Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Purgatory Project

My writing project that is bringing me the most joy is a surprise to me.  I'm going to call this work the purgatory project going forward.

Some background:  Back in December, my atheist writer quilter friend had written an amusing piece of fiction in which she imagines she's come to consciousness in purgatory.  At our December quilt group meeting, we had a rousing discussion about our different beliefs about what happens when we die.

My atheist friend does not believe in an afterlife.  And yet she wrote a piece about purgatory, which she imagines as a place of endless shoe shopping, which she hates, and having to make small talk with people she despises.

The next morning, I wrote what is probably one of my most favorite things I wrote last year.  My friend wrote from her point of view; I wrote from the point of view of God who was dealing with my friend's wrong perceptions of where she was and what she needed to do next.

It was an interesting exercise, exploring theology by way of fiction.  I know that some would be shocked that I presumed to talk in the voice of God, but happily, my religious tradition does not forbid it.

On Tuesday, I wrote another installment, one which imagines God as welcoming all to the table to discuss politics:  Hitler, Dorothy Day, my atheist friend, and Marx.  Buddha and Mohammed are there too, and they're all watching the political debates, the way we might watch TV.

Here's a paragraph from Tuesday's piece (the speaker is God): 

"I pour us all tea, the only antidote for this campaign season. I set out the dainty sandwiches and the butter cookies. I could answer some of these questions, but I know that the joy comes from the arguing, not the settling of the existential issues."

I sent the piece to my quilting group, and my atheist friend and I had a rousing conversation over Tuesday lunch.  Then my friend wrote another piece and wove our stories together.  Our Hindu writer quilter friend has also written a purgatory piece, although her faith doesn't have purgatory--well, neither does my Lutheran faith for that matter, and my friend's atheism would preclude purgatory too.

Yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with my Hindu friend who wonders if we're not all writing thinly disguised autobiography.  She has noticed that our atheist friend's purgatory is remarkably similar to her present life.  I said, "But the part about having to stay at parties with make-believe drinks making small talks with people she doesn't like.  In present life, we can leave those parties.  In her purgatory story, she can't leave."

My friend gave me the arched eyebrow, and I suddenly realized my error--sure, we can leave the boring obligations, but we're still not released from having to go.

And thus, the seeds for the next piece.  I will also weave my vision of God as administrator.  We think that God has much in the way of power, like we do the President of the U.S. or our boss--but many of us, as we get older, realize how much that happens is simply not in the control of anyone.  So why would we think God would be immune from that dynamic?

Yes, I know all the reasons why we want to believe in an omnipotent and omniscient God.  Most days, I don't believe in that view of God, that magician who can speak a word and change the universe God.  And by writing these pieces for the purgatory project, I can explore and have an interesting conversation with my friends who have such diverse beliefs.

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