Things To Think About - Wisdom From Homer

Finding God in Gomorrah - How I Discovered God - A Journey Through Books.


 Dear Henry,

Previously, I mentioned the nun that directed me toward the Catholic church, but I never touched on why I felt the need to seek God in the first place. It's a much longer story.

I've already disclosed that my parents, Team BK, led atypical lives that placed me in a sphere outside of the area's religion and decent, conventional behavior. As a result, I struggled to find my way, especially during my teenage and young adult years. 

People say that God will never give you a life without giving you the tools to get through it, and while it took me a while to realize it, I was given some fantastic gifts. I have an innate sense of direction and generally know which way is north, even indoors. I can also "see" light, a talent I use in photography, and finally, I love reading. I found my way through books.

 *Side note: I owe an outstanding debt to my dad - my mother's second husband - for my ability to take advantage of these gifts. He taught me to read using the signs and car insignias we passed while driving. He cultivated my love of road trips, photography, and hiking. Dad was also the person who taught me to read a map.*





"Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself."

The storyline, Meg Murray and her childish crew set out across the galaxy using science and three witches to win a war against darkness, was one that appealed to me. I related to Meg, who was supposed to be smart but never fit in with her teachers or other students and struggled to see her own worth. I also found the first of what I had always considered a guiding quote, and that was when Ms. Whatsit said, "Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself." It reminded me of something my dad said to me. "If you obey the little rules, you can do whatever you want." 

Of course, finding out what those rules were was challenging. Team BK followed its own rules, and those rules didn't transition to the real world. I think it is because I was never able to navigate life in my early years that I became so obsessed with knowing the rules and expectations in every situation. As a result, I've been on a lifelong mission to discover all of life's "rules." 


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

"Suffering is also good, it makes a person rich in character."

This is the story of Francie Nolan, a girl who grew up in abject poverty in Brooklyn before WWI. Francie Nolan's grandmother told her mother on the night of her birth to read her a page of the bible and a page of Shakespeare, and Katie Nolan, Francie's mother, took her words to heart. From this book, I learned the rules of class and that it requires much more than money. I learned the importance of education, reading uplifting books, Shakespeare, and how prayers work. I didn't pick up the bible, though. 

My experiences with religion as a child and young adult were quite negative, and the books of Genesis and Exodus are challenging. Through the lens of experiences thus far, it was easy to see the God of Abraham as a condemning, smiting, overbearing being, and, quite frankly, I didn't need that type of negativity in my life. However, I felt like I needed to believe in "something." After receiving inspiration from Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Mists of Avalon," I decided that if there was a god, it couldn't possibly be the grumpy old thing I was raised to believe in and was, most probably, a woman. 

A Road Less Traveled - M. Scott Peck

"Evil then, for the moment, is the force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness."

I picked this book up because I loved the romance of The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, and the title appealed to that romance. The book contained some hard truths about the meaning and purpose of life, and it was the first book that showed me how far away from a "good life" my life was. This book taught me that volition is far more important than intention. It was also from this book that I learned what evil is and that laziness was the spring from which evil flows.

Of course, these books were small nudges in changing the direction of my life. I would be given a much bigger jolt. "The accident." There is nothing like coming back from the dead to change your perspective. Plus, devastating events tend to pare people (especially the selfish and negative ones) out of your life. Fish and I lost a lot of connections. 

I did find more time to read, though.

Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand 

"Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy -- a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind's fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer."

This dystopian story is about Dagny Taggart, her business acumen, and her search for the illusive John Galt. It addresses the joys of creation and the stifling effect of being forced to give up what you create to those who don't work for them. 

The book is a beast to get through, and much can be said regarding Ayn's personal philosophy. Still, it was a valuable read. 

It was here, buried within the lengthy soliloquies, that I discovered the beauty and purpose of work and creation and the desire to own my own person and have my own worth. It is also through this book I found the best definition of happiness. 

As A Man Thinketh - James Allen

"Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results...We understand this law in the natural world, and work with it; but few understand it in the mental and moral world - although its operation there is just as simple and undeviating-and they, therefore do not cooperate with it."

This short little booklet (a mere 68 pages!) is a gem. It's a quick little self-help read that has been around for over 100 years. 

From this book, I learned that not only do you need to think good thoughts, but you also need to surround yourself with good people with values similar to yours. 

Unfortunately, the book doesn't mention that it is an incredibly lonely process.

Slouching Toward Bethlehem - Joan Didion

"Character - the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life - is the source from which self-respect springs."

This collection of Joan Didion's essays written during the 1960s contains what I think is her finest essay, "On Self-Respect."

I wish I had garnered the wisdom in these pages much earlier in my life. After reading this book, I started questioning the definitions I had been taught, particularly for words such as love and forgiveness. Through her essays, I learned what character was, how inappropriate acting on your "feelings" was, and most importantly, the true definition of self-respect. 

It is incredible how much your definition of "worth it" changes when you begin to respect the cost to yourself.

Meditations - Marcus Aurelius

"Death overshadows you. While you're alive and able - be good."

"Meditations" is a collection of notes that the Stoic emperor wrote, mostly to remind himself of the importance of virtuous behavior and the need for self-control. It's an enlightening read about finer points of personal responsibility.

"While Slouching Toward Bethlehem" taught me the rules of self-respect, "Meditations" taught me the rules of values, honor, and the need to guard the sanctity of our soul, no matter how tired we are or inconvenient it is. 

Like Didion, Marcus Aurelius pointed to the importance of knowing the true definition or value of things before allowing them into your life. And finally, as someone who has already confronted their own death, I am pretty comfortable with the "memento mori" found within stoic philosophy.

A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking

"The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?"

During Christmas, there is an M&M commercial where Santa Claus and two M&M men meet by the Christmas tree, and after exclamations of "He does exist!" "They do exist!" Santa and one of the M&M men faint with shock.

This book was my M&M moment. 

While I always believed in "something," I had no idea what that something was other than it wasn't the something I had been taught. With this book, I recognized that the big G was the *why* behind the universe. It was a paradigm shift of epic proportions. Because it also meant that the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology are as much God's laws as the big ten in the bible, and with that knowledge, sin and its punishment no longer seemed like the acts of a vindictive god but rather the results of cause and effect, and suddenly, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was no longer the act of vengeance and destruction but rather the acts of cities who, in addition to being inhospitable, also violated God's law of Thou Shall Not Build Cities Next To A Volcano (Genesis 19:24) 

Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

"I am afraid. Not of life, or death, or nothingness, but of wasting it as if I had never been."

Have you ever thought about your funeral? While I will be the first to agree with Don Delillo that fantasizing about your funeral is the worst form of self-pity, a quick run through what you imagine your funeral will look like, including the anticipated guest list, can be instructive. 

Fish and I had, by necessity, distanced ourselves from many people, and our small tribe only contained the boys and us. I had received some pretty incredible miracles (read about the accident and pregnancy here) and had no one to share those stories with. Charlie's fear of wasting his life as if it had existed struck (still strikes) a deep chord with me, and I realized that we needed to find our own people.


The Robe - Lloyd C. Douglas

"No man should be asked to think highly of a master who has robbed him of his liberty."

Despite discovering the God of Abraham several books ago and realizing that we needed a tribe, I still never considered joining a religion until I read this book. Given my background and circumstances, I felt that entering the Jewish faith alone would have been weird to the point of impossible. I also felt that, even if I did manage to make it through the conversion process, I would still always be an outsider, "a convert," There didn't seem to be a point in joining a religion if I would always be outside the tribe. 

I hadn't considered Christianity. The church of my youth did not believe in the Trinitarian God, and my perception of who Jesus is was quite different than the Jesus presented in this book. I liked Jesus in this book and deduced that Catholicism was a mere step to one side of Judaism. I finally remembered a promise I made to myself after encountering a wonderful nun who truly behaved like the Christians in this book. I decided to become Catholic. Maybe. 


God is Not Great - Christopher Hitchens

"And it seems possible, moving to the psychological arena, that people can be better off believing in something than in nothing, however untrue that something may be."

This is, by far, my favorite part of the story.  

Although I had by now learned the self-discipline necessary for a religious lifestyle, recognized the deep need for a tribe, realized "He does exist!" and that I must follow Jesus, I still didn't want to attend church. People who attend church are weird and judgmental, and I didn't want to be part of that crowd. 

In Christopher Hitchens' book, there are plenty of examples of religious people behaving badly and technically outside their faiths. It's great snarky fun. He also brings up some great science, including a critical "law" of behavior. Humans are better off psychologically if they believe in and worship a God. This information squared with all of my research on trauma survival that damaged people would destroy themselves without both a strong social structure and a strong ideology. 

Then, I decided it no longer mattered if the "blue pill" wasn't the real world. It was a world I wanted to live in and a world that would bring me peace.

My next step took place on an Ash Wednesday when I started the official steps into the Catholic church.


xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Roanoke, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at www.takethebackroads.com, you can also read her book reviews at www.riteoffancy.com and US military biographies at www.everydaypatriot.com

Her online gallery can be found at shop.takethebackroads.com

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