Allison O over at O My Family wrote a post yesterday called second chances, and it got my brain going. Go read her post - I'll wait.
Finished? Okay. If you didn't really go read it, she's talking about seeing an older lady walking along the snowy street pushing a cart full of groceries, and hearing a voice telling her to stop and pull over and help the lady, to offer her a ride. When she ignored the voice the first time, she felt disobedient; she likened the voice she heard to the voice of God, telling her to help her fellow man.
I hear that voice too, all the time. I hear it when I see a stray dog running down the street, when I see a homeless person sitting on the corner bundled up and surrounded by all their possessions. I heard it that day the guy in the wheelchair was waiting outside the bank, asking everyone who passed if they had a dollar to spare so he could buy some food. I hear it every time I see a man standing at the end of a highway exit ramp, holding a sign declaring that he's a hungry veteran, or when the smelly drunk guy standing in front of the liquor store asks if he can borrow my change so he can get gas for his car that's broken down up the block. When the lady at the grocery in line in front of me is $2 short of her total, that voice is there.
The voice I hear tells me to reach out, help my fellow man, be compassionate. I don't call it God; I've always called it my conscience.
I mentioned this to Jimi. "Of course," he says, "For the faithful, all good comes from God."
"But how am I ever supposed to find God or have faith if I already label that voice something else?" I asked. "I don't have to have religion to tell me to be a good person, to tell me to do good deeds for others; how can that voice be God for me if I already hear it and I don't believe in Him?"
I've seen so much ugliness in the name of God that when I see good things done in his name I hold the do-gooders up as the exception, rather than the rule - as if they were somehow more able than others to wade through the mud and muck and the hateful and the shortsighted that surely they must've been taught, to come up clean and good and loving and Christ-like on the other side. I know this is an offensive and probably mostly-incorrect assumption on my part, but the loudest Christians seem to be the ones who are the least Christ-like. I shouldn't be surprised when I encounter people who truly value and cherish and love other humans in the name of a Creator that formed us in His image, but I am, and it confuses me.
I guess just because I don't believe doesn't mean it isn't true. I suppose all grace I experience could still be because Jesus loves me and God is my Heavenly Father. But wouldn't that be contrary to all that religion teaches? As an agnostic, a doubter, a self-described I-don't-know-what-I-believ-er, a girl who lives in sin with a man who loves her but probably will never marry her, a woman who conceived a child out of wedlock, a divorced woman - shouldn't I be struck down? Shouldn't my life be dreary and miserable and full of disappointment? Or maybe that only comes from drinking and drugs and over-indulgence...wait; I really should be fucked, not blessed. But I am blessed; I don't know how else to call it. I suppose it could be luck, and I guess I honestly believe that much of life is the luck of the draw, but to call all the fortune in my life a simple, random, lucky stroke seems flippant. But maybe it is just luck, because there are so many people in the world who are so much better than I who have so much less or have been given so many more difficult challenges, and to imply that I'm somehow more divinely smiled-upon is arrogant.
Religion is so hard. Life is hard. I don't know what I believe and I guess that's why I've decided that I'll figure it out later, or I won't, but for now I'll just live my life every day, trying to be the best Natalie that I can be, spreading as much loving kindness as I can, remembering to see in every face I meet the divinity in them with the divinity in me. I'll give my spare change, I'll offer a ride in bad weather, I'll buy a meal if I cross paths with someone who's hungry. I'll do it because that voice in my head, whether it's God or the divinity within me, won't let me NOT.
I've tried many times to imagine my own personal Utopia. Early versions centered around stores where everything was free and towns where you could get into any car on the street and drive wherever you wanted. In my grown-up fantasy worlds, everyone has enough food, and everyone uses kind words all the time, and no one's heat gets turned off in January; the school where the black kids go has just as many computers and music programs as the school 3 blocks away where the white kids go; there are enough jobs to go around and if you're sick you can afford to go to the doctor without worrying you'll lose your house. I'm pretty sure this makes me a hippie and a socialist.
Another fantasy, a more realistic one, involves winning the lottery and buying a big piece of land in the middle of Nowhere, Montana and turning it into a commune full of my favorite friends and family, all of us working together to form a Utopian society of smart, happy, self-sufficient non-assholes. The trickling mountain stream nearby would provide lots of untainted drinking water. We would grow our own vegetables and fruits, raise cows and goats for milk and cheese, pigs for companionship and bacon and pork loins. We'd use geothermal and solar technology to live off the grid - except I still want internet access, we'll need it to keep current on stuff and as a research tool for homeschooling the commune's children-geniuses.
I've gotten way off track here. What was I talking about? Oh, yes, the voice.
I don't know what it is. I don't know if it's God, or if it's a lifetime of lessons teaching me to be a good person, or if it's simply human instinct to react with compassion when we see another human in need. Elephants do it, apes do it - it's logical to assume that we, those of us at the height of the food chain, would also have an instinct telling us to help others of the species. Have we conditioned ourselves to be so selfish, so far removed from our nature, that the ones who follow that instinct need to explain it as being instructed by a Creator to do so? And is it so normal to turn to religion as the reason for good-doing that the ones who aren't religious and simply follow that instinct spend an hour on a lazy Saturday afternoon trying to figure out what in the hell it's called and why she does it? Can I write any more awkwardly-worded questions that don't exactly ask what I'm trying to ask because I can't find the right words for all the big thoughts in my small little mind?
Too much thinking for a Saturday afternoon.