In Praise of the Human Way

Stubbed my toe this morning because I left the light off thinking I’d reduce my carbon footprint by groping my way through a dark place. If I’d been more mindful the plan might’ve worked. My toe paid the price. The capacity to learn from our mistakes is a human phenomenon that squares off with denial–a constant horse race; the outcome undecided.

“Why?” I ask God as I run my fingers over the rough surface of a threatening sky and remember my overfilled barns. I have long splinters festering with resentment. The rain advances and recedes. I live in the eye of my own perfect storm, held together with frayed orange twine.

“Pain is not the best instructor, ” God says, looking slightly impatient. “You don’t have to hurt yourself to get things done.”

“Oh, but I do,” I counter with righteous indignation. “Isn’t that what suffering is all about?”

A flash of anger crosses God’s face, and the earth shudders. Angels with enormous teeth bite their own fingers, knuckles crunching like popcorn. Birds feathered in brilliant blue dip and glide as if they owned the air and then crash into the window. I bow my head and wait, penitent but unwilling to cede my point. Never back down in a fight with God. She’ll spit you out like bad water. Her respect for you will fade like the waning moon and rebuilding things will be costly. Better to ask forgiveness but hang on to what you think you know. You’ll be proven wrong, or you won’t.

God reaches toward me. I flinch but stand my ground. She runs her fingers over the deep contours of my misshapen ideas so tenderly I barely feel the touch. It’s the warm, moist exhale of creation, the murmurings of the Mother.

She moves me to disturbed terrain and directs my gaze to the dandelion– vixen and vagabonds, mavens and madrigals–all things brilliantly defiant. Flattened and subdued, shy strands of spring bend toward me, and I almost understand. In the place where I can still expand, I do, and there’s God bustling around, her apron filled with eggs, rhubarb in her fists. She is going to bake something nice for dessert, and I will help. I am setting this intention: I will help. This is what humans can do. And, yes, perhaps sometimes, it doesn’t have to hurt.

The Will of God

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At 3:00 AM I was unwillingly awake with an old church song stuck in my head. I tried to breathe it away. I tried to layer another song on top to cancel out the insistent tune. I finally fell asleep, but now, with the dawn, the song is back. Coffee, Paul Simon, a nice Vimeo poetry reading—nothing has obliterated this song. So, like any sensible, mystically-oriented writer, I Google the lines to see from whence they come. Alas. It was an easy Google. New Testament. Writings of a fellow mystically-oriented writer called Paul in the book called Romans. Here are the words of the song:

We are heirs of the Father, we are joint heirs with the Son.
We are children of the Kingdom. We are family. We are one.

But guess what? The song is a bit selective. The whole verse has a disturbing caveat. We are one, alright…IF we share in the suffering. But isn’t God’s love supposed to free us from suffering? Sometimes, I like a good paradox. An enlightening dialectic. But this morning, I don’t like the song, I don’t like the verse, I don’t like suffering, and I hate my internal judge who says maybe I haven’t suffered enough, so I can look forward to more or die a total slacker.

God arrives gently. “How’s the book coming along?” he asks. He’s talking about a book I’m writing on suicide.

“What’s the point of anything?” I answer. “The book is freaking me out, and I doubt anyone will publish it anyway. And why is suffering even a thing?”

“Bones break,” God says. He sighs. “Fire burns. Hunger happens. I don’t like it any better than you do.”

I believe this is true even though I’m talking to the Biggest God. The One who could fix it all. The One with perfect pitch who plucks the strings of the cello, paints the sky, births the morning, ties the knots, upends the endings, buries the dead, begins with no beginning, ends the day with no end.

“I’ve been working on my will,” God says. “What would you like to inherit?”

My insides drop. “You can’t die,” I say from a very cold place.

“Of course I can,” God says. “I do it millions of times a day. It’s a job requirement.”

“That’s stupid,” I say. “You’re God. You wrote the job description.”

“Yes, I did,” God says. “Now, what would you like to inherit?”

I look at God, utterly astonished at the ridiculous question and impossible answer.

“Nothing,” I mumble.

“What’s that?” God says, leaning dramatically across the couch.

“NOTHING,” I shout. And I mean it.

But God snaps open his briefcase, and a fully formed day leaps out, intensely pigmented, filled with the aroma of baked goods and lilacs, songs in my head, words at my fingertips, and a horizon barely out of reach. Just the way I like it.

“Okay,” I say. “For now.”

“Yes,” God says. “For now.”

 

 

Morning Report

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Yesterday, I washed a week’s worth of dishes, sorted emails, moved the compost bucket to the door, raised the blinds, took a swipe at my hair, put my morning half-beer within arm’s reach, and decided to stay in my pajamas a while longer. It appeared I’d survived another night and still inhabited my corporeal body. Perhaps this was cause for rejoicing. Perhaps this was ordinary. Banal, even. As that thought crossed my mind, I glanced over my spiritual shoulder, waiting for a rebuff or reassurance. Nothing. Then some random curiosity prompted me to google daily global death rates from various causes. It was a terrible mistake. Of course, I myself might get Covid, but the rates are comparatively low. Cancer is pretty high, but I’ve already had cancer. Heart disease takes a lot of people out, and it does run in my family. But here’s what got me by the throat: every single day, 25,000 human beings die of causes related to malnutrition and hunger. Given my hearty breakfast and plans for a snack midmorning, I did not believe I was in imminent danger of this particular fate. But my morning had been trashed.

I stopped glancing over my shoulder and sat very still. I did not want God stopping by. I wanted to sit there by myself, imagining what I would do if I were God instead of the human-inspired insipid bastard who flits around the universe enjoying fame and good fortune. All manner of religious expression seemed as vapid as the press conferences we’re currently being subjected to. God made in the image of humans; human longings pinned as promises to the robes of this almighty manmade tongue-twisted idol. Born out of wedlock, born out of nothing, elevated, emaciated, eternal; God stands accused and convicted. But really does God stand at all? I sipped my beer and waited to be struck dead by lightening.

Instead, I heard a meadowlark. The tom turkeys strutted by, hoping to impress the ladies. The sun had raised itself and was hard at work greening up the earth. I could hardly stand how small I was. Across the valley, my eye caught a movement: It was my archenemy waving a white flag. I swore under my breath and sighed. Then, reluctantly, I raised the arm still attached to my limited body, waved the hand attached to the arm, and warmed a cup of sweet tea. It’s a favorite of his. No words were exchanged. A long day of tiny miracles and cleansing fires ensued, and then I slept.

This morning, before I was fully awake, a dense, resonant essence laid down beside me, enveloped me, and wrapped me in unearned perfection. The holy phantom was tattered and torn, hopeful and helpless, blameless and fully alive. I was defenseless and unafraid. “Good morning, God,” I said. “Happy Easter.’

DNA

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In many ways God and I have very little in common. The narrow gateway of our commonality is not the DNA I share with other humans, fruit flies, bananas, trees, or goats; not my uncertainties or my short journey in this limited body. And absolutely not my tendency to bite my thumb when I sense God is close. God doesn’t have thumbs. But sometimes, she borrows one and bites it while I write, just to demonstrate her solidarity. It’s a transparent solidarity. I slip my hand through and watch the world turn to fire. I am intrigued by the godness of fire as mass gives way to energy.

Often the godness around me is so dense I can hardly breathe. Billions of people seething and searching for the right ways to live their lives, afraid of all the wrong things. Even the stars are born and die, so what do we have to fear? One form godness takes is joy, a flower with roots that run deep in dark places. Another form of godness is suffering, and it will be with us until the end.

“Yes,” God says, affirming my pondering. “Maybe not DNA, but joy and suffering. Yes, these we have in common.”

“God,” I say. “I don’t always love it when you show up and agree with me.” I turn my gaze inward, where of course, I find God smiling between the strands that define who I think I am. I slide my consciousness back out, trying to think of other things. Deadlines. Vitamins. Bad travel conditions. Entropy. Anything but You-Know-Who.

“Okay,” God says. “Let’s play hide-and-seek. Shall I find you, or do you want to find me?”

“What does it matter?” I say. “It’s one and the same.”

God pretends to ring a bell. “Ding, ding, ding,” she says. “Folks, we have a winner.”

I can’t help but laugh. What a chump. I shrug. “Fine. So you’re here. What’ll it be today? Compassion? Sacrifice? Slippage? The mundane grip of reality? Painting sticks? Rearranging my rock collection? Maybe a small skirmish with the dark forces of hell and selfishness?”

God mimics my shrug. Then she leans over, examines my thumb, and kisses the bite marks away.

“All better,” she says, her voice tender and soothing. I stare at my thumb.

“Maybe,” I say, tears welling up. “But I don’t see the point. You know I’ll bite it again.”

“Exactly,” God says. “Exactly. Maybe that’s why I love you so much.”