If you’re going to keep imaginary friends…
I remember my introduction to organized religion this way; I was a child. I had been to Sunday School (my Mother taught it for a while – not long as I recall) and I became familiar with the idea of a benevolent, revered fellow who had existed sometime in the past. A good example for a child. I was mostly taught to sing songs about it/him. I was probably five years old.
I wasn’t much older – maybe seven or eight – when I saw a flyer distributed by some evangelical Christian group. I think it was left in or near our mailbox. It contained a graphic story – three or four panels/page – comic-like. First the image of a man cutting his lawn, explanatory text asserting that humans enjoy only a certain amount of time alive, and death can come suddenly – in the next image the man is clutching his chest, and then there were images of his family weeping, and then a funeral. After that, an image of a man being tormented and burning in eternal fire was juxtaposed beside an image of the same man enjoying the eternal, beautiful light of his/their chosen deity. The text explained that the decision to follow this cult couldn’t be made posthumously, that commitment in the now was essential – the alternative was to suffer forever. Eternally. Infinitely.
That made an impression. It scared the shit out of me. The amount of uncertainty and fear caused by that flyer – the impossibility of being completely free of it. Its irrefutability and its subsequent tenacity. Its default setting – to lie in wait for when you’re most vulnerable, it’s exactly like anxiety or depression. Or a virus. Even at that young age, as fearful as it made me, I also experienced revulsion for the method. I couldn’t have put either my fear or my sense of alarm that anyone would assault someone with this type of idea into words – but I felt both. Strongly. And I have ever since.
Recently I’ve been taking a course titled Indigenous World View presented by the University of Alberta, and in that course I stumbled across an idea that in its simplicity explains and assuages the fear and stills all the anger (a lifetime of both) that burdened me so many years ago.
In the chapter on Sovereignty of Indigenous lands there is a story of how the landscape in the North gained some of its features – The Legend of Ts’anTui Theda – The Old Lady of the Falls. As it turns out, one of the spirit people lives there and can’t be seen – an old woman beaver person/spirit. One of the story tellers recounts a visit to this place when she was looking for relief for leg pain. She said, “It’s a place where you think you don’t see the spirit person, but you do.” She traveled there and she asked, “If I’m going to live, help me.” What a beautiful prayer – issued with respect and understanding of the flow of power, but with the expectation of a reciprocal understanding, and affirmative action in return. “If I’m going to live, help me.”
Instead of supplicating oneself, existing in servitude – exercising a choice between nothing in return, or eternal damnation, there is an understanding that as a part of this planet you’re a contributor and you are owed the same respect you’re offering.
Believing in miracles and believing in magic. The former is associated with a sacred air – the latter with that of witchcraft or pagan spirituality – and these two places are opposites – in today’s world. What kind of education would it be – if they could look at invisible history with a kind of time-magnifying glass – to find out that magic is the loving parent of the miracle, and that the two are inseparable?