Sunday, November 25, 2012

Questions About Faith And So Forth

So I'm reading this Anne Lamott book and I just do not get this whole thing where everything, every thing in the world, is viewed through the lens of god. Or, okay, God.
Here's what I really don't get- if you don't follow a holy book exactly like some of the more evangelical branches of religions do, there is just so much room for interpretation. There is so much chewiness to the whole thing. What would God think about this situation? Where is God in this situation? What would God want me to DO about this? And Lamott does ask herself these questions.
Over and over and over again.
To the point of ridiculousness, it often seems to me. She not only asks herself these questions but she asks her many spiritual advisors the same questions. And thus, the interpretations become even more confusing to me. Why does Sister Veronica get to be the one who knows what God wants here and Father Tim get to be the one who knows what God wants there? Does she just instinctively know which person to go to for advice and discussion at the proper time? Is EVERYTHING a call from God?
She goes on for pages about the baptism of her grandson. She, of course, wants the child to be baptized in the church which she attends and loves with all of her heart. She raised her son in that church and the members of it have uplifted and lifted and sustained her for decades. But the child's mother wants the child to be baptized in the church her family attends or attended back in North Carolina and this is a disturbing situation for Anne. I find this all so petty. Why can't they just baptize the child in both churches? Wouldn't that be doubling the number of people who are charged with the spiritual guidance of him? What is the downside there?
I haven't gotten to the end so maybe that is what happens. I don't know.

It just seems to me that all of this questioning of what God wants or doesn't want or requires or asks of us or whatever is such a vast waste of time. Who can really know? And yet, the way Lamott talks about her god, it would appear that she DOES know, at least after a great deal of soul-searching and research in the matter. Sometimes. And what is the purpose of all of this? She herself admits that she can't even begin to understand a god who allows children to have horrible illnesses and be afraid and die. Not allowing that to happen is, as she says, the number one rule we should all be able to agree on. And yet, of course, her god does allow this to happen all of the time and so this realization and reality leads to much praying to that same god for understanding and if there can be no real understanding of such a circumstance, then that is only proof of the Great Mystery of God and His or Her Way.

As I said, chewy. And confusing.

I would, as I have said before, rather just cut out the middleman. I can't begin to believe from my own observation that there is any plan to any of it. This is not to say that I think we are all lost and doomed. Maybe we are, but if we are to live a halfway decent life, we have to believe that if we just keep on putting one foot in front of the other and doing what we know in our hearts is the right thing to do, we will at least have a few incredible moments. I believe that the people in Anne Lamott's church have indeed saved her from a life of alcoholism and addiction and despair but note what I said- the PEOPLE in her church have done that. The people who enfolded her and took her in, as imperfect as she says she was because they too are imperfect and yet know that we are all deserving of love and second (and third and fourth and who knows how many?) chances. It seems to me that the things Lamott attaches the most holy and grace-full meanings to are those which are the most humanly basic. I will never forget how much she loved and appreciated the man who scrubbed her toilet when she was a brand new mother. Did God tell the man to scrub her toilet or did he just know, as a human being, that toilets do indeed need scrubbing and that an exhausted new mother perhaps needed a clean toilet more than she needed a bouquet of flowers? Would it have been any less of a holy act if I had scrubbed her toilet, knowing that I do not give all glory to God? In a way, it seems to me, it is more of a genuine act of love and caring if a human tends to another's needs out of simply that- love and caring- rather than in a belief that such tending is done because that is what a god would want. And of course, in some beliefs, another ticket to heaven and eternal life.

I am not disdaining religion here, or even faith. I am quite frankly completely confused by the whole situation. So much of it seems to me to be counting the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin. Why even bother to ask? There is never going to be a definitive answer to that question or to most of the other questions which are asked in relation to religion and yet so much time and so many human resources are wasted on them.

And right now, I should be cleaning out my henhouse and doing something to salvage my winter garden. I can and probably will think about these things, even as I am dealing with chickenshit and dirt. I think that Anne Lamott is a beloved writer and many love the fact that she is a self-proclaimed Christian whose faith is extremely important to her but who is also a firm believer in a woman's right to abortion and who helped a man who was dying to cross over in very specific and concrete ways. She is a sort of new-age believer, I guess, who struggles, as we all do, with the big questions and always ends up with the answer that if she just keeps believing and stays out of the way, her god will take care of it.

I don't know. I do know that all situations resolve themselves eventually either with or without our help. Not, perhaps, in the way in which WE think they should be resolved but just in the way they get resolved. Anne Lamott would say that this is God's way and that her prayer would be for understanding. I say that in some cases there is no understanding and fuck it, some resolutions just suck and people die and/or suffer mightily and that this may or may not be holy but whatever it is, I can't change that.

I can, however, clean out the henhouse and I can love my grandchildren with a power that goes way beyond my understanding, just as Lamott loves her grandson. Frankly, I think that has a lot more to do with evolution and the survival of the species than anything else but that's just me. That belief does not in the least lessen my love but it does amuse me. I am Mother Nature's bitch!

Not that I think there is an entity to whom I can pin the title Mother Nature but you know what I mean. Hopefully.

Maybe it's all just being able to ask others for help which is one of the hardest things for most of us and that in a community which is about faith and love, it is just easier to ask for and receive help, believing that the people there are there specifically because that is what they believe is the right thing to do and ultimately, they are all there to ask their god for help or at least understanding in this life which can be so very difficult that we all need assistance at one point or another and that it is only right for us to help others. We take turns giving and receiving, as hard as that is. And maybe inserting god in there makes it all more tolerable.

I don't know.

I do know it's an incredibly beautiful day and I am glad to be here in it and that writing about it and going out and working in it are things that bring me joy. I'm sure that Anne Lamott and I could agree on that among many other things and I doubt she would fault me for being a non-believer and I cannot fault her for believing. We are humans, we are the same, we are different.
That is just all right with me.

But. That doesn't mean I understand. And I sincerely doubt I ever will.


  1. All good questions. And receiving is so much harder than giving...especially for those (like me) who have difficulty with feeling beholden. But the bottom line is that whether help is being offered out of pure human kindness and decency or out of a belief that it is what a god/God wants done, a need is being met and community bonds are being strengthened. A good end regardless of the impetus from which it comes!

  2. It's a difficult thing religious folks have to reconcile- either their god is NOT all-powerful, or He's an asshole and lets a ton of bad shit happen.

    I prefer the alternative of admitting, i don't know. We don't know. Rather than asserting whatever,whatever with great conviction. What's so wrong with, i don't know, anyways? I love me a good mystery.

  3. I've yet to read Lamott's newer books so based on what I've read so far she doesn't get into god that much at all. Maybe for someone as desperate as Lamott was the idea of god provides reassurance, hope, and parenting of a sort. Mostly, I think religion gives people a group to belong to and hence a sense of identity, two of the more vital things we need as humans. It always frustrates me when I find someone intelligent with a seemingly innate understanding of people and things believing in religion. Believing in god without religion I find not so bad because you don't have all the silly fairy tale rules of religion such as how to sprinkle water on a baby or whether to wait for the child to be able to reason before dunking them in water. Go figure! You know I'm with you on this one Mary.

  4. The Taoists say that there is the God you can talk about and the God you cannot. I believe this to be true... It's like the phrase, "There is no love, only proof of love".

    I think we can share our experiences and thoughts about The Great Mystery, but as all writers know, there are times when mere words cannot convey certain feelings/experiences for which an individual has. We all come to spirit in our own way and time, or not. There are many parallels to our feelings, and many divergences or interpretations.

    I'm with you in thinking that no one person has the "right" way... You said something profound to me once. You said: "We all take turns being God for each other". I believe that spirit works through all creatures, but most especially humans when we are in need.

    Or you can go the Stones route...You can't always get what you want... Cosmic.

    I can't speak for Anne, but I believe that many roads lead to the same place, so if you get your spirit from the earth, sky and chickens, so be it!

    Love you.
    Your babbing friend in the west,

  5. PS
    Thanks for being my God(dess) on so many occasions. :-) You've helped me a LOT through the years with your wit and wisdoms.

  6. Mama D- I am suspicious of things offered in the name of god. Very, deeply suspicious. Be a good person or don't be a good person but why must god be brought into it? That is what I can't figure out.

    Ajax- That is it exactly. Unless, you know, there's a different definition of what makes an asshole when you apply it to a deity.

    Rubye Jack- Well, she DOES get into religion in this one. A lot. As with all of her books which I've read.
    I'm with you. And you know THAT.

    Ms. Fleur- You are far more apt to go for the spiritual than I am. I think I gave up a long time ago looking for a way or a meaning. This does not make me right. It just makes me jaded and lazy.

    Madame King- Oh god. I am so embarrassed. KM? The Kingdom of Moonrise? I am at a loss and I know I should know. I am not your brightest acquaintance.

  7. I'd like to offer up a few choice words from one of my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett:

    "Night prowled over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way." (From "Jingo")

    "Is it not written in the sacred text, 'There's a lot goes on we don't know about, in my opinion'?" (from "Thief of Time")

  8. It all weighs heavy on the mind -- those questions -- and the heart, I guess.

    Frankly, I like your writing more, even, than Lamott's whom I adore. For instance, I was impressed by your correct usage of a whole lot of "theirs" and "theres" in one of your paragraphs -- in a way, when people like Lamott agonize over these huge unanswerable questions, they're really only struggling with "their" and "there." Does that make any sense?

  9. O Lord, your post makes sure that I never will touch any of her books, Lamott's I mean. I have this immediate anger bubbling up when I hear or read people's wonderings about God. I consider it all crap. Buddists, catholics, muslim, they all think their God is the right one, I think there is no right one. There is none. Not to me. I think that religion is the single most cause for all wars. The world would be a much better place without gods of any kind. But then I suppose mankind would find other things to fight over. Somehow it all depresses me today... thinking about stuff like that. ;o))

  10. The thing that puzzles me about asking God for understanding is -- what's to understand? We're biological organisms undergoing continual evolution living on a rock spinning through space. That's about the long and short of it for me. I don't mean to take the mystery or beauty out of existence, because it IS beautiful and in some ways mysterious, but this need to understand some deeper purpose is perplexing to me. Why ask why? We're all just here. Bad things happen. Good things happen.

    Maybe I'm just shallow.

    I love the way you think and write about these topics. "I am Mother Nature's bitch." Ha!!

    I've never warmed to Anne Lamott. I read a book of hers years ago, something about writing, and all my friends loved it and raved about it and I was like, "Meh."

  11. sarah- What gorgeous pieces of writing! Thank-you!

    Elizabeth- I went a little nuts there. Sorry!
    And yes. I think you may be on to something.

    Photocat- Well, she has written some books that are truly worth reading. Bird By Bird and Operating Instructions. I would definitely recommend those but you certainly do not have to read them!
    And you know, I think humans just need to invent gods. It's part of us. It helps with the vast scariness of it all.

    Steve Reed- I keep wondering what would happen if instead of spending all the time and resources we spend on the completely unknowables we spent them on scientific research. I think we'd definitely be getting some answers!
    I also believe that Lamott is far more popular with women. She resonates in some way with us. But not all women. And certainly not all of her books!

  12. I know that there is something more powerful than me. And that there is some connectedness in energy between people. Other than that, I don't think about what God is--I do think that there is something so strong in the energy coming from certain people that it seems otherworldly. And the coincidences that happen multiple times that seem unexplainable--that to me is evidence of a Higher Power. Having experienced those things in a profound way, leads me not to ask questions but to simply accept the unknowing of it all.

  13. Syd- You know what I honest-to-god think? I think that science will one day be able to explain all of this stuff. And what will happen then?

  14. Mary, What Would Keith Moon Do?


  15. Madame King- Ah! Of course! The other Keith! He'd probably throw a television through a window and call it a day.
    I never was that much of a Who fan. It's like I could only love so many bands at one time.
    Thank you, love.


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