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Excerpted from The New American Spirituality: A Seeker's Guide by Elizabeth Lesser. Copyright 1999 by Elizabeth Lesser. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.
 


"I was raised in a family and a culture that were hooked on science and progress, and suspicious of spirituality and introspection."

Elizabeth Lesser, The New American Spirituality, Part 2

The golden thread parts of my own spiritual story are interesting and enlightening--they involve extraordinary teachers and are set in exotic places, like India and Israel. But the most useful stories emanate from the unraveling of the tightly wound twine. Here the characters and sets are ordinary--me, my family, and others who have shared their questions and growth with me. How we unravel the twine--through the hard knocks of daily life and the hard work of self-examination--is just as much a part of the spiritual path as are solitary retreats and meetings with remarkable teachers. In daily life we make real the rarefied wisdom that we can only glean in meditation and in the words of saints and gurus.

Each part of my story--youthful zealousness, marriage, my work as a midwife, mothering, divorce, leadership, loneliness, the death of friends and family members, and periods of cynicism and lack of faith--is a radiant bead on a necklace that is still unfinished. The more jagged beads, including divorce, illness, and struggles at work and with money, are strung nobly beside the smoother ones: my loving family and community, meaningful work, pilgrimages to holy places around the world, silent retreats in the wilderness, and the wise men and women with whom I have studied. I am offering you the whole necklace because I know that yours too is a work in progress with precious gems, simple pebbles, and rough stones.

I start with the first bead: my childhood. When I was a child, God was dead. I was raised in a family and a culture that were hooked on science and progress, and suspicious of spirituality and introspection. Time magazine put the nail in the coffin in 1966, when I was fourteen: "Is God Dead?" ran the headline on the cover. Magazines provided the equivalent of scripture in my home, and the magazine rack that my father had built on the kitchen wall came as close to any family altar that we would ever have. Avid readers, my parents subscribed to at least ten magazines, everything from National Geographic to The New Yorker, as well as the standards of the day--Life, Time, and Woman's Day. I received my cultural education from their covers, as I passed the rack on my way to school or to play in the neighborhood. Glancing at the glossy photographs, I learned about my world: John-John Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, the civil rights marches, Dr. Spock's latest on toilet training, or the best table setting for Thanksgiving dinner. Later I'd see pictures of the Beatles, vanishing tribes in Samoa, battlegrounds in Vietnam, the first long hair of the hippies.

But it was the questioning of God's death that stopped me in my tracks at the magazine rack. God was already on shaky ground in my home.

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