Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Coming Through the Storm

Yesterday, I cried off and on all day. It was long overdue.

My tears had this to teach me: that I cannot get away with eating sugar, (I have been slipping and sliding, cookies for dinner when I didn't have other food handy, chocolate here and there...), that I have to keep up a more rigorous schedule of exercising, even if I feel like hibernating; that my childhood feelings of never being good enough are still driving me, and no amount of publications or achievements will heal them, it's an inside job; and that it's harder for me to be a Jew in a Christian environment than I often acknowledge.

Last Saturday I fucked up all around, left, right, and center. I clean forgot that I was supposed to teach at The Writing Salon--I mean, it was not in my head, not in my datebook, nowhere in my consciousness.

At 1:00 that afternoon I had a date with my Little Sister, but got lost in the underpass streets where she lives--broken glass, SRO hotels, skinny starving-looking people pushing grocery carts and arrived half an hour late. As I parked my car, I was thinking, "Oh my God, this is no place for a child." When I got there she was still in her pajamas, and said she had tried to call me (my cell phone doesn't work) to tell me all her clothes were in the washer and dryer and she couldn't go out.

Instead of saying I'd come back in an hour that same day, I made an appointment with her for this coming Saturday. That may have been the right thing to do, or the wrong thing--I don't know. The truth is, I could feel, under the surface, that I was brewing up an emotional storm and needed to take care of that, but I didn't even know that I knew that at that moment.

Sunday I interviewed housemates, then went into SF to perform with Wing It! at a black, Pentecostal church which ministers mostly to street people, many of whom are struggling with drugs and alcohol. I was fine with the street people--it reminded me of when I used to work at Glide Memorial Church in the AIDS department. It was all the Jesus this and Jesus that I couldn't take.

The minister was a beautiful African American lesbian who clearly had great spiritual depth and wisdom; she spoke only of a loving God, and the service was all about love. Wing It! gave one of our better performances--everyone came out with bits of inspired, brilliance. Jonathan improvised a great blues on the Serenity Prayer, Michelle sang "Holy, holy, holy," which is one of my favorite songs, Susan tap-danced, Cynthia did a gorgeous chant, Julia did a great "Where's God?" lamentation, Phil did a rant, Enver danced and talked about his faraway family; Soyinka played flute and chanted, sang and danced.

I told the story of my father and Lucy, my three-year-old niece. They went to see my nephew Theo perform in the holiday pageant in Lexington. My dad has an unfortunate tendency to fall asleep every time he sits down. Comfortable chairs are dangerous to him. So Lucy was given the job of "making sure Papa stays awake."

Dad said she never took her eyes off him through the whole performance and every time his eyelids fluttered, she poked him. He couldn't even blink! She was on him. God is like that, I said, watching us and poking us so we don't fall asleep and miss the show. The room broke into applause--they really liked the analogy.

It felt good to say "God" in that space, without any "Jesus." Just God, the way we have him in Judaism, no intercessors, no screens, no other gods, just the Infinite, which we can't even fathom. Ungraspable, radiant, huge, spacious. Blinding. Christianity feels smothering and confused and muddy in its theology to me. It feels like a load of horseshit is being poured down my throat.

For me, "Jesus" as God diminishes the power and vastness of what God is. Jesus is a man. I can believe he was a great man, a prophet, a channel. But to make a man into God's only begotten son seems like blasphemy. Either we're all God's sons and daughters, or none of us are. My body closes up whenever I hear everyone invoking the name of Jesus as if it were the same as the name of God.

This is a very rational way of explaining what came next; nightmares and sleeplessness all night, floods of tears yesterday. A long, painful conversation with Phil, one of the co-founders of Interplay in which four years of my frustration of being intimately involved in such a Christian-centered organization poured out, not always sensitively (ie.e. I said many hateful things about Christianity.)

Afterwards I felt simultaneously ashamed and relieved. Ashamed because I want to be a religiously tolerant person--relieved because I told the truth. I'm not. I feel very accepting of Buddhism, Hinduism, even parts of Islam. I love Religious Science; at this time of year, Reverend E. always reminds us that we are celebrating the birth of Christ-consciousness within our own hearts, similar to Buddha-nature. I can totally align myself with that.

But I do hate traditional Christianity. How ugly it feels to say that. And how hard when a bunch of people in a group I love dearly--i.e. some of my fellow Wingers--subscribe to these beliefs which I find so repugnant.

And all at the same time, deep deep down, I know that this Christian/Jewish stuff is just a smokescreen, a trigger for my deepest core issue, which is an inner sense of being a bad person. The nightmares had been about my father saying he didn't like me. Of course that's ridiculous--my father loves me, brags about me, shares my poems with anyone who will listen, praises me, and spends quality time with me. I couldn't ask for more support.

It was my mother who used to say, "I love you, but I don't like you."

She said that because the way I see and operate in the world made her uncomfortable--my sexuality, my vulnerability, my coloring outside the lines. It scared the shit out of her.

And am I doing that now, to some of my Wing It! friends--saying I love you, but I don't like you because your religion, your way of being in the world, scares the shit out of me?

Can you love people and like them and not accept their philiosophy?

I finally called my father in tears, mid-morning, even though I had spoken to him twice on Sunday. I told him my dream and he said "Of course, I like you and I love you. I'm so proud of you. You've brought so many wonderful things into my life. That was Mom who said that; I never felt it."

I knew that already, (and I also know that the part of my mother that wasn't crazy was proud of me, too, the part that could be proud of anything.) When I express the part of me that is rageful and hateful, it kicks up so much grief for the part of me that tries so desperately to be "good" all the time (and that fails, constantly, to be perfect.)

It sets up a war within my own soul which takes every ounce of energy I have. I cried off and on, all day--talked to Phil, said terrible things about his religion, he was extraordinarily patient, considering (although he did get a little testy in moments.)

I made myself walk around the lake to get some sun and exercise even though I felt exhausted. It definitely felt like I might slide into the bad old days before Prozac and the no-sugar diet, when depression would just drain my energy so completely that I couldn't do anything besides the bare minimum.

But it isn't the bad old days--I have to remind myself of that. I understand depression better now, and how to be vigilant about my health. I called a few people, including G. who was moderately helpful, considering he's a problem-solving guy kind of guy. One thing he said that was helpful was that I should dwell on the good that I do, instead of on my mistakes--my stepmother had told me that this is a Buddhist meditation as well. Meditate on the acts of goodness and kindness large and small that you perform.

G also advised me to stay away from churches for a while--a good idea.

I still was haunted and dogged by the feeling of "badness." Went to the grocery store and told the clerk how beautiful she was--she beamed and blushed all over. She told me she was 62--she was beautiful, gorgeous cheekbones and deep eyes. I made okra for Masankho before he took off for D.C. and ate some myself--vegetables and meat, tryptophan, serotonin.

(In the middle of all this, I have to note, were two phone conversations with Jack Kornfield, the Jewish Buddhist teacher, who loves my poetry and is happy to blurb my next book, and also wanted to send me a publication he thought I would like, and to talk about having me come read or give a workshop at Spirit Rock sometime. Very wonderful new connection. And for all his fame and spiritual accomplishment, he was just funny and humble and regular, which of course is how spiritual teachers should be.)

Finally, at night, I went to the Solstice celebration I had told my beautiful student Olga about, because I didn't want to stand her up in case she came all the way from Pacifica. She was there, and we connected heart to heart and that felt wonderful. Later that night I called Enver who felt some of the same discomfort I did at the church, and I felt much less crazy. We will try to spend some time together over the weekend.

And today a new day, sunshine, and presents to buy for the nephews, checks to deposit, more housemate interviews, student work to critique and all the usual. Somewhere in all this craziness, a visit to Mama Ocean is called for. It is the promise of a bigger love that sustains me after all, above and beyond all these labels and theologies.


Anonymous said...

Alison, I tried to post a comment earlier and it didn't work. I'll try again.

There's so much to respond to in this entry. For now I will keep it simple: you've gone through the abyss again and now you're coming up for light and air.

And you're certainly tops in my book.

I am very touched by your relationship with your father.

Alison said...

It took a while for my father and I to build trust again after my divorce and after a lot of pain with my mother, but I'm grateful we have. He is a beautiful man, I am very lucky to have him as a dad. Thank you so much for your good words and good heart, Theresa. I wish you a happy return of the light!


Carla Zilbersmith said...

Hey Ali,

Powerful blog. You are facing the tough questions and having the courage to say to your Wing It friends "this is me." If they are still there you'll come out of this with a stronger relationship. YOu have great courage.

I have loved some Christian people but I have to confess to really hating the religion. At best it infantilizes people and at worst it is the cause of death and suffering all over the world. I think Jesus would have hated Christianity. Just a thought.

Askinstoo said...
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Joanie -n- Rebecca said...

Christianity has a lot to answer for, keeping in mind that religion (as opposed to God) is man-made. God cannot be known. Religion, is all too well known for the harm it does. I have to constantly manage similar feelings about men. Most are so hurtful! They treat women so badly. They run the world into the ground. I have some very good men in my life though I realize they are the precious few. Whenever one of my lesbian friends says, "I can't help it. I hate men." I get very shamed because I know a part of me feels the same.