I came across a blog post critiquing the common phrase “I’m spiritual not religious” which is indeed an annoying comment. I usually want to respond “that’s cute” but I don’t have time for the drama it would bring to my table. Even just refusing someone’s “spiritual” advances creates shock and disgust. Recently I declined to bring my baby boy, my dog, to be “blessed” by the local church of the coffee shop on animal day. “No thanks. I already have a religious tradition.” Jeez, you’d think I spit in their hymnals or ripped off their yarmalkas.
After reading the aforementioned piece, I felt he just smelled like a sort of young Orthodox person who had once been a fundamentalist. There’s a vibe to that. So I clicked on his home page, and sure enough that’s what he is – former evangelical – etc. There’s a particular flavour that’s hard to mistake. For a long time, you’re still shaped by where you come from, including the evangelical impulse to explain to people right from wrong, or at least what one thinks those are – correct from incorrect, usually.
I just can’t do stuff like that. It’s been a long time since I could. Correcting the world. I’m not saying he’s wrong, not judging him. Fine. Do that, if it’s your thing. But there are some areas of life that only story writing lets me say *anything* about, really. That and a few maxims, but it’s stories that are for *other* people.
Religion is one such topic. Love is another. It’s too close, too painful, and what can I say about it, in some didactic form, that will touch anything anyone else has to say about it? Death? I don’t seem to be on the same page with almost anyone, except what I read between the lines of some ancient writers. And it goes on like that. All the “big” stuff.
It’s not like the stories are an outlet. I *resist* talking about this stuff. I resist, sometimes fail, blurt out things in social media, but mostly I’m not holding it back or holding it in, I’m just holding it to myself. I don’t want to argue, don’t want to fight, and I want my thoughts to be safe from warfare and the world. I tried satire for a while, but the burden of always monitoring the world’s foibles became too much. And it seems like you’re always chasing the latest pre-designed pseudo-event (to cite Boorstin’s book), and not getting at the deep things that really move our existence at all. When I was listening to NPR every day, I had to do something with the frustration. Now I spend more time with art, which works better, and I’ve stopped. But it does come out in the stories, these topics – faith, love, death, etc.
It’s a new thing, for me, but I think it’s an authentic thing. You write what the story requires. You don’t preach. I’m not preaching. It’s not an evangelical impulse to fix anyone or make the world all right. In fact, if the world were all right, I don’t know that I’d have stories to tell. But you let out how you think about the world, because you have to, or the story fails, falls on its face, isn’t honest, doesn’t become real. It’s like you have to breathe life into it or it dies on the page. And that life is the accumulation of responses to the big things as well as the small – certainly to the questions that saints, lovers, and philosophers have pondered since we came down from the first trees.
I always think, too, that representing a particular point of view as ‘the’ way we think, we of some caste, estate, Faith, or culture, about this or that is always the death (for me) of creativity. Orthodox people, by way of example, think about things in all kinds of ways. Some of us, like me, think every thing that has ever been created will be redeemed. Every gnat, every person, all of us – nothing gets lost – nothing is valueless – even me, one way or another – to be redeemed in flames or in beauty and wonder. Others don’t think that. Some of us think killing is always wrong, for any reason, self-defense included and, like me, acknowledge being a murderer or potential murderer, at least a contributor to the travesty of dying in the world. Others don’t think that at all – we have warrior saints who are saints because they killed and we have saints like Boris and Gleb the unmercenaries who are saints because they laid down their lives rather than defend them, and shared in the meekness of Christ the Lamb. Some of us ask if we should argue with God, wondering if his seeming injustice is not a call for us to challenge Him and wield the justice that we are charged with, as little gods, logikoi of the Logos, and others don’t think that. Some of us ask if God is really there, in a way that we can say this or that is God, intimating that all our words, true or false, are nonetheless a form of heresy, because they presume to qualify or quantify that which must be beyond analogy in created concepts, and others don’t think that.
When it comes to love and death and a host of other things, we all have similarly diverse curiosities, or feelings, or inclinations. Who has a monopoly on death or love? Who is the expert? I can only say what I feel, what I do. In the maxims that govern my life or in the stories by which I look outward at the world. It’s in story that I find I can explore with the greatest facility and curiosity, because my characters are the ones thinking, or giving voice to their concerns, their questions, their guesses, and you can’t really argue with a fictional character. I certainly don’t have to justify them. They ask what they need to ask in order to exist, to be who they are and become who they become, and do what they do. I am neither loyal to them nor ambivalent, because I am their creator and I love them all, and struggle to redeem them all, whether I see things exactly the way they do or not.