Photo: Chris Throgmartin
If they ever get around to resurfacing this road, I'm gonna suggest some better banking on those curves. It's way too easy to flip, and that's just one more hazard that, believe you me, this journey doesn't need. I mean sure, you can slow down, and that helps. That's what I do every time. And it's not like I'm looking to maximize speed, either. I've never been one for that. I shy away from sports in which speed is an element, like downhill skiing for example. It's more that I'd like to keep a close to steady speed. It helps with mileage, ya know, not that that's my primary concern. I just want to keep going.
I don't believe in God. I don't know if I've mentioned that. Or maybe I should say that I don't believe in God as people mean God when they say God. Yeah, that's so much clearer. That's not to say that I don't believe in anything, though even in saying that I am not sure that I know what "believing" means, aside from its role in fairy tales and pretend play. I shy away from any images, even the feminine. They seem so restricting. And I'm not so keen on God or gods or whatever that come with predetermined rules or rituals--which can be just as true for Wicca as it is for Catholicism. Not my style. I do believe in energy. I believe in power. I believe in nature. I believe in infinity. Most of all, I believe in the ocean (which, conveniently, encompasses the three features I just mentioned). And I believe in messages. I just don't get picky about where they come from, nor do I try to find out. I just try to listen.
I'm aware that, in this description, there are those--you may be among them--who will say that it sounds, from the above, that I do, in fact, believe in God. That Martin Buber spoke about God as nature in Judaism. That a "power greater than ourselves" is simply another way to describe the nature of God. That if I believe in "messages" then they must be coming from "someone". Not to me. But suit yourself.
I have long been afraid to say what I really feel and think about organized religion (of any sort), so I just say "it's not my thing". Really, it's a lot more than that. This is my blog, and as such I can write anything I like, but honestly, I'm still afraid. Even the people who I have spoken to at length, the people who, in reading this, will think that they truly understand my position through talking with me at length--even those people, I have not told what I really think. At heart, I'm afraid of the sudden power and energy and what feels to me like ferocity that emerges in even the meekest souls when they feel their religious observance is under attack. Not that I'm trying to attack it--believe and practice what you will--but I do have strong opinions and I love a good discussion (what you would probably call argument), and I do get that it feels like an attack to most. I am discouraged by the degree to which zeal and what seems to me like fanaticism increase exponentially as the conversations continue. That characteristic has always bothered me...the way in which, when I present a contrary viewpoint and insist on being heard (not agreed with), that the other person's position intensifies, gravitating continually toward the extreme, even if often even beyond their own inclination. It goes something like this:
"How'd you like that movie?"
"It was okay, nothing great. What about you?"
"I really liked it. I liked the way it ended"
"Really? I thought the ending was so contrived!"
"Hmm. It didn't feel that way to me. I also really liked the relationship between the main characters. It felt familiar to me"
"Are you kidding? The acting was horrible!"
"Wow, we sure left with different impressions. Over all, I wouldn't say it was my favorite movie, but I liked it a lot"
"Oh my god, it was like the worst movie I've ever seen!"
There. We've gone from "okay" to "worst" in a two minute conversation. That's happened a lot when I've tried to discuss my beliefs about religion, and in particular justify (which seems to be necessary more than I would expect) my aversion to group ritual and "membership" in a religious community. "Oh, you just haven't found the right place! You should try [x]!" No. You don't get it. "You should give it a try--the people are so wonderful!" I believe you. That's great. No thanks.
I do learn from experience (sometimes), so I tend not to discuss it (you know, religion and politics...). But it can be a lonely place to be, because there are things I believe, and I do relish community. It's a conundrum, that's for sure. I am always on the lookout for people who believe deeply and yet love conversation and whose practice can withstand scrutiny. I haven't found many. I've met people who feel as I do (that's no fun). I've met people who I respect immensely who will default to their desire for community when pressed (which I can't really argue with, but I still don't get why community--which I agree is essential--is in any way connected to religion). I've talked with people who write me off as judgmental, which I suppose I am, though in their writing me off and/or dismissal, they are judging me as well, no? Oh, well.
If you made it this far, I imagine you're wondering where this is all coming from. I mean, here we were just talking about Michael Jackson and the infidelity of senators and demolishing patriarchy, and suddenly here we are in God-land. Got me. That's what happens when you try to blog every day, I guess. As one of my favorite blogs says, "they can't all be gems". So true.
Okay. I lied. I do know where it's coming from.
It's coming from the unique set of circumstances that are currently converging in my life, setting me on a different road than I have ever been on before. I've seen this road before--several times--I've just never gotten in the car and put it on cruise control. I've never committed to the route. I've never done it without a navigator riding shotgun. But now I have set out, and I gotta tell you, it's a trip (okay, pun intended, I just couldn't help myself). I'm gonna try to write more about it in the days to come, though I'm not promising anything--it's a lot safer and a lot more comfortable to write about that which I know. It's easier to write about the things that infuriate me, confuse me, enthrall me, than to write about this uncertain place, in which my largest task is to listen.
As awkward as it makes me feel to say it, it's also coming from the movie Field of Dreams, which I love and which strikes me differently every time I watch it. I recently turned my daughter on to it, and now she loves it. She watched it for the second time this morning, and I realized that at several points in that film, I get a strong chill through my body and the hair on the back of my neck stands on end. I've always attributed it to the music cues (which it might be, and which I'm really sensitive to), to the movie's intentional "hooks", to my being a sap in general when it comes to movies. But today, it was different. Today, even the dead father bit didn't get me. Today, it was about listening. About listening and following directions because you know you have to, not because you understand it or because there's something in it for you or because it makes sense or because it's what's expected of you. About listening even if people think you're crazy, even if it looks like you're going to lose everything, even if you thought you were already done, even if you've already poured yourself into something else. Listening.
That's what I'm doing. Listening. It's scary as all hell. But I'm doing it.
And only now, just now, just this moment, am I realizing that when some people--maybe even most people--see that movie, they think that it is God that is talking to him. In the maybe ten times that I've seen the film, I don't think that has ever occurred to me. Of course, now that it has occurred to me, I still gotta say that it just doesn't matter to me. I don't know who it is. I don't care who it is. In the credits, it says "The Voice". Yes.
I've always been a sucker for a good road trip. For any road trip. No wonder.