How this Agnostic came to believe in God

I figure I’ll offend most people some of the time, and some people most of the time. While my abrasiveness is usually unintentional, and while I tend to apologize and strive to make it right once said affront is brought to my attention, living in rural southwest Virginia as an agnostic provides plenty of occasions for me to bite my tongue. Hard.

It took a literal bonk on the head for my mindset about God to shift oh-so-slightly. Note: shifting has not endowed me with patience for those who insist the world was created only a few thousand years ago. C’mon. Carbon dating is carbon dating. Idiocy under the guise of religion is idiocy.

I am, like many writers, a split personality. Not in the DSM-IV sense of the term, but in my preferences. I am an introvert in an extrovert’s world. I care about community — personal and public — and can be articulate and helpful in both, but it exhausts me. I served on my town’s Planning Commission for a while. I was professionally concerned with recommending “yay” or “nay” to the Town Council for zoning-related requests but far more interested by how the applicants stood or slouched or leaned at the podium; their clothing; how often they murmured “uhm.” In short, I suffer from the double life Cathering Drinker Bowen describes: “Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living.  The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.”

Ro's Birthday Cake

cake!

Plus I have what my husband calls my “Let’s bake a cake from scratch!” gene: I believe there is always time for just one more little something I want to do, which means I prove the accuracy of my “Queen of Late” bumpersticker at least once a day.

So I spent a fair portion of my twenties in an angst-driven cycle: I’m not doing enough for my familyneighborsfriendstowncountry, but I am exhausted by my familyneighborsfriendstowncountry. I have to get away. And why can’t I ever find one damn hour in which to sit down and write, anyway?

Then I had a couple of baby boys and went a little bonkers.

My fabulous sons drove me up the walls when they were little. I’m not a woman who finds babies, even her own, sufficiently satisfying as a full-time job – but I also loathed giving them to others for caretaking. Hoisted on my own petard.

I tried part time work: disaster.

I quit work entirely. (And yes, I am fully aware of my privilege. But hey, my husband earns a living as an engineer. Those of you who know engineers understand they are not, shall we say, laid-back, joyful personalities. Some might say marriage to such guys is a full time job in and of itself. There. I’m sure I’ve insulted my husband, at least, with those words. Sorry.)

I saw therapists. Journal, one said. Antidepressants, another one said. Journaling confirmed my sadness rather than quenching it. Antidepressants fattened and exhausted me. I tossed the journals in favor of an attempt at a novel, using Robert Rey’s book The Weekend Novelist for the scaffolding necessary to work in my mire of domesticity.

That novel landed me an agent. She retired before selling it. But working on a story, a big long story with lots of characters, satisfied me in a way journals and drugs didn’t touch.

Life’s evolving daily requirements flummoxed me: I’d thought nothing would be more time-consuming than nursing, diapers, and reading “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” three thousand times, but in fact my kids are requiring more of my time as they grow. I floundered on the shoals of my expectations of what I should be able to do as a stay-at-home mom (cook meals from my own organic vegetables; adopt all stray cats and dogs; participate in community meetings for social justice projects; be a Suzuki practice parent; organize the carpool; provide nutritious! snacks for the soccer team; serve on the Planning Commission). Surprisingly, no amount of structure helped me juggle all these things.

I was cursing my lack of organizational abilities, helping to organize a shared community library when an audio cassette fell, literally, on my head. Very funny. I’m helping out and this is my thanks. No rest for the weary and all that.

I put it back.

Ten minutes later it fell off the shelf again. It landed on my head. Again.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

It was a recording of Julia Cameron, speaking about creativity, based on her book, The Artist’s Way. I’m not an artist but what the hell. I listened to it while I schlepped the duplicate books to the thrift store. I sat in the car and finished listening. I drove to the bookstore and bought the book.

I was ready to return it when I read the introduction, where Cameron talks about God. But the lecture had intrigued me and I pressed on. Ah. She acknowledges that for many people the God concept isn’t comfortable (see note re: idiots who believe the earth is only a few thousand years old). She re-casts it in terms of good orderly direction, or flow – she’s talking about creative energy. We are creative energy and if we don’t create, not only are we less-than, the world is less-than, too.

That our collective urge to create is fundamental to our humanity, not an afterthought, has been brilliantly articulated by Karl Paulnak. This is the conclusion to his widely circulated welcome address to incoming freshmen musicians at the Boston Conservatory:

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.

So here’s to creating ways to share our internal, invisible lives: fat novels and slender haikus; stories by a campfire and around the supper table; oil paintings and digital photographs; fused glass earrings and hand-thrown, cobalt-glazed pottery mugs.

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Sharing the Cake

It’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, and it’s worth doing intentionally.

Let’s give ourselves enough time to practice making a cake from scratch. Let’s invite the neighbors over for a slice whether or not it’s perfect. Let’s teach our children to pay attention to what they love.

Let’s practice.

20 responses to “How this Agnostic came to believe in God

  1. I love the idea of constant practice. And, of modeling that for our kids. Somehow, if what I am doing is practicing, it takes on a different vibe. And, framing, for me, makes quite a bit of difference in how I experience things.

  2. Les, you’ve nailed it. Practice, whenever, wherever, however, because artists and writers need to know how important they are to the world, and our children must grow up knowing this too. Bake a cake, get bonked on the head, notice both. Thanks for your openness, humor and honesty. You made my week!

  3. Rachel and Valerie said it well. You’ve GOT it…every day is a fresh, new opportunity to practice…and the awareness and acceptance of *that* are things that we can model, too…looking forward, rather than getting stuck on “if ONLY I’d…” in judgment of *yesterday’s* practice. Thank you for sharing your marvelous writing, humor, insight, self-awareness, forgiveness, and creative energy, among so many other things.

  4. Gail Billingsley

    Les, the wrap-up paragraph is one of my favorite things I’ve read in a long time. (The whole blog is great, but the wrap-up is fantastic!)

  5. All I can say is, “More, more, more!” and “Brava!” (Sorry, I’m a musician – can’t help shouting “Brava” now and then.)

    Well, actually, I’ll also say that I’m so glad you said what you did about practicing. Just this past weekend I sat down Emma and had this big long talk about perfection, how there really is, in my book at least, any such thing in reality. I tried to convince her that if she keeps looking for it in herself and in others, she’s always going to feel as tiny as a flea. We talked about learning to enjoy the process of learning and practicing – to make that our way of life all the time. That way there’s never any need to be “perfect.” So after that conversation, reading your blog post was like getting hit in the head by that audio tape. Yes, yes, yes. We’re onto something!

    And speaking as a woman who was incredibly shocked by motherhood and the life I found myself in when that screaming, spewing little girl was placed in my arms, thank you, thank you for your honesty. I vowed, after getting through those initial years of hell, that I would be as honest as possible about motherhood but have been surprised by how many of us aren’t so willing to be. To me, it’s a matter of psychological and emotional life and death.

    So brava for this first post, Leslie. I am so looking forward to reading more soon. And for what it’s worth, I’m grinning from ear to ear too :-)

  6. Lesley, I’m coming to this as a grandmother, and so gratified to read your honesty and humor, and so proud of you for feeding your creative impulse while dealing with the demands of domestic life. Also, your mention of ‘The Artist’s Way’ is about the fourth time this book has fallen on my head, and I even have a copy which I haven’t read. When I was young, I heard “why are there so few great women (fill in the blank)?” Watching the film Camille Claudel last night reminded me how difficult it is to carry the physical and emotional weight, especially as an introvert, of the day to day life as partner, mother, and citizen of the world. There’s often just too little left over to fulfill our creative destinies. It turns out that for me, living a life the best I could with what I was given was a huge mandate, and while I yearned for the will to ignore the clammor and clang, I slid into the ‘I’m the slippery glue that slides in and stops all the gaps’ role for my partner, children, community, political parties, and on and on. It also turns out that this proved to be an area where creativity could reign, and for me it meant giving up conventional ideas about roles, housework, entertaining, hair salons, wardrobe and such. Thank you for the reminder about good orderly direction and flow, and about cakes and clay.

  7. I LOVE cake and the way you write.

    You nicely confirmed that life is a journey during which we learn both what we love and what we do not like. And the journey keeps going….

  8. Hi Les,
    Thanks for writing this. I’m not sure what to say except thanks again. It’s great. Looking forward to more. As yer bro I wish i could reciprocate some but I’m not really able right now I guess. More later,
    Love,
    Cobie

  9. Hey Les, I read your blog fast…the same way I eat really good chocolate. I have no regrets (like I do when I shovel in delicious homemade chocolate treats) because I can go back and read your wisdom repeatedly. Chocolate, alas, is gone. Thank God you and your creative juices leave their mark in a much more permanent fashion.

    I feel like you were writing my hidden and unhidden struggles about motherhood, community, rising to meet my potential, falling far below my expectations and all that it takes to get up each day and do it again. I have read and reread The Artist’s Way. It was the framework for my sabbatical from work in 2008 and remains a go to resource for me; the voice I need to hear over and over in order to live this life. I highly recommend it to engineers and writers alike. It is our internal voice we know and fail to hear. Its tiny melody gets drowned out in the din of hundreds of to do lists. It is our job to unearth that voice, make it gargle for good health and then shout its cries of creative joy. And, as a Christian married to an agnostic, I say Amen to all that. :) Thanks for sharing.

  10. Lesley,
    As much as we’ve kept in touch, it is nice to learn new things about your life journey. We have some overlaps. I did the Artist Way after having Andres and that set me writing a book too, but mostly bringing in creativity to my life. Glad you are putting your great and witty ways to a blog! It was a project waiting to happen.
    Light to you,
    Mica

  11. well, as the husband/engineer, I was not offended. very touched by your writing, but not offended. I just hope I can help you find as much time as you can for more. you really do have a great gift for putting these thoughts together.

  12. Jessica Fenner

    I found myself chuckling as I read this entry. Not chuckling AT you but audibly chuckling because I could relate in so many ways.
    In the way that “the writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.” One might also experience things a third time when reading another writer who can, so eloquently, give a voice to feelings that were previously undefined with such clarity.
    I look forward to future entries in your blog!
    Jess

    • Lesley Howard

      Jess, Thanks for your kind words; I’m glad I elicited a chuckle with my first post. And *yes* re: experiencing things a third time, when another writer articulates what we have felt/seen/heard. One early reader of this post thought extensive quoting of others = not having finishing thinking about an issue oneself, an idea I’m wrestling with a bit. I think I’m more of the school of thought (if there is one) that says: if someone else said it well, point to it and say “yes, me too!” give ‘em credit and see what happens when you share that with others. We’ll see … Best, Lesley

  13. Lesley,
    So wonderful to read your insights and experiences here. I look forward to many more visits to this blog. That experience of feeling simultaneously that one wasn’t doing enough for (fill in the blank) and absolutely exhausted by (fill in the blank) rang especially true. And the need, the centrality of practice… oy. More than one acting teacher told us that we needed to embrace rehearsal and scene study as THE job, because it was the work, it was what we’d be doing, if we were lucky. Maybe money would be involved, maybe audiences would eventually see our efforts, but ultimately the work was what happened in the rehearsal room. Knowing this, and being able to embrace are, of course, two different things, and recently I’ve been alienated from acting, writing, art, and above all practice. Not sure why, but it’s good to be reminded that yes, practice is the center of it all.

  14. Here’s to blogging one’s way to sanity and the divine! More, more….I want more! Thanks so much for sharing this practice with me. I will respond about the rats (not hamsters — who are solitary wild creatures, quite unlike their social, domesticated, rodent kin) privately :-)

  15. What a great story, Leslie. Thank you for linking me up to your blog.

  16. Lesley Howard

    Thank you, everyone :) for your kind words, not just Jess! I’m learning the ins-and-outs of blogging , and have yet to master the comments situation. Bear with me, my fluency will increase … figuring out how to include blogging into life’s slog is a new challenge, and my tension is: I could definitely spend a majority of my day(s) in front of the screen, reading and thinking and commenting and writing, yet I tell my kids to turn off the computer, climb off the couch all the time so … I have to practice what I preach, eh?! Bear with me, I’ll get there …

  17. Pingback: How a fat beagle relates to creative practice | the Art of Practice

  18. Pingback: The Art of Practice: Discovering your Voice | Low Hanging Fruit Communications

  19. Pingback: Getting Ready for the Artist’s Way: a sneak peek into the LHF Greenhouse | Low Hanging Fruit Communications

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