Today is Sunday and no, I am not in church. I don’t go to church. I am on a hill covered in pea gravel next to our pond, pulling weeds in our rock garden. Weeds aside, the hill is supposed to be sparsely planted, sort of Zen-inspired. It’s a bit challenging for me to weed on a slope, but it’s warm and sunny, and I want to be outside. I’ll just take my time.
I’m not sure how I started thinking about religion. Maybe because it’s Sunday or maybe it’s the little statue of Buddha on top of the hill, just a few feet away from me.
The Buddha takes many forms: graceful and meditating, fat and jolly, stone, concrete, or plastic. You can find one or more of these forms at Home Depot and similar stores. Buddha: massed produced for North American gardeners. A garden gnome for those who feel a little too sophisticated for a garden gnome.
The Buddha serves as the father of beings and a lovely garden ornament. Is it irreverent to so casually use this symbol to decorate the yard? And yet, I think as I dig out a dandelion, there is something peaceful about the little Buddha just a few feet away from me.
But what if the Buddha was replaced by the symbol of another religion at the top of the hill, say, a cross? Well, then that would imply something else entirely. “Is something buried there?” a guest might ask, imagining a beloved guinea pig or hamster.
I am now working on a patch of wayward grass, which has taken hold in the soil below the pea gravel. My mind continues to wander…
A while ago, I heard someone say that Christianity is the only religion to use an implement of capital punishment as its symbol. That’s just weird. Could you imagine another implement instead? A marble electric chair marking a grave? A holy noose centred on the wall above the guest bed? A delicate gold guillotine dangling from Auntie’s neck?
The wayward grass I have been working on gives way in a large clump and I smooth the gravel over the void left by the roots. I hear a deep soft sound and look up to see a hummingbird hovering near me, only to dart away.
I know the cross and other religious symbols bring inspiration and strength to many people in the world. I appreciate the cross as it represents sacrifice and love, resurrection and salvation. And God, of course. But to me, the cross is just not, well, it’s not very… peaceful. My grandmother, on the other hand- I know she finds comfort in the cross.
The hummingbird is back and appears to be considering whether or not I am a flower. It decides not and darts away again. I sift a few dead leaves from the gravel.
I think more about my Grandma. She is a Christian of deep faith, tough, fun, intelligent, caring, and conservative. Actually, very conservative. “Guns, God, and Rush,” her bumper sticker used to proclaim. Yet, she has never chided me for not going to church, never questioned my faith or perceived lack of it. And she has loved her gay grandson. In exchange, I go to church with her when I visit. I respectfully join hands in public prayer at the Chinese restaurant while Grandma’s husband says grace. I sit quietly in the living room as Fox News blares about three volume levels too high, or discretely find something to do in the other room. I love her, she loves me, and although Grandma has never said it, I think it would give her great comfort if I went to church more often. Or, well, at all.
Another large clump of dirt comes out with a weed. This time, an earthworm falls to the ground. I place it in the hole and protect it with some damp earth teased from the weed’s roots before smoothing over the gravel.
Is there a god? If so, is it my grandma’s god? Is it my neighbour’s God? Are you in Heaven, God, or are you with me now in this moment, as I yank another weed out of the gravelly soil? What is your name, anyway? Your real name. Is it The Father, The Creator, Jehovah or Aum? Is it Allah or Bahá, Krishna, or Christ? Or is it one of a hundred other names? Or, perhaps, not any of them at all.
Of all religions, I wonder which comes closest to the way you expect to be perceived and the way you want us to live. They can’t all be right- somebody has to be getting this wrong. Are You sitting there in heaven, looking down at us, rubbing your stately forehead, thinking, “Are you kidding me? You people have totally made a mess of this! How can you possibly believe that?”
Or, God, maybe we have just plain made you up, all of you, in all your incarnations.
The sun is warm on my neck and my hands are getting tired. A few drops of sweat fall from my forehead to the ground. The weeding is almost done and it brings me to the little Buddha sitting atop two old bricks, which have somehow sunken lopsided into the ground. I level the little guy out and pull the last few weeds.
Three of us at the office were diagnosed with cancer at about the same time, and I am the only survivor. It’s all very complicated, this god stuff. I can’t say I know which is the true God or gods or whether he or she exists at all.
I do know love, though. I’m blessed in that regard. I know kindness, empathy, generosity, and sacrifice. I understand searching for truth, feeling part of this world and connecting to others. I know what it means to be thankful.
I understand the warmth of the sun on my on my neck, the ache in my fingers, and the loveliness of my little rock garden. Well, now that it’s weeded, that is. Its done. It’s beautiful. I breath, I live, and I am at peace. For the past hour, I’ve not thought about my health or finances or the pain in my shoulder.
I think I might have just been to church.