In college, before switching to literature and writing, I majored in philosophy. I wanted to learn how to live, why we were alive, what was the point, and to fathom why we suffered and caused suffering. And what did God have to do with all this hoopla? I can remember trying to figure it out when I was a kid sitting between my parents in St. Isadore's every Sunday. My mother was a devout Catholic, my father was an atheist. He said he just went to church to look at the hats, (and the women), and to drive the family afterward to the ice cream store. During the eighteen years or so of going to church, I took communion thousands of times. I don't remember feeling enthused with spirit while ingesting that wafer or any other time while in church. At St. Isadore's, my father used to make me laugh, and my mother buried her face in her hands, praying, probably for us. I buried my face in my hands hoping to see God there, but I only saw the cracks of light between my fingers. I would find out later, yes, that was God, too. Church and its rules and systems made me yawn when they didn't confuse me. I went to Catholic school, and I really liked Jesus and his stories, but the heaven, purgatory, hell thing was over-the-top. Still, I sat in church trying to parse it out. Purgatory sounded so much like earth, why would anyone need to go there again? Hell was a total bummer. Lying on the shore of a lake of boiling putrid horrors, having your guts eaten out by a vulture, and that vulture never finishes with those guts, just chomps on you forever, and you never get to kick the bucket. Burning and being eaten alive. Truly, a bad deal. On the opposite end, Heaven sounded equally dreadful. Cloying and clinging like stuffing your face with cotton candy, like an eternal Hallmark card or being forced to watch a Hallmark movie over and over. Angels and devils-- Good Lord, what a pile of hogwash. However, I don't know why, except for my atheist laughing father, why I was such a cynic as a kid, why I didn't believe any of this stuff, why religion seemed so absurd to me. And yet, I wanted to believe in something. God sounded okay, a little irritated and strict, Jesus seemed great, but religion itself left me cold. Going to confession all those years, that might have done it. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My sins are, I bit my sister on the arm..." I mean, really. I was nine. I didn't have any sins. Original sin was the be all and end all of dumbness. Look at a baby. Original sin? Puulleeeeze.
So I left church in the dust and went off to college, hoping higher education would explain this world and the next. Philosophy was my ticket to answers. By the end of my sophomore year, I was so depressed by the philosophers. Pretty dark and dreary, Sartre, Camus and the gang. But I was growing up and getting darker and darker, so I agreed with them when I wasn't feeling like killing myself. Then my beloved philosophy teacher suddenly disappeared. He had to take a leave of absence because of a drinking problem. I changed my major. Now I was studying modern literature. I loved it, and a great deal of it was completely depressing. Secretly, I kept looking for God.
My only true God experience happened when I was a kid. I think I was about nine, the year, it now seems to me, that I started my search. It didn't happen in church. I was riding my bike up the hill behind our house. For some reason, I got off my bike and walked up the hill. The mustard grass was waist high. The green and gold of the grass-so brilliant. I stood and watched the sun go down behind the eucalyptus trees. It was a windy day, and the leaves clapped. The sound of applause, the sound of water rushing, the wind in my hair and face. The light of the sun painting the sky orange and pink. I felt something underneath me, inside the earth, I could see and feel the earth, its limits, its roundness, it was hanging in the air of nothing, but I felt this current, this stream running through, the whole thing connected to what, I didn't know, but it was there. I looked at the sun, the hot orange light, the cool pink streaming from it. I knew everything, I was everything. It was ecstasy and peace. I cried in joyful grief. Then I walked back down the hill, got on my bike, and rode home. It was time for dinner.
That's it. But it was enough to show me the invisible exists. To teach me to see with the heart, or try to. As in The Little Prince: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
This weekend I went to church with a friend. She attends the Church of Religious Science and sings in the choir. I enjoy the music, and also usually enjoy the minister's talk. This time it was so terrific, it made me feel yes! Like being back on my childhood hill. The talk was titled Spirit Speaks, about spirit speaking everywhere. The minister discussed religion as a way to remember, to remember that we are one, there is only one relationship. We forget the truth of the One, and that is where the pain begins, the illusion of separation. This world is a lovely dream, a painful dream. The pain is mostly in how we have forgotten the source, that we are one with each other and the source. Maya Angelou said, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
I want to always remember I am one with whomever I see. With the light in that person, with the One in each of us. But I forget. Robert Frost said, "Poetry is a way of remembering what it would impoverish us to forget." Theodore Roethke said, "Everything comes to One, as we dance on, dance on, dance on." There are so many writers who have said the same thing. These words can sometimes be our cure for spiritual amnesia. Plato: "And life is a process of remembering."
Hafiz: "You put your lips on my forehead and lit a holy lamp inside my heart." This is the kiss I felt on my childhood hill, in the mustard grass, on a windy day. Here is a kiss on your forehead.
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