tell myself, ‘A win is a win.’

But I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. God will linger at the finish line, waiting fondly for the losers until there’s no such thing anymore. And all the former losers will be busy, planting and protecting, sacrificing and celebrating, honoring and adoring everything that blooms.

Protective Gear

Sometimes, I deliberately write from a darkened place because as those who dabble in God are painfully aware, there is such a thing as too much light. Even with safety goggles, a hard hat, and an emergency whistle, it’s impossible to feel entirely secure in the presence of what might be God. True, there’s a chance it’s something other than God, but it is not to be trifled with. It is Vast and Elsewhere. Holy Restraint. Indeterminate Destiny. Fool-proof Finality. It is Allah, the Tao, Enlightenment, Sacrifice. It is lamb and lion, gnat and nature—the fertile valley that floods with some regularity causing everything to die and be reborn.

Pure light burns through stupidity to the heart of all selfishness. The razor-sharp fangs glisten, and there’s a roar that makes Niagara seem like wind chimes in a gentle breeze.

Maybe God doesn’t realize her own strength or what it means to be first and singular, unadulterated and unmitigated light, but even a sideways glimpse can overwhelm me. I slip off the rails of rationality, my train of thought crashes, and the flammables in my soul ignite. It takes enormous effort to get to the river and douse the flames.

I, for one, do not appreciate how this feels in the morning. The advantages of denial are obvious, but the comfort there is limited. When I was a child, I feared the coming apocalypse, assured that the end times would be filled with fire, terror, and remorse. Then I grew up and realized that time is always ending, and there will always be terror and remorse—fire, hunger, and upheaval–but there will also be moments of wonder and inexplicable joy.

For instance, right now, as the days shorten and the chill of imminent winter asserts itself, the lion has laid its head on my shoulder and draped its body across my lap. It is a wild thing that loves me. My eyes close. The giant paws massage my sore muscles. Night is coming and cannot be stopped by my incoherent prayers, but…

I am reminded of stars.

Burgers

“God,” I said. “In order to believe in some absolute form of you and thus be falsely assured of a thin, exclusive salvation, a lot of people have silenced their hearts and blinded themselves. You’re aware of that, right?” God rubbed his forehead and looked out the window. I continued.  “They put basic truths through mental meatgrinders, make up twisted doctrines, call this faith, and hang together in paranoid groups, ignoring the obvious and applauding the hateful.”

God drummed his fingers together and used his sleeve to wipe his nose. The tears were real, even if God isn’t always real. The idea of absolute has the same problem as the idea of the perfect quilt when it’s chilly, the day free of duties or doubts, possessions that need no maintenance, the weedless garden…. Absolute is a nice idea but in our small slice of temporary reality, there’s no such thing. The quilt has lumps. The day has worries. Things break down and end. There may be no weeds visible, but just under that dark sheen lurk roots and seeds patient and tenacious.

In time, all things show their fault lines–their contradictions, inadequacies, hypocrisies, and failings. But what if we could move out of the constraints of time? What if fault lines are passageways?

God wavered and disappeared as he often does. “Come back,” I commanded in my bravest voice. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Enlighten me. I’m wondering if anything is absolute, and I don’t have all day. Or maybe I do, but I like you best in the morning.”

“Why?” God asked silently.

“Not sure,” I said, happy to be back in dialogue. I often chew on my left thumb when God and I visit. Today, the thumb tasted like soap because I had just washed yesterday’s dishes, and I’m not great at rinsing. I swallowed the soapy taste. “You seem fresher. More possible.”

Still no visible sign of God. “Oh, I’m absolutely possible,” he said from nowhere. “All day. Late into most nights.”

With that amorphous assurance, I put myself in motion; hung the laundry, took out the trash, wiped some dusty surfaces, touched a couple of my favorite rocks, scrubbed three fat carrots that grew despite the weeds, combed my hair, found my phone, took some vitamins, and packed the car for a trip to town.

 “What do you want to do for lunch?” I asked God, politely ignoring his absence.

“How about burgers?” God said, chuckling.

“Or not,” I smiled. I don’t like burgers. God knows this. And I absolutely know God knows. And that’s what made this reassuring. And very funny.

Wildfires

We evacuated a few days ago. God refused to help sort what to take but rode along in the tiny spaces available in the car and winked at me as the fire officials at the station explained that the wind had shifted. The fight was going another direction. If we took the back roads, we could go home. As we turned around, God disappeared and I was glad to see him go, even though his absence is as much of an illusion as his presence. At least with him ostensibly gone, I could avoid thorny conversations for a while.

Who wants to talk with the God of fire during an evacuation? The God of suffering, loss, and apparently random events? It never goes well. The book of Job for example; an elongated poem, a chorus of voices and views, Yahweh and Satan in a cosmic pissing match, Yahweh’s praise of evolution, and a lesson in pointlessness. Sure, there’s the veneer of a happy ending, but not if you realize it will all end again. Who wants to lose everything twice? Thrice? Forever?

“Do you think the key is to have nothing to lose?” God asked as I sat by the window, breathing smoky air, waiting for another evacuation notice. I didn’t mind that God had swung back around. He was better than the meager offerings on Roku.

“I don’t know about that,” I said, scanning my accumulations; books, art, a sheepskin rug, my yoga mats, special rocks, blue glass, a cedar jewelry box filled with trinkets, a stack of incomplete gardening journals (we start a new one every spring). Of what consequence would their loss be? Little to none. Of what consequence has my life been? Or anyone’s?

God nodded, noncommittal. Listening. I grieved and tried to be brave about it all. I wanted to imagine I was of great consequence; something other than one of the trillion dominoes God has gleefully lined up, waiting and watching to see what might set off the next run, gently drumming his fingers, offering substantial odds to anyone willing to bet against him. I wondered if I could step out of line. Redirect the future of my particular genetic strain, remain standing, and win.

“Of course,” God said. “Be my guest. I like winners.”

“But I thought you liked losers,” I said. Conversations like this give me vertigo of the soul. Winning isn’t definable, and I don’t actually know what kind of consequence I want to be. It’s risky business to have God along in an evacuation because no matter what you take along, God knows what you’ve left behind and will circle back. God always circles back. This may be a good thing, but I’d rather have the promise of perpetuity or at least a direct way home.

Co-Author Explodes Again

My co-author blew up yesterday. This happens when realities clash or there are temperature extremes. First, hairline cracks appear in God’s image–like they do in cement when you’ve poured a slab but failed to make the relief cuts required to handle the stress of shrinkage. The cracks widen into fissures. The rumbling grows into thunderous protests working their way up from the bottom of soul. And then as they say in the comics: Ka-boom. The Confetti of God swirls in the sky while bits of fuselage and bone drift down. It can have a chilling effect, so I usually position myself in direct sunlight and wait. Sometimes I add a layer or two of outerwear. Right now, I have on pajamas and two fleece vests.

In a little while, I’ll start picking up the pieces–carefully and without judgement. That’s not to say I won’t cry, but for now, I can handle it. God has strange ways of saying “I love you.” I try to allow for the idiosyncrasies involved in our intimate but elusive relationship. There are other ways I could make it through life but none of them are very appealing.

While I wait, the little gods wash downstream like easy plastic, insisting on their right to kill the dolphins and coral reef. The bigger gods don’t float. They’re a series of bad ideas that reposition their fat hinnies after each disruption, causing damaging aftershocks, gluttonous wealth, and great misery.

A manifestation of Nothing is caught in the crystal formation to my left. “Hello, God.” I say, as I watch the same sun at work, warming what will always be Nothing as it warms my vested, innocent shoulders. “Why do I feel so guilty?”

The Voice of God is green and unbelievably forgiving. The Eyes of God are as reassuring as last year’s nest blown down, still lined with soft feathers plucked from the underbelly of creation. The ways I defend myself are ineffective over the long haul and the ways I try to care for other aspects of creations…equally so. Maybe that’s why God needs to explode, but I don’t like it. The responsibilities for reassembling weigh me down.

“They weigh me down, too,” God tells me, as we slide westward, following the light and warmth, stiff from chronic disappointments and damaged joints. “There seems to be no end to the adjustments required.”

“I know,” I say. “That’s why I’m glad you invented Sabbath. Let’s rest a bit. I’ll put you back together tomorrow.”

“Sounds good,” God agrees. And we curl into the perfect fractal for an afternoon nap.

What Makes God Sick

I sat down in my comfy place this morning to chat with God, but as we settled in, I noticed I’d left the kitchen lights on. I sighed, glanced at God, and went to turn them off. But before I got to the switch, there on the cluttered counter, I noticed the free sample of vitamins from my shopping trip yesterday, so I found the scissors, opened the packet, and spilled three extra-large tablets into my hand–dense, alfalfa green. The morning had been filled with horrifying images and tedious demands–and here were three ridiculously green promises of health and vitality. I laughed out loud, warmed some tea, brought the magic pills back to the couch, put my feet up on the big coffee table, turned to show God my stash…and of course, noticed the kitchen lights were still on.

I grimaced.

“What?” God asked, as I shook my head. I reached for a vitamin and swallowed it down, willing the vibrant green to restore my memory, increase my mindfulness, and make me whole, young, and beautiful. God chuckled, but she didn’t look well.

“I’ll take one of those,” God said, reaching toward me.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m not sharing. They might be my last hope. Besides, you can just blink yourself to beauty and youth. You don’t need alfalfa.”

“True,” God said. “You’ve got a point, there. But you don’t need it either.”

I suspected I knew what God meant, but I didn’t ask. I focused on digesting the vitamin, trying to detach from the outcomes I long for; God focused on digesting whole galaxies of compost, broken people, collusion, trashed planets, and collateral damage—byproducts of wrongheaded consciousness, fear, arrogance, and hatred.

I looked straight at God. “How can you stand to eat that stuff?” I asked. “I mean, I’m grateful, but I worry there’ll come a day you can’t handle one more bite, and your body will explode, and that will be that. We’ll be bits of God-vomit on the cosmic wall.”

“Gross,” God said, making a classic adolescent face. “That’s disgusting.”

“I know,” I said, pleased with myself. It’s not easy to get God to make that face. To witness the Eternal Vulnerability openly expressed. Such moments are vast and holy. Hard to handle.

I don’t fall on my knees. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. Instead, I fall on my words, circling myself with images and explanations, searching for an elaborate way out. I finally fall silent, but not before I whisper, “You win.” I hand over the remaining vitamins, go back to the kitchen to get a cold cloth for God’s sweaty head, and this time, I turn out the lights.

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.

God the Recycler

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Turkeys descend on the compost pile, pecking and pooping, while the earth turns this side of herself to the light, and I sit muddled in mortality. Snow glistens with insolence but like all things seen and unseen, winter’s days are numbered. The life expectancy of a wild turkey is ten years. Of the chickadee hopping around in the chokecherry branches, it’s less than two. Fighting the false claims of linearity, I remind myself that Allah, God, Creator and Redeemer, is the ultimate recycler—a saver and transformer. But I need reassurance. “Some transformations take longer than we’ll glimpse in this life, right?” I poke an elbow into God’s ribs.

“What’d you say?” God said, startled.

“I said you’re a devoted saver. A long-haul recycler.” For once, I’d snuck up on God.

“Ah. Sorry. You’re right.” God nodded, distracted. “Say, could I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I said, glad for any diversion God might provide.

“Okay. So, I’m God. Alpha and Omega. Beyond Big. And I love every measly nano-bit of my creation. I mean beyond little. And my intention has been and will always be to provide a transformation path for everything. Everyone. Always. Forever. What do you make of that?”

“I’d say I’m glad, but you’ve got your work cut out for you.” I felt relieved that God was who I thought he was.

“It’s your work, too,” God said, taking my face in his hands. “That’s why you have consciousness. A self-reflective loop.”

“Oh.” I groaned. But I let the reassurance of those warm hands sink in. “But you’ll take care of the heavy stuff, right? I mean like Hitler and Genghis Khan and nuclear weaponry and the racist and the unrepentant greedy unsaved types, and the billionaires and liars?”

“There’s more than enough work to go around.” God sighed. “I’m always in the thick of it. And of course, there are all those ‘helpers’ who think they can decide who’s ‘saved’, and how, and when…as if it’s an end state!” God snorted and did air quotes when he said the words “helpers” and “saved.”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s irritating. They have formulas.”

“I know,” God said. “Magic words. Allegiances with guarantees. And get this–you know what happens when I infiltrate and hint that maybe, everyone is already saved, will be saved, and will need saving again?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t try that anymore. You’re brave.”

“Well,” God said. “You’d think their hearts would leap for joy, but no, they aren’t the tiniest bit happy for the unwashed masses. They’re disappointed. Angry, even. They argue and quote scripture–to me! They can’t stand the possibility that no one is going to hell for very long.”

“Well, that’s…Ah, that’s…” My own revenge fantasies were threatening to surface. What do you say to God at this point? Luckily, I’ve hung out with God enough to realize that I don’t want to want anyone or anything to end up separated, destroyed, or useless. God and I argue sometimes, but I hardly ever argue that someone should be damned forever. It’d be futile anyway. God is not only the source and definition of love, God is beyond stubborn. God never gives up. Though I’m not equipped to glimpse the whole, I suspect his recycling program is massive, fascinating, and makes use of both joy and fire. God’s compost is to die for.

“You’re a little scary,” I said, finally. “But I like your style.”

“Thanks,” God said back, rubbing my blue-gray hair with real affection. “I like yours too.”