Spiritual optometry a la mode

As I look at the statistics that WordPress gives me about the ebb and flow of traffic to this site, one of the statistics is “Top Posts.” One of the top five posts in the short life of this blog is the one that also has provoked the most verbal feedback: the July 20th piece called “A big far whoa funanza (with a dash of heresy).”

Many people have remarked on the Gay Jell-O, and that’s certainly, well, remarkable. If you like Jell-O to begin with, I can tell you that Gay Jell-O is not only remarkable to look at, it’s also pretty dang tasty.

However, many more people have commented directly to me, or I’ve heard through the grapevine, about this one line in that post:

Christianity for me is first and foremost about beloving, not believing

That idea, of beloving being more important than believing, has been written so deeply into my bones for so long that I committed the cardinal sin of not attributing it to its rightful author – my better half, PW. She says this a lot, both in sermons and in conversations. Two of her sermons that mention beloving that I can find on the Internet are “As if everything is a miracle” and “Welcome Forward.” I know I’m biased, but both of these are worth reading, and not just for her description of faith as being more about beloving than believing.

In the eight years of PW’s life as a parish priest, I’ve had the immense privilege and immeasurable luck to be an active participant in her sermon writing, although sometimes my “help” prolongs the process, as I am wont to say such illuminating things as “This Gospel passage sounds like the author was high when he wrote it.” At any rate, I have been hearing PW juxtapose beloving with believing for at least eight years, and probably longer.

My Mammaw had a term for the glue that held her marriage together — she called it “stickability.” Stickability is what keeps the connection in tact when the bond begins to fray from the zillions of bond-fraying things that can inundate people who are trying to make a life together: stress, miscommunication, dunderheadedness, etc.

Long before we were ever a couple, PW’s and my stickability was seasoned in part by eating ice cream together (and not just because ice cream is sticky.) Twenty years ago, PW and I worked at the same company in a town along the Potomac River. At least a couple of afternoons a week, PW and I would walk a few blocks to Ben & Jerry’s, get ice cream, and then walk along the river, eating our ice cream and talking, mostly about religion. We are both preacher’s kids, so there has always been plenty of religion to talk about. At that time, I was just dipping my toe back into church-going life after more than 10 years of mostly avoiding church altogether, so I was wrestling with a lot of questions about church and religion, and whether the two are 1) compatible and 2) in any way salutary.

Which is clearer, this? Or this?

As you can tell if you’re a regular visitor here, I still wrestle with these questions. Thankfully, I am now married to the woman who has been my spiritual optometrist for more than 20 years. If you wear glasses, you know how the optometrist puts all different combinations of lenses in front of your eyes and asks, “Which is clearer, this [one set of lenses]? Or this [a different set of lenses]? Now, how about this? Or this? And, finally, this? Or this?” That’s what my conversations with PW are like. Beloving is one set of lenses that brings everything into sharper focus for me, especially when compared to the lenses of believing.

4 responses to “Spiritual optometry a la mode

  1. Joy: In a just society, you would be recognized (MacArthur grant? Webbie? Pulitzer for outstanding achievements in bloggage?) as one of our national treasures.

    My favorite line from this post: “… what keeps the connection in tact when the bond begins to fray….” I don’t know if you actually MEANT to write “in tact” instead of “intact,” but it’s a profound bit of wisdom either way.

    • Martin, my first thought in reading your first paragraph was “OhIamslain.” PW and I had a good chuckle last night when Roderigo uttered that line in the production of Othello by Shakespeare in the Park. PW elbowed me and said, “Hey, that’s your line!”

      I would love to be able to say that I went back and forth on whether to write “in tact” or “intact,” that it was some sort of conscious wordplay on my part. In truth, it’s a typo, and I doubt that people receive MacArthur grants, or Webbies, or Pulitzers for the brilliance of their typos. I’d love to be the first, don’t get me wrong! Still, I appreciate the thought, and also the covering of my ass, since I now have a great excuse to leave the typo as is, rather than going back to correct it. xoxo J

  2. I agree with Martin. Love your blog so much, I get sad between new posts. Maybe we need to invent an award just for you?!

  3. At times I think a lot about what keeps a relationship together — what are the elements that make stickability. Part of the recipe is what the Brits can Fancy. You have to still fancy your partner. A big part of fancying someone is physical. When you are cross with him for not helping, or fed up with her for not focusing on what’s important to you at that moment, it’s good to know that a physical connection can bring you back to a better place.

    At times the church seems to avoid dealing with the importance of the physical, which includes sex, in a relationship. When the vicar, or priest, can actually talk about this subject in a natural way, giving it the importance it deserves, the whole community benefits.

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