Just a note of warning: this post is really long and boring and scant on celebrity references. Proceed if you dare.
Thanksgiving is a lovely, really lovely, holiday, isn’t it? At least in thought, if not in action. There’s nothing too lovely about being stuck on a tarmac at Laguardia for three hours and missing your connecting flight to Detroit where you will spend the remainder of the long, very long, weekend with various and sundry members of your extended family, including your stultifyingly boring cousing Kori who wants you two to “hit the great Black Friday sales at the Oakcreek Bridgewood Mills Mall, especially the one at Boscovs, ooh and at Fredrick’s of Hollywood so I can get something special to wear for me and the hubs’ two-and-a-half-year anniversary” (although as far as you can tell, the “hubs”, i.e. your cousin-in-law Kurt the accountant, hasn’t looked in Kori’s general direction since the NFL lockout ended) and your great-uncle Herbert who smells like urine. But in principle, Thanksgiving is an entire day given wholly over to thanking people for stuff. (And to honoring our pioneering forebears who wanted celebrate their survival, in the most fundamental sense of the word– which survival was the founding of American society as we know it today– after wrenching an unimaginably meager existence from frozen New England soil for a few winters. I mean– farms in Boston? Whose fucking bright idea was that?) Anyway, that’s kind of amazing, no? It’s amazing that we are asked by our federal government to take the day off simply so that we can slow down and feel gratitude. Amazing that such a day exists in ole rat-race-running, John-Galt-worshiping, Blackberry-thumb-aching, personal-assistant-needing, social-safety-net-shunning America.
And so we give old friends and far-flung family a call and say “I wish we could be together today.” We put these sweet statements up on Facebook proclaiming our appreciations. We go around the table, naming that for which we are thankful. (Or maybe you just mouth-breathe and watch football, I don’t know.)
But who, exactly, are we thanking?
Gratitude is an interactive thing. After all, you can’t say “thank” with out a “you”. (Rarely do we feel gratitude for ourselves. Unless you’re Paris Hilton.) Now, it’s one thing to directly address the persons or things for which you are grateful and thank them for what they’ve done or who they are. For example, “Dear Pops, thank you for daily proving that strong selfless men of principle actually exist.” (I really need to say that to my dad sometime, honestly.) Or, “Dear knock-off Herve Leger bandage dress that I found at a consigment shop, thank you for making my boobs look fucking awesome.” But a lot of this thanking we are nudged to do on Thanksgiving seems to be without a subject. It’s more along the lines of “I am thankful for my dad” or “I am thankful for consignment shops.” We express these feelings of gratitude, tossing them off into the ether with conviction, without ever really directly addressing anyone.
So, if we’re not talking to the subject causing our gratitude, then who is the “you” to which we feel thankful? Who gave us these gifts? To whom are those Facebook statuses, those woman’s daily gratitude journals, those Thanksgiving table eulogies, meant to be addressed?
Maybe you can see where this is going. I know that a whole lot of people out there just plain and simple do not believe in God. I know that a whole other lot of people have some vague notion of a higher power, and it’s a notion that they don’t dwell on but for a few, usually fearful or anxious, minutes a year. Yet I know many of these people have, for at least one moment in their lives, felt deep and profound gratitude for something wonderful that has come along to them. You know, those kinds of things that make you want to climb up on the roof of your house and jump up and down hollering with delight. Falling in love. Winning in Vegas. Finding a best friend. Making a hole-in-one. Witnessing your child smile, walk, talk for the first time. You know, those kinds of things that make you say, How did I get so lucky?
If you don’t believe in a higher power, luck is where it begins and it ends. The unbidden good things that happen to you as you walk through the world are coincidences, happy accidents, just you coming to a fortunate intersection with something or someone else in the time-space continuum. If you don’t believe in a higher power, there is no one to consciously thank for this chaos theory of luck. Yet– I think, but don’t know for sure– everyone feels some kind of gratitude toward that luck. Not toward the happy accident itself, but toward a something else that somehow caused it. Just like everyone– again, I think this is true, but I’ll never know for sure– feverishly prays in moments of terror.
Maybe we unconsciously reference God because we are genetically hardwired to do so. Maybe the idea of a higher power with whom one can chat is just a little evolutionary spur in our brain tissue, a sort of appendix of the cerebrum with no known function. Maybe there is no God; maybe there is just the mind’s ability to make up imaginary friends. On the other hand, the mind’s ability to conceive of God does not thereby disprove the existence of God. In the watchmaker sense of God, God would obviously want to design the human mind to be capable of believing in and appreciating the designer. Otherwise we’d be living in a Frankenstein world. Christina Aguilera don’t sing for the deaf, know what I’m sayin?
We’re certainly hardwired for faith. Everyone puts something up on a pedestal, makes something a paragon in their lives, uses something to quell hurt, pain, sadness, anxiety. Some people worship romantic love– those who can never be alone, hopping from relationship to relationship. Some people worship food– those who can’t wait to get home and sequester themselves in the kitchen with a box of Mallowmars until they’ve descended into a tryptophan numbness. Some people worship technology– those people who always have a new phone, television, motorcycle to be excited about, talk about, show off. Some people worship intellect. Some people worship brand names. Some people worship television. Some people worship money. Some people worship alcohol. Some people worship drugs. Everyone worships something. Secondly: some of the arguments you hear against the existence of God trade on the (quite reasonable if you ask me) question: If God exists, why wouldn’t He just make Himself known to the world? Why wouldn’t He just show Himself? That would of course make everything much more simple, but the logic behind such questions is, “if I can’t see something for myself, then it must not exist”. And none of us would have passed the first grade with that attitude. Russia doesn’t exist because I’ve never seen it! Giant squids don’t exist because I’ve never seen one! Has everything you know, everything you take to be true, been imparted to you through experience alone? Have you ever learned something from watching a movie? Have you ever spent money? Then you have engaged in an act of faith. Paper money intrinsically has no value. Money is just toilet paper plus faith. So, you can say you don’t believe in God because there’s no tangible proof of Him, but you also have to start wiping your ass with twenties.
And I think there is tangible proof of God. But, as with the giant squid, you have to seek it out. I believe in God and I wish I had a more facile way of talking about Him. When friends have asked me why I believe in God, I clam up, not wanting to detail the spiritual experiences of my life. It’s somehow private, personal, and embarrassing, like trying to describe your O-face. Even among groups of Christians, you don’t find people talking about how the Holy Spirit moved them that very morning. It’s all very business-as-usual, how’s-your-great-uncle-Herbert, who’s-the-poor-sap-who-has-to-direct-the-Christmas-pageant-this-year kind of conversation. And when I do try to talk about the proof of God I’ve experienced, it just sounds dumb. I mean really dumb. I think God exists because one time I had a dream where I saw a mountain and the mountain was bigger and more beautiful than any mountain on earth and I knew, I just knew, that I was looking at a mountain in heaven? I think God exists because one time I was studying in a coffee shop and they were playing a Bob Dylan CD but it was scratched and stuck on “Mr. Tambourine Man” and I must’ve heard that song forty times that afternoon and then a few weeks after that, I was making out with a guy and listening to music (ah, college) and “Mr. Tambourine Man” came on his random shuffle playlist, and he made me stop talking and listen to it in its entirety and then after it was over he told me a story about how a friend of his in high school had died and how they played that song at her funeral, and that guy turned out to be the first guy I ever fell in love with? I think God exists because one time while on an Everglades canoe trip our group got lost among the mangroves and couldn’t find the freshwater river we needed to take from the Gulf in to that night’s campsite and the sun was setting and I was FLIPPING out internally, and praying and praying and praying to God to give us a sign, any sign, as we tried to go down yet another inlet, that we were going in the right direction, and then someone spotted a river otter swimming in the water ahead of our boats, and so we knew it was the river and not just another little dead-end estuary, and lo, just around the next bend appeared our campsite?
I may not be a smart woman, but I know who God is.
I don’t know why God doesn’t show Himself in more obvious ways. I don’t know why, if God knows all our hearts and minds intimately, we have to pray for things (because doesn’t he already know what we want?), but I know prayer works. I don’t know why God allows so many bad things to happen, but on the other hand, why does God give us so much good? Is anyone really deserving of their blessings or their hardships? I don’t know if Christianity is the only way to get to God; I don’t think it is. I don’t know how to square the fact that I am a Christian– I do believe in Jesus Christ– with the fact that I drink and smoke and have a narcissistic blog and act like a floozy sometimes and tell dead baby jokes other times, but better to be an imperfect believer than to throw the dead baby out with the bathwater, no? I don’t know if the Bible is infallible, but how can it be? It was written by humans, however divinely inspired. I don’t know if there’s a Hell, but it seems like a waste of time to spend too much time dwelling on it either way. I don’t know if I believe in the virgin birth. I don’t believe homosexuality is a sin; I think St. Paul was a homophobe.
These are all questions and doubts I’ve heard used as reasons for not believing in God. But allowing your scruples about religion to prevent you yourself from seeking out God is like refusing to fall in love with someone because they over-drafted their bank account one time in 2002. It’s like refusing to go into the garden because you’re afraid you might step in dog poo. It’s like refusing to ever ride a roller coaster again because of that one time Fabio got smashed in the face with a bird. Just try to say thanks directly to God. Just try to ask Him for something you want. Try to do this every day for a month and see what happens. Just try.