Living It

I used to have spiritual winters.   I’d drift from spiritual-but-not-religious through agnostic to touch the frigid outer reaches of atheism.  They seemed a force of nature that rolled through my life, an inevitable product of my rationalism and openness to doubt.  I hated those times.   Then, I made a decision to believe and gradually my spiritual winters became less severe.  Like California winters, they were more like autumn, bringing not disbelief but an inability to feel the presence of God.   Maybe that’s the same thing observed through Older Eyes but it feels less chilling.  Still, these milder winters need to be navigated, and sometimes people tell me that requires Faking It.  That was going to be the title of this post which probably tells you I’ve been enduring one of those seasons.   Fake it ’til you make it, the whole saying goes.  Act as if, friends tell me.  Meanwhile, dozens of self-help books and your therapist, if you have one, tell you the importance of feeling your feelings instead of burying them.

Last night, Muri and I saw How to Write a a New Book for the Bible at the South Coast Repertory Theater.   Given the title … and the fact that it was written by Bill Cain, a Jesuit priest, you’d think it might be the wrong medicine for the spiritual-but-not-religious.  The autobiographical play centers on a year during which Bill, played by Tyler Pierce, spends a year living with his cantankerous, willful and very outspoken mother, Mary, as she is dying of cancer.   Mary is played by Linda Gehringer, who is simply remarkable in the role.  Bill is both participant and narrator, stepping outside the story to fill in details as priest, writer or as a son frustrated by his sometimes difficult mother.  We meet his father and his brother and in two hours, we have a picture of a loving but flawed family.  Just like ours.  It was not an easy play to experience, in spite of many funny moments.  It turns out to be about the sacredness of life as it is and, in particular of how families imperfectly navigate it together through love.   The Bible, Father Bill tells us, is the story of one imperfect family, explaining how Jesus repudiated his mother as an adult and how Joseph appears to have left the premises.   Each family, he says, must write its own New Book for the Bible by telling its own story.   In the second act, as his father is dying, also of cancer, narrator Bill says, Half the time, I don’t know what God is.  But then something happens that just goes directly to my soul.  That’s God to me.   In the scene that follows, in response to Bill’s repeated pleas with his father to sleep, Dad responds, I don’t want to sleep, I just want to look at you.

When my Dad was eighty, he went through a severe depression.   With some medication and a lot of convincing, we got him to move to an assisted living facility for the last ten years of his life.  I was fortunate to have a client in Connecticut at the time so I got to see him frequently.  For the most part, he thrived in assisted living but often it seemed that every time I was back East, he had a crisis that put him in the hospital.  But I got to know my Dad during those ten years to a depth I never thought possible, just as Bill got to know his Mom.   And one night, as I was sitting in his room chatting about my business, he looked me in the eye and said, I’m really proud of you, son.   That was one of the moments Bill was talking about.

Faking It doesn’t work for me.  It feels intellectually … and emotionally … dishonest.   Often, I fall back on Do the Next Indicated Thing.  But I’m at my best when I remember that it is living itself that is sacred … and I’m just Living It as it comes.   It helps to look for those soul-peircing moments Father Bill was talking about … or even remember those in the past.   I suspect that such moments float by regularly but we are just too preoccupied to notice.  We see them in the face of sickness or death because pain opens our eyes … our hearts … our souls.  It grabs our attention and makes us mindful.  But sometimes, joy does, too, at times like this:

Have a sacred Sunday and keep your eyes open.  Oh, yes.  Thanks for the reminder, Father Bill Cain.

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5 Comments on “Living It”

  1. cherperz Says:

    As a person that has done a great deal of drifting between religion, spirituality, doubting and accepting…. I think you stated this matter of finding “our way” as succinctly as I have ever read.

    I love your pictures. They surely do show soul-touching moments.


  2. Cheryl said it best. And, also? That photo is priceless.

    • oldereyes Says:

      Because my children were adopted at an age of ten weeks, I’d never held a newborn baby. I missed Reed’s birth because of work commitments, so holding Maddux was an amazing experience.

  3. Allison Says:

    I always enjoy your posts on spirituality, and this one did not disappoint. I wish I could take a trip back to Cali to see the play myself, it sounds really great! I love the idea of viewing the Bible as a story about an imperfect family. Thank you for sharing your journey, it’s always helpful to know what a little more wisdom and life experience can do 🙂


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