Why am I like this? It’s the question that most human beings ask at some point in life. It’s the question that remains with those artistic types who can’t resist the urge to dredge the murky bottom of their souls looking for answers. The Eagles sang, Get Over It. Yet, God asks us to remember. The psalmist dialogs with his soul.
Spiritual memoir allows us to do that. It is not so different than the “regular kind” of personal narrative in that it too considers all the conflicting vices and powerholders, the roles of individuals and organizations—the socius—of those who played a part in forming the identity of the often too-naïve participant.
Spiritual memoir differs in that it specifically looks into one’s soul and asks not only, “Why am I like this?” but, “Where is God in all of this?”
Where is God in my story?
I tell my story in hopes that you will, in turn, tell yours.
In my earliest pages, God is found wherever my mama happened to be. My every action was either a carbon copy of my mother or was filtered through what she might think or feel about it. I saw the gospel in her actions, in her stillness and her posture toward others. Shall I quote scriptures about how God loves little sparrows; read to you the story about when Jesus was in Bethany at his friends’ house; or shall I tell you the story about the summer Aunt Flo came to visit?
Aunt Flo was hard pressed to scour the house and paint and make it presentable according to her standards of cleanliness and godliness. She meant well, but more than one woman in the room was one too many. When she looked amp from her Brillo pad, my Mama was nowhere to be seen. Furious about doing all this work with little help or appreciation, Aunt Flo came storming out of the house only to find that her sister-in-law, my mama had taken her children outside where we were all three perched on Mama’s lap watching a hen teach her new baby chicks how to scratch in the dirt to eat.
We children were never privy to or responsible for Mama’s thoughts or feelings. We knew her heart and her desires for us only because we heard her talking to God. Mama taught us to sing, to love Jesus, and to be kind; to keep our promises no matter how much it hurt.
My deepest reality was not ethnic tradition, a particular political sway, abuse or even painfully restrictive church dogma; my deepest reality was the dance of the Trinity made visible to me in the shimmers of light that surrounded Mama. She kept the fire lit and good food to eat. She was wisdom personified, she was “home” for us. She said numerous times (and still does), “You kids are my friends,” even while encouraging us to have our own pals and our own paths, giving us wide berth to disappoint, to make mistakes, to lie, and sneak out, betray, offering only her tight embrace, forgiveness and unrequited love whenever we made our way back home.
Where is God in my story? In my earliest pages, God was found wherever my mama happened to be. And finally one day I would find God, here with me, in me–and I’d discover that I, like my mama, am the reflection of God, I am dona sofia.
Eventually we come to the place in writing memoir when we are at last free to question not only who we are and why, but who we choose to become.