(photos: Here I am in 2011 in a Driver’s License Photo post layoff (left) and here’s me (right) last week in a 2015 Driver’s License Photo — reinvented and being the writer and woman that I wanted to be in my fifties!)
This morning, I presented this novel excerpt at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia where I am a lay minister. The segment is also on You Tube. Click here to see the video.
Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encompasses all religious/spiritual backgrounds (including atheism, agnosticism and Buddhism) in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.
Belief. Recently, shopping in a chain drug store with my partner, I came across a plastic rock with that sentiment carved into it. It gave me pause — this piece of plastic that could easily be categorized as “junk,” in the overcrowded aisles of American life.
I stopped to think what the word means to me. I was raised secular — but, in fact, I did have belief. All my life I have worshipped literature and art. I revel in nature. For the most part, I have always been my own person. But I have also, at critical junctures in my life, descended into the many faces of self destruction. So, I understand that wisdom is gained through making mistakes. There is even a scientific theory about this, based on the fact that mistakes are how discoveries are made.
I have a sign on my desk that says “Never Give Up.” It was given to me after a chanting session at a Buddhist party — Nam Myoho Renge Kyo — which translates to “Devotion to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra” or “Glory to the Sutra of the Lotus of the Supreme Law.”
As a creative writer — as well as a human being — I have to believe in myself. Honoring the voice inside of me feels like an act of survival.
The fourth Unitarian Universalist principle is “A Free and Responsible Search for Truth and Meaning.” When I read the principles, this one in particular, it has occurred to me that I have found a faith that fits my beliefs.
Creative writing is a way of making sense of my world. I turned my last crisis into a novel — with the working title of Flying. I was laid off from a high stress marketing job working for a major nonprofit headquartered on Rittenhouse Square — a good setting for novels and movies.
At first I thought the crisis was solely in being laid off and deciding what I was going to do next. But in hindsight, I realized that I had to recover from five and half years of stress and make sense of why I had moved so far away from myself. I also had to make some sense of the losses in my life during that time. These included the death of my elderly aunt (my mother’s only sister); two weeks later the death (at the age of 55) of my close friend Toni Brown, also a lesbian writer; and some months later the death of a friend and co-worker, a gay man in his early 50s, who went home from a meeting and hung himself.
In this section of the novel, I read from the passage that I begin by quoting Reverend Kathy Ellis (referred to in the novel as “the minister”) in a sermon that, in fact, drew me to this Beloved Community:
“Dr. King wrote about his own suffering, ‘My personal trials have also taught me the value of unmerited suffering.’ Notice that he said – unmerited. He is not blaming himself, not blaming God, and he wrote that he learned from this suffering:
“Dr. King was able to use his suffering to strengthen his sense of the power of love, to strengthen himself. But notice what he did not say. He did not say that suffering was good. He did not say that he deserved it or that he sought it. He did not say that God punished
him. He said he found strength and comfort. And he used that creative transformation, that strength to challenge evil and to work to stop others’ suffering.”
I felt my eyes welling up with tears that sprang from my own compassion about the violence and the hatred that was perpetrated against Dr. King, especially in light of the fact that he lived by the philosophy of nonviolence. But as the tears spilled down my face, I realized that I was also feeling compassion for myself, for never having been a believer in anything — including in myself. I felt a long channel of light open up inside of me and I was filled with divine presence. Maybe it was God. Maybe it was the divine Lotus Flower Sutra. Maybe it was the essence of everything. But as I sat in my pew, feeling the minister’s words enter my body, I knew that the pillar of light was me. I was all that was good and holy.