“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
― Alice Walker, The Color Purple
I’ve been silent a couple weeks. The weight of both personal and collective despair got to be too much for me to have anything to say of substance. And no, the title of this blog is not directly related to Prince’s death (although if you are interested in his death, this On Being Blog talks about it while also examining collective despair).
Much of my recent personal despair correlated with that of my loved ones. It seemed like everyone I know and care about was all at once hit with tremendous and often unfair hardship. I’m not naive enough to think that life is fair. But how many times can a person watch bad things happen to good people without feeling a crisis of faith? How much corruption and injustice can I read and hear about without wondering if our world is F.U.B.A.R.? What happens when everyone I know is struggling with those same questions, including the folks I look to for hope and guidance when I feel hopeless?
Despite my frustration with fear-based religion and an anthropomorphic god, I identify as a person of faith. My many mentors have helped me see that doubt and despair are part of living faith, not separate from it. When I identified as an atheist, these same mentors validated me and helped me discover how losing faith can create room for a more authentic faith in the future. While losing faith in anything is never fun, such periods help us grow. They require letting go of past ideas and expectations, which creates room for newer and more vigorous ones.
I picked the Alice Walker quote above for two reasons. One: I recently heard her speak and had the pleasure of meeting her. Two: purple is one of my favorite colors, so when my partner and I planted a garden this past weekend, I chose plenty of purple flowers.
The quote might seem to negate my earlier thoughts, because it refers to an anthropomorphic god prone to anger. But it’s so much deeper than that. The Color Purple has so much depth that I don’t know where to begin explaining why that quote complements my idea of god rather than negates it. (To explore the layers of meaning would take a hell of a lot more than one blog entry and get far more into semantics than what is my purpose here.)
I wanted to use the quote, because I thought of it often this weekend while planting flowers in our new garden. There’s something spiritually restorative about the magic of digging in the dirt to eventually yield beauty, growth, life, and nourishing food. I already knew this in theory. For example, I’ve been blown away and proud to see the success of gardening in Detroit. But I had never created my own garden. I know next to nothing about the process, so this year is mostly a lot of trial and error. Still, there’s something about the process and effort, even without looking at end results. I stand in the garden every day and have a moment of gratitude. It doesn’t matter what kind of despair has been weighing me down. I stand with my feet in the dirt, thinking about that quote, purple, and god. And for a second, I am one with all. And it’s truly divine.