For the first quarter century of my life, I went to church every Sunday. I didn\’t mind the Mass so much, but the sermon did me in. As a child I fidgeted in the pew, but as soon as I became capable of critical thinking, I fidgeted inside my head. Proud of my book learning, I passed the time identifying logical fallacies and deploring the oratorical style, or lack thereof, of the man in the pulpit.
After the Ite, missa est released us, I would tear the chapel veil off my head and complain to my mother about yet another ridiculous sermon. She, who probably had the same objections as I, would counsel humility, the suspension of judgment. \”But,\” I would counter in full adolescent preen, \”if God didn\’t want me to use it, why did He give me a brain?\”
Then for many years I didn\’t go to church at all. But when life got difficult and my sense of invulnerability faded, I became aware of an annoying longing for spiritual guidance. This led me to join crowds of lapsed Catholics and Jews at the local Unitarian church, but my old critical habit soon reared up its wizened head, and I stopped showing up.
After we moved to Vermont I started listening to On Being because it came on NPR while we were eating Sunday breakfast. And because I usually missed part of it while I was out feeding the chickens I would later, when I thought of it, go to the website.
And I was off. With the wind of the Holy Ghost in my sails, I discovered Viktor Frankl, Richard Rohr, Pema Chodron, Sylvia Boorstein. Eckart Tolle, who looks like a Dark Forest elf, reminds me of the German nuns who were my first teachers. Also, he owns a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Do these sound like frivolous reasons to listen to a spiritual teacher? If those priests of my childhood had owned a dog–or had a wife and children–I might have understood them better.
The vagaries of links led me to someone I would never have looked up, Geneen Roth, who lost all her money to Bernie Madoff and wrote beautifully about it, and to the illustrator Jennifer Orkin Lewis, whose works make me want to draw, or write, or something…
I know all too well the orthodox rebuttal to my digital spiritual wanderings. I am picking and choosing what feels right–as opposed to what IS right–which is utterly non-Catholic. But I\’m not so sure about that. No Sunday sermon on the dangers of mortal sin was as stark as Pema Chodron\’s message about the need to accept the impermanence of all things, to give up hope for good.
These digital homilies are hardly touchy-feely–at least the ones I read. They deal with the inevitability of suffering and the need to be present, because the present is all we have. And if an internet sermon makes me want to write or draw or stop thinking for a minute and just look into the green woods, isn\’t that all God\’s work?