Teri Orr: Fall is time for forgiveness and reflection and finding God in all the right places
From one of the few Jimmy Webb songs that wasn’t completely cheesy and/or crazy (see “MacArthur Park”), I have been whispering to myself lyrics as I have tossed all week … “the moon is a harsh mistress.” Make of this what you will … sleep has evaded me — large parts/most nights. The full, super-bright moon starts on one side of my home early in the evening when I am in the kitchen. Somewhere in the middle of the night it is fully in my bedroom. Sure I have drapes but I almost never pull them. I want to feel the rhythms of the day … and night … most of the time.
That moon startles me awake in my mid-September dream cycle and I am disoriented in the safety of my bed. Returning to sleep requires intervention most nights — gentle music, warm tea, scribbling on a big yellow legal pad where I rarely stay in/on the lines.
Rarely staying in the lines could be a personal T-shirt or a pillow I could cross stitch — there was a time I was far more adept with a needle than a pen. It was the same time I was looking for God in all the wrong places — like in churches with altars and men chanting and waving incense. Years later the smoke would come from sage — the light from candles — and the sound from the crackle of a fire.
Park City was a wild town in the ’90s. We were desperately trying to find our center. The churches left the city limits and moved to the county — along what we affectionately named the Highway to Heaven. From the Catholic church to the Jewish temple to the Methodists to the Lutherans — the Episcopalians to the no name group — the churches all left The City.
This was during a period when drug culture grew. In one year alone — there were three drug-related murders — though two of them were thought for decades to be “accidental drownings.” Looking back it was kinda wild — the crazier the town got — the more folks wanted to worship … something.
The Community/Methodist church had a maverick minister whose sermons had thin or nonexistent threads to direct bible teachings. I remember one such delivery talked about a hole we all try to fill at different times in our lives. Mark, our minister, was pretty direct in our large new church with the giant picture windows. We had affectionately dubbed it the Church of Ralph Lauren. He talked about all the things we tried to stuff into our hole of longing to make us complete. And he had a pretty accurate list for our community. He talked about trying to fill it with designer shoes, an affair, a new couch, cocaine — he knew his congregants well. But the point he was making — in both an accurate and exaggerated manner — was the shape that exactly matched the shape of the hole was a relationship with God.
Connecting with the divine has been an illusive goal of all creatures since the beginning of beginnings. All religions have origin stories. We have used those stories to admit — as mortals — we owe our existence and grace to powers just beyond our human ability to name them and see them.
Recently someone — agnostic by self-proclamation — told me he thought he was Jewish. “I mean my father was Jewish so I guess that makes me Jewish.” And I laughed because in theory — all Christians start out Jews. Jesus was hailed — King of the Jews. How we trace our religious lineage has always been a curiosity.
And after a lifetime of trying on different religions — largely but not exclusively of the Christian faith — I landed on a belief system that works for me. And it looks something like this … it doesn’t matter who or what you worship so long as you admit that there is grace and love and judgment and fairness and mercy we cannot name exactly except to admit it is beyond mortal explanation — it is divine.
And that that divinity is both male and female and something that is a third iteration of sexuality or lack thereof. The old man with a white beard on the throne — stuff of bad cartoons and da Vinci paintings isn’t my image of God anymore. The face of God is a small child covered in dirt who is trying to make it across the river border. The bystander covered in blood who was standing right next to the person shot up on a Saturday night at a bar in Dayton. The face with the tired eyes and windswept hair on a raft trying to cross waters in the Middle East to just take the family to a safe shore. The face of the woman claiming her child lost to an opioid overdose. God looks like that.
For me, God doesn’t live in a church or synagogue or a mosque who needs a weekly visit to lit candles — though gathering together does often call the presence into a room. The hard work of seeing God is looking at those faces we are inclined to turn away from.
In the Christian tradition there are two times writ large — Christmas and Easter. The birth and the death/resurrection. In the weeks before there is time to prepare — advent and Holy Week. In the Jewish religion we are on approach right now to the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And while I don’t in any way pretend to understand the nuances of Judaism — here’s a piece I adopted/adapted for my own life — the clean new unwritten book. If I understand it right, God takes the time to do a kind of review of each life to decide if they should be given another year entered in The Book. There is time to atone, forgive and reflect. For more than half my life I have chosen to observe the fall as a time to try and reflect — and pray in my own ways I have another year to right my wrongs, try to live a life of service and find those meaningful ways to fill my personal god-shaped hole. I have learned I can do this work any day but I try making time most Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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