My spirituality book club has chosen a new book that we will be discussing in October, Knocking on Heaven’s door by Katy Butler. Because I order so many books, I usually get them used on Amazon. I don’t like my practice because it doesn’t really support the writers. However, I am very prone to buy books when I have an opportunity to meet authors at book fairs, signings and readings. In the end, I spend more money on books than I do on clothes.
The subtitle of Butler’s book is The Path to a Better Way of Death. The first two chapters refresh my memory of the years I cared for my mother and her later months of life. I was more present to her than my two brothers. Like Butler, I was the woman in the family caught between child care and parent care. It was the way things were for women. I tried desperately to fit into my full-time work time to visit Mom (she knew no one in Minnesota as we’d plucked her out of Illinois after my father’s death), making appointments and taking her to doctors (she could neither drive nor speak), and attending to her day-to-day needs for supplies (or trinkets). I can’t deny that there were days when I felt exhausted and unappreciated. Yet, today I would not give up one of those days.
Butler’s book is not one I would have chosen myself. I am getting weary of reading about aging bodies and death. I would prefer to read about child development or different cultures or the history of our country. But books like hers keep showing up and saying “pay attention.”
This morning, I read something that struck me. I have often struggled to understand the difference between belief and faith. Butler shares a moment she had when she visited her mother and dad and they sat together one morning for a 20 minute meditation. It was her idea to do it believing that it might help all of them deal with the realities at hand: her dad thrown into dependency by a stroke, her mother thrown into the caregiver role and she, the only daughter, trying to manage care details from her home on the country’s opposite coast. First she shared a humorous but annoying moment when her mother kept try to kill a fly with her slipper. Butler struggled with her knee-jerk tendency to snark at her. Rather, she tried her most recently learned self-help technique called Nonviolent Communication. She breathed and recited in her mind a prayer of gratitude for being with them. She says she later looked back at that experience and others like it as a year of grace. She writes:
I did not believe in God then, and I don’t now. But the closest I can come to explaining what happened during that year of grace is to describe a Christian poster I once saw and thought at the time was sentimental, of footprints along the damp sand of a beach.The script along the bottom read, “During your times of trial and suffering, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
Interesting words for a person who claims to be an atheist. Here is my thought: We can talk about one’s need to believe in order to enter into some kind of relationship with God. But does God really require belief? I think what God wants from humans has nothing to do with some mindful agreement with someone’s idea of God. Rather, what is required is faith, simple live-in-the moment faith. It is being able to love and hope in all these very human experiences we are having.