Dad was raised Anglican in a perfect little white church in Woodstock, N.B. Mum’s mother was a Huguenot…but her paternal grandmother was Catholic, so both played a role in her early years.
By the time my sister and I rolled along, though, my parents were exploring every religion under the sun. And we moved a lot. Seven Arrows was bedtime story fodder. Indian sitar music unwound from the stereo. Our dining room table in Perth, Australia, was a low Japanese one with cushions to sit on, cross-legged. Buddha shone from a jewel and mirror-encrusted framed confection on my bedroom wall. At bedtime, we said the Lord’s Prayer and learned the Golden Rule – which Dad claimed distilled all one really needed to glean from Christianity. And at supper, we joined hands: right hand upheld to recieve your neighbour’s energy, left hand palm downwards to pay the bliss forward to the neighbour on the other side. We were told to close our eyes, and everyone at the table would intone: Ooooooooommmmmm. . . Oooooooommmm. . . Ooooooooommmmmm. The soundwaves resonated and jiggled the insides. It was downright ticklish. And so very, very earnest.
Most kids fidget at grace a bit. My sister and I could barely contain our snorts and giggles. “Shh! Say om!”
Mum spent her days, however, submerged in the chemistry of pigments, paints, turpentine. Dad spent his bagging soil samples, charting them on maps, reading in minerals and outcroppings oracular signs and symbols of his science: distilling the physics of ancient geological moments frozen in the earth’s crust. My aunt, a biologist, had faith in science as others believe in religion – in the logical networks of its taxonomies, the clinical precisions of scientific observation, its proofs, its queries, its quirks, quasars, and quarks.
A varied landscape? Yes…but unpredictable, mysterious. A mystic bumbleberry pie. Energy as particle, energy as wave, energy being passed around the dining room table from hand to hand. The idea of a hierarchy of reincarnation. Of the body and blood of Christ being metaphorically consumed (canibalism?). Of deep meditation that wears the impressions of monks’ bums deep into stone over hundreds of years. Of the zodiac’s network of stars lacing the night sky of the southern hemisphere…or the northern one. Aborigine songs at a fire. Bagels eaten by a girl named Zinya. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Faeries. The nomadic patterns of the Bedouin. Egyptian hieroglyphs. A muslim prayer rug.
In Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, Piscine’s father, who adheres to science and is married to a botanist, tells him that he has to choose between all the religions he is exploring: that to believe everything is to believe nothing…and yet Pi does not seem to choose, ever, really – mysticism and mystery is inconclusive in this fictional world, too. Throughout the book, there is an exploration that rang real for me, a vein that explores truth, divinity, mystery. An exploration that refuses to pin anything down, that allows mystery and alternate possible realities to coalesce, fuse, winnow into the multiple alternatives that twist about us, present themselves, twist away.
It isn’t any wonder that I couldn’t extricate myself from books, then or now. I wanted to know. To understand. To see things from a myriad of different perspectives.
To witness the elusiveness of truth.