a new and different spiritual practice.

4 Mar

Tomorrow, I have a memorial service for a dear man who, upon leaving the sanctuary each Sunday, would put his hand on my shoulder and tell me how amazing I am and how he was my biggest fan. On Sunday, I get to teach a course on Witnessing Whiteness, do a sermon on Forgiveness, and then lead a Worship Associates Training workshop. So I have a lot to do right now. But with the news about last night’s Republican debates, the fear I have that our next president will be a hate-filled celebrity probably more interested in winning this popularity contest than in actually being president, and the prevailing disgust/pity/confusion for the portion of the population who finds this man suitable to be president, I thought I would write about something else. Something fun. And maybe even uplifting for some: Romance Novels.

For many years, the vast majority of the books I read were dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels. I loved them. In fact, I’ve loved them since I was a kid. The earliest novel I remember purchasing after I read it was Alas, Babylon. I think I was maybe 9. I still have my dog-eared copy. I am drawn to this genre because I have always felt, I think, that human civilization is a fragile, beautiful thing that needs nurturing in order to flourish. Maybe this is also why I am a Unitarian Universalist minister. Dystopian novels show the multitude of ways things can go wrong – they are the ultimate cautionary tale.

Then this autumn hit. And it was a doozy. One of my children was hospitalized and I feared for her future. Some plans that were important to me fell through. I experienced one loss after another, to the point that I felt myself flirting with depression in a way that I haven’t for a decade.

Reading has always been my drug of choice, my escape. But I couldn’t read dystopian novels. I couldn’t read science fiction, either. Young adult lit didn’t appeal. And there was no possibility of me focusing and getting more than a paragraph into something nonfiction or work-related.

So I picked up a book in a genre I had never read before. A genre that, frankly, I had felt I was above: Romance.

And I loved it. So I picked up another. And another, and another. And suddenly, my main escape was once again available to me. I was devouring romance novels.

A few weeks ago, my spiritual director asked about my spiritual practice. I wasn’t coloring, meditating or doing much else, I observed, feeling guilty because I know that this is exactly the time when a spiritual practice is so important. She then asked me how I was taking care of myself. I told her I was making sure I got enough sleep, trying to exercise regularly. And, after hemming and hawing, I told her I was really getting into these romance novels.

As a good spiritual director will do, she asked me to reflect on that with her. What was it about romance novels? And was it all romance novels?

So I reflected. At one level, romance novels offer the promise of a happy ending. This is the main difference between a romance novel and a love story: the romance novel resolves at the end with a happily-ever-after. This is in stark contrast to dystopian novels, where there is no guarantee that the heroes (of any gender) will be able to survive, much less rescue the world. I needed a guaranteed happy ending.

And it definitely wasn’t all sub-genres. In fact, I pretty quickly found one subset of the genre that I return to again and again: romantic thrillers. I am drawn to novels where the world threatened to turn into a dystopia, but where the heroes (of all genders) rescue not just the world, but in the process rescue one another. In the end, love wins. Every time. Guaranteed.

Now, I know love doesn’t usually win on its own in real life. I know that only when many of us put our hands onto the moral arc of the universe will it eventually bend toward justice. But in my grief, I needed to be reminded of how things might look, how love can save us – collectively and individually. And romance novels provided just that.

I was shocked when my spiritual director, after reflecting on this with me, observed that reading romance novels fed my spirit, and that therefore it was my spiritual practice. I was embarrassed for a moment, but quickly realized that was kinda ridiculous. Shouldn’t we celebrate all the non-harmful ways someone copes with grief? The truth is, these books have kept my spirit afloat through a very difficult time.

I am feeling better now, slowing getting back to what feels like my usual self. I picked up a non-romance novel that a friend promises is funny with a happy ending, just for something different. I laugh at how I used to feel myself above romance novels, and at how embarrassed I was when I started reading them. And I don’t see giving them up any time soon (if ever), especially in this political season. We all find hope wherever we can – I happen to find it in real, and fictional, heroes who save each other, and the world, with love.

3 Responses to “a new and different spiritual practice.”

  1. bitchyweekdayvegan March 4, 2016 at 6:57 pm #

    I happened by this blog post because a fellow UU “liked” it on Facebook. Thanks for putting into words what my voracious romance novel habit means to me. I began reading romance novels of your genre a few years ago and have since morphed to contemporary novels with a sense of humor. I research and feed this habit through the excellent, excellent blog smartbitchestrashybooks.com which is hilarious, if you are not already familiar with it.

    • Rev. Dawn March 4, 2016 at 7:22 pm #

      Glad you liked it! And thank you for the link – I will definitely check it out!

  2. christellsit March 4, 2016 at 9:45 pm #

    Thank you, Dawn, for this one. It allows us all to embrace our humanity even when we are doing something to soothe ourselves that we may think is “beneath us.”

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