Glimpses

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Some people have  indicated they wouldn’t mind meeting up with my co-author, or at least, they hope my descriptions are accurate. Frankly, accuracy is a subjective term, and I wouldn’t wish this particular relationship on anyone. It has aspects that make me feel about as safe as I do when I forget to flip the breaker before installing my latest funky light fixture. Awaiting that final jolt does something to your mind. And there’s despair. Real, chest-smashing despair. Much deeper than the despair currently caused by the evening news. This God. This life. Here are a few recent observations.

God’s a dumpster diver. I don’t mind being seen with God, picking through discarded clothing, sunglasses, and broken toys. In fact, earlier today she gave me three pairs of socks and a scarf she’d fished out with a long stick. And get this—I don’t even need any socks. But she knows how happy I am to deny the landfill one single bite of something not yet entirely used up—something with potential for restoration, renovation, or renewal. I’ll use these socks when I jog, with a defiant spring in my step.

God’s a prankster. Things that look awful might be priceless. Things you think you deserve do not come your way, but things you don’t deserve do. Blessings turn rancid. Curses blossom and bear fruit. He’s very like that, and most of us don’t think it’s all that funny. I suspect God does.

God bewitches and beguiles. Creates and destroys. God answers to no one, but will wait patiently for a chick to hatch or a badly-needed idea to occur. God often walks alone in the rain. Zillions of years have gone by and will go by. Stones have worn down to heart-shaped pebbles, while molten lava shimmers and cools. God isn’t easy. Neither is love.

So, God, do you have anything to add? Um…God? GOD!!! Come back here. I’m sorry. I meant to say you’re not easy in a good way. Who’d want an easy God anyway?

God creeps back, waiting, I think, for a more complete apology. Maybe I left some things out. But it isn’t all up to me. My arms are crossed. God’s arms are loose. My vision is narrow. God’s is wide. My time is finite. God’s isn’t. I can live with that. At least for a while.

We dangle our feet in the raging snow-fed river of Now. The water is brutally cold, but it sizzles and swirls around God’s delicate ankles. She isn’t showing off. That’s just the way she is.

 

Paint

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I caught God in the basement messing around in my modest assortment of half-full cans of paint. Or at least I thought it was God. It was dark, but there was an eerie glow emanating from the far corner that both attracted and frightened me. That’s God in a nutshell.

“What do you think of my paint collection?” I asked hesitantly.

“I like it,” came the cheery response. “Color. Texture. Latex. Stains. Oil-based stuff. You’ve got it all, more or less.”

God’s approval is a boon anytime, but admiration for my near-hoarding of old paint—now that was spectacular. I was ecstatic.

“Some of it’s dried up, some’s moldy,” God added. God has X-ray vision, so I knew this was true. “And you have at least four cans of that ugly, dull orange. Looks like you tried mixing bad stuff. Never works.”

My ecstasy was waning as God’s appreciation became more selective.

“Yeah,” I said. “I was trying to get a mellow, warm orange.”

God laughed, stepped out of the shadows, and slapped me on the back.

“I like how hard you try,” God said. “But mellow orange will not happen anywhere near sage green. You know giving up can be as holy as stubbornly plowing forward, right?”

“Well.” I said. “Same to you. I’ve met some people who are way uglier than that paint. At least I can use the paint in the chicken house. What’re you going to do with those disgusting lumps of humanity? I’ve been trying to love them, somehow, a miniscule little bit, but the best I can do is pretend. They’re destructive, lazy, lying, self-righteous jerks. A serious waste of protoplasm. And because you already know this, I’ll just say it. I hate them.”

“Yup. I knew that,” God said. “Why are you trying to love them?”

I did a double-take. “Because, well. I guess because I think you want me to.”

God gave me a quizzical look, then began to fade artfully away, wavering like fumes above the seven cans of turpentine. With a soft kiss on the top of my head, God repeated “I like how hard you try.”

I felt deflated. Thwarted. I sat down on a five-gallon bucket of neutral gray to consider my next move. I didn’t want a passing grade in effort. I wanted excellent marks. Perfect 10s, 5 stars.

“You’ll take some failures with you to the grave,” God said. “I’ll meet you there.”

 

Not Fair

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My brother loaned me his rototiller and I haven’t returned it. He says he’ll come get it if he needs it. I say well, that’s not really fair. He says whoever said life was fair? I mutter something like well, at least I should try to make it more fair. He just smiles.

“Hey, God,” I yell, after my brother drives away. “Whoever said life was fair?”

“Not I,” says God. “I’m not in charge of that idea. In fact, it’s a childish notion I hope you’ll outgrow someday. Who gets more candy? Who sleeps on the top bunk? This is okay when you’re seven. Tiresome behavior for adults.”

It began to rain. It rained on the river and on the cracked, thirsty garden. It rained on the pavement and on a spring wedding somewhere. The wind picked up and blew so hard I gasped for breath. It blew down a tree, it blew waves in the water, it blew away the simplistic demands we make of our shrink-wrapped God. The rain came sideways and the real God shimmered, at ease in the liquid uncertainty we think of as life.

I started a fire. God shook like a dog and joined me. My fate in the hands of rain. My days in the arms of wind. This chills me to the bone. I rub my stiff hands and sip tea.

“Justice is different than fairness,” God says. “You know that eye for an eye thing?”

I nod, wary.

God continues, patient. “That’s the upward limit. No more than an eye for an eye. But less is better. In fact, I favor forgiveness and compassion. Your species is more likely to survive that way.”

“Duh,” I snap at God. “Justice. Mercy. Compassion. Humility. I get it.” I pause and calm myself. “But I don’t think it’s fair you aren’t helping us more.” I smile. God smiles. It’s good we have these little chats.

My twinkly-eyed friend with his infectious laugh will soon be dead from the cancer he’s carried for decades. I can eat a second or third salted caramel while I write this. When I turn on the news, likely I’ll see a child bloated with hunger, floating on a crowded raft. I won’t gag. Maybe I should. God, should I gag?

The rain pounds down and the river’s rising. No answer. No answer at all.

Sin

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So much depends on the right weed-eater and a proper attitude toward sin. The root structures of unwanted plants and unwanted behaviors are similarly complex.

God explained this to me as we dragged out the various weed-eating options to face the onslaught of summer. I was making an attempt to consider my failings this past week. I don’t like weeds, but I try to be patient. My friend–a permaculture fan–is determined to teach me about biodiversity and tolerance. God, also a permaculture fan, constantly urges me to considering the grand scheme of things.

“Did you want me to confess anything in particular?” I asked God, as we checked the oil in the Husqvarna.

“No, not really,” God answered. “Sin is separation from Good Things. Which happens to be one of my names. One of my favorites, actually. Good Things, I mean. Not Sin. Damn Good Things in fact. You can call me DGT for short.” God chuckled at this little joke and then said, “But seriously, you don’t have to confess. Sin carries its own price. Disconnection sucks. For both of us.”

I nodded. Life is definitely harder when I’m all disconnected, my ego bloated and unwieldy. When I’m my best self, I fill a tiny, unique space in the garden, and I’m happy. When I get greedy, I trample on vital species, poison the soil around me, gobble up nutrients not meant for me, become increasingly undisciplined, and frankly, ugly, common, and boring. And when I get frightened, I yank my roots in close, breaking the thin strands of connection to the earth, and topple over in the dry western wind.

“But I’ve heard that confession is good for the soul,” I said, wanting a bit of encouragement.

“Oh, it is,” God said. “It is indeed. But what’s even better is compost.”

I sat on my favorite boulder, watching the sun go down. For once, God pitched in and did a fair amount of work. My feet and hands were still as I willed myself into the void, waiting for night to descend. I was confident I knew the way.

Easter

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Born of water and fire, born of wind and mercy, born of bread and wine, Easter has arrived.

Spring is a hungry season. We emerge lean from winter, enduring the bite of weakened bone. And we have this weirdly moving target–a holiday called Easter. Of course, down under, Easter signals the coming of autumn. And on other planets, spinning around their own stars, we can only guess what might be. But in Jerusalem, it’s spring this time of year. In fact, Accuweather says the high today will be 57 F.

Last night, I re-read the account of how terribly wrong that infamous Passover went a few thousand years ago. I read it as a mother. Usually, the focus is on the suffering of Jesus, the child. And granted, it’s horrific. But what of the parent? As a nonviolent person, I’m sometimes challenged by my gun-enthusiast friends who say, “If someone was threatening or hurting your child, you’d get violent. You’d kill.” And I admit I’m not sure what I’d do. But here’s a haunting truth: I don’t even have to believe the story to know what God would do, and does.

I live here on this planet, with my eyes as open as I dare. I see God, wailing in the eviscerating agony of the death of a child. “My child, my beautiful gentle son, my baby, my perfect one,” God moans and shrieks. “You’re killing him.” The sky darkens, the stars fall, the earth convulses. The parent’s beating heart, yanked from the chest, thrown on the fire. And then, it is over. But it isn’t. We know it isn’t. God knows it isn’t. Easter is a reprieve. A promise. A reminder that all things die into the hands of the Great Beyond. And the Great Beyond is not violent, or frightened. The Great Beyond is tender. Filled with love. But here, in this linear life, hour by hour, we drown with God in the futility of repeated violence. And on this hard, narrow road, in the Now of our existence, the Great Beyond does not spare itself one iota of the pain. Not one.

 

Waiting

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I have a terrible, miserable cold. It struck a day before some kind of chemical rained down on children and other innocent beings in Syria. At first, I thought God wasn’t coming by because of my germs. Who can blame him? This is one bad virus. But then suddenly I saw him on the news, dark hair matted, eyes glazed, legs peppered with red eruptions of flesh, curled around the pain of human depravity. A film crew had caught his image, there among the least of them, burned and screaming. I touched the TV screen, sending God what I could send, which felt like nothing. “God,” I said to the image. “God, I see you. I see you.” But then I turned away. I went to bed disoriented, waiting, my soul as congested as my lungs. I couldn’t let myself cry. I was too sick.

The next day, I glimpsed God in Egypt, standing among corpses and mutilated bodies, directing emergency workers to the injured. I didn’t turn away this time. Mesmerized, I watched the dead moving toward burial, the keening of those bereaved washing over me as I stood inert, depleted. What a fucked up, dreadful world. And what am I to make of God, always down in the thick of it? Hungry, imprisoned, bereft, tortured, excluded, persecuted, hated, ugly, alone.

I used to think I knew how to join, how to be of use. I used to have firm white bones and clear ideas. I used to be young and impudent. Now I listen more. My steps are slower. Now I raise my eyes to the hills, watch the sand hill cranes float by, and wait. I’m a bruised reed, a smolder candle. Waiting. Grateful for the grasses and willows whispering sweet nothings in the wind.

 

No Worries

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God and I were talking about how much blame she endures. And flat-out rejection. I told her I felt bad about that. “No worries,” God said. “Rejection is my middle name.”

This was strangely reassuring. Sometimes, I feel defensive for God, and try to run interference. Not because God asked me to, but because I think everyone would be happier if some kind of meaning or hope descended along with the greedy abyss of the evening news. Hope and Meaning are some of God’s first names.

“So it doesn’t bother you at all?” I said.

“Nope,” she answered, but her voice had a slight catch in it.

I took her at her word. God rarely lies to me. “Okay, then,” I said. “But could you try a little harder to be visible? That would help.”

“Nope,” God said, an evil little smile curling her lips. “I’ve gone as far down that road as I’m going to go for now.”

I could see God had slipped into one of her moods. Arms crossed, she towered over me.

“Listen, God. This is not okay with me,” I said in a firm, parental voice. “You have no reason to be so stingy. You’re very, very lucky to be God, and even though we need help, you can be proud of what you’ve accomplished here, with us humans, I mean.”

The room darkened. I gulped but held on. “No. Seriously, you might not be aware of how much prodding and coddling and proof we need,” I said. “You may assume we’ve got it together, but basically, we still don’t.”

God’s eyes burned neon orange through the blackened air. “In no way do I assume humans have it together,” she said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Okay, then,” I said, still confident I knew who I was dealing with. “You need to make more of an effort to let people know.”

“Know what, exactly?”

I could see this was going nowhere fast. Why couldn’t I argue with God and get results like Moses? I shrugged and backed away.

God got bigger. “Let me tell you something,” she said. “There’s nothing you can know in the way you wish you could know.”

“Why not?” I said, as loudly as I dared. “Why not? What would it hurt for you to prove yourself once in a while?”

“Oh. My. God.” God said. “I could ask you the same thing. Could you just look around? Do you have a clue what I mean when I say I AM?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Well, maybe. But I have to endure a little nausea when my mind opens up that wide. And it gets lonely.”

God gentled down and gave me a knowing look. Layers and layers of skin dropped from her face. “Delight is temporary,” she said, her voice clear and inviting. “So is death.”

We were suddenly at the river. Her bones softened, her hair turned magenta and blew upward in the rising wind. Her body spread across the expanse, a sunset that welcomed the coming night. Oh, how I wanted something to grab onto. Something to own. Something to know. But what I had was water and sky, hunger and soul.

 

Dust Mite

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Sometimes, my co-author pushes things a little further than seems appropriate and leaves me dangling. For instance, this morning I’ve had to gulp back my aversion and hide my incredulity while  I try to model polite acceptance. “Hello, God,” I said. “I see you’ve become a dust mite.”

No discernible answer. I try a little ingratiation. “Wow. You’re so tiny and translucent.” But I’m thinking UGLY! Of course, I realize beauty’s in the biased eye of the beholder. I continue on. “And bugs like you are impossible to eradicate.”

Without a word, God infiltrates my psyche and I drop a little deeper. Humans can dip very low. God can dip lower.

“God, you freak me out. You’ve taken up residence in the detritus of humankind, yet you remain essential and good. You’re living where we’ve been, transforming what’s fallen from our bodies into sustenance. You restore meaning to things that have been cast off and forgotten. You complete the circle. You’re like a mother clasping the old sweaty shirt of her child to her heart, weeping for all that has been, all that could have been. Taking courage from the scent remaining in the shredded cloth. You fearlessly find the way forward. Onward.” Still no answer, but I think God is in agreement.

“I’m like that today too, God,” I say, longing for some kind of affiliation.

I’m sitting beside my expanding rock collection–stones that were once fallen trees, transformed by minerals in the ancient putrid waters that sucked them down. I can’t fathom the pressure necessary to create these stones. And how is it they’ve come to be here, on my bench, in my house, absorbing the warmth of the morning sun?

Judging from the way things break down and are reconfigured, my place in this cacophony of life and death is a whimsical bit of happenstance. This upsets me a little bit.

“Sometimes, I wish you took me a little more seriously, Dust mite God,” I said. Of course, no answer.  “Okay, sometimes I wish you didn’t pay any attention to me at all. You’re a frightening, infinitesimal speck of persistence, patiently digesting, creating and re-creating this ragged world and all that is within it.” No comment. No reaction. I stumble on.

“Diminutive God, you’re nearly invisible to the naked eye.  I don’t know what to make of you. Why have you chosen to inhabit such a tiny space.?”

Finally, I realize there will be no reasonable answers. In fact, there will be no answers at all today. Only compassion. Only resurrection. Only the icy hope of rising water, the magical appearance of red-winged blackbirds, the ambivalent green of an ordinary day.

In this version of myself, I am the friend of dust mites, the builder who will not reject these temporary stones. I am a transitory being of ashes and dust, improvising the best I can with the materials at hand. I won’t get it entirely right. No one ever does. And it doesn’t matter in the least.

 

Brown God, White Bread

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Dear Brown God,

I ate white bread for you today. Yes, I did. I swallowed my aversion, draped a delicate veil of righteousness over my shoulders, and let the elements slide down my throat.

I did this without expectation. Frankly, it was mostly for show. But suddenly, there you were, sidling my direction. I shook my head, signaling you should leave me alone. My face said, “Do not sit anywhere near me.” You ignored my face.

We sat in uncomfortable silence on the back bench. When the time came for confession of sins, I scratched you a note, “Do not expect much from me. I’m white like the bread, inside and out.” But I didn’t have the courage to slide it over. We stared straight ahead. I felt myself starting to come apart. Like a shy lover, you gently took my hand, entwining our fingers one by one. No one noticed this merger, this complete dissolution of boundary and intent. In what was left of my center, a longing welled up to be poor, and brown, and hungry. To be courageous, worthy, alive. There, amongst acquaintances, I was a refugee—landless, homeless, stripped of my claims to humanity. Then I was a snowy owl, a field of lilies, a night, blackened by the turning of the earth, given a small reprieve by galaxies that refuse to be silenced.

A ragtag choir rushed to the front and began to sing the haunting plea, Dona Nobis Pachem. They were joined by the Gay Men’s Choir from San Francisco, and then by what appeared to be German children, mostly blond, and an orchestra, complete with a massive section of violins. They played. They sang. They begged for peace. You and I, God. You and I. We drank the music in like water. We sang until we dissolved, flowing in harmony toward the rising sea. All that remained was a little smear of hope on the new carpet. It glowed iridescent beneath the worn boots of those who will always stay faithfully behind.

And now, back in my tentative body, a howling wind is blowing me sideways. The evening is falling hard. I’m writing you this note to say I’m sorry. No matter how many times you stop by and remind me to be brave, and to eat with joy, I’m still a bit selfish and afraid.

Dona Nobis Pachem, Brown God. And rest well. Tomorrow will be another day.

Yours,

Rita

Longevity

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Out the southern window, eleven Canadian Geese sliced silently through the sky in a straight dark line. But it only looks straight. It’s curved like the earth, curved like all who dwell herein. An orange school bus glides along the distant road, carrying tired values and outdated ideas back and forth while unruly children bounce on the cracked leather seats. I’ve ridden that bus all my life. The back window rattles loose and I occasionally escape, but I don’t get far.

To mark the path home, I’ve rolled large stones into a curved line, and stacked smaller ones on the rounded tops, held in place by gravity, spit, and Zen. When the wind howls through the valley, some of them tumble off. These are local river rocks, but I drag stones home from wherever I go. Alleys, beaches, roadways, mountains, even other continents.

Decades ago, I rescued a collection of agates that had been buried by debris in the back yard of an old Forest Service office. I imagined the collector, likely now dead, watching from beyond. I wash them occasionally, and put them in new buckets, but at some point, I’ll do something more fitting, more spectacular with them. They seem content to wait. If anything can grasp the term geologic time, it would be rocks. When I was a child, I thought trees lived forever. Now I know they don’t, and I’m glad. I’m warmed by their cast-off bodies, sheltered by their harvested limbs.

And rocks don’t last forever either. But their comparative longevity is comforting.

And what’s forever, anyway? The little God on my shoulder—the one that ordained this moment–whispers something in my ear. “It’s music. Or another name for winter.”

Ah. I see. Listen to me all you fireflies and buffalo, nymphs and gnomes, wind and sun, seeds and stones. This is the gospel for today: Trees don’t live forever. Rocks don’t last forever. Bus rides eventually end. The earth is a circle moving in circles, creating the cradle, smoothing the grave. And that is how it should be. Amen.