Friday, November 26, 2010

Happily Ever After

One of my favorite stories from my father's ministry is about the time when he was counseling a young couple preparing for marriage.

"You know in wedding ceremonies when the bride and groom each take a candle and light a third candle together saying that now their lives have become one?" Dad asked them.

"Yes," the couple say together, eyes all round and dewy, hearts all-a-twitter in their rush of love and commitment.

"Well," says my father, "That's bullshit."

The bride will remain her own person and the groom will remain his. No amount of love and commitment will make them into a composite entity.

We like to believe in happily ever after scenarios. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl engage in comical moments of sexual tension. Girl misunderstands zany circumstance and leaves boy. Boy runs after girl and publicly announces his love for her. Girl pauses dramatically to cause a few more moments of satisfying sexual tension before flying into boy's arms. Onlookers cheer. Everyone lives happily ever after. They never add what happens after the happily ever after. Girl finds that boy is inordinately pleased by the sound of his own flatulence. Boy discovers girl's latent self-loathing perfectionism. Girl meets boy's mother and finds her intolerable. Boy realizes that boy's mother is exactly like girl, tells girl so and then finds himself sleeping on couch.

And that's just for starters. Eventually the relationship will involve the inclusion of people the boy and girl love together- friends, relatives, children. And eventually boy, girl, and related loved ones will suffer tragedies, illnesses, set-backs and anxieties, addictions, disappointments, and death. Such is life. Falling in love doesn't shield one from sadness. In fact, falling in love probably will magnify it since now in addition to suffering through one's own fears and sorrows, one also has to participate in the suffering and sorrowing of others. Is it even worth it? Yeah. Why? I don't know. It just is. You deal with it.

I notice that people treat spirituality like a love story. When we find the image of the Divine that makes us fall in love, we want it all to work out perfectly. We want a happily ever after. We want God to be the guy on the white horse who always shows up in the nick of time sweeping us off our feet and carrying us to bliss. Well, good luck with that. When my husband was making deliveries of heavy appliances to evangelical Christians, they told him that if he only gave himself over to the Lord, all his physical labor would be easier. Despite what the evangelists said to my husband when he was delivering their big-ass refrigerators to their boiled hot-dog stinking homes, God will not make your physical burdens lighter. God will not save you from disease and death. God will not make you smarter, richer, thinner, or less addicted to cigarettes. We still have to obey all the rules of the world we live in. Gravity still applies. So does the need to use your head.

Bad things happen to good people. All the time. Praying doesn't change that. God doesn't save kids from dying because people prayed real hard any more than God makes kids die because their parents didn't pray hard enough. Human reason, justice, and hard work save us. Except when they can't. That happens too. To quote from the Princess Bride, "Life is pain."

"Well," you may say to yourself, "This was a very negative blog post. What's the point?" I guess my point is this: I believe that we fall in love because we witness that of God in someone else and feel called to commune with it. I'm not just talking about romantic love, but all kinds of love. Sure, there are the purely hormonal, biological, instinctive and selfish motivations of our attractions, loyalties and connections to partners, parents, and offspring. There's nothing wrong with that. That's how we survive. But there is something more there too. I'm convinced of it. Each time I fall in love with another human soul, my love for the Divine magnifies. Each time I more fully realize the uniqueness and difference of each beloved Life I encounter, the more deeply I rejoice in the Vastness of the Ineffable.

That's a recipe for Joy but not for happiness. Loving more deeply means deeper and greater pain. Only when we keep our love of the Divine at the selfish, hormonal swooning stage do we walk around in bliss . Let the love deepen and you'll find the Divine is the most tragically beautiful relationship of all because eventually, you'll be asked to love more and more and more until your whole being is caught up in it and your heart breaks wide open so that you cannot help but feel the raw tenderness and wild longing that has been drawing us to each other and toward the Source since the beginning of time. Pull back the veil and we reveal Darkness darker and Brilliance brighter than our little human minds can bear. So why not leave the veil unturned? Why not shield ourselves from falling so desperately, helplessly, foolishly in love with a Divine Spark that we know will burn? I don't have a clue. Wish I did. It hurts like hell, but that's the way the Story goes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving. Yuck.

Thanksgiving is upon us. I never liked it much. It joins the list of other holidays I never liked much. We don't celebrate Labor Day because my husband always has to work on Labor Day. We don't celebrate Veterans' Day because I'm a pacifist and it weirds me out. I don't celebrate Columbus Day because I think celebrating imperialism and genocide is gauche. Likewise, I'm not into Thanksgiving. Kind of a crappy holiday, don't you think? First off, we have the historically insensitive Pilgrims and Indians theme and since, as I've mentioned before,I'm not into a celebrating genocide, I'm not about to give my children a sanitized version of history. This makes sharing the story of the first Thanksgiving an exercise in perennial liberal rage.

And I'm not especially thankful this time of year. It isn't that I'm not thankful, it is just that I'm not especially thankful in November and I see no need to pretend that I am. You can't make me be thankful. (This gives me the same morbidly violent sensations I feel when some chipper person says to me, "Smile!")

The entire thing smacks of corporate and political manipulation. I don't want your damn candy corn nor your cornucopias made in China. I'm not interested in nationalism, or patriotism, or jingoism, or candied yams. And if I didn't spend time with friends and family earlier in the year, there was probably a reason.

It isn't that I'm against a celebration of plenty. I'm all into folk traditions. I enjoy ancient holidays arising out of the natural and agricultural cycles, but here in NY, harvest is well over. My family and I celebrate the harvest in August which is much more timely and therefore much more satisfying.

And then there's the whole "Turkey Day" thing which offends me as a vegan. You can imagine that as a pacifist vegan Pagan, I'm not so much into the butchering of living creatures to celebrate the implantation of the genocidal Calvinists into New England.

We could do Tofurkey. But then the other problem with Thanksgiving is the whole gender issue. Being female, I've watched the women in my family knock themselves out every year trying to make everyone happy. The house has to be clean. Everything must sparkle. The tablecloth and the center piece and the matching dishes for a bazillion surly, aggravating, conservative relatives who will not notice either the table cloth or the centerpiece but who will make a comment about my diet, my clothes, my child rearing style, and my politics. In the end, some long-suffering female person who normally is a community activist or a scholar will break down. "Oh my God! I've forgotten the effing squash!" No one needs that.

What is going on with this holiday that turns us into bitchy monsters? We're thankful so that means that the women work like servants all day so the men can sit around and fart? No. I don't think so.

And it isn't like the men want us to act like servants. It isn't like they even care. They would be completely content to have us join them in the farting and football watching. My husband, who insists on traditional food, is just as happy if it comes out of the box and if he's the one who prepares it. He doesn't care if I made the pie from scratch. The guys didn't ask for our servile behavior and obsessive compulsive interest in making the perfect cranberry sauce (which no one will eat anyway). We bring that on ourselves. Each year, generations of women who normally could giving a flying...er...fig...about cooking gather together to just "whip together" a banquet which of course stresses us out beyond our capacity for rational thought. Somehow, despite generations of feminist sentiment, we revert to this Victorian angel of the home mentality on holidays which can only carry us so far before we begin making snide comments to each other regarding who is doing the most work and whether or not the carrots are cut in the proper manner.

Imagining our sensitive, feminist husbands as Neanderthals who don't appreciate our domestic labor, we scurry around the house yelling at children who leave toys around. Happy frickin' Thanksgiving. Pick up your toys! Were you brought up in a barn?! And where is your father?! Then, in a paroxysm of martyrdom, we drag ourselves into the living area, flushed from the hard work of cooking and yelling at children to talk to the farting men as if they are infants, or as if they hated us or why would sit there farting when the effing squash is missing g@ddammit! And it doesn't matter anyway because I can't eat any of this because I'm so fat. I'm fat, right? You can tell me. You think I'm fat, don't you!? Bastard.

So some time ago, we decided that as rational human beings (most of the time anyway) with college educations and concerns that move us way, way beyond our kitchens, we would make peace with Thanksgiving and our remaining bewildering gender issues by ordering take-out food. We used to order Chinese take-out but now all the restaurants are closed on Thanksgiving. Now what will be do? Here's my solution to the entire holiday. I say screw Thanksgiving! Let's just skip it.

(The above is an exaggeration. We don't really ever get the house sparkling clean).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Slow Brain Drip and Blank Spaces

My blogging seems to have slowed down to a trickle. My family has been sick on and off for weeks and most of my energy has been dedicated to housekeeping and teaching. Additionally, I feel as though for the past three years my intelligence has been dripping out of my brain. Drop by drop, I become less interested and less interesting. Bit by bit I'm losing confidence in my abilities as a thinker. I suppose that's what happens after the doctorate is earned and real life sets in. I had a great deal invested in believing I was a smarty pants. Today I am far less convinced. The good news is that my entire identity isn't tied up in how clever I am. I love being a homemaker and a college instructor. My children and my students are funny and sweet, and they make me happy. I wanted to be brilliant but being maternal may be an even better deal.

I've also (maybe)temporarily removed the "Pagan" from my Plainly Pagan blog title. I'm still Pagan but the term is in the shop for repairs. One thing that may be happening is that I find that I don't feel that I share community with most Pagans in any way that is related to our shared Pagan beliefs. Part of that is because I'm not sure that I do share many Pagan beliefs with other Pagans. That's fine. Not being able to connect to their spirituality doesn't stop me from enjoying the words, wisdom, and friendship of Pagan friends. It just feels awkward for me to call myself a Pagan when I know that pretty much every single person will assume I mean something I do not. I like my words to facilitate rather than hinder understanding. Anyway...I've been working on those thoughts and I'll have to see where they go.

I also think that I'm thinking of my Paganism in the small p way these days. It has become an adjective rather than a noun. I don't think I am a Quaker-Pagan. I am a pagan Quaker. The adjective "pagan" modifies the noun, "Quaker". I'm also a feminist Quaker, a female Quaker, a maternal Quaker, a teaching Quaker, and a liberal Quaker. My beliefs are pagan because they are earth-centered, spiritualist, and pantheistic. (except when they are non-theistic and that's pagan too). But I identify with Friends. I'm not all that sure that they identify with me, but I have confidence that over time, I'll acquire a convincing Quaker patina.

That's all I have for now. *sigh*