Interruptions

“Have you noticed how often you interrupt me?” God asks, annoyed.

My verbal output may have been somewhat one-sided, driven by holiday agitation. I was holding forth about the ways of the world, all things irritating or ignorant, the costs of blind faith, and how positive and upbeat I think others should be. Including God.

“Sorry,” I say. “Go ahead. I’ll try to listen better.”

“Never mind,” God says. “I forgot what I was going to say anyway.”

Unlikely, I think to myself. How could the Living Word forget what she was going to say? But I sit politely as if I believe her, and she sits politely as if she’s not upset. As if she’s not reading my thoughts. As if people in the Ukraine aren’t very, very cold right now. As if people in my own community aren’t planning how to cheat on taxes and take more than their share. As if goodness and honesty and peace might have a chance.

Managing ourselves, three dogs, and four piglets in subzero weather has made everyone snippy. When it’s this cold, all manner of things can go wrong. Yes, I regularly interrupt God and the natural order, but isn’t that the human story? Most of us don’t want to die of exposure, physical or otherwise. We burn fossil fuels and hide among falsehoods and fairytales.

I follow God’s gaze to one of my many disorganized bookshelves. It’s a motley rainbow of words in shiny covers. I love books. I would get up and touch them, but I don’t want to spoil God’s revery. It’s obvious she finds comfort in the books, the words, the great and mighty abstractions contained in those bound and precious editions. I’m glad we have this in common.

“Do you ever interrupt yourself?” I ask God after our shared silence has run its course.

“Oh, yes,” she nods with a sad look. “Many times. It’s always tragic.”

She turns her hands palms up, stares at the scars, and like George Harrison’s guitar, she begins to gently weep. This always makes me cry.

She looks straight at me, wipes away the tears, and drops us into a bittersweet world where true words are like heirloom seeds; planted and watered, converting light to something verdant, innocent, and delicious. No comforting myths. No lies. No interruptions.

I know we cannot stay, but I give thanks before we return to the inescapable veracity of dogs, pigs, and fire. Mulled wine. Good cheer. In the chaos of Christmas, God and I make eye contact, and despite the contradictions, we vow to be respectfully conversant with this fragmented, freezing world.

Still Life

There are two granny smith apples in the basket, slightly bruised and aging out. 
The thought of eating one sets my teeth on edge. I don’t know why I buy them.
It’s a repeating pattern with me and fruit. I have unfettered access 
and there’s room in my cart, but is that reason enough? 

I sit with the ethereal miracle of vibrant green, tangerine, and sweet potato 
in the loosely woven wicker that holds things together for now.
Minutes and hours fall from the heavy sky. I keep watch, 
and in my own way, I pray.

There’s tea steeping and a bag of chips open in case God comes by. 
She likes the salt. I like the company. I try to be accepting, 
not greedy, not demanding, not intrusive, not filled 
with expectations. Just quiet and receptive.
But it sucks. It’s harder than winter.

The God small in each of us is to blame for tart apples and the long seasons 
of discontent. We are unskilled at listening, even less skilled at loving. 
I hear God in the hallway, dragging something behind her walker.
It must be laundry day.

Well, I can’t wait forever. I have errands and obligations. 
I understand how the self-important God of billions 
might ignore me now and then, but the laundry lady?
When God embodies thus, the roles reverse. 
She’ll ask me for quarters and for help
folding her flannel sheets.

Fittings and Flushing

At 5:53 this morning, I was chanting fittings and flushing over and over because the new toilet seems to be malfunctioning which I must investigate so it can be returned within the grace period if need be. And I need to call the plumbing fittings store because I’m in the market for a new pressure tank.

I do not allow myself to get out of bed until 6 a.m., so given my distractibility, if I wake early and think of things, I recite them until I’m up and can write them on a list.

This discourages God. The holy art of being chill eludes me even though, as God has pointed out for decades, fretting at dawn does not necessarily enhance the chances of a good day.

But today, the chanting paid off. By 9 o’clock I had called the fittings store; the size of pressure tank we need will have to be ordered, not just picked up. And I’d flushed enough to realize the flapper chain was too short. An easy fix.

Next, there’s the broken screen door handle. And powdery mildew is taking over the garden, and right at this moment, a wasp is buzzing around in the living room. Even though we usually have five or six swatters available, I can’t find a single one.

But I do find God, standing motionless in Mountain Pose on the porch.

“Hello, God,” I say. “What’re you doing out here?”

“Considering autumn. Funerals. Firewood. Frost. Harvest.”

“Want me to memorize a list for you?” I ask facetiously.

“No.”

God picks up one of the onions drying in the sun. She peels away dirt-encrusted layers until she reaches the moist, succulent flesh and releases the pungent signature of onion. “This will take care of it.”

Only God can do this with an onion. She had summer mark this tragic year with three gargantuan pumpkins, renegade tomato plants, and cauliflower heads, white as snow, which we’d forgotten were there.

Spring is one of my worst distractions. We always overplant, but this will change.

Nothing stays the same. Nothing lasts. To know this is a burden and a blessing.

Between impermanence and consciousness are caves and canyons worn by water, made beautiful by clay, resisting, yielding, and resisting again.

Letting go.

Hanging on.

And letting go again.

That tasty cauliflower grew to fruition unnoticed, but the gigantic, neon pumpkins are entirely obvious, frantically ripening a raucous orange on frost-damaged vines. God and I are cheering them on–God perched comfortably on the pinnacle of forever; me, less centered, patting the pumpkin’s belly, dreading the coming winter, but imagining pie.

Existential Angst

The explanation could be as simple as caffeine. Or scoldings by Ms. Manners. Or a niggling Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder whispering reminders of my failings and violations of the common good. I don’t know, but I can’t seem to get rid of the angst and sense of urgency that rob me of the peaceful existence I deserve. Something or someone is out to get me. I share the paranoia of my era. The exaggerated, anxiety-producing avoidance of death.

My father died nine days short of my 20th birthday. He exited life as I was exiting the teens. He was 44. Somehow, my grief-demolished mother hosted a random set of grandparents for a bleak commemoration of the day I was born. She made roast beef, potatoes, and a cake. It was a dark, dark birthday. I don’t know how we managed to swallow.

“But you did,” God says, joining me gently as I sit with memories flooding by on either side. “Your mother was as brave as anyone I’ve known, but I had to attend that party disguised and uninvited. She was done with me, and I don’t blame her.”

“I didn’t even know you were there!” I exclaim. “I brought a different god. He spewed platitudes and mumbled lies about God’s will and imminent resurrections and such. It was awful. Why didn’t you shut him up?”

“All in good time,” God says, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m not apologizing or defending myself, but there are days I just cry my eyes out.”

I put my arms around God while she sobs as if the loss were yesterday. And for God, it was. And is. And ever shall be. I cannot think of what to do. We are all baffled kings composing hallelujahs. Overthrown by instinct and libido, lust and love. Endless birthing. Endless dying.

“I never intend to fool or frighten anyone,” she says, taking deep ragged breaths to calm herself.

“I know, Sweetheart,” I say. I run my fingers through her unruly hair. “But we judge and fool and frighten ourselves. We can’t help it. The contradictions and losses are too much.” God slowly slips out of my embrace. She moves to the outer edges of the known, opens her thousand wings, and disappears. Behind her the path is littered with breadcrumbs, a trail of her broken self. As I follow, all things extraneous fall away, and I am slightly less afraid.

Who’s to Say What Starlight Might Do to the Skin?

Yesterday, I was looking for something in one of our outbuildings but within seconds, I’d forgotten what I was looking for. Our sheds reverberate with such potential that I can’t go in and come back out the same person. Touching the chaos causes a quickening; stacks of windows become greenhouse walls; slightly-damaged doors open to somewhere nice; a child pounds joyously on the drum set; strewn with straw, the stall in the corner protects a menagerie awaiting the ark; futons offer rest (or shelving); saw blades are sharpened; the woodstove is hooked up so I can cook in an emergency; empty frames and canvases are masterpieces hung in a gallery where antiques are tastefully displayed, and the scraps of angular metal have been welded into wings.

Our buildings are all named: Yoga Studio, Bug Barn, Playhouse, Solar Shed, Old Garage, Eva House, Lean-to, River Cabin, and of course, the decrepit and dangerous Contemplation Corner. The names reflect aspirations, not content. The structures are salvage yards and sanctuaries filled with failures awaiting transformation.

“God,” I said. “Proportionally, I bet I have as much broken and discarded stuff as you do.”

“Well, hello there, Junior,” God drawled. He’d materialized beside a flat-tired trailer, chewing a blade of grass with studied nonchalance. His thumbs were hooked on the pockets of dirty overalls. “That’s not exactly what I’d call news.”

“Could you get any more stereotypic?” I asked. God shrugged and faded. I squinted into the neon orange sunset and began walking home.

I am chronically derailed by the allure of what could be, and I blame God for this. It takes resources and patience to repurpose the wrongheaded or rejected. There are days I long for everything to burn to the ground; for fire to devour the bulging collections of oddities and unlikely visions; for extreme heat to purify my remaining days.

“Tidiness does not ensure wisdom,” God said, in the voice of a patient teacher. She was resting in a rainbow-colored hammock hung between two thorny crabapple trees. “I found this hammock under a pile of flat soccer balls,” she added. “I like it.” She was wearing a sundress from the ragbag and had tipped one of my straw hats over her face.

“It’s getting dark,” I said to the spectacle that was God. “You may not need that hat.”

 “Maybe,” she agreed, throwing one unprotected, delicate arm over her head. “But who’s to say what starlight might do to the skin?”  I knew she was making fun of me.

“You’re right,” I said, offering her a sweater. “Who’s to say what starlight might do to the skin?”

There Will Come a Day

When I got out my vitamin organizer to take my supplements this morning, today’s cubby was empty. I must have dipped in twice yesterday. No wonder I feel overwrought; too much B-complex and an overdose of magnesium may account for my anxious dream last night wherein Barack Obama helped me bandage the finger I cut making his family a salad. I don’t like forgetting, and I don’t like anxious dreams.

But dream we must. Forget we must.  Decline we must. Die we must. There will come a day when the puppy digging in the compost right now is an old, grey-faced mutt, and there will come a morning when no matter how watchful I am, I won’t glimpse my sister, half-crazed on her 4-wheeler, chasing down a skunk with her shotgun.

“Sorry I’m late,” God says as she rushes in. “You’ve rearranged your writing space. I like it.”

“Oh, hi God,” I say. “Coffee?”

God holds up her hand. “No, thanks. I had a cup with your neighbor, and I’m going to treat myself to a latte later. Still catching up on the fiascos of Easter/Passover/Ramadan. And Ukraine…” Her voice cracks.

“Hmmm,” I say. “Want some vitamins or something?”

God smiles and leans forward. “You know I’m not vengeful, right?” I nod and wait. “And you know I don’t play favorites, right?” I nod again, wishing I could be an exception. “And you know branches will always grow toward the sun and move gracefully in the wind, and things you drop will fall toward the center, right?”

I nod a third time suddenly feeling quite sad. “And where do the things you drop go?” I ask in a quiet voice, turning my face away. But God sees my eyes welling up anyway. She makes a fist of her giant hand and thumps herself hard in the chest. “Right here,” she says, and hits herself again. “Right here.”

When I sleep, I shroud the windows in purple velvet drapes. It occurs to me that I’d like my body wrapped in these before it is laid to rest in the garden. “Sounds like a good plan,” God says, voice fading. “I like purple.”

I have the intention of wiping my eyes and nodding again, but neither are possible because I have dissipated into the moment. The drapes are sun-streaked, dusty, and elegant. Granted, it may be an idiosyncratic or imagined elegance, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is the gravity-defying blackbird perched on the top branch of the wind-whipped cottonwood.

Bruised

God and I were sitting in our pajamas near a nice fire, watching the sky, hoping the storm wouldn’t bring the cold temperatures predicted. Hoping the planet would somehow survive the ravages of greed. I was examining an ugly bruise on my forearm. Essentially, bruises occur when capillaries near the surface break and spill blood. Thin skin increases the risk.

Thousands of years ago, a prophet wrote that God wouldn’t take advantage of a bruised reed. There was no mention of bruised arms, egos, or disintegrating hips, but why would this assertion be necessary? What kind of God would go around beating up injured, weakened people, or break an already bruised reed?

“Um, God,” I say, “What’s your point with that whole bruised reed thing?”

God’s full attention swings toward me, a lumbering presence, a set of boots. I pull my sleeve down to cover the purple blotch. A tiny fraction of God’s focus is enough to end life as we know it, but I risk such things because in the end, it doesn’t matter. We’re sitting on a second-hand couch. I don’t care if it gets scorched.

“Why do you ask?” God says, warm breath laced with lavender and the allure of summer.

“Nice move,” I mumble and shift my gaze to the sparrows landing on the icy fence. As most four-year-olds know, Why? has no final answer. Asking why is a way to prolong the conversation, to shift the burden back.

I turn again to the God on my couch. “I ask because…” I am inundated with unwelcome insights. I hate bruised reeds. If I were God, I’d make a bonfire out of those damned reeds. How is it possible to walk alongside the bruising and the bruised? I don’t like wounded healers, and I don’t want to be one.

We sit. The wind is picking up, the chill becoming dangerous.

The ancient gaze of God is kind. “You love what you think is whole and beautiful because your vision is shallow.”

I close my eyes.

The primordial voice of God is gentle. “You love stories with endings because the untold threatens your sense of control.”

I cover my ears.

The wounded hand of God is warm as it hovers over mine. “You love stones because the bruises don’t show.”

I open one eye.

It’s not a single hand but a thousand; mottled, thick veined, and open. I choose one, entwine our fingers, and wait. God willing, the frozen ground will eventually soften toward spring when both planting and burying will be easier.  “Oh, we’re willing,” God says as the sky dumps snow. “But are you?”

Lies

Sometimes, like right now, mocking, sarcastic words get in my head, and I write them down and imagine going viral. But then I hit delete hoping to be left wordless and alone. Words are the vehicle of vanity, triviality, and lies. There has to be something true beyond words.

In daydreams, I stare steadily into the eyes of the current Russian dictator, our own recent dictator-in-waiting, Brazil’s and Britain’s buffoons; I imagine having the depth of soul to crack their stony defenses and open some tiny pocket of humanity and compassion inside them. Their grotesque, malignant egos melt away and flocks of bluebirds and goldfinches are freed from within, winging their way to freedom. Cue: Julie Andrews singing “The Hills are Alive…”

O.K., I’ll admit it. What I actually imagine is vultures pecking their eyes out while I hold them frozen in place with a magic spell. Then I smash their skulls on rocks. I… There’s a disturbance to my left. I hold up my hand. “Not now,” I say, turning to God, who always stops by midsentence. “I’m on a confessional roll.”

“You certainly are,” God says, as she multiplies and divides. She’s heavy with child. With children. She’s heavy with hope and courage. She’s heavy with bombs. She’s swallowed the detonators; the bombs will explode, and today, like every single day on this blessed earth, she will die a hundred thousand deaths. And in this fragmented, impossible way, God, too, will go viral.

“Come with me,” God says. I back up, shaking my head.

“Where?” I ask. “Nirvana? The life I deserve next? The cross? The front lines? The back alleys?  The grave?”

“Yes,” God says. “Come.”

I take a reluctant step. Then another. It’s rocky terrain. I stumble. I get up and examine my scrapes and bruises. I hurry toward the fleeting purple robe in my pointy shoes. The bridge across the icy stream has been destroyed. I try to leap across, but I slip and fall in. I think I’ve sprained my ankle. I’m wet, cold, hungry, disabled, lost, afraid, and angry. I’m a refugee, hunted prey, weakened by age and a soft life. “Stop!” I shout at God. “You’ve made your point.”

“I did?” God asks, in disbelief. “I wasn’t aware I had a point.”

“Not funny,” I say, rubbing my frozen hands together.

“Agreed,” God says. “Not funny.”

Outsourcing

People who insist on naming God after themselves irritate me. Same goes for people who display religious icons, symbols, carvings, or statues. Wise writers far before my time called these “graven images” (not a compliment) and indicated Yahweh (not their real name) isn’t thrilled with the idea of being portrayed in such limited, distorted ways. We invent names we can pronounce and create images we can use for signaling, comfort, or torture. The names and images come with suggested donations and membership guarantees. The in-crowd will be safe. The out-crowd will go to hell.

For convenience, I call this massive, creative, omnipotent bundle of compassion, wisdom, and potentiality “God.” Short, crisp, easy to spell. But wildly inaccurate, right God?

God slides into view, a pile of sticks, a taste of tea, an imagined joke, a yoga stretch, safety. An act of kindness, vivid forest green washing through a dream that would otherwise be drab. God isn’t shy or without preferences, but neither is God insistent. I wait.

“Ocean,” God says. “Egg of magpie. Eye of newt. Opposable thumbs. Lace. Elephants. Lilies. Those who are heavy-laden. Microscope, telescope, telltale stains on a well-worn soul. Yellow. Something gleaming on the far horizon. Mercy. Hallucinations, hallelujahs, hallways leading nowhere. Everywhere.”

“Stop!” I yell. “What in the world do you mean?

God laughs. “Not sure what you mean by “world.” Remember that just beyond your definitions, a little part of me is waiting for you. But no hurry. We have forever.”

“Blue,” I said. “Warm quilts, icy beer. Old friends. Leg of lamb, bark of dog, things that frighten me. Death. Justice. Slow arrivals. Snow falling innocent and pure. The brave song of a single child. A cracked bell ringing.” I stop and wink. “Am I getting the hang of it?”

God loves to play, but sometimes the rules of the game are hazy. The fire crackles and converts the dead apple tree to gas and soot. The temperature rises. A tiny fraction of feather escapes from a small tear in my down vest and floats on currents invisible to my naked eye. It appears to defy gravity in favor of other forces as it floats here and there. Or maybe it isn’t defiance. Maybe it’s a complex expression of faith: gravity, warm air, cool air, breath, the earth circling a star we’ve named the sun.

The wisp of feather finally settles, God fades, and I know that someday I will be free and undefined. But for now, I make up rules that suit me and name things that actually have no name.

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.”