Tuesday, February 05, 2008

been reading

I've been reading this fabulous book, eat, pray, love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. You've likely heard of it or at least seen it around, as it is a #1 New York Times Bestseller, as the cover proudly proclaims. It was recommended to me by both my devout mother-in-law and by fellow DAMU blogger, love medicine (who has exponentially expanded my To Read list).

The first section, "eat," is about a four-month stay in Italy, where the author practices the art of indulgence by learning Italian--for no other reason than she wants to--and by eating wonderful, delicious Italian food. There's this great chapter where she describes seeking out the best pizza place in Naples, the city where pizza began. Get this: she's eating the Best Pizza in the World. She gushes about this pizza with it's thin crust, perfectly flavored red sauce, and fresh mozzarella (once you've gone fresh, you can't go back). I tell you, she practically describes a food-gasm about this pizza. Tears of joy over the cheese. Shit, I almost had a food-gasm myself just reading about it. I thought back to the best pizza I've ever had, in New York City, with fellow exmos Meg & Jack Slate, hank rearden, lisesymom & exV, and juggler vain. We were there for lunch, I had skipped class and taken the train in just for this lunch, and we ate pepperoni pizza with rolls and red wine. The sauce was perfect, the crust was crisp but melt-in-your-mouth wonderful, and the fresh mozzarella just made this pizza. I can't imagine the pizza in Naples.

What I love about this section of the book is that the author feels it is 100% okay to indulge like this. Enjoy life; cater to your senses; focus on the body. This is not okay in Mormonism, where the spiritual self is supposed to put above the physical self: sacrifice, deny immediate pleasure for future gain, fast from food to get in touch with your spirit. That's not to say that Mormons can't be foodies; I certainly was. But I always felt a bit guilty about it.

Twenty-three pounds heavier, Gilbert goes on to India for a spiritual journey in the Buddhist tradition. There are parts of this I really liked and appreciated. Some of it made me want to try meditation, explore Buddhism more. I felt a bit jealous, really, of the transcendent moments she experiences. On the other hand, I found myself irked by it all being explained with the term "God." I don't want to be irked, but I am. Gilbert's version of God is absolutely nothing like the Mormon's Heavenly Father, of course. It's something much more elusive, certainly not corporeal, but still, often, a He. Ick. I also found my skeptical side kicking in and asking, "Why should we be seeking these altered states of consciousness at all? And why do they have to be called spiritual? Isn't what they call "god" just a part of our brain, a state of mind, something inexplicable to them but not, someday, to science?"

There was one particular passage that describes faith. I found my skeptic self frustrated by the description and argument.

"There's a reason we refer to 'leaps of faith'--because the decision to consent to any notion of divinity is a mighty jump from the rational over to the unknowable, and I don't care how diligently scholars of every religion will try to sit you down with their stacks of books and prove to you through scripture that their faith is indeed rational; it isn't. If faith were rational, it wouldn't be--by definition--faith. Faith is belief in what you cannot see or prove or touch. Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark."

I didn't like it. That leap from the rational to the unknowable. Been there done that. Except that I was ignoring the rational because the knowable was artificially made unknowable by the scary label "anti-Mormon lies." So in leaving the church, I made the opposite leap; from what I thought was the knowable to the rational. And the rational won, and I value it too much right now to try any leap back. Maybe sometime I'll try seeking out some other level of spirituality, but not now.

The same paragraph goes on to read,

"If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, out belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be...a prudent insurance policy."

That bit I appreciated. I realized that had I read that three years ago, when I was on the verge of the collapse of my Mormon belief, I would have really liked it. It would have opened my eyes and changed my understanding of faith, and helped me see that Mormonism had a messed up view of faith. Other religions see faith as doubt; Mormonism sees doubt as antithetical to faith. Mormonism confuses faith and knowledge; people say "I know the church is true" instead of "I believe the church is true." Gilbert never, ever says, "I know" about anything. She never, ever says, "This is the way to achieve transcendence." Her attitude is more, "I'm not sure what this is, but I like it" and "Everyone should seek their own way, this way has been working for me." How refreshing. Overall I liked the section, and appreciated that even though her experience and interaction with spirituality is so different from mine, it is still human experience and valuable to her and to me.

And now for the "love" section, where she seeks balance. I can't wait to read it.

*Both quotes are from p. 175

Friday, February 01, 2008

once again, the insignificance

I haven't had much to write lately, besides being a bit bogged down by some virus. I suppose it's a good thing for me that I don't think enough about Mo'ism to have something to write several times a week.

Trying to think of something in my life that was Mo-influenced, I remembered the most significant event in a while for Mormons--the death of the president, Hinckley, this past Sunday. My response was a shocked and sympathetic, "Wow" when my mother-in-law told me. While I feel sympathy for his family at their loss, I'll confess that just a couple days before the death, my husband and I had been wondering when the nonogenarian would pass. (Nope, that doesn't make me a prophet for predicting the future, as he was 97, and I'd been wondering when he would die for years now.)

The death would have been much more a significant for me had I still been a believer, as it is, I'm sure, for my family and friends who are. I imagine many of them will watch the four-hour funeral proceedings tomorrow. The most time I'm going to put in, though, is watching the Colbert Show coverage. 'Cause it's hilarious. Predictably, it links the death and the passing of the mantle to Thomas S Monson to Romney's candidacy, then switching into a writers' strike joke--showing exactly how little the small world of Mormondom means to the rest of the country.

On facebook, I noticed that some Mormons are "getting their panties in a bunch" about the video clip and have formed a group to boycott Colbert for it. But I also noticed that there's another Mormon group to boycott the boycott.