Indulgence

I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on the water.  (from Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert)

“Indulgent.”  That’s what Simon Cowell would say about that sentiment and the way it was written.  He uses the term to censure American Idol contestants who choose to sing songs with some great personal meaning, instead of attempting to present something the audience will understand.

I’ve been re-reading Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s very popular memoir about her own epic spiritual journey, and I suppose you could consider the entire affair a bit self-indulgent.  Really, how many people have the opportunity to spend a year abroad – four months each of pleasure seeking in Italy, spirit seeking in India, and heaven seeking in Indonesia – completely funded (with the stipulation that you’ll write a book about the experience) by one’s publisher ?

 Gilbert’s writing is fun to read (hence the re-read, I guess). She’s never pedantic, and in fact has a wicked sense of humor about herself and her journey.  And she definitely has a knack for pulling the reader into her world of the moment.  During the past few days, I’ve had a definite craving for pasta, and have to bite my tongue to keep from calling out “Ciao!” when I leave the room.

But now I’ve followed her to the ashram in India, where she’s attempting to get her spiritual house in order.  And though our situations couldn’t be more different, her spiritual quest strikes its own chord with me.

I wasn’t raised in The Church, although I occasionally went to my aunt’s little Baptist church, but I was never very fond of the church- going experience.   I always felt a bit like an imposter, because I wanted to buy into the concept of God but somehow couldn’t quite get it.  As an adult, I began attending church regularly almost 20 years ago, but I’ll confess that the main impetus for my attendance is the sense of community I’ve developed.   That, and playing music.

I don’t find God at church. 

In fact, if I were to say I feel close to God, feel the power of a Divine entity, it would be much more likely to happen standing before a sparkling clear lake, where the sunlight “amuses itself” on the face of the water, sparkling like a kazillion diamonds.  Or walking in the park near my house on a bright summer morning, letting the dogs run free in the valley, a soft breeze rippling our hair and caressing our cheeks.

But like Elizabeth Gilbert, I long to feel that true spiritual connection with God, yes, the one they used to talk about in the Baptist church.  I long for that promised metamorphosis when you “let Jesus come into your heart.”

 “I’m tired of being a skeptic, I’m irritated by spiritual prudence and I feel bored and parched by empirical debate,” Gilbert writes.  “I don’t want to hear it anymore.  I couldn’t care less about evidence and proof and assurances.  I just want God.  I want God inside me. ” 

I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on the water.”

Indulgent?  Perhaps.

In the Christian calendar, we’re coming upon the season of Lent, the period of time before Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion.  The darkest time in the history of Christendom, when the sins of mankind were heaped on Christ’s shoulders.  During this period, it’s customary (indeed, it’s de riguer  for some) Christians  to “give up” something – to make a pertinent sacrifice to remind them of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.   I grew up in a very Catholic neighborhood, and clearly remember my friends having major discussions about what was right and proper to sacrifice for the season.  Naturally there were the jokesters who tried to give up washing dishes or doing homework…of course that didn’t fly.  You had to relinquish something you really loved –  if the sacrifice didn’t hurt, it didn’t count. 

It’s all I can do to drag myself to church during Lent.  I dread the focus on doom and gloom, the dirge like hymns whose poetry is dark and despairing.  I hate the refrains about betrayal and death, of pain and suffering.  On Sunday mornings, I want nothing more than to stay in bed drinking coffee and eating some sinfully delicious pastry.

“But then there’s Easter!” my friend Millie said to me once, when I complained about the concept of Lent.  “That’s the reward for all the sorrow!”

Fooey.  I don’t want to be reminded that life is filled with sorrow, and that sometimes only suffering can fully enable us to experience pure joy.  I don’t want my face buried in six weeks of sadness, just so I can have the light for one day.

Indulgent? Probably.

But in order to make it through the next six weeks, I think I’ll need to indulge myself.

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2 thoughts on “Indulgence

  1. Boy, you have a lot of meat in here, Becca, and it really resonates with me. I always did the church thing as a younger person — I loved the choir and being part of that ensemble. And as churches go, congregationalists are pretty liberal and the church itself didn’t really come at odds with my general beliefs. Yet, there was something in the process that was lacking. I began to realize that the God part is within me. I think of Jesus as the son of God who got all the responsibility heaped on him, and we’re the brothers and sisters who had more opportunities to skate a bit.

    And for me that spirit isn’t so much what I do on Sundays as what I do every day — try to be the best person I can be, fair, compassionate, honest, loving. Not because I have to but because it is the right thing to do and be. I’m never comfortable when one “has” to do things with all the rest — the group prayer, the national anthem at the ball game, the pledge of allegiance. Yet it’s not that I am unpatriotic or without faith. It just seems too personal to do as a group.

    A long time ago I stopped “giving up” for lent. Instead, I decided to start “giving in” and “giving out.” Anonymous donations or helping hands. Random acts of kindness. Not having chocolate for eight weeks will only make a difference to me. Those other things… well, they might go a little broader.

    And I think you have just more or less read my Ash Wednesday post!

  2. For me, one of the best parts of re-reading EPL was the possibility Gilbert offers of a very real, very personal relationship of God. That she even attempts to show this made the book worthwhile for me. And I agree: in Michigan, in these times, cultivating a spirit of indulgence, both toward ourselves & toward others, is probably our real Lenten task!

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