Normally, I would place a meme on The Back Page--that being why I created it. But since Cosette of Pandora's Bazaar not only tagged me, but named Quaker Pagan Reflections itself in her own Book Meme post, that would probably be cheating.
And, in any case, the book that is immediately to hand is one I've got a few thoughts about worth the sharing.
So, for those of you not yet hit with this particular pyramid scheme of the blogosphere, the meme goes like this:
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people. (My tags are at the bottom of the page, for enquiring minds.)
So, the book I had nearest at hand is one I've only begun dipping into--it was a gift from my daughter, who actually picked it up for free on a book exchange she found via the Web: the bestselling Eat, Pray, Love. Here's the quote:
"Our whole business therefore in this life,"wrote Saint Augustine, rather Yogically, " is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen."
Like all great philosophical ideas, this one is simple to understand but virtually impossible to imbibe. OK--so we are all one, and divinity abides within us all equally.
Observant readers will note that I went to some pains to let you know how I came by the book, and that this implies a certain sheepishness on my part to be caught with it. Why is that?
I think it's because this has become one of the books that "serious" spiritually-minded people love to hate. I don't think I can do better than to quote one Amazon reviewer, who describes it as
both disappointing and aggravating from beginning to end. The author is self-absorbed and irritating, and her 'insights' into the people she meets and the places she goes are shallow and annoying. The endless reflection on the horror of a marriage that didn't seem that horrible to me, and the quest for spirituality that has Gilbert chatting with God in India made finishing this book a torment. Finding out that she got the book advance before heading out on her journey made total sense; the trip fit into the book proposal rather than the other way around.
I became a Pagan about the time that Lynn Andrews was becoming big business in the 80's. Ah, Lynn Andrews. The best of all worlds: Lynn's story tells us again and again that it's possible to combine being affluent, blond, and with a taste for designer clothes with spiritual enlightenment found through contact with "authentic" Native peoples. Just think--all the payoff of eternal wisdom, but without having to wear unflattering clothing or do without First World health care, power, or privilege! How cool is that?
It's easy to believe that Elizabeth Gilbert is yet another variety of plastic spiritual seeker. It is hard to sympathize with a woman who finds herself in a crisis of empty materialism, asking herself,
wasn't I proud of all we'd accumulated--the prestigious home in the Hudson Valley, the apartment in Manhattan, the eight phone lines, the friends and the picnics and the parties, the weekends spent roaming the aisles of some box-shaped superstore of our choice, buying ever more appliances on credit? I had actively participated in every moment of the creation of this life--so why did I feel like none of it resembled me?
Viewed from a certain angle, Gilbert looks like merely another victim of affluenza, our cultural ennui and alienation. And maybe she is. When she talks about her instant infatuation with a "ninth generation Indonesian medicine man," I am struck by her need to keep score. Because, you know, a ninth generation Indonesian medicine man is obviously going to be, like, well, better than an eighth generation Indonesian medicine man. And totally no comparison with, say, a mere fourth generation Indonesian medicine man.
The idea that wisdom is something that can be obtained only by contact with an exotic Other--ideally someone poor, but poor because they are not caught up in material things rather than because they suffer from economic injustices that, yes, with the two houses and eight phone lines, Elizabeth Gilbert(and I) are in some way complicit with--that idea, combined with the score-keeping of Authentic Wisdom Indicators, like an Energy Star rating on an appliance, just screams New Age to me.
Pagans just hate being classed as a New Age religion. And I agree. I don't think Paganism is a New Age religion, because I think that the New Age is primarily about reconciling the tensions inherent in trying to live with spiritual integrity in an unjust world by ignoring injustice and by commodifying Spirit. The New Age is about buying the right things--robes, retreats, Tibetan Singing Bowls, and teachers--to make us just "wise" enough to be smug and maybe write a book. But not wise enough to see what horse's ass idiots we are, just by virtue of being human. Let alone wise enough to repent of that, and start at least trying to change our lives to actually honor the realities of a world of inequalities and injustice.
And I think Paganism--and the Religious Society of Friends--does better than that, most of the time. I think we honestly try to connect with one another as communities of humans--which is why it's so hard, and why there's so much conflict. Humans are hard. Conflict is hard. And there's no need for conflict when you're a passive consumer of a "wisdom tradition" after all--that's the whole point, in fact. But sometimes we remember that it's not about consuming, but growth, and we struggle on, loving and sometimes fighting, growing in the process. Sometimes a little Spirit even sneaks in and speeds the process along, which is wonderful--and the real point of all the seeking and the striving.
I think we've all got it, though, in this culture--that soul-sickness of affluenza. I think that is the reason I flinch from admitting that I am reading Gilbert's book; I don't want to be taken for one of those people... which is a pretty good hint that, in fact, I see something of myself in that folly.
I'm out of balance. Gilbert's out of balance. Almost certainly, dear reader, so are you. I don't think we need to travel to Indonesia to find our souls. I think we can listen fine from where we are. But, ironically, I think listening must involve listening to Gilbert's voice, as she explores the state of her spirit in her book--or at least not pre-judgeing her as a plastic seeker, simply because she began her seeking in a position of material comfort.
So did Gautama Buddha, if my memory serves me. So, maybe, in place of assuming I know her soul (and therefore, refusing to reflect on my own) based on her affluence and angst in the early chapters of her book, I'd do better to read on before making up my mind.
After all, I'm only on page 29. And page 123 did look pretty good...
Tagged for the 123 Book Meme:
Ali, at Meadowsweet and Myrrh
David, at Silver Maple
Walhydra, at Walhydra's Porch
Riverwolf, at IDiosyntocracy
Cubbie at Seams of a Peculiar Queer