Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072
Church School: 10:45 AM
Eat, Pray, Love -- Anything Else?
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, October 3, 2010
I know that there are people who are worse than I am at making decisions. People who really agonize about things, as though the whole world depended upon their choices; who can spend hours deciding which brand of toothpaste buy; what to have for supper; which book to read next. And while I don’t think “decisive” would be one of the top ten adjectives I would use to describe myself, I’m not as bad (in this respect) as some people are. The “J” in my Myers-Briggs profile rears its head when it needs to. We “J” types “like to have matters settled”; we yearn for closure; for getting something finished. “Just get it done” could be our motto.
Usually, I think, I’m like that. I don’t have a lot of patience with “process”. Few things in life give me as much pleasure as checking something off my “to do” list every day. I can usually come to a decision about things fairly quickly.
Except when I have to choose a flavor of ice cream. Choosing ice cream nowadays usually makes me break into a cold sweat, and well neigh induces in me a panic attack. So many places these days offer such an array of different flavors—all so splendid-sounding, too. “What do I do?” I find myself asking, when my turn at the ordering window comes. “Which do I choose?” Do I go with something traditional, like grapenut or frozen pudding or even pistachio? Or do I try something new and daring like “Lava Java Raspberry Coconut Cherry Berry Chocolate Swirl Chip” (with jimmies)? Chocolate or rainbow?
Having to make decisions like that are probably why, according to the
American Dairy Council, vanilla is
still the #1 ice cream choice in
Which brings us (at last) to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book (now a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts), Eat, Pray, Love.
Eat, Pray, Live is so conveniently divided into three sections (like a block of Harlequin ice cream). Or like the Holy Trinity. Or like the Three Stooges. And so, it’s part memoir, part travel log, and part spiritual reflection. But all very engaging—extremely well written—and immensely insightful. (And if you are interested in delving into it in even great detail than this sermon will provide, do read the book, by all means; don’t rely on the movie, which, even more than is usually the case, is a mere Technicolor walking shadow of the original).
Here’s the synopsis:
By the time she was 32 years
old, Elizabeth Gilbert was already a well-educated, sucCessful writer, with a
husband, an apartment in
So, she clings to that hope, and after finally finalizing her difficult divorce,
Elizabeth Gilbert decides to spend the next year traveling—to her “three I’s”,
as she calls them:
It’s all a bit contrived, perhaps: When is the last time any year of your life fell into such neatly-identifiable segments? It’s also the kind of spiritual journey that only the most priveleged would even be able to dream about taking. (Indeed, Gilbert’s trip is financed from the advance she got for the book that she would write about it afterwards. She must have one hell of an agent!) Eat, Pray, Love also has about it, sometimes, a decided air of self-indulgence and overly-studied charmingness. Gilbert seems to try too hard, sometimes, to be entertaining and liked. But this is a memoir, after all, which sort of gives the author the excuse to indulge herself, don’t you think? After all, memoirs are supposed to be “all about” whoever happened to write them.
Which makes it all the more surprising, I think, that Eat Pray Love isn’t “all about” Liz Gilbert—at least, not all of the time.
It’s about other people, too—a really interesting array of them. I loved
the different characters in Eat Pray Love,
at least as much as I liked Gilbert herself (maybe more, if truth be told): her
friends in Italy, including one with the amazing name of “Luca Spaghetti” (which
has now replaced “Kirby Puckett” as my favorite name of all time); a crusty old
fellow-pilgrim at the ashram in India, a fellow-divorcee, from Texas, named
Richard, who serves as a sort of mentor or conscience or voice of reason for
Gilbert during the “Pray” section of the book, dragging her out of her
self-pity, commanding her to listen to the voice of reason and common sense,
relentlessly cutting through the mounds
of b-s which she has affixed to the narrative of her life. Then, in
(Interestingly, when Gilbert shows up on Ketut Liyer’s doorstep a year or
so after their first meeting, and reminds him of his prophecy for her, he
doesn’t remember it, and has no idea who she is. [He is between 65 and 112,
after all.] “You the girl from
Gilbert paints her characters splendidly (she is a very talented writer), and presents a wondrous array of humanity to us; she met so may fascinating, multi-faceted people during her year on the road. Indeed, she presents, in truth, as interesting an array, as amazing a panoply, as any of us will experience along the way of our journeys here on this earth. If we open our eyes to the people around us, and listen—really listen—to their stories, and their experiences, we, too, could number our Richards from Texas, and our Luca Spaghettis, and even our own toothless holy men. There is no much wisdom and humor (as well as so much duplicity and so much conflictedness) in our human story, our human be-ing on this earth, and we are blessed that Gilbert presents it all so eloquently. In so doing, perhaps she inspires us to be better listeners, and to savor the experience of others, as well as our own experience—indeed, the experience of being here with others—all the more seriously.
Which doesn’t mean it always has to be serious. Much of Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey is about her struggle to transcend the taciturn New England Calvinism into which she had been born; and out of which, of course, she would readily evolves into a high-achieving, workaholic, modern American, lacing her frenetic careerism with just a tad of bohemian rebellion and self-destructive consumerism thrown in for bad measure.
She finds the perfect balance to her Yankee Calvinism in
“The first meal I ate in
From that first meal onward, it was four months of indulgence. Pasta.
Pizza. Tomatoes. Mushrooms. And, of course,
gelato. If you think ordering ice cream at Friendly’s is tough, can you imagine what it must
be like at a gelato stand in
But her time in
From the plenitude of Italian marketplaces, Gilbert then goes to the severity and deprivation of an ashram in the outskirts of Mumbai. Talk about juxtaposition and culture shock! She is also traipsing onto foreign territory religiously for many of us here, too—into the esoteric realm of Eastern religion, with its chants in Sanskrit and its ritual fasting and meditation—things that might seem completely detached from our Western lives and the way some of us approach the sacred.
But as we read about Gilbert getting up in the wee hours of the morning
to say her prayers, or getting eaten alive by mosquitoes as she tries to
meditate, or joylessly slogging through the 182-verses of a Sanskrit chant she
especially hates——then we can see something of
ourselves, as fellow pilgrims, reflected back to us in her struggles. Gilbert’s
experience in India reminds us of the wisdom of Tielhard de Chardin’s insight
that we men and women are both human beings trying to figure out what it means
to be spiritual, and also (perhaps primarily) spiritual beings trying to
discover how to be human. Gilbert struggles mightily with the human and the
Then, with her year rapidly flying by, she comes at last to
But finally, she decides to risk it, and trust, and take that leap of faith (that leap of hope), and give all to love once again. Because Elizaebeth Gilbert realizes that at the heart of her journey—her one year’s journey around the world; her forty-something year journey through life—at the heart of all our journeys, there is a great force, a power, a spirit which says to us, however bleak and hopeless our lives may seem, “I love you, I will never leave you, I will always take care of you.”
“Those were the first words I ever wrote in that private notebook of mine, which I would carry with me from that moment forth, turning back to it many times over the next two years, always asking for help—and always finding it, even when I was most deadly sad or afraid. And that notebook, steeped through with that promise of love, was quite simply the only reason I survived the next two years.”
Or, as the author of a much less-selling book has written:
“These lives we lead often fray the ties that bind. So many forces—economic, social, cultural, interpersonal—buffet the connections we have with one another. The currents of life can often threaten our little crafts.
“Yet there is something in the river’s flow that lifts us free. We are
headed, through all the shoals of life, toward that