Yesterday as I was weeding and digging potatoes I was listening to an old interview that Bob Edwards did with Maya Angelou. She talked about her work and her life, of course, her philosophies about giving back, and her Christian belief. She said that she was always shocked when someone introduced themselves to her as a "Christian" in that she had been trying to become one her entire life and screwed it up at least forty-five times a day.
But one could tell, her belief was strong.
Bob Edwards asked her what she thought about atheists and agnostics and she replied that she felt so very sorry for people without a belief because there was no way for them to lay their burden down, no one to go to who would take that burden on.
I nodded my head in recognition- I am one of those people.
And sometimes, to be quite honest, I wish I did believe in a god (or even gods!) who does have a personal interest in my life, my happiness, the health and wellbeing of my children, my husband. How incredibly comforting that must be, to let go and let God, in full faith that God will handle the situation, perhaps not as we would want (always the caveat in the deal, implied and understood) but as God in His almighty wisdom and vision would want it handled.
But I don't and I can't.
Perhaps it is because as a child, it became quickly apparent to me that no adult was going to take any of my burdens away from me but instead, increased them mightily upon me. At least no adult who had been charged to take care of me. And so my faith in even the earliest version of a child's higher power (and what is a parent to a child but a higher power who knows all, controls all) was proved false and thus, I never made the leap from father to Father. The Bible (which I read entirely when I was in Jr. High) speaks often of the Heavenly Father and how He loves His children as does an earthly father. I remember making a conscious decision to direct my prayers at a very early age to that "Father" because I did not have one here on earth. Oh, I did, but he disappeared from my life when I was five and was as good as dead to me and I will never entirely stop mourning that fact.
And so I prayed to Father and my prayers seemed to be answered when a stepfather appeared and then, well...that is truly when the pain began.
And the horror and the fear.
Abandoned and betrayed, not once but thrice, in a way.
Is that why I cannot trust a higher power?
If so, I think that is only part of it. Reading the Bible was definitely part of it. The Old Testament God was so obviously an Asshole and some of His most beloveds were sinners of the highest order and besides that, He craved and demanded such constant sacrifice and praise. His laws seemed to be completely arbitrary and baseless. A child could be stoned to death for being disrespectful to her parents. A wife who was divorced was an adulteress if she took another husband but no mention was made of the sin of the divorced husband. David had a gozillion wives. Plus, maybe a lover or two of the same sex. Where did the people whose children Adam and Eve married come from? Oh, it went on and on.
The New Testament had its problems too. Differing accounts of the life of Jesus gave different versions of events. I could never truly pin down just who this Jesus was. Was he a prophet who came to spread a message of love or was he a man who hated bankers in the temple? Why was he so mean to Martha when Mary was obviously a huge suck-up? And why in hell did God have only one begotten son when He could have had billions and why did He have to see his Son murdered in order to fulfill the murky message of His thirty-three years as that Son? And why didn't the disciples recognize Him when He arose from the dead, escaped the tomb? I guess three days of death can do a number on a human meat, even that of the Son of God.
Let's not even get into Revelations. I may have been a precocious 12-year old but I couldn't get through that chapter with even the least understanding and I seriously doubt I could now either.
And so, despite desperately wanting to believe in a God who would get me through, if not DELIVER ME FROM the increasing nightmare of my life, it all seemed to be falling apart for me, all of the arguments for faith that Billy Graham talked about on his much-televised Grand Religious Events, instructing me to pray on my knees, to beseech the Lord for that which I needed which I did try but it made me feel foolish, the imprint of the rattan rug beside my bed lingering on my flesh with far more reality than any imprint on my soul.
We did go to church, my family, but it was a very small non-sectarian church and the pastor was more of a speaker and a kindly dreamer who envisioned the integration of the races (which was beautiful) than a fire-and-brimstone kind of guy. And Sundays were the days I was most usually molested and it was on an Easter Sunday as my mother sang in the choir that she had to leave the church to go into the pastor's office as the umbilical cord of the fetus within her became kinked and the unborn child thrashed within her and then became still and died.
I cite all of these things as possible reasons for my non-belief but if you want to know the very most basic truth, I think it all stems from the fact that I see not one shred of evidence for any of it. One may let-go and let-God or one may simply say, "I have no more control over this," and the results will inevitably be the same. Things will happen as they happen once we step out of the way.
Two mothers with sick children may pray unceasingly and one child may recover and one child may die.
God's will, the faithful sadly intone to the mother whose child died. He is in heaven now.
And what good does that thought do to a woman whose child is dead? Cold comfort to say the least.
Of course, the self-proclaimed representatives of faith, the priests, the popes, the ministers, the Imams, the the Jerry Falwells, do such great disservice with such astounding frequency to the very religions they purport to be God's mouthpiece for. Not all, of course. But let me tell you this- you attend a sexual abuse survivor's group for any amount of time and you will realize that the self-identified religious are seemingly over-represented as abusers of children.
"My father was a preacher."
"My father was a deacon."
"My father was a Sunday School teacher."
And so forth.
In fact, it has become increasingly apparent to me that some of the most bigoted, ignorant, anti-life people on this planet wrap themselves in the cloak of religion to defend their messages of hate. I've seen children completely shut out of religious families because they came out as gay. What sort of a mammal would do something like that? A MAMMAL! Even a chicken will defend its young to the death. And yet, we of the "higher order" will tell a child that he or she is no longer welcome into the bosom of the family because of his or her sinful "lifestyle."
And then of course, there are people like Maya Angelou, like Jimmy Carter, whose faith is something that has to be respected because it is questioning, it is kind, it is real to them as way of life. And to me, it all simply boils down to this- you either have the gene for it or you do not. For religion.
And I do not.
And so yes, I wish I could pray, could lay my burden down sometimes, assured that God's eye is on the sparrow and so of course, He looks kindly upon me as well. That He would like my team to win, my country to be charmed above all others, my family to be healthy and happy forever and ever.
I have had, of course, profoundly spiritual and heart-and-mind-altering experiences. Some of those have happened with the help of psychedelic drugs, used judiciously and with great respect. Some of those have happened while listening to music. Some of those have happened at childbirths, my own and others I have attended. Some of those have happened at the bedsides of those in the process of dying. Some of those have occurred when I was doing nothing but watching water and sky.
I call all of these miracles and yet, find no need to relate them to a deity.
And yes, I do believe in great mysteries, even Mysteries, but I think that eventually we will figure them out with our amazing human (and often so very flawed) evolved brains. Perhaps. Sometimes I have very little faith in humans at all. But that is not mine to control.
And that is what I am thinking about today on this Sunday morning, surrounded by green and still-cool air. My flaws and sins are my own, my joys and my fears and my decisions the same. I can choose to share them if I want, to whisper them or to shout them, to celebrate them or to try to hide them.
I am a human being and as such, am yes, a part of it all, consciousness shared with it all, and when it's all over for me, my energy both meat and electric will be reused by the planet, the universe.
And that is good enough for me.
I need to go dig the rest of the potatoes and perhaps I will ponder some more on the great miracles and mysteries as I see them. The baby, the tree, the egg, the rain, the great creamy blossom of the magnolia, the reseeding of last year's zinnias and their blossoms of purple and yellow, the word upon the page, the eye and the sparrow, the love I have experienced in my life, the mighty whale, the tiny plankton upon which it feeds, the water which comes from the tap, Keith Richards.