I’m re-reading a great book right now, called THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION. Sounds tailor-made for me, doesn’t it? I know, I know.
This books speaks to me on several levels — as a person staying sober one day at a time, as a writer, and as someone seeking a closer relationship with the Sacred. In a nutshell, this book is about accepting the human condition, and finding meaning even within suffering. Not that suffering is required,you understand, but that suffering isn’t a sign of failure.
Those of us who live in the western world, particularly in the United States, often feel as though unless we’re happy, happy, happy, all the flippin’ time, that we’re doing something wrong.
A dear friend and I were talking today — she’s an actor and I’m a writer — about how things were going in our respective lives. I said I had just received a rejection letter from an editor that was so damn good I was tempted to use it as a blurb on the back of the book should it ever get a US publisher (it has a wonderful Canadian publisher.)
“What did the letter say?” she asked.
“It said, I’ve never encountered an account of alcoholism (in books or on film) that helped me to understand the disease quite so vividly. Still, for some reason they ain’t buying it!”
She laughed and asked why it was Canadian publishers were often more comfortable with this kind of novel than American publishers.
“Perhaps it’s that Northern thing,” I said. “Like Swedes and Norwegians, we’re more accepting of melancholy and of shadows. Not everything has to be bright and shiny. Although, look, the book does have a happy ending . . . ”
“But,” she said, “we Americans aren’t known for our patience, either.”
Living with reasonable sanity as a writer — or living with reasonable sanity as anything, for that matter — requires a certain degree of comfort with ambiguity. As Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham say in The Spirituality of Imperfection:
“We modern people are problem-solvers, but the demand for answers crowds out patience — and perhaps, especially, patience with mystery, with that which we cannot control. Intolerant of ambiguity, we deny our own ambivalences, searching for answers to our most anguished questions in technique, hoping to find an ultimate healing in technology. But feelings of dislocation, isolation, and of off-centeredness persist, as they always have.”
And so, they go on to say,
“Spirituality hears and understands the pain in these questions, but its wisdom knows better than to attempt an ‘answer’. Some answers we only find; they are never ‘given’. And so the tradition [of spirituality] suggests: Listen! Listen to stories! For spirituality itself is conveyed by stories, which use words in ways that go beyond words to speak the language of the heart. Especially in a spirituality of imperfection, a spirituality of not having all the answers, stories convey the mystery and the miracle — the adventure — of being alive.”
And so, even if not everyone ‘gets’ our work, even if we don’t get what we think we want, we rest in the miracle and the mystery, and that is enough.