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

Where things are written

imported-from-the-camera-april-2014-412-2“Hey, God,” I yelled, angrily turning off the radio. “Are you aware there’s a large, huge, ginormous number of people down here using the Bible to control and hurt people? They’re yanking it around. They’re managing to make it say hateful things.”

“Yeah,” God said.

“Well,” I said, after waiting to see if God might want to elaborate. “Well. Could you step in here? I mean, they’re doing some real damage. You would not believe it.”

“Yes, I would,” God said.

“So, what gives? How can they do that? How can you let them? Somehow, they’re ignoring the basics, drilling down on obscure things, acting like know-it-alls. They’ve gone after gay people, and women, and brown skins, and they adore rich people, excusing all sorts of crap that you wouldn’t like. And acting like they don’t have to love anyone but themselves, and like it is okay to hate.

“Are you jealous?”

“What? No. Are you nuts? Fuck no. Hell no. I’m like that Psalmist. I only hate those who hate you. I want to chop off the heads of their babies…” I was being as sarcastic as I could possibly be.

God began to materialize, and she wasn’t in the best mood. She shook her head, and removed her hairpins, so her long thick mane fell to her waist. Her black eyes blazed. “Don’t do that,” she said, her voice stern. “You know better.”

“How?” I snapped back. “How do I know better, huh? There’s ugliness everywhere, and contradictions, and things that don’t make sense, and impossible commandments that no one even attempts, but then they try to defend things like capital punishment, and war, and they lord it over others. And forgiveness? Ha! And humility? Give me a break. And Mercy? Justice? Truth? Not a chance. It’s just greed and fear, greed and fear. We’re humans. By definition, we kill each other.”

God could see I was pretty wound up, so she waited and let me spew it all out. I ranted a bit more, but gradually grew calmer. She motioned for me to sit down, which I did, reluctantly.

“Honey, you’ve been reading with your eyes again, trying to fight judgement with judgement, fire with fire. Hunting for convincing words—written words—strokes of ink on paper. Screaming for answers in an answerless world.”

Oh, this made me crazy. I leaped up and grabbed for her hair. It turned to water. I drank. Her beautiful body turned to rain. I bathed. Through the clear water, I could see my heart, beating. I could see what was written there. In the profound silence of her absence, I could hear the tender whisper of this one small life I am trying to live.

 

A random text from God

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God texted to see if I’d be available for a get-together one Tuesday shortly after I’d finished the chemo. I clenched my jaw as I acknowledged I was free, but pointed out other options in case I could throw him off. He’s crazy, and difficult to talk to sometimes. Slow to speak, unassuming, but simultaneously requiring too much unearned adoration. Seriously. He’s almost condescending. And often he sets up these meetings and then no-shows. He runs out of money and his phone shuts down.

I called his mother later in the week, just to see if anything God said was true. “Yes,” the mother of God said. “He’s honest. Just unfiltered. He’s got a lot on his mind, you know.” She paused and said, “Say, you don’t happen to have any contact information, do you? He’s been out of touch with the family for a while.”

This set me back on my heels. Where was God? Last I knew, he was eating at the homeless shelter, picking up odd jobs and repairing bicycles. He likes to camp along the river if it isn’t too cold. How could I tell his mother this? How could his mother not know?

As Tuesday approached, I grew more and more anxious. I wished I could cancel, but with God, this is difficult. He arrived early, agitated. “Did you call my mother?” he asked, slapping his fist into his hand. He was clearly angry.

“No,” I lied. God knew. We locked eyes for a brief moment. Then he looked out the window at the apricot tree. “Looks like rain,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, sobbing. Why did everything have to be this hard? I’d lost my last apricot tree to aphids, and two sweet cherry trees to moles. I’d lost my uterus to cancer and my idealism to the nightly news. And now, God was angry just because I called his mother.

“Look,” God said, the anger abated. “Just as you are. And just as I AM.”

Then he put his long thin arms around me and bent his wild head down so it touched the top of my partially-regrown hair. “So it is, and so it will be.” His voice was as soft and dense as sleep. I climbed in, and was welcomed into the folds of that voice.

I still find rest in that thick, palpable space. There are so few places that offer any kind of shelter these days. I’m thankful, but sometimes, lately, it’s too crowded and noisy to really relax. And who knows which of these refugees might be carrying a bomb? I’ve been asked to carry one myself, but so far, I’ve refused.

 

 

The Value of Hate

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I stayed in the city last night. Slept in my favorite closet at my daughter’s little place. This morning, as anticipated, the woman who purports to hate her dog was up early, screaming obscenities through the thin walls. The dog is a little Corgi with the requisite liquid brown eyes, short fat legs, and wagging tail. It has no apparent way to defend itself.

According to other neighbors, the verbal assaults have been steady for the past five years, and include constant haranguing about the dog’s inadequacies and sins: stupidity, hair shedding, eating, drinking, looking, lying down, getting up, needing to go outside, and, well, being a dog. Strangely, I’ve rare even heard it bark.

The few times I’ve seen them outside, the woman walks close to the dog, yelling in an ugly voice. She openly declares her hatred for the dog, as if this will garner sympathy, connection, or even affection from her neighbors or passers-by. The dog looks innocent, but her ranting suggests such horrid behavior that even the most sincere dog lover might wonder about the incorrigible nature of this awful little dog.

So my daughter has orchestrated a rescue. She found someone willing to adopt the dog, and I helped her negotiate all the strange requirements necessary for the dog to move to a happy place. She chats up the neighbor most days now, tries to set a date, listens with patience and empathy, and waits for the dog to be handed over. She waits, and chats. And waits.

My daughter is too young to realize the enormous value of having something to hate.

Quantum God

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God and I woke rather early this morning. We like the dark warm half-consciousness where remnant of dream shapes the arrival of day. Our conversations are sometimes sleepy and subdued. Sometimes, playful or philosophical. The wee hours are long on magic and short on inhibition.

“Quantum God,” I said, feeling poetic. “I’ve been thinking. The sky goes on forever. Stars shed light with an intensity I cannot understand. Planets and planets and planets have moons. There are comets, galaxies. Everything is traveling but there’s no destiny. No location. It all goes on forever.”

God’s old bathrobe was some kind of polyester blend. Even the slightest movement caused sparkles of static electricity in the shadowy room. I paused, temporarily daunted by the sheer magnitude of all that I cannot understand.

I felt a wave of affection as God’s restlessness caused little snapping sounds in the room. “This isn’t news to you, is it?” I said. “The whole university is just an old robe draped on your massive shoulders. You could take it off any time you want. You could hang it up, or toss it on this overstuffed chair.”

God smiled patiently in the shadows, nodding like Carl Rogers, letting me find my way along this narrow path. I rolled over and started thinking about getting up. How would I start the day after my toast and coffee? What jobs would I tackle? What challenges would I face? How would I offer some love to this grasping, frightening world? How would I fill my soul?

“Quantum God,” I said. “Where do you go for your morning constitutional?  Where do you walk for delight?  For wonder?”

God looked quizzically at me, like I should already know this.“Why, wherever you go, sweetheart,” God said, arms folded, eyes warm.

“Wherever I go?” I repeated.

“Wherever you go.”  A firm answer this time. I think God wanted this to sink in. And it did. This was way too much responsibility.

“But I don’t always, I mean, the news lately sucks so much, some days I just. . .um, kind of lay around.”

Quantum God touched my arm. “I know.” The tone was gentle, but a little resigned. “I know.”

Garden Mud

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I’m a well-fed, reasonably educated entity with permeable but definitive boundaries that temporarily separate me from the mud in the garden. I am one with the Universe, one of billions, yet I must be unique. I’ve been assured that the hairs on my head are numbered. This is a particularly odd assurance, since I’m thinking the numbers change daily, hourly, with every bath, brush, or injection of chemicals meant to wipe out fast-growing cells in the body. And even if my hairs are numbered, I’d rather be known by other measures. Say, for instance, how many bags of leaves I’ve rerouted from the landfill, or the number of houses I’ve recycled. Or the number of BTUs I’ve saved by washing said hair in cold water.

I’m veering dangerously close to an appearance by God. No. No, I am not of more value than a whole flock of sparrows. I remember flocks of sparrows undulating in the summer sky. As if a giant housekeeper was standing a thousand feet high in the afternoon sun, shaking out a sparrow rug, the flick of her wrist sending the birds gliding in perfectly coordinated waves. And the lilies of the field? Give me a break. Alicia Keys and I have both stopped wearing make-up, but I’m not giving up my pajamas or down jackets any time soon.

Okay, God. Fine. Have a seat. Would you like the last of the coffee? A cookie? Do you realize when you stop by like this, I feel more alone than ever? Why, you wonder? Well, here’s why.

I live in here. In this particular body, fraught with imperfection and vulnerability. In this particular brain, with its wonderments, endless questions, faulty connections and short circuits, in this particular soul, with forces of compassion endlessly squaring off with forces of selfishness. I don’t know how long this will last, or what matters. To be honest, I’d like to think I matter, but I’m not convinced.

I watch God out of the corner of my eye, sipping lukewarm coffee, nodding. I watch God go molecular and melt into the atmosphere. I watch the atmosphere, thick with God, shimmering. I touch my own thin skin.

Last night, I fried up the last of the paltry potato crop, grown in the dark womb of the garden. I threw in onions and kale, from the same dirt, and I ate. Today, I am nourished, ready for action. From a certain distance, this all makes sense. Close up, I’m tentative, solitary. But if God is to be believed, hair or no hair, I am as dazzling as the nearest star.

Defiance

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“Look, God.” I shouted, earlier this morning. “I’m still standing,” which wasn’t quite true. More like leaning. But upright, both feet planted firmly on the imperfect kitchen floor. I gazed hungrily out the north window. Not much had changed since yesterday. River steady. Nothing of substance, nothing ethereal suggesting itself.

At eye level, the horizon is deceptively close and the terrain between here and there seems…ah seems….oh fuck, what’s the word I’m looking for? Passable, hikeable, doable? My vocabulary shrinks and coarsens as my synapses thicken and collapse under the weight of age. I’m becoming simple—far less complex than dirt.

I have a plan. It involves five larges stones placed so that rainfall will drain to the pond instead of the basement. God has more or less approved this plan. “Yes,” God said, looking things over. “It’s best to make gravity your friend. Defiance rarely works in the long run.”

But this is hard for me. I love the tingle of perennial youth. My inner vision suits up, ready to have a go at the burly outer images I see in the mirror, so tangible and sure of themselves. Inner youth against Outer reality. Game on.

Game over. The lights go out, the teams pack up their gear, and stunned, I run to the parking lot. “No,” I yell at the top of my lungs. “Come back. This isn’t over.” My inner vision limps as it boards the bus for home. Life is too damn short for all this Outer reality.

I glimpse my image in the calmer part of the river, my bones giving way to water. It’s clear I’ll be gone someday. I wonder how to break this news to God. I know God will miss me terribly, and I’m sad about that. It occurs to me that I will miss myself as well.

Three Pears

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Three pear-shaped candles line up, centered, on the long dining table this morning. They are stunningly simple. I bought them yesterday for 75 cents each at the Family Services thrift store in Billings, and they are beautiful. Perfect. I wasn’t looking for three pear-shaped candles, but there they were, in the bottom of a box still being sorted and shelved. I love shopping among the hand-me-down, cast-off excesses of our current culture. The stores are filled with rejected items that have learned a new, humble language. I speak rejection-redemption fluently. These pears found me, reached up through the plastic plates and chipped cups, and spoke quietly of their unique potential–their desire to live, one more time, in a place of recognition and service.

Now they sit centered in their own reflections on the shiny table, pastel shades of lemon yellow, barn red, and sage green. I offer thanks for the celestial river in which I float, letting the currents take me hither and yon. I’m especially grateful for the little tributary that took me to these pears yesterday. Less so for last evening, when I dumped back into the mainstream, watching a crime show that featured the agonizing torture of a female prison inmate.

The prison guard’s sadism, the cellmate’s betrayal. Too real. I wish I hadn’t watched. I know too many stories, too many real inmates, too many guards. I try to refocus on the pears. But the magic is gone.

“What?” I say, petulantly, to the open room. I stick my wounded thumb in my mouth, hoping the saliva will hasten the healing. I’m curled on the couch, growing a little agitated as I remember the awful drama.

“I speak rejection-redemption fluently, too,” replies the open room, also known as Allah, God, Creator, Author, Redeemer, Devi, Vishnu, Yahweh, maybe even Buddha. Right now, I prefer Open Room. I answer quickly. “Inmates aren’t pear-shaped candles. I do not, I repeat, do not, want them at my dining table.”

“Okay,” says Open Room. “Who’ll we invite instead?”

“Safe, nice, pretty people,” I say, mocking myself.

“Should they look like you?” Open Room asks, as if offering a compliment.

“You got it. And not too many, either. And not too often.”

“Okay,” says Open Room. “Your loss.”

Ah, that stings. I pull my thumb out of my mouth.

Open Room looks on sympathetically. My thumb is still ugly, but healing nicely from a recent power drill accident. We sit in the warmth of the fire, looking out the window at the day made crystal clear by the rain that fell all night.

Groin

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It was early morning, at my daughter’s apartment in the city. I hadn’t slept well thanks to the noises from below. “God,” I said, yawning. “Could you heal this damn groin stretch?” I put my hand there in case God wasn’t sure what I meant. No answer. No relief. No surge of warmth. No nothing. I gave up after a few supplications and clumsily rolled to my feet.

My back hurts and my groin is probably throwing my whole spine into disarray. I have a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, and an attitude.

“God,” I said, as I sipped my coffee. But what’s there to say? I’d hardly had any rest, and there’s a chance God’s a bit tired of my whining.

The guy in the apartment below vomited through the wee hours, heaving and swearing, heaving and swearing. Even now, I can hear him moaning and complaining. It might be the flu, but I think more likely, he drank too much.

How’s that for compassion?

A whole family lives down there, below grade, incessantly shouting and screaming at each other. Their babies whimper up through the floor boards. Hours before the vomiting began, I heard the dad reading “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” to the toddler. It was a creepy, manic rendition, punctuated by what sounded like the dad destroying the place by leaping illustratively on the furniture. The child’s laughter was forced, tentative, unsure. Was Daddy funny? By God, he better be.

Where are the missionaries when you need them? Or the cops? Within three blocks, there are at least five churches. Some majestic, others store-front humble, some declaring the Holy Spirit lives within the walls. Indeed. And the sirens sound all night. It’s that part of town. But down below, people have reproduced in selfish misery, sanctioned by the same biological urges that lead me to lift things I shouldn’t anymore. It is the same force that allows a seed to sprout through a crack in the pavement.

I’m not going down there. I’m not saying anything. Except, well, yes, I’ll mention them to the Universe, but only in passing. My more fervent prayer is that I not be reincarnated as one of those children. I doubt any of us actually hopes for cosmic justice.

Amidst my shameful mutterings, God slips in and hands me a Charades card. I turn it over; all it says is “Grace.” Grace. Ah ha! A motion-detector goes off in the dark thrashings of my soul, and I see clearly–just like the song says. It is, in fact, grace that brought me safe thus far. Me and my groin, my longings, my failings, fears, diseases, aversions, and befuddlements. And it’s grace that will lead me home. Eventually. Home.

But God is laughing in the corner. This startles me. I turn so we’re face to face. “You’re already home, darling,” God says, slapping a fat thigh, winking. “You’re already home.”

“No,” I say gently back to God. “No, I’m not.”

Paying the Bills

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Money isn’t an easy topic with God. On one hand, he’s rigid and highly opinionated, and on the other, he’s like “Oh, money. Whatever.”

But God had pulled up a chair and was watching me write checks. A few of them were to charities. Avoiding topics with God never works for long, so I might as well confess a few things. My relationship with money is convoluted. I like it but it scares me. I try to think of it all as a gift–a loan from the Universe, but the evidence provided by my warm house and my full stomach points to my own hard work, my own savings plans, my own bargain-hunting, my own birth, family, values, and choices.

I don’t have to go very far down the road to see people suffering from lack of money. Is this their own damn fault? Is this God’s own damn fault? Is this my own damn fault?

“God,” I say. “We’ve been over this a million times, but today…do you have anything to add? I knew he’d been riding along on my train of thought.

“Sure,” God says, cheerfully. “Which would make you more afraid. No money, or no God?”

My gut twists as I think about this. No money would stink. I’d be thrown on the mercy of others and that would be humiliating, at best. But no God would mean no loving, intelligent force behind, under, in, and around the known and unknown universe. That would stink worse. I imagine myself dying of hunger or exposure, in excruciating pain. I turn to the God I carry around—the God I believe in more or less, most of the time—and it’s good to have that imagined God beside me in my imagined poverty or pain.

“Ok. I’m more afraid of no God,” I say slowly, “But that doesn’t answer my question.” Even as I say this, I realize I don’t know what my question is exactly. Of course, God pounces on that.

“You don’t know what to ask because these are Living Questions, and you have to live the answers,” God said. He sounded like a tired professor. “In your species, there are no pure motives. This confuses you.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “You’re talking about consciousness, right? Paired off against biology. Do you have any idea what a pain that can be?”

God gave me a look, but I kept going.  “Are you sure we were ready for consciousness?” I asked, my heart heavy with the human condition. War, fake news, hunger, injustice, cruelty–the lying, stealing, hating, greedy ways humans can be.

“No,” God said. “I’m not sure. It’s been agonizing so far. But I have faith in you people. And no matter what, I’ll stick it out, alongside and within.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said, sarcastically.

“Don’t mention it,” God said, matching my sarcasm. “That’s just the kind of God I am.”

We were both upset. Me, a puny little human, trying to be honest. God, weary. Disappointed. Infinite.

“I’m sorry,” I said, looking at his slumped shoulders.

“Me too,” God said. “Me too.”

We sat a while, glad for each other’s company. Daunted by the magnitude of what we had to do.