Regurgitate. As social animals, we do this regularly. We eat words and spit them out for others to swallow. Recycle what everyone else has already said numerous times by bulimic practices. Twice daily, for good measure. Then proceed to wonder why we historically never truly change.
Revolution. In order to avoid this social practice, I am gathering books off my shelves, wiping off the accumulated dust, and placing the thirty-two chosen books in a prominent place to catch my attention. Yesterday, Anne Sexton drew me in and spoke wisdom. She reminded me how once I was blind and buried in a casket, allowing myself to be lowered into the ground. I did not object. Not one ounce of energy was released while cozy in the casket, to invoke my rights to breathe. I held every whisper close to my chest, lest someone hear my plea.
And today? Who shimmers in the window? A faint image of spring graces my eyes and I open Kathleen Norris’s “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith”. I enjoy the practice of opening a book to a random page and let it speak on its own merit. I enter the hollowed pages of every book with no expectation, without searching for meaning or definitions or wisdom, but rather allow the mystery of reader’s faith to be trusted. This is always a good personal practice if you possess as little confidence as I do in anyone’s ability to love or guide me in holiness.
And then I open to page 177 and Jeffrey Dahmer shimmers. Kathleen Norris explains how she can understand his crimes all too well. Huh? I remember watching the Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption, and recalling they were innocent, likeable, and punished people, for inescapable reasons. But Jeffrey Dahmer? Please explain Kathleen! And then I get Norris’s thesis. “He (Jeffrey) seemed bewildered, exhausted, a lost soul.” she explains. I am seeing Dahmer through a second set of eyes. Like yesterday, I was, and am seeing in a light that once was shadows.
The chapter “Good and Evil”, where she discusses Dahmer, reflects back to the reader, the easiness of black and white thinking while pointing out the grey spectrum fogs our vision. The grayness noticeably makes us uncomfortable and often fearful. We resist taking time to weed through disturbed society’s murky waters. This defiance allows us to declare that we are good. And they are evil. We lazily separate humanity by merits without even counting the score or trying to understand the reasoning behind what caused us to fear another from the beginning.
The other current phenomenon, Norris rightly points out, is to discredit religion and its ability to heal. The need has never been greater for those who “struggle with ordinary but dangerous temptations to anger and revenge, to pride and greed, the fool’s gold of vainglory, and the improper manipulation of other people to further (their) own ends.” (p. 179). Currently, we rely on psychology to mend spiritual deficiencies, which is incapable of reaching the buried soul, protected by the mind’s easy route to not introspect our own evil, in declaring ourselves good.
“Jeffrey Dahmer shows us what the fear of abandonment can do to the human spirit.” Let us not abandon all roads to what feels easier to manuever. Let us strive to fully understand ourselves spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and mentally. Not solely by science or psychology but equally welcome a rigorous religious practice. What we do not understand is too easy to ignore.
There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people. –G.K. Chesterton