To Tell The Truth

“Hello, God,” I said. “I’m glad to see you.”

“No, you’re not,” God said. “And besides, you can’t see me. You’re pretending again.”

“Ha,” I said. “I’m not pretending; I’m extraordinarily brave. I tell it like it is, and I see you as you are.”

“No,” God said, smiling. “To tell the truth, you see me as you are. Yes, in your timid sort of way, you’re brave. I’ll give you that. But at best, on a good day, you see a fraction.”

“Whatever,” I said. “Hide all you want. Bury yourself in round river rock. Roll to the sea and come back as rain. Write one of your names in the sky and erase it before anyone notices. I’m on to you, God.”

God threw back her head and laughed a belly laugh that turned into thunder that turned into earthquakes that turned into fire that burned the forest to ash, and yet…the hatching and birthing and sprouting continued in a clamorous flurry of all that might be and all that has always been. And nothing was essential. And nothing was missing except the deadly little part I was clinging to as if it could save me.

“Don’t look,” I said to God, as I tried to pry open the rusted metal box where I hide most of myself. “Nothing of interest here.” It opened a crack and I could see my inconsequential self looking back at me, pleading.

God stopped laughing and stared at her feet. She traced the grain in the wood floor with her toe. It was clear she had something difficult to say. I started crying. “It’s too late, isn’t it?” I sobbed. “I need one more life. Just one more. I’ll get it right next time, I promise.”

God shook her head solemnly and took my cold hand into her warm ones. We went to harvest the last of the carrots, me still sniffling, thinking my sorrow might generate a bit of sympathy. God, big and earthy. We dug for a while and then God paused, shovel in hand. “Lie down in the weeds and look up,” she said.

“I don’t want to,” I said, wiping my nose. “The ground is hard. The weeds have thorns, and we don’t have time for your nonsense. Winter’s coming.”

God held my gaze and sighed a long sigh that became a steady wind that became flying leaves that became fine dust. “That’s true,” she said, as she laid herself down between the rows. “Winter is coming.”

The Not God

The Not God stops by frequently and introduces herself as if we’re meeting for the first time. I play along. No need to upset her; she’s lonely and vicious. I offer the same cookies, coffee, beer, and fruit I offer Real God. The Not God refuses with a condescending comment about her restrictive diet. This makes me want to eat like a voracious pig, stuffing my mouth so full that crumbs fly like gnats every time I chew. I doubt many of us welcome visits from the Not God, but they happen. Shit happens. The Not God happens. I curl my hands into fists under the table, extending my middle finger. In my head, I sing “Eff you, Eeeeffff you, oh yeah, yeah, yeah.”

This helps.

But the Not God ignores social cues. She’s so full of Not Self, so sure of royal status, so human. She exists at Absolute Zero. Not fluid or spirit. Solid, jagged, arrogant, overjoyed by the apparent demise of all things bright and beautiful. In her spare time, she writes video games and mini-series with endless carnage, but her main source of income is discord sown generously in ground made fertile by fear and greed.

Her harvests are plentiful.

The Not God often stays the night, insisting on clean towels every morning. She’s working on a trilogy and uses our internet even if we aren’t home. She might be a bot. She might be Russian or Chinese. She has refused to fill out the census paperwork, won’t open the door, and screams at children who cross the lawn. Childhood is an irritation. Old age disgusts her. She wears expensive perfume.

She smells of death.

The Not God dresses up in fancy formulas, promises, and guarantees. The Not God baits and switches. The Not God has a lot of drunken orgies, discount sales, and prayer breakfasts. Give her a nod, she’ll take your head. Give her an inch, she’ll write you into the trilogy or turn you into an avatar that avenges her imagined slights. She assures you she’s the only one who knows you.

She lies.

The Not God wants to be God in the worst way. She longs to sit on the throne issuing commandments. The fantasy of judging the quick and the dead is orgasmic. Addicted to power, she preens in the mirror and carelessly exposes the dark places we try to cover. She has a lot of money. Quite a few guns. And millions of frightened followers that she plans to eat someday—from the inside out. But as Real God gently reminds her; that restrictive diet of hers makes a final feast unlikely.

Exceedingly unlikely.

Valentines

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God has been making fun of me lately, trying to get me to wrestle, insisting I lighten up. I resist because of this sense of impending injury. God doesn’t realize her own strength, and I tend to fight back, even if it’s all in fun. But is it ever all in fun? C’mon, God. Is it?

God pulls her tickle-fingers back and takes a deep breath, accidentally inhaling millions of locusts, eleven planets, and so much disgusting space debris that she sneezes. I grab a well-installed towel rack and hang on.

“Bless you,” I say automatically. What a stupid custom. No demons are going up anyone’s noses, especially God’s. But I say it and mean it for whatever that’s worth in this strange condition of being alive. And I am alive. Alive in sage green, burnt orange, and lavender paint spread over the chalky primer. Alive in the demolition and reconstruction of shelter. Alive like the probiotic bugs I’m sipping to recolonize my ravaged digestive track.

“Bless you again,” I say, as God’s second sneeze rattles the rafters. I add, “I’ve never really thought about you sneezing.” God rubs her nose and wipes her eyes. “Yeah, I’m allergic to some things you’d never guess,” she says. “And besides, you can’t think of everything. Want me to do a little thinking for you?” She grins.

“Oh no.” I say this in a very firm voice. “No. Absolutely not.” I figuratively wrap my arms around my brain and hold my hand up like a guard at a school crossing. “No.”

One thing I’m clear on is this: God’s thoughts are not my thoughts. God’s ways are not my ways. I prefer my own thoughts. Otherwise, what’s the point? God has grown Vulcan ears, and her eyebrows are thick and angular. “Mindmeld, anyone?” she says, clearly having way too much fun. “Oh my God!” I say, starting to laugh despite myself. “Could you just leave it alone?”

“It, or you?” God asks, and adds, “I can drop a subject as quick as anyone, so yes, I can leave it. But you? Sweetheart, you might think you’d like a little distance, but you can’t understand how bad that would be. So, you? Nope, I won’t be leaving you alone. Ever. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, but I’m God. I have certain prerogatives.”

My face is stony, but the glare is facetious. I just don’t feel like admitting my relief. Right now, a nap sounds good. “Excellent idea,” God agrees.

“Yes,” I say. “I’m glad I thought of it.” Then with exaggerated dignity, I crawl into her chest cavity, very near her broken heart, and fall asleep.

 

Just Get on the Bus, Gus

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Sometimes I’m enchanted by words as I type them, or I lose myself in the beauty of an orange-tipped brush meeting untouched canvas. At these moments, I’m a believer. In the act of creating, the creature knows the Original Source. In acts of compassion, we connect with the Lover. A grateful heart knows the author of joy.

Other times, blinded by the lightness of being, I try to provide my own inspiration. I’ve never known anyone quite like me. This is exhausting. The dark side of knowing grabs me by the throat, and the day clangs and rattles with loose bolts, bad connections– bone on bone. The cartilage of interdependence wears away, and my brain takes false readings that assure me I’m alone. I endure the subdivisions of the infighting self, snarling like a caged lion. Dangerous.

All options are on the table. Fangs and claws, bitter deterioration. Acceptance. Inclusion. Rejection. Isolation. Hermitage or solitary confinement. Impotence or celibacy. Fasting or starving. Just when I think I have it all figured out, I paint something the wrong shade of red or find a dead mouse in the pantry, and I’m reduced to elemental forces, poisonous gases, rust and mold, birds who sing too early and too long.

At the crack of this kind of dawn, I believe that I’ve survived a list of daunting adversities, but by evening, it will be clear that I’ve survived nothing. Nothing is ever over; nothing lets go. It all comes along. I ride through life in a repurposed bus that boards passengers to the point of bursting, but no one gets off. We circle the city. Parts of me hang out the doors and windows, fighting for air, looking for a savior. I wave like I’m in a parade–a clever disguise. Will I be discovered in time?

If the answer was simple, I’d share it. I’d own it. But there’s no such thing. The unifying force of the Universe, the Cosmos, the Beyond, the Forever, is a Question with beautiful baby answers that sparkle in the sun as they evaporate. I’ve already been discovered, and I will never be discovered. I’m known but will never be known. The extent of my unloveliness is the extent of my belovedness. And my enemies? I see now they’ve been painted the wrong shade of red.

Your mama told you there’d be days like this

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In the southeast corner of my life there’s a perfect circle of stone visible to anyone uphill or airborne. The northern boundary is an entirely different story. It’s a river that shapeshifts with the seasons. Water washes over the fallen cottonwood, gouges the mountain, and settles in deadly eddies.

Today, it is all too much, and paradoxically, nothing is ever enough. Not God, not people, not earth, not sky. The small and large injustices plaguing me have metastasized and lit the landscape with a cold, blue fire.

Some small part of me lives in fear. Lives in fear. Lives in fear. I’d like to kill off that part and live with more grace. That part would like to kill me off and reign as a vicious sovereign. Usually, I keep her underground and undernourished. Today, I am sorely tempted to throw her red meat. Why not? The world is awash in sovereigns eating red meat. I myself am mostly red meat.

God is a stretch of long gray sky, atmospherically unstable. Dead in the way of winter. The first signs of spring arrive from the grave—weeds, spiders, mud, and hunger. Mating rituals begin. Some will die showing off their antlers or plumage. Some will be passed over and never bear fruit. So what? That’s what I say. So what?

The gardener has turned the soil. The physician has opened a vein. The old woman is wearing her apron. The migrant has crossed the border. A child has been born. They are all doomed with the dignity of temporary flesh, but as they hold hands, as the world turns, as the rivers flow, as rocks hold firm, as the ozone shreds, as the species evolve, as fatal floods fertilize and recede, a certain and tragic joy remains. I want none of it.

For now I will stubbornly inhabit the illusion of autonomy. God has agreed to stay west of here, busily mixing the colors that will mark the setting of this particular sun. “Thank you,” I murmur, aware of the costs of such holy self-restraint. God nods.

No one goes it alone, but glittering fools pretend otherwise, and sometimes, I join them, peering at the world through my homemade periscope. With carefully-placed mirrors, you can create endless images of the same thing.

Random and Small Redemptions

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Lately, I’ve been having the weirdest experiences ever. I call them God, but they freak me out. Little serendipities. Parallel visions of fire. Random and small redemptions. Good things happen. Are they God? Bad things happen. Are they God? Can you pray yourself into an astounding win? Can you pray yourself out of a fatal car wreck? No wonder people yank God down into manageable formulas and comforting, though wildly implausible, explanations. Believing into an open, infinite God is hard.

“Oh baby,” God interjected. “I so hope you’ll grow up a bit more before you die.”

“So do I… And how would that happen exactly?” I said, somewhat sincerely. And then things came completely apart. The chains fell. Static and then silence. The call dropped. The line went dead. The station went off the air. The grid went down. My familiar body was suddenly defined by subzero isolation, white noise, and emptiness turning in on itself. Eternal nothingness. No self. No one.

“Can you hear me now?” God whispered. The words froze in the air and shattered. I forced my fists to splay into fingers and asked my bones if they still were there. The familiar rattle reassured me. I inhaled, filled what I assumed were my lungs, fell backward into oblivion, and flailed until I’d created an imperfect angel. Then I burrowed home on hands and knees, knowing the way instinctively.

“You crack me up,” God said as I emerged from my self-inflicted plummet.

I struggled for footing in a nonexistent present. “And obviously, you crack me up. But not in a good way,” I mumbled through unfamiliar lips.

“Emptiness is a good way,” God said. “Think about it. The fullness of time is the end of time.”

We sat for a while, breathing shared and splendid air. “Sometimes, I dream I’m weightless,” I said. “And I can fly.”

“Yes,” God said.

“And I can see forever and hear every beautiful sound ever made,” I said, lying.

“Nice try,” God said. “That’s not the kind of growth I was hoping for.”

“I know,” I said. “But you like it when I crack you up.”

“True,” God said. “There’s that. And I guess you realize you can’t really lie to me.”

“Yeah” I said. “But you let people lie all the time. I hate that. You don’t swoop in, smite them, or even clear things up.”

“True,” God said. “I just wait.”

“Okay,” I said. I’d had enough sparring for a while. “I’ll wait with you.”

“Promise?” God said, with a resigned, lonesome look.

The question didn’t surprise me, but my answer made me incredibly sad. “You know I can’t.”

God’s head dropped. I knew he was crying. I took him in my arms and said gently but firmly, “I can’t promise you anything, God. But I’ll try. I’ll really try.”