“But why must everything always have a practical application? Is this lifetime supposed to be only about duty?”
Faith hasn’t been easy for me lately. I guess it’s not supposed to be — after all, it’s the conviction of things not seen — but when your rock-solid belief in God and the Bible crumbles beneath self-doubt and cynicism, it’s hard to maintain perspective. In fact, if it weren’t for the proof of my high school journals, I would doubt I had ever believed as easily and innocently as most people around me.
I haven’t picked up a Bible in two years, but in that time, I’ve read everything from angry memoirs to book-length treatments of feminist theology. I have encountered God in novels, in essays, in the lines of Lucille’s poetry and the rhythms of Annie’s prose. I have cast my net far and wide and dragged up book after book after book after book, and every time, I have found what I needed. I have walked away filled up and full. Books have become my Bible, literature my Word of God. Perhaps that seems scandalous or sad or even blasphemous to you, but I have learned to accept it. I cannot find God in the Bible right now, but I can find him/her in words.
Liz Gilbert’s are no exception.
To quote the back cover, Eat, Pray, Love is the story of a woman who
following a divorce and a crushing depression, sets out to examine three different aspects of her nature against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.
Though I’d known about the book for a long time, it wasn’t until this summer that I dared to read it. I bought it a year ago after a discussion in women’s lit, but once I got home and read the back cover, I stuck it on a shelf and ignored it. My grip on faith was tenuous at best, and the thought of ashrams and Eastern religions freaked me out. I felt that just reading about them would send me careening into atheism or Buddhism or some other unknown religion.
But then this summer I listened to a conversation between Ann Patchett & Liz and I knew I had to read her books. Here was a woman who loved God and cursed freely, who admitted her fears and doubts, who lived and loved and laughed and talked and bared her soul without a second thought. She practically oozed joy. And I wanted that. I wanted the peace that she claimed.
I can’t say that I’ve found it yet, but I’m a heck of a lot closer than I was a few months ago, and Liz deserves most of the credit. Her words have been my saving grace as I have walked through the valley of my post-grad summer, and every day they uplift and enfold me as I sit down to write. There’s this line of J.D. Salinger’s from Catcher in the Rye that says, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” That’s how I feel about Liz.
Eat, Pray, Love is a beautiful book. It is honest and vulnerable and meets me where I am. And because of that, I adore it.
Further Reading (& Watching & Listening)
- Liz’s website
- Liz’s TED Talk, “Your Elusive Creative Genius”
- Liz’s podcast, Magic Lessons (10/10 recommend)
- Nashville Public Library’s Salon@615 program, featuring such speakers as Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lammott, Ann Patchett, Liz, and more (also available in podcast form)