Friday, January 11, 2013

Wanted Versus Needed

I kept waiting. I kept waiting and watching for something I could latch onto; something that would make me want to write. It never came. At least not in the guise of the spiritual journey I was craving. I’m speaking of watching Life of Pi, the new film directed by Ang Lee. A friend’s response to my disappointment helped me see that maybe what I needed to write about was that disappointment.

I read the novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel many years ago. I remembered enjoying it and from the first moment I saw the trailer for the film version I knew it would be visually stunning. In that department it didn’t let me down. What I’d hoped was that my heart would be filled with some kind of joy at Pi’s spiritual journey on the sea. I wanted to watch his journey because I’m on one of my own and I wanted to see how his played out. Unable to fully remember much more than the essence of the novel, I was prepared to be enlightened on how he saw God.

The thing is: I wanted to take his journey because I don’t know what my journey is. My quest is not like taking the ring to Mordor. I don’t know where I’m going. I was hoping to use this fictional character’s journey as an example, a road map, inspiration.

I’m afraid of God. I always have been. Growing up, God was always presented as a father figure; one that would punish you, like your human father, for your wrong doings--you know...your sins. The punishment from an omnipotent life force, however, is much more daunting than getting spanked or grounded. The punishment from God could be extreme loss (i.e. a job, a loved one, your home). Punishments that carry greater weight and teach a vital lesson of the importance of towing the line, living a good life.

To paraphrase something my father used to say to my sister and me from the front seat of the car as we argued in the back, “If you two don’t stop it God’s going to take one of you away from the other.” Holy shit!! That’s a scary thought. How mean and vengeful is this God I’m supposed to love and serve but can’t help being afraid of? I realize that what he was saying falls into the same category as, “Don’t make me pull this car over.” Both are threats to achieve the ultimate goal of calming the arguing children, but the choice of words used in his threat (more than once on me) helps one understand some of the fear I have of God.

There is a part of me that still believes God will take away my health, job, happiness, life, family member’s lives, etc., if I don’t tow his line.

The ultimate punishment is Hell. I’m terrified of Hell and of spending eternity there. There is a part of me that has not fully accepted the idea that my being gay is not an eternal sentence to the lake of fire. I can’t imagine a God who would allow people to be born with inherent feelings that are already wrong and then punish us for the feelings he allowed us to be born with. I can’t believe that’s true, but at the same time because of my religious past I can’t turn my back on it either. These conflicting feeling are constantly duking it out in my heart. It makes for a disquieting life to be sure.

I want to be able to find my own personal relationship with God--the creator, the universe, etc. I feel like I’m turning my back on God by turning my back on the teachings I learned as a child, though.

I have to find a way to integrate my belief in God--the creator of all life and love--with who I am, separating out the human element of organized religion and how God’s words to us through the Bible have been clouded and made murky by the humans who interpret them the way they see fit.

Back to Life of Pi. Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, believes everything is possible instead of believing in one thing. Maybe that is the way to believe. That would mean I have to be open to the possibilities that all teachings regarding the God figure have some truth and that no one knows the full extent of what that truth is.

In going to the film, I wanted to gain some kind of incite into Pi’s ability to survive his dilemma. I wanted to gain incite into his belief in a higher power helping him through his days lost at sea. What I took away was imagery that was more beautiful than some of the most beautiful images in Avatar, but I wanted more than imagery. I didn’t take away a feeling of recommendation. I enjoyed myself and was glad I had seen the film, but I didn’t feel the need to rush out and tell my friends and family they must see it. Argo, on the other hand, I couldn’t stop talking about and have recommended many times.

Maybe I need to see Life of Pi again. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe a second viewing would open my eyes to possibilities of faith and believing that I missed the first time because I was searching too hard.

I struggle with faith--in God, in myself, in my friends, in my coworkers. I don’t trust that I might actually be good at my job and that making the wrong choice one day doesn’t mean I’m not making 100 right ones the next. It doesn’t mean that I’m not good at my job. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. Questioning my life in respect to God and how I perceive him and the relationship I have with him is not wrong either. Humans are wired to question. I started questioning when I left home for college in 1989 and nearly 24 years later, I still wonder if I’m doing the wrong thing by questioning even though I know I would be a fool not to question. 

Change doesn’t happen if we just let people tell us what to do without standing up and saying, “I don’t believe that’s the right course for me.” 

I have to find my faith. I have to believe it’s okay to question. I have to develop a relationship with God that is mine and no one else’s. I have to be strong enough to let no one stand in my way with said relationship, and I have to be strong enough in my faith that it can be questioned by someone else and I can know that my choice was the right one for me no matter what any one else thinks. (Validation rears its head)

I’m not there yet. I’ve been trying to get there for a long time. I think there’s still a certain amount of fear of disappointing my parents where all things religious are concerned. Imagine a boy who leaves home at 18 and at 41 is still struggling with disappointing his parents over the way he believes in God versus the way he thinks they want him to believe in God.

It should be as simple as I believe in God. Enough said. But in my head it’s not enough.

Pi was strong. He believed what he believed as a child and carried that with him into adulthood. He believed. He survived.

It’s interesting how a movie that I thought I got nothing spiritual from actually opened the door for me to admit my own spiritual desires and fears. I guess I did get something important from Life of Pi after all. Something more important than the copper-colored clouds hiding the sun beautifully reflected on the bluest of seas. 

I didn’t sit in the darkened movie theater crying and finding my heart overwhelmed with faith beyond my own. What I got, after the fact, was the questioning of why I struggle so hard with my faith and the desire to create my own personal relationship with God.

It is true: sometimes you get what you need instead of what you want. The trick is to see what it is that’s being presented and use it to your advantage. 

The journey continues...