"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Friday, July 28, 2017

O Ya - Ya of Little Faith


Good Lord didn't mean for us to hate ourself.
He made us to love ourself like He do, with wide open arms
.” (140)

Don't ever worry bout bein holy, babychild.
Just keep your eyes wide open except when you sleep.
Then let the Lord's mighty vision see you through the night
.” (144)

~ Little Altars Everywhere ~ Rebecca Wells ~
~ more on my book blog ~

"I have been missing the point. The point is not knowing
another person, or learning to love another person.
The point is simply this: how tender can we bear to be?
What good manners can we show as we welcome ourselves
and others into our hearts?
" (346)

~ Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood ~ Rebecca Wells ~


It has been awhile since the "Ya - Ya Sisterhood" has come up in conversation, but it's been on my mind lately in connection with my recent thoughts on religious indoctrination. Even the titles -- Divine Secrets, Little Altars -- imply a spiritual inclination. I loved the vocabulary: ya-ya, ya-ya-no, gumbo ya-ya, tres ya-ya, petites ya-yas -- and my favorite angel-gals.

The plot, on the other hand, was rather far fetched for my taste. Could you really have the same four best friends for seventy years? Well maybe if your fathers were all incredibly rich and your husbands were all incredibly rich and you never had to move across the country or be even remotely concerned about making a living and could live an entire life devoted solely to personal relationships. I was straining to suspend my disbelief, but I guess that's why they call it fiction. Still I prefer for my fictional characters to be a bit more like moi, and I'm a Yankee girl raised in a humble home of modest means. So I had a few hurdles to cross and some eyes to roll before coming to a full appreciation of the divine secrets behind the antics.

For me, the most memorable line will always be when Sidda (age thirty - something) goes to visit her mother and "tried not to feel five years old. She tried to feel at least eleven" (336). Another shining moment -- as quoted above -- occurs when Sidda gives up the idea of ever really understanding her mother: "The point is not knowing another person, or learning to love another person. The point is simply this: how tender can we bear to be?"

In fact, early in the novel, Sidda's mother suggests the tenderness of etiquette, "Forget love. Try good manners” (25). This ya - ya advice is similar to Kurt Vonnegut's observation that what the world needs now is "A little less love please, and a little more common decency". Or Ralph Waldo Emerson's reminder to "treat the men and women well: treat them as if they were real: perhaps they are."

I like Emerson's "angels unawares" message here, but even more I like the face value of it, that being human is enough, being human is everything. If the sum of humanity is greater than the individuals, then maybe that sum is god. Instead of loving god (whatever that means) how about just being nice to other people. When it comes to faith, god, and religion, the quest to know (even as also we are known) can be good; but maybe a better goal is to be tender and mannerly.

In a memorable episode of Thirtysomething (can't remember which season), Elliot chastises his mother-in-law Eleanor for hurting his wife Ellen's feelings. Eleanor responds that she has asked god's forgiveness. But Elliot persists, "What about asking Ellen's forgiveness? She's the person you hurt." Why can't Eleanor be more tender? Why is she holding back?

Around the same time (1997) that I was watching Thirtysomething and reading Divine Secrets and Little Altars, a dear friend -- one of my angel - gals -- was reading The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie. She found it to be a very helpful way of looking at the heartache and frustration and occasional boredom of organized religion, and she wrote to explain some of Beattie's ideas:
She suggests acting "As If." Act as if you're happy and pretty soon you will be. Or act as if I have excellent self-esteem and pretty soon I will. That kind of thing. So if I act as if I believe in God, pretty soon I will? That could work! It's very important to me to start believing. I went to my counselor last night. Seems I have this core belief that "I am not enough." So I asked, "How do you get rid of those beliefs that you formed as a small child?" Of course, as adults, we can actively choose for tenderness as opposed to bitterness, but we can't always repair the damage done to us as children. I have a lot of work to do, and I really appreciate your thoughts and help on my issues.
In response, I shared with her the story of what had inspired me over the years and what had not. As a Nazarene kid (in the 1960s & 70s), I am definitely grateful for the singable hymns and the "fantastic grasp of scripture," which has served me well personally and professionally, as a teacher and writer. However, I never got the "strong sense of identity" or the "Nazzy street cred" that some adherents claim as their birthright (see, for example, Ryan Scott's blog post
"Nazarenes, Moralism, and _ru_p"). Instead, I felt constantly judged and criticized by my elders and my peers, perpetually weighed and found wanting. Always a goat, never a sheep.

As a child, my eyes were opened (and not in a good way) when I visited a Sunday school class for fourth grade girls. When one of the girls was excused for a few moments to run an errand, the teacher turned to the rest of us and said, "While she's out of the room, let's pray for her, because we know that she is not saved." What?! I hardly believed any of those cruel, heartless, irrational ideas from the time I was 8 or 9 years old. How do we know that she's not saved? My girlish heart was shocked then; and even now, half a century later, I remain highly suspicious of anyone who would pray for me behind my back. Don't do that!

I was exposed to numerous other severe dictates that totally backfired. Though I realized early on (by age 10) that it would never work for me, I stayed in the church, trying to remain in favor with my family, until age 26. With huge relief, I finally chose another path. I was committed to the insistence that religion has to make some kind of sense, and to finding a church where human intelligence is valued, rather than the hypocritical "please leave your brain at the door" attitude that I resented throughout my formative years. I knew that I would never want my children subjected to the criticism and judging and unnecessary shame of Protestant fundamentalism.

I also have to confess that I've never been much of prayer person, mostly because I don't know what that means. If I'm asking, who am I asking? If I'm praising, who am I praising? Yet I like doing things like reciting or singing or listening to certain prayers, poems, psalms, hymns because I like those words and I like the act of singing or choral reading or just hearing certain words or phrases. So it's not that if I act happy or uplifted I will become those things; it's just that for the duration (5 minutes) of hearing someone sing "Ave Maria" or for the duration (2 minutes) of reciting the Apostles' Creed, I feel convinced of meaning, grace, history, connection. I can easily believe that the world's most beautiful words, songs, and buildings have all been created to the "glory of God," even though I'm not entirely sure what that means. I'm not opposed to the idea that honoring god means honoring humanity, in manner of Rebecca Wells, Vonnegut, and Emerson.

My ya-ya sis replied:
I totally appreciate you sharing your thoughts on God. That really helped! What I understood you to be saying is that you have faith and you believe in God even though you're not what exactly God is or if God even exists? So it's kind of like a blind faith? And that if you pray to God that's your God? That just by doing the act (believing) it creates belief? Am I getting this? If I'm at all close, I think I know what you're saying, and I think that might work for me. I have trouble believing in anything supernatural (not concrete), but I guess if I just believe that something could exist, that is enough. Maybe?
One observation that I would add to our thoughts on God is that I'm not really trying to accomplish or grow into any kind of greater belief by the small ways in which I practice my "blind faith" (if that's the right term). It's not so much that "act creates belief" for me as it is that "act gives satisfaction" (however slight). So what I'm willing to do (and maybe this is my "faith") is go with that slight sense of satisfaction or fulfillment or participation as a worthwhile act in itself. For a specific example, let's say I take communion -- I have no belief in the body and blood and transubstantiation. In fact, I never even think about those things. But I do like participating in the ritual of having a tiny piece of bread and a tiny sip of wine with some other people that I know. I have no expectation that such an act will lead to or create any further belief; and as for the supernatural, I don't need body and blood; bread and wine is enough for me.

A little divinity, a lot of humanity. A little love, a lot of common decency. A little knowing, a lot of tenderness. A few divine secrets, a lot of little altars.

"Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?"
Matthew 8:26, KJV

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Monday, August 14th

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