Saturday, February 20, 2010

the cheerleader effect

Woke up this morning thinking that some people approach religion/spiritual endeavor in the same way a high-school boy might scope out a unattainably pretty cheerleader ... with awe, with hope, with doubt, with skepticism, with a visceral longing that might as well be called hormonal. Boy, what would it be like to get a date with a chick like that?!

And it's not just an idle metaphor. My younger son recently told me he had a "girlfriend," and, although he holds the particulars pretty close to his chest, I can see the look of pride, delight and uncertainty written on his face. This is serious. And I can remember my own moments of similar seriousness and hope never to relive those daunting, delicious times. I long to ease my son's concerns ... and know I cannot or, if I could, I would be doing him a disservice.

My son's girlfriend is not a cheerleader, but in his eyes, she is ... is ... is ... wow and wonder ... it is all like trying to put words to something that refuses to stand still long enough to be named; it's like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Idiots and poets may call it "love," but that's just more Jell-O.

Religion/spiritual endeavor can have the same cheerleader effect. Delicious, daunting, exquisite, hopeful, dubious and bright as a searchlight against the night sky. With so much delicious confusion going on, with so much visceral longing, with so much abject praise ... well, those of us who are no longer teenage boys know that you have to get over it.

And yet some never do. Religion/spiritual endeavor remains forever locked in cheerleader mode. Money-making religious institutions are content with, and sometimes even encourage, the cheerleader frame of mind. It is a great, great pity. I am even tempted to use the word "sacrilege." Such a world is like a teenager who learned how to masturbate but never got laid.

Everyone goes through the wow's and wonders. It's OK. But the interesting part of religion/spiritual endeavor begins when the boy gets his first date -- when he actually goes out with the object of his visceral longings. He may not get laid on the first date, but he begins to see the scenery with new eyes. Sometimes things are disappointing. Sometimes they are even better than expected. And so, perhaps, there is a second date and a third and a fourth ... and the Jell-O begins to gel in concrete ways ... not that it's any easier to nail it to the wall.

Some meditate. Some pray. Some sing. Some find other particular ways in which to express their date with religion/spiritual endeavor. But the key is, they DO something. And then keep on doing it. Doing it when it's fresh, doing it when it's stale, doing it when the heavens open up, doing it when the shit rains down.

It is in the doing that the wow's and wonders, the wet dreams of the past, can be set aside in favor of something with more meat on the bone. Far from becoming simpler and easier, things now become more complex ... but their richness begins to shine. It may be a love-hate relationship for anyone who is serious about religion/spiritual endeavor, but the richness cannot be denied.

Richness is not found in the world of cheerleaders, but there is no denying that cheerleaders can point the way.

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