Years ago I watched the movie “Hannah and Her Sisters”. This was before the Woody Allen scandal that caused me to boycott his movies. The word genius is bandied about when speaking about Mr. Allen but I confess that I never forgot his line in which he considers becoming a Hare Krishna, “Who am I kidding, I’m going to shave my head and dance around in airports? I’ll look like Jerry Lewis”. So I surprised myself when I went on this spiritual odyssey which while sometimes interesting bore no fruit.
I actually understood Woody Allen’s angst for the first time in my life. I grew up Baptist and was forced to go to hours long services which were only relieved by delicious fried chicken. I remember being afraid of Armageddon and the end times. The other side of my family were practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses and my complete nerd factor loved the intellectual aspect of it all. I loved the vividly colored books so I studied with an older lady when I was a “tween” until one of the young men at the church decided that we were destined to marry and the “elders” visited my mother who promptly threw them all out with some well placed explicitives. Ah….mother.
I then graduated and went to college and roomed with a very nice Catholic girl. I mean, she was really nice and so was her entire family. They were constantly giving me things and feeding me. She was virginal and sweet. I wanted to be like her. I couldn’t get pass the statues however coming from a Baptist background but I did attend at least two midnight masses which were beautiful and mystical. I tucked it away for future reference. While at college two things happened simultaneously. I became acquainted with Pentecostals and Jimmy Swaggart the evangelist. The photo below was taken this summer.
I also met three gay men who became my close friends. After I heard one hate filled sermon too many against the men who had treated me so well I felt conflicted. Of course the church didn’t represent Christ…or did it? I kept the two separate in my mind but most days I felt compelled to “defend” the lifestyle choices of my friends. A lifestyle that really had nothing to do with me. I was and am heterosexual and had been relatively chaste during college. I was too dedicated to becoming a famous comedienne to think about relationships.
I moved to California and basically dropped out of the religious scene and was just young. I had fun, met cool actor and comedienne friends and for a time the nightclub was my church. My spiritual fix was the applause and communion was laughter. I eventually ventured to the hood to hear great music and preaching but as I looked around I saw a very monochromatic society. Why was the church predominantly black? Would heaven self-segregate? One Sunday I went to church with pants on and was turned away. I was very angry about that as it was Easter, so I drove around until I found a Catholic church. It was foreign and wonderful and exciting to me. The Filipino priest has a beautiful voice and as I looked around all of the races were present. It looked like heaven to me. I impulsively decided that I would become Catholic.
Anyone who is Catholic realizes that there is nothing compulsive about it but I made it through the religious education and kept trying to still the Baptist voice in my head. I visited my grandmother during this time and she said, “The church don’t save you no.” How wise in her reflective way she had said a mouthful.
I was a faithful Catholic for over 10 years and participated in my very active community in California. We had charity drives, I taught Life Teen and even discovered my true vocation teaching there. It was fun and far from stuffy as the members at St. Augustine were like a large family to me and then to my husband. I still felt conflicted underneath, never quite spiritually settled. There was also the priest scandal to think about and while most places have something going on that was just scary. I have met great priests but I still had my reservations and while I hate to mention it, facts is facts folks. I have a son.
The return to Louisiana opened up a huge culture shock for me. I needed something that was different, not stuffy and well…cool. I contacted a friend in New York who is a practicing Buddhist. She always seemed so centered and happy. I felt stressed and frazzled and just wanted to learn how to meditate. She got me into touch with a nice lady who in turn introduced me to SGI: Sokka Gakki, a Japanese lay Buddhist organization centered around chanting Nam Myo Horenge Kyo. I really thought that it was about meditating and finding inner peace since many people relate that Buddhism is a philosophy and not a religion. I was soon to find out that what I thought was a philosophy was a serious religion centered around a Japanese business man named Daisaku Ikeda and the 13th Century priest Nichiren. Tina Turner is the most famous person of this sect and served as a siren to me because I admired her strength and talent.
They call and randomly drop by your house if you stop going to their meetings. Still being an intellectual I read a lot and as I soon came to discover much of their philosophy were stories that were so similar to the bible that it was laughable. One was extremely similar to the Prodigal son. This last foray into exploratory religion was more of an adventure than a real conversion. I thought about the power of positive thinking, the law of attraction and all of it and realized that I had learned all I ever needed to know in Sunday school. There is a scripture that my grandmother used to paraphrase, “As the twig is bent, the tree is inclined” and then she would explain that if one rears their children in the right way, with the right teachings they would not soon depart from it. I really did depart and wander and all the while I prayed. I really understand the search. I also understand a quote that Whoopi Goldberg uttered in the film “Boys On the Side”, “When you don’t know where to go, stay right where you are.”
This blog is in no way an attempt to evangelize to anyone or to tell anyone what they are doing is wrong. This has been the main problem with my spiritual confusion. Many people I have met have told me that their way is the only way and that everyone else will suffer. This is just a representation of what I’ve experienced thus far on my life’s journey and since I’m halfway through I wanted to share. People who become angry or write down their own church’s philosophy in one real way turn people away from any kind of salvation or peace. The worst is fear preaching. The last experience with the Buddhist promised horrible karma for not chanting or for denying the power of their phrase. I wonder why I had so much luck throughout my life without them? I wish them well and release them, as I have all of the experiences, as Woody Allen did so eloquently in “Hannah and Her Sisters” so long ago. My grandmother’s words echo on, “The church don’t save you no.” Spoken with a Louisiana accent. I went to church this weekend. I walked out into the sunshine and smiled at my husband and we enjoyed our day. Life is for the living and peace truly does come from within, or so they say. Please follow the blog and enjoy the Woody Allen video because it is genius and true in so many ways.