Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Prayer, perhaps.

Today I heard Mary Gordon define prayer as “having something to say and someone to say it to.”  And I just loved that idea.  

As you know, if you read this blog or know me personally, I have come out of deep faith into a place of agnostic atheism.  Well, I hate to even define it because it’s constantly in flux.  I am agnostic.  That will remain true.  

Margaret Atwood said, “A strict agnostic says, you cannot pronounce, as knowledge, anything you cannot demonstrate. In other words if you're going to call it knowledge you have to be able to run an experiment on it that's repeatable. You can't run an experiment on whether God exists or not, therefore you can't say anything about it as knowledge. You can have a belief if you want to, or if that is what grabs you, if you were called in that direction, if you have a subjective experience of that kind, that would be your belief system. You just can't call it knowledge.”

I agree. I am agnostic.  I do think that God’s existence is unknowable.  And I tend to lean toward the atheist side.  I’ve been very leery of even entertaining the idea of admitting that there might be something beyond the known.  I have been saying to others and telling myself that all things can be known, are knowable, eventually.  However, I find that I pause before I speak because there is a tiny little ember of doubt about that.  Perhaps there is a level of existence that is unknowable.  Or perhaps it doesn’t matter.  

In the same interview with Atwood, she told the story of Life of Pi.  At the end she says, “So we like the story with the tiger better. We like the story with God in it better then we like the story without God in it. Because it's more like us, it's more understandable, it's more human.”

And it sort of hit me.  

It doesn’t have to be true.

My friend Kristin once told me that I could make up any God I wanted.  She described her God to me, and I quite liked him.  But I’ve still been largely against the idea of placing faith in something I *know* is not true, or that I cannot know is true, for sure 100% absolutely.  I’ve been railing against the idea of the divine.

Bill Moyers also interviewed another of my favorite writers, Jeanette Winterson.  She rocks my socks.  Well, she grew up in a legalistic, fundamentalist Pentecostal home, yet somehow she emerged as a free-thinking, openly gay, provocative writer.  I connect very deeply with her writing and her story.  I ache to come to the same point of clarity, to write with as much fervency and honesty.  I hold myself to her standard of living authentically, daring to be whole.  

Well, I sort of expected her to be very anti-religion.  I listened to the interview with this idea that she’d affirm my lack of belief, that she’d help me unbelieve.  

Then she said, “I always need another world. I mean, I'm passionately connected to this one. I am. You know, with the world I think you might as well love it or leave it. So I love it. And I want to change it. I'm political. I'm involved. I'm engaged. All of that. But I think there are vast dimensions of which I know nothing. But sometimes I can apprehend them a little bit. So I think that in religious terms that sometimes I think of it as the kick of joy in the universe. It's the moment when you feel that the whole thing is bigger than you, better than you, and you connect with an energy which is gigantic. And, I think writers and artists do feel that. I hope that people who are not writers and artists feel that. And it is a moment which is absolutely true, and it absolutely cannot be proved by science. But you feel it.”

And I felt this little tether break inside me. I was tied so tightly to no-god, no-divine, no nothing.

Well, today, while going about my daily routine, I had three phone calls with three different friends.  Each was moving, stimulating, encouraging, affirming.  I spoke to each friend about different things.  I threw ideas out there, I prattled about my life, I listened to stories of woe.  I questioned or affirmed or bounced ideas back.  I left each conversation knowing something more about my friend and about myself.  I finished encouraged, inspired, filled with love and longing for more.

Then I was sitting there watching Bill Moyers and Mary Gordon while I folded laundry and it all seemed to click into place.

I pray.  I access the sacred every day.

It’s just, usually, my prayers start with dialing numbers.  Sometimes my prayers start with coffee or wine and a hug.  But most of the time my prayers are over the phone.  But they are all prayers.  I am seeking something that cannot be defined or tested or completely understood.  I am seeking a connection with that gigantic energy, that tingling of one soul communing with another.  For me, the divine is in the wisdom of a friend.  My energy, my peace, my clarity, my understanding all come from conversations with my friends.

I call different friends for different things.  I have friends I talk to every day and some I talk to every few years (it should be more often).  Each one holds a different place in my life, knows me from a different angle.  There are a precious few I call when the bottom is falling out.  They hold a unique and sacred place.  They help keep me together.  Some are woven into the fabric of my life.  They aren’t necessarily the ones I call when I am most in need, but they are the ones who are always present.  I don’t doubt them.  They keep me buoyed in my life with regular laughter and an intimate knowing of the details.  I get nourishment from the knowing and being known.

My friend Theresa was telling me about this concept that we are the amalgam of the five people with whom we spend the most time.  Who we spend time with is who we are.  And I think that’s true (if you count phone time).  These people, these amazing friends, help make me.  I come at them with declarations or tears, frustrations or gossip, and they help me figure it out, turn it around, see if from another angle.  I can call friends and leave messages like, “I am calling to vent and complain,” and I know they will call me as soon as humanly possible just to hear my complaints.  And I have many, as you well know.  But I also share joy, stories about my kids, pains about marriage or family or work.  And the stories they give me, the ideas they pass along, become part of the fabric of who I am, shape my story.  I might be certain about something at the beginning of a conversation and leave questioning my choices, changing my mind.  Or I might come to them with the muddled rantings of a human on the verge of collapse, and they help sort things out, put them back in the right order.  I am who I am because of these friends.

I said before that the existence of God is unknowable.  It’s true.

But I know I can reach absolute truth, sacred love and infinite knowledge any minute of the day.  My friends are present everywhere, available when I need them and provide me with the strength and love I need to live.  They grant me grace.  They are abundant with their love.  The truth is, I worship them.


Sarah Park said...

"I pray. I access the sacred every day." I love this. Heather, I deeply respect your stance on all this belief stuff. I think you are full of honesty and openness, which is beautiful and one of the main dignities of being human—which we so often forsake, for some reason.

The Pioneer Queer said...

I met Heather 6 months ago and she has been nothing but a bonus in my daily interactions with others as I work caring for my 2yr old bundle of joy. Coming from a strict Mormon upbringing and blossoming into a beautiful homosexual who loves to find new truths in all aspects of life (my personal philosophy is that happens to all of us religiously bound as children) but especially when it comes to my relationship with God, or a greater being. That being said, this is so right! Prayer is whatever the eff we need it to be in our lives because we are all diverse and fabulous. I also want to add that as someone without an organized religious stand any longer I like to lean towards the UU belief that there is greater power out there larger than us that I don't need to know about, I can feel that when I need it. It has happened recently on rare occasions like when my niece and nephew were born, etc but it has happened. I love my new friendship and especially this blog. Heather makes me feel better and learns me some edumacation, haha!

Susanna Shapiro said...

Heather - Wow. You are now officially my role model. Reading your blog brings tears to my eyes. Your writing is amazing, authentic and rings true to the core. Thank you for being a friend. Now I know how your kids are turning out to be so amazing - you (and Marco of course!) are a force to be reckoned with. Thank you for sharing your blog with me.

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