Thursday, July 12, 2007

A couple of months ago I posted a pretty negative review of the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I had a couple of gripes about it, but the main thing was that she wanted the reader to accept the experience of falling in love as a serious part of a spiritual search. As someone who has been married for 23 years, that is so far from my experience that it just seemed ludicrous. Falling in love, it often seems to me, is about self-indulgence. It's amazing, it's one of the most positive parts of being a human being, but it seems practically the antithesis of a spiritual discipline. I've lived through it with friends where it seemed almost teeth-grindingly fatuous. And in each of those cases, the couple is no longer together-- which just reinforced my opinion, of course. It almost seems that the more someone spouts off about how fabulously wonderful and perfect their new love is, the more likely it is that they will split up within a year. That sounds cynical, I know. It is cynical. But call me up and let me know if you disagree after you've been in a relationship twenty years. If you're in it for the long haul, the serious work of the relationship-- the part that (to me) could be considered part of your spiritual path-- begins after the romance has worn off. How do you learn to value who the other person is, even when the way they are requires accepting things that are unacceptable to you? How do you learn to support someone else in their path when it means compromising on some of your own goals and dreams? and my own personal hornet's nest: how do you know when you're striking a healthy compromise and when you're giving away too much? (and of course all of those are only OK if they are being practiced mutually by both partners).

But I read an article recently that is making me re-think my cycnicism a bit, and I'm feeling that a bit of an apology is due to Ms. Gilbert (not that she'll ever know, but I'll feel better) (and for the record, for the purposes of this post I went and checked her website and she and her partner are still together). The article is by Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry, and it appeared in The American Scholar click here. The part of it that is relevant to the above is said in the midst of an elegant and thoughtful essay about the search for God. It's the kind of article that makes me both sigh with envy (for how beautifully written it is) and sigh with relief, because someone with far better writing skills than mine is talking intelligently about this stuff in a public forum.

Anyway. Here is the relevant passage, but you really should read the whole thing. He is talking about three events that happened to him in the previous year that opened him to the possibility of God again, after many years of nonbelief. The second event is falling in love: "it felt, for the first time in my life, like I was being fully possessed by being itself. [falling in love filled him with] a joy that was at once so overflowing that it enlarged existence, and yet so rooted in actual things that, again for the first time, that's what I began to feel: rootedness." There's more, but that's the only bit I can excerpt easily. He convinced me that the resurgence of joy and hopefulness that go along with falling in love can be a legitimate springboard for the search for meaning and transcendence.

So Ms. Gilbert, you have my blessings. (just kidding.)

(expiring in the heat out here, hope everyone else is nice and cool)

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