What My Mother Said

My mother said never to talk about politics or religion. She said such hot topics put people off. They only start arguments. “If you want to have friends, keep your beliefs to yourself,” she said.

She was an I-Like-Ike kind of Republican, but she kept it to herself. At the time, I was too young and uninformed to have a political opinion, but I was baffled by what made Ike so likeable. He looked like a scowling old man to me.

As for religion, God didn’t feature in the life of our family, except when his name was used in vain or when my mother used his first initial when referring to her husband, the father of her four children, as “that GDSOB,” between clenched teeth.

When I, in a bold act of adolescent rebellion, started attending a local evangelical church with a friend, and ultimately decided to follow Jesus, my mother patted my hand. She said she was happy for me but I should keep it to myself. “I’m not really interested,” she said. “I don’t want to go to Heaven. I wouldn’t know anybody there,” she said.

Oh, and she always made a point of saying that we must never share our private problems with anyone. “Everyone has their own problems,” she said, “and they don’t give a damn about yours.”

So you can imagine how — how shall I say this? — SURPRISED she was when my memoir Somewhere Child was published by Viking Press in 1981 – for all the world to read — about my private heartache, the loss of my young daughter, my only child, to child-snatching and parental alienation.

Yet, despite our vastly divergent points of view, my mother and I were close, like partners, who respected each other’s differences. And I now know she was right about many things. To this day, when I write a WOW post that verges on the political — when I let slip, for example, such references to the current U.S. president as “Don the Con Man,” or words to that effect — a few people always unsubscribe from my blog. Oh, well.

And now, right now, as I wade into a new post, about my conception of God, of all things, I know I risk losing even more subscribers. What I might be left with is only the choir. Oh, well.

First, let me say that I have a number of dear old friends, who are good, honest, honorable, ethical, moral, loving people, who vehemently deny God’s existence and think my belief in God is nuts. I respect that.

I look at it this way: Maybe these friends have never needed to turn their eyes or hearts to God. I know that all of them come from what is commonly known as “good families,” and they were showered with familial love and support throughout their lives. Maybe they have never been so down that the only way for them to look was up. Maybe this situation will change for them. As the saying goes, “Only God knows.”

As for me, my spiritual journey began at the age of four when my best friend, Ruthie, who was five and had just started Catholic school, pointed up to the sky one day as we were sitting on her front porch cutting paper dolls and told me earnestly: “God lives up there. Behind those clouds. He is a good father. He loves you – and me, and everyone. We are HIS children.”

Well. I was sold.

From that point on, I didn’t look to my own father — who (how shall I say this?) didn’t seem to like the fact that he’d fathered all these kids and was obliged to work to support us — because I’d latched on to a bigger, better, more loving father in the sky.

That was Step One.

Step Two happened when I “found Jesus,” as they say. Jesus was depicted in all the New Testament images as a handsome man, gentle but muscular and strong, young but wise. Just what an adolescent girl might envision as the perfect guy.

I began to read the Bible and pray every morning before going to school. In the turbulent place I had no choice but to call home, I quietly turned to this Jesus for life guidance and direction. It worked. At a time when hormones were raging, as they say, I could easily have tumbled down a wild and reckless road. Instead, I took the “straight and narrow” path. Uphill.

It’s been a rocky trek with many stumbles. But, in the interest of brevity (I like to keep my WOW posts short), I’ll abbreviate:

I’m now, at the age of 74, at Step Three; and I’m grateful to be here. I’m thankful, deeply thankful, that Steps One and Two brought me to this place. But I don’t believe my route is the only way. The God I now believe in is neither a Father nor a Son (nor an uncle or brother, or any other kind of male being – or female either, for that matter), but rather a positive, ineffable power, a Great Spirit.

My God is the same Great Spirit, I believe, that my Native American friends in Taos, New Mexico, honor. My God is the same God, I’m sure, that my Muslim friends in Mali, West Africa, worship. The same God all true believers all over the world believe in, regardless of their religions or the paths they took to get there. Like Rome, there are many roads to God.

Detail from a Moroccan mosaic

My God is immeasurably big, like a vast mosaic, too big for any of us to fully see or describe or quantify or possess as ours alone. None of us owns the franchise.

My God is the antithesis of intolerance, narrow-mindedness, divisions or hatred. This is the God I pray to – or, as I prefer to think of it, the Power Source I plug into — every morning, asking for strength for the day, endurance, tolerance, patience, understanding, compassion, wisdom…. Most of all, wisdom, because that’s the higher purpose of all older people, I believe. That’s why we’re still here.

I’m no theologian, so I’m the furthest thing from the last word on this profound subject. But I do like to think that my one-of-a-kind mother, who’s been dancing with the angels for decades, might now agree with my point of view and urge me to share it.

16 thoughts on “What My Mother Said”

  1. I love this so much, Bonnie. If you shared the story of Ruthie, I may have forgotten it. That was your spiritual awakening, and you had it on Ruthie’s porch at the age of five! I can concur wholeheartedly with your view of God. Ineffable and so hard to describe, but you did it well. And you have always held to your spiritually integrated center, in all the years I’ve known you. Bless you, mi amiga!

  2. Thank you, Bonnie. I have thought that way, I think, since I was a child. I choose Jesus as a point of interpretation for myself. And, I respect all the varieties of beliefs about that mysterious Great Spirit.

      1. Bonnie, I remember being in an MYF youth group when I was probably no more than 13 or 14 and telling the group the same sort of thing. Everyone but the young pastor disagreed. I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said, “You may be the only real Christian here.” Odd, for a young pastor, but I have never seen how anyone could come up with another interpretation of God except that all the interpretations were of the same Great Spirit.

  3. Bonnie,
    I love this! I believe I heard the same “pearls of wisdom” from my Mom and Dad growing up. Maybe it was that generation? I don’t know?
    I wish I had met your Mom. She sounds very witty, wise and someone who probably loved you and your siblings very much. I’m sure she went to heaven!!
    Thank you for this beautiful piece. My good wishes to you. Xo

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Pam! Yes, you’re so right, my mom had a great sense of humor, and I always knew she loved (and admired) me. And, yes, I’m sure, too, that she went to heaven, where she had to learn to make new friends. 🙂

  4. That was just beautiful, Bonnie. I meditate every morning, and at the end of my meditation I give thanks to Something Else for the great abundance in my life. Sometimes I ask for help in changing my attitude.

  5. Bonnie! Soo many of your “folks” ate on a journey!
    At decade 7 a lot of the childhood ways are left behind and searching begins…at least for me.
    I have been on a reading path and lately love Mirabia Star and Barbara Brown Taylor. They were both teachers, like you and me, and are so searching for the path…
    Thanks for your honesty and do keep,on writing to me.

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