So, there's this book.
Eat, Pray, Love was given to me by my mum, to whom it was given by her good friend, Brenda, who saw fit to give it to a group of her girlfriends, mostly middle-aged. When I got it, I had seen it - you know, here and there. Chapters, sticking out of women's oversized handbags...but I had never pursued it. When I opened the gift, the sparkle in my mother's eye said, "This book will change your life."
Me, being the responsible Christian gal I suppose I like to think that I am, graciously thanked her, while internally warning myself that this piece of prose, subtitled "One woman's search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia," looked to be a tad new-agey for me - one of those uber spiritual resources that one on a quest for purpose undertakes in the springtime, when everything around us is fresh and new and dripping with hope and light.
Thus, the book sat on my nightstand for months.
But, it seemed, this novel/bookumentary, kept drawing me in. I hadn't read a novel since my honeymoon almost two years ago - who has the time? Besides, there are many respectable marriage- and family-focused books in my stash that would surely provide more substance and tools than this flighty book about self-discovery after a "painful divorce" and the bloody aftermath (aka the rebound). It didn't sound like anything I could relate to.
But every time I saw my mum, she'd ask, "Have you started to read Eat, Pray, Love yet?"
"No, not yet," I'd reply, which tided her over until next time. And the book would continue to gather dust.
One day, I offhandedly mentioned this situation to a girlfriend, whose eyes grew wide as saucers when I told her I had this book. "That book changed my life!" she revealed, though she could not explain why.
She was given the book, as well, as part of her bridesmaid gift last summer. She made me promise to tell her when I finished the thing, so we could discuss it. (I think this is like a worldwide book club!?) It seems that women all over are touched by Elizabeth's story and pass it on to their friends. Even the assistant at my naturopath commented on it while I sat, waiting for a B12 shot -- having just returned from India, she confirmed much of what Elizabeth wrote, and her face seemed to brighten when she saw what I was reading -- an instant kinship, a shared story.
And so, I embarked on this journey with Elizabeth: from the cold, hard tile floor of her suburban bathroom, where she cried out to God to save her from her misery in the midst of her marrige, to Italy (seeking pleasure in the form of food and language and lack of responsibility), to India (seeking devotion and God and peace and a quiet mind) and finally, to Bali (seeking the balance in between).
We are still in Bali, Elizabeth and me. I won't give away anything here, as this is a book I'll be passing on to friends, too. But I did want to post some of my favourite quotes from this wonderful publication, which I see not only as a book anymore, but as the author's living, beating, bloody heart, spilled onto a printing press, spat out into a billion thin pages, and distributed throughout the world for women just like her to read.
1. (page 157) I met an old lady once, almost one hundred years old, and she told me, "There are only two questions that human beings have ever fought over, all through history. How much do you love me? And Who's in charge?" Everything else is somehow manageable. But these two questions of love and control undo us all, trip us up and cause war, grief and suffering.
2. (page 186) And I was sure of this, too--that the rules of transcendence insist that you will not advance even one inch closer to divinity as long as you cling to even one last seductive thread of blame. . . . I mean, what kind of prayer is this to imbibe--"Give us this day our daily grudge"?
3. (page 192) God dwells within you as yourself, exactly the way you are. God isn't interested in watching you enact some performance of personality in order to comply with some crackpot notion you have about how a spiritual person looks or behaves. We all seem to get this idea that, in order to be sacred, we have to make some massive, dramatic change of character, that we have to renounce our individuality. This is a classic example of what they call in the East "wrong-thinking." . . . To know God, you need only to renounce one thing--your sense of division from God. Otherwise, just stay as you were made, within your natural character.
4. (page 207) "You don't want to go cherry-picking a religion."
5. (pages 260-261) ...all the sorrow and trouble of this world is caused by unhappy people...on the smallest personal level. Even in my own life, I can see exactly where my episodes of unhappiness have brought suffering or distress or (at the very least) inconvenience to those around me. The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. Cleaning out your misery gets you out of the way. . . . Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people.
Can you see now why this book is so poignant? The insights this woman has are nothing short of divinely inspired and I am suprised that someone so desparate for purpose and reason would find such logical and seemingly sound spiritual answers on this particular journey and in this particular stage of her life. Our God really does work in mysterious ways and though Christ was not directly reflected in this book or Elizabeth's search, I believe that He leads us all if we are serious in our journey and faithful in our quest.
Lord God, shine bright through words like those of Elizabeth. Your Character and Love are unending and your ways are incomprehensible to your children.