Saturday, February 20, 2016

Purgatory Project

My writing project that is bringing me the most joy is a surprise to me.  I'm going to call this work the purgatory project going forward.

Some background:  Back in December, my atheist writer quilter friend had written an amusing piece of fiction in which she imagines she's come to consciousness in purgatory. I then wrote what is probably one of my most favorite things I wrote last year.  My friend wrote from her point of view; I wrote from the point of view of God who was dealing with my friend's wrong perceptions of where she was and what she needed to do next.

My friend wrote a response, and then on Tuesday, I wrote another response.  installment, one which imagines God as welcoming all to the table to discuss politics:  Hitler, Dorothy Day, my atheist friend, and Marx.  Buddha and Mohammed are there too, and they're all watching the political debates, the way we might watch TV.

Here's a paragraph from Tuesday's piece (the speaker is God): 

"I pour us all tea, the only antidote for this campaign season. I set out the dainty sandwiches and the butter cookies. I could answer some of these questions, but I know that the joy comes from the arguing, not the settling of the existential issues."

I sent the piece to my quilting group, and my atheist friend and I had a rousing conversation over Tuesday lunch.  Then my friend wrote another piece and wove our stories together.  Our Hindu writer quilter friend has also written a purgatory piece, although her faith doesn't have purgatory--well, neither does my Lutheran faith for that matter, and my friend's atheism would preclude purgatory too.

Yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with my Hindu friend who wonders if we're not all writing thinly disguised autobiography.  She has noticed that our atheist friend's purgatory is remarkably similar to her present life.  I said, "But the part about having to stay at parties with make-believe drinks making small talks with people she doesn't like.  In present life, we can leave those parties.  In her purgatory story, she can't leave."

My friend gave me the arched eyebrow, and I suddenly realized my error--sure, we can leave the boring obligations, but we're still not released from having to go.
Yesterday, I wrote a piece that had been inspired by events of the week:  God as administrator.  It answers the question about how we came to have so many religious books with rules handed down by God.  God assures us that the words weren't captured correctly:  "What human amongst you hasn’t experienced the same thing? You craft an e-mail, and you spend lots of time in revising and clarifying before you send it out. And what happens? People see all sorts of meanings that you didn’t intend. And then you send out more clarifications and the meaning gets more twisted, and eventually you move on to other issues."

But here's my favorite part of that writing in the voice of God:  "My other creatures don’t seem to have this trouble. Spiders don’t spin webs hoping to gain entrance into heaven by their good behavior or by some set of rules that they imagine I’ve handed down about spiderwebs. They spin webs because it brings them joy—and gives them a way to provide for themselves. Some spiders take all sorts of creative liberties, and some take the quickest route."

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating:  it's an interesting way of doing theology and an interesting way of having conversations about religion.  I know that conservative traditions would frown on me writing in the voice of God, but happily, I'm not part of those traditions.

Stay tuned!  There will be more installments coming.

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