Recently, while trying to sum up my religious views to my husband, I said “My main problem with all religions is that they try to deny and intentionally forget that we are animals. I never forget that.” I had been going on about my searches through Buddhism in my twenties and how I now thought I was going to start attending church with the Society of Friends, but with reservations. I just couldn’t find anything that was in accordance with my real beliefs, but this has been an intensely spiritual year for me and I don’t want to lose that.
I grew up with parents who were totally mystical but not much for organization. They went through that phase before we were born when they lived in ashrams and stuff devoted to some teenaged guru from India. My mom’s mom was actually an atheist, but my mother hates that term. My father’s grandfather was a Presbyterian minister and he grew up actively afraid of church. My parents’ spirituality was sort of ever-present, but hard to place. My mom thinks she can control whether or not we get a good parking space with her mind. My father… oh, my father.
Witness the drunk man pointing to the cat and declaring “Sarah! Sidney has more of God within him than any human ever will. He’s not outside of this moment. He just is. He’s not plotting and scheming. He’s alive with the source…” or “Do you know what the beginning of the Bible is? Do you know what it means? In the beginning was the word and the word was God. Hum. Put your hands against your throat when you are humming. Why do you think we meditated? This is the source, the vibration.” He would then try to relate it all to electricity for me, but my brain would start to hurt. My dad is an engineer and concepts that are simple for him (the way things work) need to be sort of glossed over and made more accessible to me. I had a similar experience with a friend of mine who is now also an engineer attempting to explain the Tao of Physics to me. The Tao part? Yeah, yeah, yeah. The physics? Yes, I will get around to comprehending that all later. When I can.
Shit that embarrassed the crap out of me when I was a teenager now makes better sense as religious instruction than almost anything else. And yes, after years of rebellion and ridicule, I think my dad sort of has the answer.
For the past ten years or so, if you asked me about my religious views, I would say “I’m kind of an animist and I believe energy is God.” Then, I would try really a lot to change the subject. The closest thing I had to a religious tract was Daniel Quinn’s The Story of B which illuminates the interrelatedness of ecosystems and connects those webs to the “gods of this place” that we modern people are constantly paving over. Even under the pavement, the gods of this place are. His book calls for us to “become B” and preach these ancient truths to our brethren. I got really into it before I moved out here and then it all kind of fell out of my head. It was too hard to explain to people. My vegetarian friends would furrow their brows and say “You hate agriculture?” I didn’t have the terminology “totalitarian monoculture” back then. My sister Susan sent me my first Daniel Quinn book, Ishmael, saying it fascinated her and she knew I was the one who would need it the most. Now, she is dead and I think about the things she has said to me a lot.
When Susan died, in March, I sort of had a show down with my beliefs. I was tired of my analytic brain. I felt inane wandering around the hospice. She was unconscious for days and I had time to think about it. The hospice was a Jewish one. They have stuff they can do, I thought. They can like repeat the Kaddish or whatever. We have… ? Thinking. Luckily, my mother decided that, in accordance with Jewish tradition, we were going to light a candle and open the window after she passed because it made sense. Let her out of the room. (Oh, where did she go? — a whole other can of worms, but the question comes to mind when you witness a death nonetheless.) This practice was much more helpful than the pastor who was sent in to talk to us. “Have any of you found acceptance and peace with this situation?” she asked.
“What did you just say?” I countered. “No. We’re angry. There is no accepting this.” Thankfully, she left us alone. Alone to stare at our dying Susie and not know what the fuck to do.
This spring, after I came home, I found myself doing the weirdest things. I talked to a cloud. I talked to a bird. I talked to roadkill. I talked to coyotes. I talked to shaking tree limbs. I spent a lot of time staring into space and talking to “the universe” in my mind. I was praying.
“I think I need to pray.” I told Josh one day. “And furthermore, I’m tired of modern American life. Where’s the community? Where’s the… knowing how and what to do?” I’ve always been big on Anthropology and culture. I know enough about evolution to understand the basics of what our brains are for and to read the books about our instincts with interest. We need rituals. We need people. We need to not be sitting in a car on the way to a store all of the time.
But, I want to pray to a nebula or a coral reef. The most alive and connected to the world I have ever felt is when immersed in the reefs in the Red Sea when I was preteen in Egypt. I would snorkel and free dive all day. I maintain the thing about energy; it can neither be destroyed nor created. It always has been and it always will be. It is the mystery and the spark of life that is in all of us that is the thing to wonder at. But, look around. Look at all of the other things it can do. Look at the universe, look at your cat, look at a tree, look at all of the ways energy manifests itself in our world and the way these things work together and try to be cynical.
So, the Quaker thing has to do with me needing to find a community and some stuff to do with my dad’s family’s small town in Ohio and wanting Jonah to go to the Society of Friends music camp there eventually. But, it also has to do with the fact that they recognize “the light” that is within everyone as God. And they just silently sit around and commune on that. There isn’t any singing — which is a pity — but, I sing a lot at home.
So, the nebula thing? Check it out.
The other day I was in the car and NPR said they were going to have a special on scientists who were basically religious about nature. They were also going to talk to some guy named David Abram who is an “animist philosopher”. I missed the show, but I am going to listen to it as soon as I get a chance. I’m so excited that this movement exists and that I have been nudging toward it for years. Hopefully, 2011 will be a year that I maintain this connection and don’t sink back into the hollowness of rote modern existence. There is so much to connect with and so much to be thankful for and just so much to understand and feel … so much to be in awe of. Amen.
Friend do it this way – that is,
whatever you do in life,
do the very best you can
with both your heart and mind.
And if you do it that way,
the Power Of The Universe
will come to your assistance,
if your heart and mind are in Unity.
When one sits in the Hoop Of The People,
one must be responsible because
All of Creation is related.
And the hurt of one is the hurt of all.
And the honor of one is the honor of all.
And whatever we do effects everything in the universe.
If you do it that way – that is,
if you truly join your heart and mind
as One – whatever you ask for,
that’s the Way It’s Going To Be.
passed down from White Buffalo Calf Woman