The Issue is God — And Six Reasons it Doesn’t Matter


The big question — that’s what we disagree on. Is there a God or not? Several of my very close friends whom I love and respect believe that there is no God: no conscious, purposeful Spirit at work in the universe. I could no sooner believe what they believe — or don’t believe — than I could decide to live in a different era.

God is a reality to me. In God I live and move and have my being, as the Bible says. This isn’t a faith passed down from my parents, it is the fruit of my own hard-fought battles with life. It is what I have learned from life and death: we are accompanied.


But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I’m responding to the WordPress Daily Prompt:

“Do you have a good friend or close relative with whom you disagree on a major issue (political, personal, cultural)?

What’s the issue, and how do you make the relationship work?”

How to Make it Work

The issue is God, as I say. So, how do my atheist friends and I make our relationships work? Without having asked them, here’s what I think:

  1. Respect. Recognizing that none of us has all the answers, which requires at least a modicum of humility.
  2. Being non-judgmental. Not placing ourselves above each other, even if we can’t help thinking that our belief system is somehow better or superior or wiser or more logical or whatever. Does that make any sense? It’s separating the belief system from the person and honoring our common state of “doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”
  3. Refusing to play the victim. This entails trusting that “the other” is not judging. Christians can feel judged by a secular, modernistic world where the metaphysical realm is undervalued if not outright mocked. Atheists (obviously) feel judged by certain Christians who tell them they are going to burn in eternal fire if they dare to entertain non-Christian beliefs. My atheist friends avoid mocking me, and I avoid relegating them to hellfire.
  4. Dare I say unconditional love, or will that sound religious? They love me despite my belief in fairy tales, and I love them despite their inability to recognize a power higher and more loving than the human mind.
  5. I’d like to say open-mindedness, but that doesn’t fly because atheists are not open-minded about God, and I can’t very well be open to atheism. I understand atheism given our societal paradigms, but I can’t begin to open my mind to it. Some things are opinions, some things are beliefs, and some things are just unequivocally true for an individual. If life’s beating the crap out of me hasn’t made me lose my faith yet, nothing will.
  6. We laugh a lot. I have a sign over my desk that reads: “Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves, for we shall never cease to be amused.”

So there ya go, WordPress, that’s how we make our relationships work.

As it happens, I’ve spent this week wrestling with a blog post that’s got me all tangled up in metaphors related to God, atheism, and climate change. I took a break from that blog post, and I ended up writing about the same dang thing!

I can’t help it. Sorry, atheist pals. Thanks for reading anyway.

And on earth, peace . . .

And on earth, peace . . .


Refracted Light and Life

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Light as a metaphor for life — man, has that been done to death! So today I won’t inflict that upon you; instead, I’ll allow a picture to speak a thousand words.

This week’s WordPress photo challenge asks bloggers to show refraction, which (as we all remember from physics class) is the way waves — like light and sound — are deflected and change direction when they pass through mediums of varying densities.

I’ve forgotten most of this stuff (hey, I only took Physics for Non-Math Majors) and had to look it up. Turns out, this change in direction is a result of the wave “traveling at different speeds at different points along the wave front.”

Which may explain why, when I step out onto my porch in the mornings, my body receives a clear message to slow down. Could it be beams of light communicating to my psyche? We are stepping into a different medium now, change course, take a detour, and slow down.

Grab your journal, grab your tea, and refract your life into this world for a time.

Bent Light as Life

Bent Light as Life

p.s. – As I’ve said, I’m not into physics. It’s hard. If you must, you may correct what I’ve said in the comments, but it isn’t necessary. I’ll just forget anyway.

Ten Minute Blah-Blah


Well, this is a really bad idea, I can tell already. If you start with the word “well,” you are already meandering. But that’s what happens when you’re doing woo-woo writing. It’s like Julia Cameron’s “morning pages,” where she tells her disciples to write every morning for thirty minutes, non-stop free-hand, in order to free up the subconscious.

That may be good therapy and it may be good exercise for the wrist, but it is surely not good form for actual writing. Nevertheless, since I had so much fun with the WordPress Daily Prompt yesterday, and since I am trying to avoid errands and chores and packing for my road trip, I decided to see what the Daily Prompt was this morning, and it’s a free-write:

“Take ten minutes — no pauses! — to write about anything, unfiltered and unedited.”

So readers, don’t blame me — this is a WordPress idea and I am just writing, writing. Though I must admit, as much as I didn’t care for morning pages (mostly because they cut into my more reflective journaling time), I do prefer Cameron’s writing by hand to typing, which I’m doing now.

I rarely draft a blog by hand unless inspiration strikes when I am on the metro or in a restaurant or something. Too much trouble — then you have to type it in, and that leads to micro-editing and pondering word choice, and that’s too many steps for something that’s by nature imperfect, unpolished. At least that’s the nature of my blogs. Good practice for overcoming perfectionism. This post in particular will not be accused of perfection.

I think it’s just dreadful how boring my brain is. I have — oh, I don’t know — forty or fifty volumes of journals dating back to 1970. I never read them, though I do intend to if I ever get off my duff and start my memoir. But if the current volumes are any indication, they are all pretty boring. Blah blah kind of stuff. Like this blog post.

Who wants to read this stuff? And there are dozens more in the closet upstairs.

Who wants to read this stuff? And there are dozens more in the closet upstairs.

I rarely think about who might read them, which is funny, because I do tend to care too much what others think of me. But I recognize that those journals have saved my sanity and perhaps even my life: I must vent and cannot be bothered with posthumous reactions.

I’m pretty transparent anyway, there probably aren’t many surprises except to find out how obsessive I am, when to most folks I appear fairly laid back. The obsessiveness and boring patterns and repeated life mistakes are what makes the journals tiresome.

Who thinks like that? And who would encourage a blogger to dump that crap out on the page? I don’t even like to read stream-of-consciousness writing by the greats like Virginia Woolf. Why would I write it? Why would I subject you to it, dear reader? Because WordPress told me to.

You are SOOOOOO glad that ten minutes is up.

Tick Tock, Tick tock

A Beautiful but Dangerous Frame of Mind

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I saw it yesterday, the very image you are requesting. Powerful is too tame a word for it; the whole world was transformed — dramatic and primal, beautiful and dangerous at the same time. 

Standing on my screened porch, which had seemed perfectly safe and sturdy until that moment, I watched the storm blow in. The trees were dead-still one minute and then whipping about the next, as if a wind-snake of monstrous proportions were writhing and whirling overhead. 

Quiet. Then chaotic. Then calm again. Then wild. Branches squealed and moaned. My skin tingled and my heart raced. 

“Don’t be silly,” I told myself, “you love storms.” 

Fear. Dread. Tornadoes. Falling trees. 

I weenied out and went inside. I clicked on Facebook, a safe and familiar refuge. The screen flashed a dozen photos — Check out this rainbow! Go outside NOW and see the rainbow! Double rainbow! Gorgeous sunset through the black clouds!

I looked out the window. Black as death. No sign of any other color. My friend texted from a pub three blocks away — “did u c the rainbow?” I looked out again — the black was turning charcoal grey, but I saw no rainbows. Thunder rumbled.

I clicked on a few random articles — gun rights and transgendered rights and women’s rights and civil rights — and then looked out the window again. The entire sky had turned a brilliant gold in a matter of minutes. I don’t mean that muddy yellow you see before a tornado, I mean an intense you-have-died-and-gone-to-heaven golden blaze.

The color you never see in the real world except in those landscapes from the Hudson River School painters like Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, and Albert Bierstadt.

Bierstadt; Sierra Nevadas Wikipedia Commons

Bierstadt; Sierra Nevadas
Wikipedia Commons

As the gold faded and the sun reached the horizon, the sky turned pink, then scarlet, and then rich plum. And then the stars ventured out.

So, WordPress Daily Prompt, you want me to paint my current mood onto a canvas and tell you what the painting would look like? That was it. Yesterday’s storm. 

Black and grey and magnificent gold and radiant scarlet, changing moment by moment and sometimes all at the same time. Deep and primal; menacing, yet captivating. 

You know there’s a rainbow, but you can’t see it yet.

I know this canvas. This is my painting. This is grief, six months, two weeks, and two days after my brother’s passing.  

The Witness: A Fifty-Word Story


This week, WordPress bloggers are being challenged to write a fifty-word story — no more, no less.

Here goes:

There was talk of an autopsy, but nothing came of it. Because of her blood alcohol level, they assumed it was an accident.

He knew better, but could never speak of it. No, he was forever condemned to take kibbles and biscuits from the very hands that had pushed her.

He knew better...

He knew better…

Daily Prompt: An Ode to Dancing Memories


There are two, two dancing memories:

Early, early on – I think I was three,

My older sister played Elvis

Very, very quietly lest Mom hear the banned music.

My brother and I stood rapt

As she pulled a towel

Back and forth, back and forth across her backside.

Her arms pumped and her hips swayed,

“See? It’s like you’re drying with a towel,” she said,

As she taught us the Twist.


At seven, I leapt about the Florida room

Flailing my sun-pinked arms like a gawky flamingo.

My father’s Mexican sombrero lay on the floor

And I danced circles around it to the strains of some Spanish composer,

While Mom paused in her sweeping to smile, nod, and applaud

As the classical music that she so loved

Danced through her youngest child.

* * * * * * * *

Thanks to WordPress for this very fun Daily Prompt. Do you have early memories of dancing?

Momentary Observations: Aftermath of a Death


There are flowers. The ones Jamie sent me after I posted on Facebook that the rainy days were getting me down and I needed sunshine and flowers and maybe Swiss cheese. Isabel gave me a red cyclamen at dinner that night, too.

There’s a wooden bowl of rose petals I couldn’t bring myself to throw away, saved from the bouquet Ralph brought to the funeral — yellow, pink, white, and a pretty coral color.

Ralph's Roses

Ralph’s Roses

And dozens of cards atop the piano, mostly sympathy but a few of my “Congratulations, Graduate!” ones, too, so that I remember that life is not all death. The yin and yang of December, 2013.

All the Christmas paraphernalia I had out is still out, ready for wrapping and decorating that never happened because he died and life stopped for a time. Somebody needs to put that away.

There are books, many books. Novels and nonfiction, of  course, but also lots of grief books: my effort to understand, anticipate, and control. Always wanting to know: is this normal? Am I OK? It is, and I am.

Against the wall lean two picture boards from the funeral home, which have a lovely blue background strewn with delicate white clouds that I’m sure nobody noticed because the photos are taped too close together. I didn’t want to miss a single memory.

My brother as a little  boy: his cheeks as round and rosy as the half-eaten apple in his hand; his military salute as ill-fitting as his baggy soldier costume . . .

biff with apple

biff soldier salute

. . . his smile peeking out from under his too-large Davy Crockett coonskin hat. Older now, his hippie locks have been bleached by the Texas sun and he smiles awkwardly, gingerly holding our baby niece in his arms. Older still, he’s wearing dress clothes and a white silk tie, but squatting on the floor with our young nephew – they are deeply engaged in a struggle involving plastic cowboys, stallions, and stage coaches.

biff playing with Jeff

When the WordPress Gods offered a writing challenge for the week asking for brief, momentary observations at lunch time, it didn’t seem like much of a challenge.  Because life is still standing still for the most part, and these snapshots in time — momentary observations — seem to be all that registers.

So, there’s my living room at lunch time. Pretty much the way it’s been for a month.

Highly Impractical and Completely Unanticipated


This December I’ll be earning my Masters in Writing, a highly impractical and completely unanticipated happenstance. I am, shall we say, beyond college age.

graduation cap short tassle gold

My thesis has obliterated my actual life. Communication with normal people is out of the question. I went to a party on Sunday and the only topics of conversation I could conjure up were grammar rules and formatting templates. I think I had better stick with other thesis students for the time being.

I’m currently writing this post to avoid doing footnotes. My nails are bitten to little nubs, there are colorful life forms growing on the dishes in my sink, and my butt is numb from sitting at my computer.

In the words of David Byrne  and the Talking Heads:

“You may ask yourself, well — how did I get here?”

Good question.

As with most worthwhile endeavors, there was some loss and letting go involved before new life could take root. A couple of years ago, my world got weird when I lost my mother to the Great Beyond, my brother to mental illness, and my job to burn-out.

I was adrift, and life held nothing but questions.

Embracing the Counterintuitive

I began attending workshops at the Bethesda Writer’s Center near my home, hoping that writing might be therapeutic and perhaps even unleash new energy and indicate a new life direction. I filled journal after journal. Fortunately, I had a decent savings account, but I occasionally worried about what was next. Freelance writing, after all, is hardly a lucrative pursuit, especially if it’s primarily of the angst-filled, navel-gazing variety.

Then one day, a young man read a sentence in our workshop.  His name was Robert, and his sentence had something to do with a soccer game and a boy leaping into the air. It was beautiful. Magical. I saw that boy leaping into the air. I heard the smack of the ball.

Soccer Player Kicking A Soccer Ball Clip Art

“Where did you learn to write like that?” I asked Robert after class.

“I just graduated from Johns Hopkins in Writing,” he said, his brown eyes shining with pride. “It’s a part-time program with great teachers. You should check it out.”

I sensed that Robert had something I wanted.

Turns out that there was an open house that very weekend, and I went. Over crudités and seltzer water, I fell in love with the idea of becoming a fifty-something “returning student.” It sounded so — what? So risky, so bold, so romantic, so very not me.

I’ll admit it’s counterintuitive to spend your retirement savings on tuition, but I believe in destiny, and this felt like it. Or at least like fun.

I promised myself I would never take a class I wasn’t completely psyched about – the goal was not the degree, it was becoming the very best writer I could be and enjoying every moment. Losing my mother had taught me that life is short. I have kept that promise to myself and am having a blast. Okay, so maybe the writing conference in Florence, Italy was a bit extravagant, but it gave me memories, friends, and writing colleagues for life.

One Step at a Time

A year ago, nearing the end of the Hopkins program and still unsure of my future direction, I took a class in teaching writing. I thought maybe I could teach a workshop at a local community center or a nursing home or maybe even return to the Writer’s Center as a teacher.

Our first assignment was to create a syllabus. Ugh . For a college freshman composition class. Double ugh. (That’s literary language for ewww…) Mindful of having fun, I almost dropped the class but decided to stick it out another week to see what would happen.

I loved it! I created a detailed syllabus based on a topic I’m passionate about, environmental protection. When the professor returned it to me, he said I had gone way beyond what was required by designing field trips, including reading lists, and identifying guest speakers. At the end of the semester, he told me, “You would be a terrific writing teacher, just by being yourself. You absolutely have what it takes.”

It feels too good to be true, and it probably won’t pay much more than freelance writing, but I believe I’m being guided, one counterintuitive step at a time, to a new career doing something that I’m going to love!

I’m not going to do the graduation gown thing. I’m just inviting a few friends to the public reading where they’ll get free wine and cheese and listen to me and my twenty-something colleagues read our work.

Thanks to WordPress for the challenge to write a story backwards, starting with an event in the present and then following the wandering path back to the story’s  inception. And thanks, Robert, wherever you are. It’s been a fun ride.

And now back to my footnotes.

path on peat moor in sepia colour

The Wandering Path

Hitting the Big Time


I celebrated too much last night. The wine was still flowing on the late-night train back from New York City, and it’s hard to tell if the clanking in my head is the remembered rhythm of steel wheels on the track or the fading pulse of champagne in my veins.

The Big Apple. Broadway.

Big Apple

Big Apple

Did I mention champagne?

I’m not a lush. I used to be, but I’m older and wiser now; plus, alcoholism killed my Dad when we were both too young. But that’s another story, and besides, I’m late to that authorial party – haven’t we all had enough of writers who survived alcoholic childhoods, overcame their own addictions and demons, and then hit the big time as an author?

Big Time on Broadway

Hitting the big time. That’s always the dream, and it’s what I have been celebrating.

A dear friend of mine had her Broadway acting debut this week in what the Washington Post calls the “brilliant” Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

My “little friend,” which I’m allowed to call her because I knew her when she was a mere denizen of the womb, is well on her way to the big time.

Liesel Allen Yeager has been an actor from her first breath, bursting into song at the dinner table, dancing down the beach, and doing spot-on imitations of her teachers and a passable Elvis as well.

And now . . .

An understudy never knows if she will make it onto the stage, but Liesel has been playing Nina all week, the perfect role for her — an ingénue utterly enamored of an aging movie star played by Sigourney Weaver. Liesel performs alongside “Sigourney” (as I am now allowed to call her) and David Hyde Pierce (Niles on the Frasier TV show, if the name doesn’t ring a bell).



Backstage after the show as Liesel cleans up and we snap pictures of Liesel cleaning up, she tells us that Sigourney and David have been very kind and supportive, which is no surprise because Liesel is brilliant and beautiful and talented and charming

OK, I’m biased. Sue me. But it’s not just me saying that, the folks waiting at the stage door while she signed autographs for them said she was “sweet and nice and cute.”

Liesel with Admirers  (Photo: Barbara Early)

Liesel with Admirers
(Photo: Barbara Early)

Super Secret Stage Door

Super Secret Stage Door

Busting Butt

This all seems like a dream to her friends and family. But to Liesel, it’s a solid reality soaked in sweat and tears and probably more than a few drops of blood. A reality built on years of slogging through hopeful auditions and despair-provoking rejections, grueling days at The Juilliard School, strenuous physical workouts, nonstop networking, and practice, practice, practice.

Therein lies the lesson about hitting it big. There’s no guarantee that if you do all those things – totally bust your butt, discipline yourself, and never miss an opportunity – you will ever hit the big time. But if you don’t persevere in reality, your chances of reaching your dream are virtually nil.

I shouldn’t be doing the second-person thing here; I’m talking to myself more than to you.

Liesel is an inspiration to me as I approach the final semester of my Masters in Writing at Johns Hopkins. I want to channel her spirit and get up early, hit the keyboard, make the most of connections, send my vulnerable prose out into the world, and look for the lessons in the rejections — rejections that are already piling up.

Freshly Pressed Perspective

Up until last week, I imagined that “hitting the big time” for me would include getting “Freshly Pressed” by the WordPress Gods, who bless only a few blogs with that recognition. I reached that goal on Friday with a post about violence in the movies.

It was very exciting, but frankly not as exciting as I had expected. Especially the part where I had to respond to comments from a bunch of hard-core proponents of violence in the movies. It wasn’t a debate about censorship or some underlying philosophy — they simply enjoy watching violence.

At any rate, the glow of being Freshly Pressed quickly faded in the stage lights that shone down on Liesel last night as she grinningly gripped the hands of her fellow actors for that final bow, her flowing white dress and floral headband giving her the aura of a bride or an angel.

Congratulations, Liesel! You rocked the house!!

A Well-deserved Toast

A Well-deserved Toast

An Addendum – Welcome New Friends!

Although being Freshly Pressed has been eclipsed by the Big Apple and my Little Friend, I did want to say that I am most grateful to WordPress Goddess  Michelle and to all the new folks who have visited, “liked,” and decided to follow my humble offerings here at Writing with Spirit.


You will find this blog to be an eclectic blend of rambles with a splash of humor, a jigger of peace, justice and eco-ranting, and a twist of brilliantly insightful and/or piercingly poignant essay.

This particular ramble is in response to fellow-blogger and fellow-student Oliver Gray’s writing contest. I did not expect to be participating because as I say, my days of serious recreational drinking have passed, and his contest is focused on Writing and Drinking. I have chosen the category of Hangovers.

I’m glad that my New York trip qualifies me to enter Oliver’s contest. I did not set out to get a hangover, but a Broadway debut is heady stuff and worth a small champagne headache. Good champagne, I might add, courtesy of Liesel’s father, Brooks, who is shown here celebrating in a most dangerous manner last New Year’s Eve. Please do not try this at home.

Do Not Try This at Home

Do Not Try This at Home


Sex, Shame, and Cowboy Boots


I grew up during the time they call the “sexual liberation,” and you may surmise from that what you like. As near as I can tell, this liberation was a backlash against the hypocritical, dishonest prudishness of earlier generations. The stated “norms” of the 40’s and 50’s weren’t really the norms at all, and led to some messed up beliefs and a TON of confusion and shame. And I’m not even talking about the head trips that were laid on gay people.

Liberated People

Perhaps as a personal backlash against that liberation backlash, I believe that sex is at least a semi-private affair. I know that puts me in a distinct minority in America.

It’s not that I don’t have opinions about what constitutes healthy sexual behavior; I just don’t need to share them with anyone unless I’m asked. I won’t say that I don’t care what you do, because I think that broken sexuality can pollute an entire culture and damage its youth. I know that my own unhealthy sexual behavior as a younger person came from warped family and societal dynamics, and it caused me a lot of pain, not to mention the male wreckage I left in my wake.

All that said, this post is not going to be about sex. I just used that title so you would start reading. It’s not really about shame either, and not at all about cowboy boots. I just wanted to get your attention so I could talk about myself.

No, not really.

I want to talk about YOU. Who are you, and how did you get here?

I know that some of you are friends of mine, and you read my blog because you are kind and because sometimes I make you laugh. But what about all those other folks who either “follow” me or “like” my posts, or just pop by for a visit. Seriously, close to 5,000 views – why?

I set about this line of questioning because I recently passed my six month anniversary of blogging and have been nosing about the spiffy statistics that the WordPress platform keeps for us. Much to my delight, they have kept track of all the Google, Yahoo, and other searches that have landed people at my site.

I wanted to share some of this fascinating — and sometimes scary — data.

What Color is Shame?

I once did a post called What Color is Shame? I intend to write more about shame, because y’all are clearly a bunch of basket cases – this post has received far more searches than anything else on my blog. Not searches for shame, but THE COLOR of shame. What’s that about??

Close to 50 people have searched for a variation of “what color is shame?” A goodly number spell that “colour,” which makes me suspect that the Brits have some shame issues going on.

People found my blog by searching for other colors, too, such as “what makes a vagina brown or pink?” No idea where that one came from. But see? This post does have some sex organs in it, after all.

Kicked Momentarily into Writerly Fame

Regarding cowboy boots: I posted a cartoon of a cowboy boot, because I was talking about my Texan dad. Now lots of people arrive at my blog because they are curious about cowboy boots. In fact, that phenomenon recently led to a huge high for me, closely followed by a resounding crash.

If you are a WordPress blogger, you know about being “Freshly Pressed,” wherein the WordPress Gods select a few blogs every day out of millions of posts and give them special recognition. Recipients often write about how their statistics go crazy, and they get a ton of hits all at once.

So some poor schmuck was having computer issues when s/he came looking for cowboy boots – a stuck clicker or something that led to several hundred hits on my blog, followed by a certainty in my mind that I had been Freshly Pressed.

I’m famous! My writing career is taking off! It’s about time they discovered my dynamic diction and scintillating syntax!

And then . . . scratch that. They were looking for a cowboy boot. A tilted cowboy hat, in this instance.

Random Roamers

Several have searched for “bald women” or “bald girls,” which gives me the heebies. In fact, I’m relieved that visitors do not have my home address, especially the ones searching for “axe rubber ducky” and “rubber duck sex pictures.” (See? More sex!)

I am glad that many people are interested in the spirituality of Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which I want to write more about since I have both issues. A surprising number are interested in finding out if Maya Angelou is a CIA spy, and one person apparently has reason to believe that Yoko Ono works for them as well.

File:Yoko Ono 2007.jpg

CIA Operative Yoko Ono (courtesy of Wikimedia)

To the person who Googled “Diarrhea on a plane” and ended up on this Writing with Spirit blog: Bummer – I have no idea why you were sent here, but I hope you found what you needed elsewhere.

And just because, here are some searches that I am glad to be associated with:

Slow dancing with the moon

Move in rhythm with God

Bittersweet truth

Spiritual white cloud over a person’s head (don’t you love that?)

Jesus, I’m a mess

And of course: The spiritual realm and bee stings; and Sting on the butt.

Peace out, dear readers. Thanks for sticking with me for six-plus months.

Related Posts:





https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/rubber-ducky-exposes-cia-sexual-harassment/     SEX, SEX, SEX!!

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