Friday, August 20, 2010

Fast, Pray, Serve

When I first picked up "Eat Pray Love" and read the beginning, the catty part of me sat there thinking, "What does this woman have to be miserable about?" Her husband loves her, she has a career that allows her to fly to exotic locals and will pay for her to spend a year navel gazing. Nice work if you can get it. She just didn't want to be tied down anymore at 34, but this is a real life and real lives are often very messy. I kept plodding forward. However, after reading the whole thing, I exercise my option not to see the movie.

Rather like the first leg of her journey in Italy, the nutritional content of this book is the equivalent of a large fragrant excellent Naples' pizza. It's tasty. It goes down sooooooo easy, but a steady diet is not good for you. To make sure I was being fair, I did a little substitute test. How would I feel about the spiritual advice or musings of a male author who decided after ten years of marriage, "No dear, I don't want to be married anymore, it's too much for me. Now I'm off to eat fried chicken and drink beer for four months, followed by sleeping and reading philosophical junk until I find myself, at which point, I'll finish finding balance in my life swimming in the Caribbean and taking up with some hottie there who thinks the sun rises and sets on me." Momentarily, I toyed with penning a satire, "Drink, Sleep, Sex," the story of a man's creating himself as an island on an island. Bleah.

But the book and the movie are the current stuff of feminine culture; a chick flick which explores the world of a woman exploring herself through the world. Because this is a story based on real life, it remains problematic both to dismiss as mere Hollywood whimsy (because it isn't just that), or to attack it for it's flaws as a theological journey. It's one soul's journey that from a Catholic perspective, went awol; a pilgrim's distress, lacking GPS, thinking it is making progress.

The main character crafts over the course of a year, a god that demands nothing but that she smile with her liver or smile at her lover, depending upon the day. Such counsel is a far cry from "Take up your cross and follow me," but it was never intended as Catholic theology, and thus should not be treated with such high comparisons. Thinking and embracing the concept of "God is in me AS ME." is not the same thing as accepting the reality that "We are created in God's image."

I don't doubt that there are women who will find this idea of a god that demands nothing of the soul, attractive --they may not have the resources to engage in a 12 month hiatus from reality, but I can see the spiritual danger of exchanging a God who requires we sublimate and sacrifice and love first, for one that demands nothing but that we be satisfied in our belly today.  The idea of finding God via appetite, via your wants is an inverse of what Catholicism demands; that we learn to see Christ in disguise, in others and then, to wash their feet, to feed the hungry, to offer one's self up.

At the end, I felt sad for Liz, her ex-husband and for those who view her experience as emancipating rather than simply well written transcontinental indulgence. The desire to be closer to God is at the core of any sincere faith.  That sincere desire makes her story meaningful. The struggle not to be distracted or discouraged or misled is the story of every saint. Absent God's mercy, the rest of us are often revealed in our daily struggles to be flailing and always threatening to become epic tragedies as a result of our blindness, pride and unwillingness to be pushed beyond our own perceived capacity to love.  For those us still on this journey, the how of becoming intimately in love with God,  is more apt to be uncovered via a tried and true method of fasting, prayer, service. The journey probably won’t sell many books or become a blockbuster movie, but it will lead to more lasting joy and permanent peace than any bowl of pasta, chanted mantra or Brazilian lover could ever bring.


Maria Fernanda McClure said...

I don't know if her biography ever made a bestseller list, but Mother Teresa's works certainly inspired generations and earned her a nobel prize. I suspect the love she was able to spread (rather than consume) filled her with more joy than that prize.

Most likely, we need not worry about Ms. Gilbert's influence being as widespread. (And by the way, isn't this just the current version of "How Stella Got Her Groove Back"?)

Helen Gonsalves said...

Great post. The thing about the book and movie is the unfortunate message it sends:When this old world starts getting you down, just shirk all your responsibilities and run away, and everything will turn out just fine. And if Italian pizza and Javier Bardem are out of your price range, there's always Papa John's and the flirty delivery guy to make your life complete.:D

MightyMom said...

goodness there's a lot of talk about this book/movie right now.

reminds me why I HATE chick flicks....

I don't wanna discuss a movie, I don't wanna relate it to my life...I just wanna see how many imaginary buildings can get blown up and how cool the car chase looks.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!