Revealing the Roots and Behaviors of Addictions
The God of a Missing Idolatry
I stood on my porch this morning after the kids left for school. We’ve had a whopper of a storm the last few days, so the bus didn’t come until nine due to icy roads. I blew smoke into the sunbeams and sipped coffee. Today, I’m taking down all the holiday decorations. It’s such a depressing task.
Jar-Jar, our current, feral lap cat, came to see me. She sat on the table, licking the black, velvety underside of her forepaw, and then shot up and froze, looking me straight in the eyes.
“It’s a sunny day today,” I said, “so don’t despair.”
She craned her head and started lapping at her luxurious collar fur. The brilliant sun and the glistening snow on the slopes of Church Mountain made me close my eyes and smile at God.
I live in a house strewn with prayer cards to half a dozen saints. My husband’s mom, Hafiza, has an altar scattered with Virgins. There are virgins everywhere — quiet, beatific, placid, blessed — plastic, ceramic, pewter, polished. She has holy water stashes the way some people hide liquor. A glow-in-the-dark crucifix is crudely nailed into the wall above her bed.
In Lebanon, I am surrounded by people who don’t question that it can rain incense, that saints can perform surgeries in your sleep, that miracles happen.
So where are the miracles in Yemen, where scores have starved to death? Where is God in the human atrocities that litter our world? Where are the saints as Catholic priests destroy young boys?
Leaders stay in power, wars are waged, the corpses pile up, the multinationals profit. The world is infected with greed and every casualty it exacts upon human beings.
But here, in this tiny country on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, this is the land of the saints. My mother-in-law recently went to the St. Charbel monastery. It’s a beautiful place way up on top of a mountain in the town of Annaya. She used to make the trip at least four times a year. On this occasion, she came home giddy.
“He healed her! Right before our eyes!” she cried.
I’m such a cynic, I dread being in the same room to have to hear these stories.
“Her facial disfigurement! She turned around and it was gone! I was right there! It’s on film!”
I saw the film, taken from a cell phone camera. There are throngs of people and this miracle event can’t be seen. Hafiza is eight deep in the crowd. She is 4’11”.
Besides, why would God work through the saint to fix someone’s face? Did the person next to her have a six-year-old with stage-4 cancer? Did he miss?
If St. Charbel has so much power, why can’t he heal all of the sick, oily, greedy corruptors in our government? Why can’t he heal our nation?
“God doesn’t work that way.”
“Then fuck him.”
I’m not inspired by these stories. They only serve to harden my incredulity.
I don’t remember saints. I recall dark places. I remember being splayed for the sick roamings of hands that smelled like stale beer when I was supposed to be a child. He moved in for the kill and nuzzled me with his scruff. Where were the saints then? Where was Zeus when I really needed protection against the Event Horizon. And how did it feel when the black hole spit me out on the other side?
Oh, yeah. God had a plan for me.
You see, faith is the easy way out. You die, someone pins wings on your back, and you float around in paradise for all eternity. How lovely.
Atheism is much more difficult to contend with — accepting that, as long as you can have a natural burial — you will serve to nurture the life cycle after you die, and nothing more. Oh, your memory will live on clear down to your great-grand children — because of all those nicely printed book marks, and Legacy.com.
“Her memory is alive! She’s an angel looking down upon us all!”
The mother with her small children who all asphyxiated in a busted up car on a freezing night in Washington, D.C., are their memories alive? Do the children have wings and fly around like little cherubs?
The twenty children murdered at Sandy Hook, are they up there, looking after us slovenly, selfish slobs? Of course, those who still promote the sickening tenets of the NRA, they all got Jesus big time.
And you want me to get on my knees and pray for a church that still can’t get its shit together on the human rights of women and gay people?
“Well, this is Hell, being on Earth is Hell,” I hear you say, sipping on a Big Gulp and gassing up your F350 for a weekend of fishing at the lake. Hell.
I am not here by divinity. I am here because I had a couple of key, lucid moments where I thought twice about my actions. I am alive because when someone offered me a needle I refused it. I am alive because I have family that took me back when they saw me stumble through the outer gate, the prodigal daughter.
I am here because I chose to stay alive, a choice my father wasn’t given when cancer made a meal out of his flesh, a choice my friend Jennifer wasn’t able to make as she died with a rifle in her mouth.
God has a plan for you, dear.
I am shaking with anger.
My friend, Annette, gave me her bronze statue of Shiva before I left for Lebanon. It brings me comfort because it is a reminder that the universe is cyclical, that birth and death are not personal. Shiva dances and spins the world around with a ring of fire surrounding him. He also steps on a demon of ignorance while he dances.
You know who else does that? St. George. Yep, the patron saint of England once everyone got bored with Edward the Confessor. He slays a dragon. You don’t think it’s taken from Shiva? I do. The Catholic church stole everything.
Anyway, I don’t believe Shiva personified is real. But I do believe in the message. There is constant motion, and everything on Earth experiences birth and demise. What bothers me, though, is that I have experienced evidence of a force, something that threads us together, like when I’ve reached for the phone to call my mom and it begins to ring before I pick it up. And it’s her.
Once, after my dad died, my older sister and I had the same dream, on or near the same night, a thousand miles apart from each other, that we were each sitting at his feet in a cabin. And we each asked him the same questions. His best friend had preceded him in death by a year. We both asked in the dream, “Have you had a chance to see Harley?”
“No,” he replied, “I haven’t had a chance to see anyone.”
Several months later, I went to see a medium, mostly for fun and curiosity. She told me that my dad was at peace, but he was alone, not having fully crossed over. I thought it was weak news…
….until I remembered that dream. “I haven’t had a chance to see anyone.”
Is that heaven? I crumple in despair not knowing, constantly doubting, being angry at people for their blind faith.
Is my life wasted because I think that worshipping Mary is as ridiculous as pasting the walls of the house with images of Demeter?
After God walked away from me that night in South Padre, did he come back to carry my limp, exhausted body home from California? Did God save me?
Maybe God is here now on the porch, knocking his knuckles against his forehead while my finch and canary sing their morning drills. Maybe he is right here.
And I can’t see him, but maybe that’s him I feel in my clenching throat as glands squeeze tears from my eyes.
Josie Elbiry, January 2019
Update from this writing: Wow! When I began to read this to edit it down and package it for publishing here on ILLUMINATION books, I was stunned by my own voice.
I have grown so much since this time. I do believe that we are all connected. I do believe that others watch over us. I have learned that a lot of us are looking for the light, we just need to stop giving the journey separate labels.
Revealing the Roots of Behaviors and Addictions is a series of 31 short memoirs journaling one month of abstaining from alcohol in January 2019. I thought the blog would be fun and maybe full of complaining, but it turned into much more. I had to face the worst parts of me and learn how to forgive and grow.
You can catch up on Memoirs 1–9 here: