Up to you

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“Up to you,” God said. This is a lonely answer.

My hot bath had steamed the bathroom mirrors. I was brushing my teeth, contemplating all the irritating, confusing choices humans face. Which main dish to order, which shirt to buy, which route to take, which career to pursue, which allegiances to pledge, which weapons to use, which sacrifices to make, which people to love–how much to eat, when to arrive, when to leave, when to support, when to withhold, when to sing and when to scream–the choice of what to believe, who to trust. Even not choosing is choosing. There’s no way out.

“I know you have opinions,” I said. “Why can’t you be more open about them? Why can’t you be more helpful?”

God snorted.

“I take that to mean I’m supposed to know already,” I said. Like a tired professor, God wrote the words justice, mercy, and humility in the steam on the mirror. “Oh, sure,” I said. “Thanks, Mr. Subtle. I think you left out truth and compassion. Maybe I need a bigger mirror.”

I thought I was being funny. God didn’t laugh.

“You know,” I continued. “Lots of choices are made with no regard for you, one way or the other. You’re a pawn—a lousy excuse or nothing. You’ve tragically over-estimated our capacities. And now? What are you doing? We’re in so much trouble.”

God crossed his arms. Uncrossed his arms. Looked at me. His gaze was steady. I could see through his planetary eyes to the end of creation and back, the path swirling and surging with deceptively simple equations. He was everything. He was nothing. He was of a purity I could not comprehend. He opened his hands, and a thousand knives clattered to the floor. He was bleeding profusely.

“God!” I gasped. It looked like he might lose consciousness. I tried to cushion his fall. I shook him and said, “God. Hang on. Hang on, buddy. Do you hear me? Stay with me, God. Stay with me.”

I shouted for help. There was no one to call 911. There are no ambulances equipped to deal with a hemorrhaging universe and a broken-hearted God. The child at the border, dead. The old woman starving in Syria. The tender earth split open and gutted. God’s creatures eating plastic, God’s body bleeding out. God’s face in my hands.

“This is too hard,” I sobbed, filled with fear and self-pity. “You know it’s too hard.” I started to lay down beside him on the cold tile floor, to give up, to wait for the end in the waning warmth of a dying God. But he was gone.

I opened my inner eyes, still afraid, but the tiniest bit hopeful. Far, far away, I could see him walking with great deliberation in the garden. Small birds were closing his wounds, and color was returning to his cheeks. I knew I was invited. And I knew it was up to me.

 

God Dead in Yemen

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(Photo from Reuters News)

I had an appointment with God, set up for 9:30. She no-showed. I called to remind her, but got no answer. Three times, I called. Finally, a sleepy voice explained that  appointments with God are not a sure thing. God’s calendar isn’t set in stone. The voice suggested that I could either make another appointment, or open my eyes. Neither sounded like a good solution, so I turned on the news, sat back, and drank beer. The news was a mistake. And possibly, the beer.

In Yemen, for instance, I watched as my Big God became a little bag of bones before he died into himself. Bird legs twitching in the nurse’s arms, torso etched with ribs, beyond hunger, his eyes glazed over and he was gone. Out beyond where I can reach, he walked through the thin veil, fell, and died. I know the place where they’ve taken him. And like it or not, we will meet there someday.

The Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.”

But I’m not in a Rumi mood. I’m in a throw things kick things fuck it damn it shit storm fury at myself and all my fellow human-fucking-beings who cannot seem to get it together enough to make sure children are fed and safe. And yes, you too, you No-showing, Big-eyed God, Big hungry God, Big creator, Big sufferer, Big idea. How many miserable, awful, torturous deaths are you going to attend before you call this whole thing off?  Were you too busy dying of starvation to stop by? You in them, you in me, them in me. I, who have never known hunger, cannot look away.

God, wherever you are, I would like to remind you how insignificant and helpless I am. How sarcastic and selfish, how thwarted and inhibited. I’m tired, too. And disgusted. Thoroughly disgusted. Rich people make me sick. They make you sick too, don’t they? Well, not all of them. But why isn’t it enough that we’re trying? Can’t you help out a little? Or a little more? Flowers are nice. Food is better.

Finally, God seeps under the door. “About time,” I shout. But she’s wounded.

“Water,” she whispers. I run for a glass, and hold it to her lips. She drinks gratefully, and falls asleep in my arms. The wounds are superficial, but the blood is thick and red. She is so thin. So very, very thin.

Her eyes slip open. “We’re more alike than you think,” she says before drifting back to sleep. I want to protest, or deny it outright,  but I know she’s right. And this is not good news for either of us.

A Smidgen of Atheism

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“Here’s something funny to think about,” God said, lounging on the motel bed in Bozeman, shedding innocent dark skin on the bleached sheets. “Short bursts of exercise are good for aging muscles, and short bursts of atheism are good for the soul.”

The previous occupants of this room had left the alarm set. It went off early, an unpleasant throbbing tone, and I was not in a good mood. I was tired. My mind didn’t want to think. My body didn’t want to move.

“Why do you come by like this?” I asked, unwilling to consider anything but my irritation.

God sat up, beautifully naked. She draped herself loosely in the manicured landscaping outside the window, and quoted Ayn Rand. “That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call “free will” is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character.”

God stressed the words “your mind’s freedom to think or not”

I put a pillow over my head and curled fetal under the covers. God must have read Martina’s blog. I’ve been worried about the state of humanity, and human consciousness for a long time. Are we more than our genes? Is anything our fault, or is it all our fault? I blame God for this confusion. Maybe we’ve evolved too fast. We seem to have stopped thinking. We seem to be arrested, elevating comfort over compassion, allowing simple confusion to muddy the clear waters of the complicated truth. Endorsing selfishness as holy.

I pulled the pillow tighter, but it disintegrated. The flimsy walls fell, and children from Venezuela, Syria, Arizona and Maine, children from concentration camps, war zones, and desperate homes, traded, displaced, abused, malnourished, and frightened–they crawled into bed with me. They should’ve at least bounced and played, but they were too hungry. Too broken. Too angry. They found my left-over Indian food in the wasteful individual refrigerator and smeared me with it. It burned my flesh. I screamed for mercy, for healing. I pleaded with the universe for food and shelter, sanity, wisdom, consciousness, humility, and an end to human greed. Or at least insight into my own.

There’s got to be something, I said to myself, frantic. Something I can do.

I felt as though I was going mad. The small gestures I imagined fell into a black pit of irrelevance. Too little, too late. The children grew quiet and sat with me.

God looked on. And on. The meticulously-planted flowers continued to bloom.

 

 

Allah’s Will

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Some people wear tight underwear on purpose. It doesn’t slide around as much, and certain appendages are less likely to droop, sway, wobble, or escape. But through the eons, God, the amazing artist has tinkered with the cosmos, including the design of the human body, so maybe it’s just the way it’s supposed to be for now. Therefore, are bodily interferences and management strategies a violation of God’s will? Like tight underwear? Or sexy underwear, or decidedly unsexy underwear? Or underwear itself? If those ancient Jewish authors got it right, Yahweh wasn’t all that impressed with fig leaves.

My mind wanders to tattoos and piercing. Spandex and Lasik. Obesity and anorexia. Facelifts and Viagra. To the death penalty and compassionate assistance when someone is ready to die. Birth control and abortion. Driving while tired, jogging in smog. Bikinis and burkas. Stents and suppositories. Aren’t we humans something else? We replace hips, drug ourselves silly, elevate or depress our moods, and bleach our teeth to neon white. We can prolong “life” with machines, almost indefinitely. Who’s to say how much fussing, prolonging, shortening, fattening, thinning, covering or uncovering is God’s will?

Our lives and bodies are gifts. I close my eyes, cross my legs, focus on breathing, and ask the Giver about gift management. The Giver wraps her arms around her enormous belly and winks. She’s always available, but always giving birth. I tiptoe around and watch.

I open my eyes and see the branches of the plum tree swaying under the weight of a scolding blackbird. Gifts. I see the onions and the peas growing. I see the river roaring by. Gifts. I know I need to pull weeds and water the garden. Gifts that need my attention. Gifts that I treasure or neglect.

It occurs to me that once I’ve given my beloved a gift, it’s his–to use or not use. To paint, hang, feed, cover or uncover, play with, give away, store, or use up. I might be sad if he doesn’t say thanks, or doesn’t like the gift, but I do not take it back or control it. That would be incredibly rude.

And as I deepen into this inquiry, it occurs to me that I, myself, have given birth. Twice. And after it was given, I worked hard to give these new lives what they needed to survive, and what they needed to gradually assume the autonomy that distinguishes human life.

I know the river, gift that it is, could kill me without a second glance if I just waded in right now. I won’t be wading in anytime soon. My life is mine. Other people’s lives are theirs. My body is mine. Other people’s bodies are theirs. Gifts. I decorate, doodle, abuse, and elevate. I stretch, exercise, and pamper. I overeat, undereat, and forget to hydrate. I imbibe in limited quantities of dark beer.

Someday, I will die. I may have a say in how and when. I may not. We live, temporarily, in a risky universe, and then we move on. That’s how it is. That’s how it should be. The Giver takes a minute, between contractions, to squeeze my hand. The beauty of being breaks my heart. She understands, and makes room for me in her bed. The thunder is deafening, but I no longer need to hear.

Click Bait

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God came roaring up in his 4-wheel drive pick-up, skidded to a halt, slammed the door, and stomped up my newly-poured sidewalk. His hair was on fire. He scorched the lower branches of the chokecherry bushes before he flung open the front door. “Who d’ya think you are, you worthless pieceashit?” he shouted. “Your writing sucks. You can’t speak for me. I’m the Supreme Being. King. Ruler. God Almighty. I speak for My Self. You need to shut your damn trap.”

Something was deeply untrue. My throat tightened, but my disbelief saved me.

“Wrong turn,” I said.

“Like hell,” he yelled, coming for my throat.

I stood my ground, looked him in the eye, and said “Fake news.”

He screamed and writhed like the wicked witch, diluted to shadow.

“How’d you know? How’d you know?” He squealed a dramatic piggy squeal as he sank to the bottom of the inky nastiness at my feet.

I couldn’t explain how I knew any more than I could explain my aching stomach and pounding head. It hurt. Everything hurt. Lies and dark money. Hatred. Malignant neglect. Greed. Ignorance. Threats. Vicious attacks. Click bait. Click bait. Death bait. Hate bait. I named it. I stood with the wounded. I refused to strike back. That hurt too.

“Good work,” the real God whispered. I nodded in complete agreement. It was good work. Hard work. I could see that God had taken the brunt of the hit. She was still a little bent over.

“Why, oh why do you bother with us?” I asked, only half-sincere. “And where do you get the patience?”

“I can’t answer that, honey,” God said. “But you’ll know someday.” She was tired, but there was still a warm light in her eyes.

“Well, forgive me,” I said. “But I seriously doubt it.”

“Doubt’s good,” she said. “Compassion’s better.” Then she drifted to the porch, to my treasured collection of petrified wood. She chose one of my favorite pieces, ate it, and settled down among the beautiful fossils to rest.

“Nooooo,” I wailed. “Not that one. Not there.” But it was too late. She was gone.

Oh, I how I hate being human sometimes, swirling around in our ugly soup, hope against hope, kin against kin. We keep extracting, gorging, and making weapons. How are we going to fix this mess? Compassion hardly gets any clicks at all.

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.