Gimme That (Old?) Time Religion

Hey everybody, it’s Wednesday, and you know what that means. That’s right, blog time!

I have a few things to talk about this week, but let’s start with the status update. Last week I had just finished Chapter 17 and planned to move on to Chapter 18 and…that’s where I remain. I’ve made some progress, just not as much as I would prefer, as the critique group intervened on the latter half of the week.

And that’s okay! I get so much value out of the experience that it’s not exactly a sacrifice. I got through the work with nary a scratch and traveled to the dreaded Baltimore for the meeting. As you can see, the place was in flames and I’m lucky to have gotten out with my life:

Baltimore2

 

Anyway, Chapter 18. I would like to be farther along, but the last few days have been focused on honing the chapter’s opening paragraphs. The problem? It felt too non-committal, too vague, which happens when your protagonist is blasted out of his minds on benzos. The scene needed juice, but how to get it? Ah, of course: look at it from the point of view of a critique. One thing never really added up, and it provided a hook for the scene. You see, Lindsay takes Dean to her place and Dean’s knowledge of the street on which she lives makes him a little uneasy. That prompted the question, how did he know of the street’s reputation, and what about it made him uneasy?

The street itself doesn’t have a bad reputation back home; my impression is entirely based on my own experiences. So why not share Dean’s experiences? It would give the reader more backstory and increase his anxiety about what might happen. That pushed things forward, and now I’m up to the part where he sees her apartment for the first time. Hopefully I can get farther in the next few days.

Now that other item that I wanted to talk about. I want to share a quick…well, ‘response’ is not quite the right word. Inspired post? Maybe that’ll work. On Saturday I was sitting around waiting for breakfast when this wonderful post from my friend Aniko Carmean popped up. I tried to write a few responses on her site, but they all felt kind of flat. The thing is, she was bravely sharing about a spiritual matter in her life, and everything felt like an empty pat on the back rather than a one-to-one relation. Thinking more about it, I realized it was a blog post. So…here you go. But first, read her post, it’s a good one.

Aniko, I get you. I’ve always been a spiritual seeker, and felt that hollow space in my life for a long time. I grew up Mormon, though we weren’t the most devout of members (at least until I was about eight years old). Still, even without being devout, I felt that I had some answers about what the afterlife looked like, what it meant to be spiritual, and the general shape of my “religious life”, for lack of a better term, going forward.

Then my teen years happened and, as teenagers often do, I found myself dissatisfied with the answers. Problem was, I looked around at my friends and most seemed pretty happy with what they had. My Baptist friends went to their church…well, religiously, and believed in the doctrine. Same for my Mennonite friends. And so on. It seemed that most people had not only been given a formula for spiritual happiness, but accepted it and found happiness. Age has revealed my situation to be far from unique, but it was a scary place as a kid growing up in the Bible Belt.

Maybe I didn’t have the right set of answers. I attended the Baptist church, sat in with the Mennonites, Brethren, Apostolic, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist…. I would have gone to mosque or temple or whatever else if they had been available to a poor rural kid in the 90s. I craved one of two things: either a “peak experience”, that one moment of insight, the universal curtain pulled back; or a sense of spiritual satisfaction.

Both proved elusive.

I turned to other methods of pursuing it as I got older, from drugs to meditation to magick, and while meditation proved beneficial, none of them got me to where I wanted to be. Still I had that aching spiritual hole, and I ended up acting in desperate and self-destructive ways as a result of this absence. Things didn’t change until I started attending 12-step meetings. Though the concept is usually accused of centering on Christian values, I found that it fused my mindfulness lessons with some Buddhist philosophies. I don’t know if it was the system itself or simply being in the right place and right time in my life, but it brought me to a place where I finally started to achieve that peace. I learned how to be happy with what I had, to accept that I can’t control everything (or even most things), and to look for the beauty in the moment.

My understanding has continued to evolve, and I’ve since learned that my temple, my church, is right here, on the page. The sanctuary for my soul is literally at my fingertips. Writing is my form of communion, a connection with the beauty that underlies life and what some might call God, or the universe. I prefer to think of it as the initial creative impulse. I’ve given up on a precise definition for my beliefs. This very absence defines the one thing that has eluded me this whole time: an understanding that you can’t (or at least I can’t) “pin down” a religious experience. It’s ephemeral by its very nature, a butterfly flitting from one petal to another. Each of those experiences over the year was my religious practice, whether it happened in a pristine chapel or a dirty basement, under a Protestant roof or a Catholic tent. The very pursuit was an authentic religious experience, with my obsessive quest for some sort of resolution or ending as a fools’ errand, focusing on the finger rather than the stars to which it points.

I’m not always happy or sedate. I have my bad days like anyone else, but I do at least have some refuge to which I can return on a consistent basis. I would worry about what happens when it goes away, but what is the point of that? The moment is what matters. That’s all I need, literally, for right now.

Anyway, enough rambling. Hopefully that made some semblance of sense. If not, I’ll be back next week with a lot less ramble. See you then.