State of the Union

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“I love scientists,” God said, sipping herbal tea, relaxed and open. “I just love them. They try so hard to understand, reveal, predict, and invent. Aren’t they something? Such visionaries.”

“Yeah,” I said. We sat for a while. Then I added. “You know, I’m somewhat of a scientist myself.

“Hmmm,” God said. “I don’t often think of you that way, but now that you mention it, I can see a little scientific mindedness in you. More artist, but sure, a little scientist.”

Well.

My eyebrows bent down, but I pushed them back up to the level of civil discourse. “I love scientists, too,” I said. “But doesn’t it bother you that you’re kept out of the equations so often?”

“What?” God said. “Are you nuts? I don’t have to be recognized to be present. In fact, I get a lot of exercise jogging around in equations and hypotheses. They’re great places to work out. Science-types are like moles, digging into creation. They examine air, stars, creatures deep in the sea. I love that burning desire to understand.” God paused, looking like a proud parent, and added, “I never dreamed they’d come up with the idea of splitting an atom! Wow. Just wow.”

I was aghast. “God!” I yelled, “You know what we’ve done with split atoms, right?”

God gave me that “duh” look and said, “Children take things apart, and sometimes, they can’t get them back together. It’s part of the long, long walk.” God’s voice faltered. I could tell I’d hit a sore spot, but I was unrepentant.

“It’s more than that,” I said, my voice deadly serious. “And you know it.”

God sighed. “Okay. True. Divide and conquer is a primitive strategy. Bringing things together is a more advanced skill than taking them apart.”

If I could’ve held it together, I would’ve given God a “duh” look back. But I lost it and slid into my usual slash and burn. I stomped back and forth on our concrete floor until I gave myself shin splints. I growled until my throat hurt. I punched the air. I kick-boxed with God. My heart rate moved past the aerobic range. I shouted, “We are tragically fractured, and we just keep fracturing further. Human trafficking, walls and greed, gutted landscapes, forced pregnancies, prolonged suffering at the end of life. War. Torture. Starvation. Nuclear waste. And you sit there, admiring scientists and spouting off about bringing things together?”

“Yes,” God said in a stubborn voice. She appeared to be unfazed. “Exactly.”

She sat down and took a sip of tea, trying to hide her tears. I hid mine, too. A long moment passed. Then, a cruel storm blew up, and fierce as a mother eagle, God flung her powerful, protective wings around the cosmos. My reach is maddeningly limited, but I tried to do the same.

Not a Snowball’s Chance

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This week I heard a priest declare we should look to the birdness of birds and the treeness of trees to discern natural law and thus discern what it might mean to be human, in the humanness sense of human. Strangely, I’ve heard this reasoning used to claim that no one should be gay, but in my view, we should look to the gayness of gay people to better understand this amazing expression of God’s creativity and love of diversity. I realize there may be a religion or two that disagree with me, but the thing is, God has been spoken for and spoken of since there were words. God has been interpreted, proclaimed, defamed, elevated, and killed by various thinkers, writers, and con artists the world over. Unthinkable cruelty is done in the name of God, and astonishing kindness happens without God mentioned in the least. Weird claims are made, political agendas promoted. From a global viewpoint, God is not all that coherent.

“I try to be,” God protested, as this observation formed in my mind.

I’d had my half-beer and my mood was steady and contemplative. “You don’t try that hard,” I said. “That’s why I like you so much. You’re bewildering, illogical, eccentric, peculiar, inexplicable, perplexing, and absurd. You’re preposterous, disconcerting, untamable, unstoppable, and we can only see an infinitesimal fraction of you at any given time. I like that in the Ultimate Authority of the Universe. If you were a lesser being, it might be more aggravating.”

God looked pleased. “Okay, I guess you’re right,” God said. “But I do have a certain consistency.” God looked straight at me. This is an aspect of God I like less well: personal accountability. I am painfully aware that honesty and compassion are behaviors available to all, and equally aware that fancy words and complex philosophies are used to twist these simple truths into flimsy excuses for crusaders of all stripes who maim, torture, extract, extort, cheat, lie, and murder in the name of God.

“God,” I said. “Stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what?” God asked, all innocent and mild. My defensive anger flared.

“Step outside,” I said.

God followed me out the back door. I made a snowball and threw it hard. God caught it as if I were just playing around. She rolled it in the blue of sky and ash from our wood stove, waved a turkey feather over it and waited. It took on the hues of our wounded earth and shimmered with a hopeful light. I was sure God was going to throw it back, but I was wrong.

God kept the snowball cradled in her hand, offered me a supportive elbow, and we walked through the deep snow to the river. I forgot my indignation and shame. The splendor of creation shrank my sense of failure and futility. Crusty ice gave the water a sharp winter melody, and we sang along for a while, God and me, arm in arm. As the sun sank, God slipped under the surface and floated away. I waved and wandered home.

There, I found the snowball earth, soft and mushy in my pocket. I was tempted to put it in the freezer and keep it forever, but I knew that would never work. Instead, I put it in my favorite cup and sat by the fire as night descended and the glowing snowball melted into holy water. With considerable trepidation, I knew I would drink it before I went to sleep.

 

Rope Burn

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Sunrise. To my back, a river. On my left, fire. In front of me, wind bends everything eastward. The earth patiently awaits my arrival. Baby God of the delicate pink is creating a pastel peacefulness I wish I could believe in. But I don’t. I’m afraid of being placated by a tissue-thin God with bad breath—an insipid God badly explained by self-absorbed minions whose first language is greed.

All corporeal beings are caught in the slipstream of creation–salvation of a brutal sort. Translucent realities streak by–sleek greyhounds racing each other for the fun of it. All bets are off, decks stacked, roulette wheels off-kilter. The stakes are so high it takes a very big God to cover them. Very big. The Jubelale isn’t as tasty as last year, and my Christmas pajamas aren’t as warm. I need to pack the car so we can drive off into what appears to be a forward direction.

“It isn’t really forward, is it?” I whisper to God as I open the tailgate. God knows I do not want an answer, and I get none.

“Nothing is all that complicated, is it?” I whisper again, loading the suitcases, still not wanting an answer and still not getting one.

“You’re along for the ride, aren’t you?” My third query. This time, I’m not sure if I want an answer. I can feel God itching to say something so I pause.

“No,” God says in a stern voice neither audible nor pastel. “No, I’m not.” The voice reverberates. Eternal. Ethereal.

My heart breaks. An ugly little part of me shrieks with maniacal laughter, “Told you so, told you so, told you so.”  It does a victory dance, slams the ball in the end zone, beats its chest.

The hands of God applaud. Ugly self does a double-take and hesitates. The prancing is over; a temporary death is near, but God is very gentle.

“Come here,” God says to my ugly self. Ugly self slinks closer. “I know you’re afraid. It’s hard to be insignificant and mortal, but you have to try. Belligerence won’t help. I’ve done what I can, but The Ride cannot be along for the ride.” God turns to the larger me. “I don’t know if this helps, but I’ve been there. I am there. You’ll find your way.”

You’ll find your way—a string of words that slip by like a lariat tied to the saddle horn of a spooked horse. I have no gloves. I debate with myself for a moment, then grab on. The alternatives are far worse than rope burn. Maybe God and I can gentle this horse down. Or maybe I’ll just hold on for dear life–linear, majestic, bruising life. I’ll hold on even though the rope digs channels in my flesh, and at some point I will have to let go.

Baby God is still playing in the sky, now decisively blue. “Merry Christmas,” I shout to the horse, to God, and to my ugly self. I am defiantly exuberant. “Bring it on,” I add. And I mean it.

Sweet Darkness

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For the past two nights, I’ve woken in the unknowable blackness of far past midnight and wrestled with the biochemical truths of the human propensity for bleakness. Who knows why these useless awakenings occur? True, I might be a little more stressed than usual. For the holidays, I’d planned on spending more time hanging around in the spiritual ozone, letting God know my soul was open for business, but instead, I bought a condo. An old one. December is an excellent time to do real estate and pull up disgusting carpet, especially in the higher elevations of the northern hemisphere, where ice and snow add to the romance of trips across town.

“Smart ass,” God says, at my elbow. “Trying to write fancy is no substitute for confession or compassion. And it is certainly no excuse for jilting me.”

“You’re nuts,” I say back, kind of glad God has shown up, if only for an argument. “This isn’t fancy writing, I’m not avoiding confession or compassion, and you are impossible to jilt anyway.”

God waits, patient and large. I wait, less patient, asserting my own puny largeness as best I can. We sit; me, trying to recover from a bad night’s sleep; God, well, who knows what she’s up to? She wraps herself in shadow and begins growing darker and darker. For a while, I watch the disappearing act, detached and calm, even though I realize a black hole is opening up in my living room—the gravitational pull is bending the light into itself and I am dissipating into my imperfections. The only source of light comes from faces around me, lit up with hatred. They glow from the heat of fear, greed, and a steely will to survive at all costs.

“Hold them,” God says, as she offers me a set of icy black hands. “Be gentle,” she adds. I cradle the first vicious face in my beautiful hands, wishing someone could see how incredibly compassionate I was being. The face spits at me. Embers of spit melt holes in whatever it is I am. I hold on, but eventually, my substance goes up in flames. I gag from the smell of singed flesh and the oily residue of false pride.

“That worked out well,” I gasp, as God reconstitutes my being.

“As well as can be expected,” God says. “Would you like to rest?”

I nod and surrender–weak, grateful, and fully known. God shakes the sky free of stars and I crawl down into the sweet, healing darkness where the fires of fear have all gone out, the glare of hatred has no reflecting surface, and fetid wounds inflicted by too much artificial light will be disinfected and stitched shut. This is the place warriors become lovers, where the cool, black hands of God hold the flushed face of the universe until everything dies peacefully into itself.

In my dream, I am young again. Peter, Paul, and Mary are singing. And I want to believe them. We all want to believe them.

 

Motives

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“God,” I said, early one morning this week. “How can you have so many obscure names? So many exotic stories? You’re here and not here. Everywhere. Nowhere. And so far, we humans don’t seem to have evolved enough to grasp much about you. Oh, sure. We say we’re doing things ‘in your name.’ We make things up, fill in the gaps, comfort ourselves with spiritual insurance policies. Do this. Do that. Say these words. Pray this way. Torture this infidel. Crucify that one. Engage in rituals. Give lip service to words. Declare some things to be from you, others not. We make deep divisions to assure ourselves we’re on the right side of the chasm or the winning side of the wall. But we’re not, are we?”

“My, my,” God said. “Too much caffeine?”

I hate when anyone says that to me, but I’ll admit, good coffee does tend to clear the channel from brain to tongue, removing the sludge, organizing random synaptic activities into a perceived coherence I’m quite fond of.

“It’s not caffeine,” I said, with dignity. God gave me a look. “Okay, it is caffeine. But I still want to know.”

“That’s one thing I like about humans,” God said. “Most of you do, at least occasionally, want to know.”

This made me happy. Proud, even. Until God continued. “But what you do with what you think you know–your motives for wanting to know–these things almost always get you in trouble.”

“What d’you  mean?” I asked, deflated.”

“I don’t think I have to answer that,” God answered, not unkindly.

Sometimes when God puts things back on me, I get angry or sad. This time, I just sat with it. And sat with it. And, yes, sat with it. This is a good and brave thing to do.

“One of your names is Science, isn’t it?” I asked, finally.

“Yes, of course,” God said. “It’s one of my given names. It’s a path. And I’m a path. A way of knowing.”

“And you’ve picked up a lot of other names along the way, huh?”

“Mmmm. Yes, I guess. Some more accurate than others. Truth is one of my favorites.”

“When people say they’re doing something in the name of one of your names, how does that make you feel?”

“Motive, baby. Motive,” God said. “Think motive, not label. Remember, my family name, my forever name, my defining name is love. Easily mangled. Not easily grasped. Like you said, not easily grasped.”

With a deep sigh, God turned his back. This frightened me until I realized God has no back. He calmly washed his hands in the fire of the sun, and the harsh light was extinguished. The world grew darker than a womb. It was beautiful. Reality receded into mercy. I was weightless and warm, floating in the amniotic fluid of creation.

I had no mouth, but I managed to ask, “Can I stay here forever?”

“Not yet,” God said, in a voice both sad and loving. “You need to bring yourself back.”

“Why?” I asked as my fragments began to reassemble. But I knew. I knew. Motive, baby. Motive.

 

Emerging From the Night

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Last night my dreams were especially ridiculous and sometimes I was awake. Dead alive awake asleep human mortal disgusted frightened elated alone. These could be hashtags for the night. I take pride in dehydrating myself in the evening so my bladder can’t force me to get up very often. Of course, then I wake up thirsty, but this is a small price to pay in my never-ending quest to fool Mother Nature and stay asleep.

The evening news had the bird bones of Yemeni babies on replay again, so the eyes rolled round and round in their skulls and mine. What is it to me that somewhere thousands of miles away in impossibly dangerous hovels tens of thousands of children have starved to death? Their innocence is unbearable. I hate their parents, their governments, their cultures, their practices, their bones, their eyes, their deaths. I hate it all. I think, “If there was a God, this could not possibly happen.”

“Ah hem.” The God in my living room makes a throat-clearing noise.

“Oh, I know,” I turn, impatient. “There you are. Fat and sassy in my living room. This proves nothing.” Frumpy and gap-toothed, God sits complacent in a housedress on my leather couch.

“What would you give to save a baby?” she asks, unfazed by my dismissiveness.

“Which baby?” I reply.

“My point exactly,” she says.

“No, don’t do that,” I say. “You always get preposterously convoluted like that. I meant it. Which baby? You know damn well I’d risk my life to save a baby in front of me, a baby I knew, a baby I could touch. I’d cut off my arm to feed it. You know that. You wrote it in my genes.”

“Maybe you would,” God agreed. “But the dark ones, out of reach. Not them?”

I ground my teeth, gulped my beer, blew out my breakfast candle. I pushed my eyes deep into my head, rattled the cage of being, and screamed, “They aren’t mine. They aren’t here. They aren’t real.”

God breathed in and absorbed all the air in the room. “But they are mine, I am there, and they are all too real. Your genes are one thing. Your soul’s another.”

I waited for the outbreath. Mercifully it came before I asphyxiated. The outbreath of God filled my lungs before I realized that it is not the kind of air I want to breathe. I want easy air. Nice water. Pretty clothes. I want genetic absolution.

Too late. “What do you want from me?” I asked, filled with self-pity, afraid of the cost.

“Eyes that see, hands that reach, a tongue that speaks the truth,” God said. She patted the spot beside her on the couch. “Come snuggle with me.” I knew it was an invitation filled with peril, but I couldn’t help myself. I’m like that. God’s like that. Against the odds, it appears I’ve been given another day.

When I was a child

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When I was a child, I wandered the hills seeking treasure, searching for diamonds– settling for flint or jasper. I also saved sick and abandoned animals or stood watch as life ebbed away and their eyes dulled into death. The funerals were elaborate, with grass-lined cardboard coffins and all sorts of prayers offered up. Magpies, sparrows, kittens, and lambs. I knew God then as a kindly grandfather who, like me, stood watch from the clouds that rested on the shoulders of the nearby foothills. His hills. His feet. His world.

But now, God and I have a more complicated relationship. The magnitude of the cosmos has impressed itself on me, and the minuscule mass of quivering molecules cloaked in my skin are slowing down. People are dying in fires and floods. Children are mangled and hungry. When they wander, they’re not looking for pretty rocks. They’re looking for food.

I raise my fist in God’s face, as if there is a God, as if there is a way. And God flinches. She is traumatized, bleeding, bruised…and regal. She is hungry, angry, scorched, and stubbornly vital. “You can’t scare me,” she says, after regaining her composure. “You can’t scare me.”

But in my heart, I know I can. And I’m sorry. I am so, so, sorry. God, I am so sorry. Universe, I am so sorry.

God puts her knife down. I throw my arms around her. The pettiness of my worries shames me. I promise to do better. To make donations. To live simply. To march. To express my indignation. I will reduce the number of hours I spend hating. Hating. Hating. But I can’t actually do this. I am weak. I have to ask for help.

“Um, God,” I begin. “I have a compost bucket for a heart.”

“I know,” she says. “Compost is good. It breaks down. Rest. Stay warm. Try to love people a little better.”

“I already do that,” I say, disappointed. I was looking for diamonds, not the common stuff of existence.

“Flint and jasper, petrified wood. Quartz, granite, even coal,” God says, and then adds, in a knowing voice, “Sandstone.”

And miraculously, I see it. Sandstone. With lichen growing, just the right colors of orange and green. Yellow and gold. So fragile. So irregular in its jagged perfection. So contrite. Diamonds are cold and hard, slicing deep wounds in the open hand of God. Sandstone yields and crumbles. I am sandstone, soon to become a granular part of this sweet and tiny earth. With help from my broken friend, I can choose the lower places. It makes me a little nervous, but if God can flinch and recover, so can I.