The Year of Living Spiritually

The Year of Living Biblically

I first learned about A. J. Jacobs at this year’s World Domination Summit in Portland back in July. I knew his name, but apparently I was living under a rock, and wasn’t familiar with his bestselling book, The Year of Living Biblically. He talked about the book, and also about his upcoming project, “Global Family Reunion”. I enjoyed his talk very much, so one day, back in Victoria, I picked up a copy of this “Biblically” book.

I call myself the world’s slowest reader. It’s because English is my second language. Also, I’m sure this is the case for many people, but I don’t have whole a lot of time I can dedicate to reading. My reading time is usually at bedtime, so it’s not unusual for me to take a month to finish one book. Japanese book? Takes 1–3 days tops. Sad, I know.
Since it takes me so long to finish one book, my “kick” lasts equally that long. You’ll see me talk about a single book/topic for a month. And then I’d move onto my next book/topic. This time, I felt sheepish talking about it sometimes, because this is a relatively an old book (2006). Still, I enjoyed it very much.

I grew up in a pretty secular environment. I grew up in Japan, until I moved to Canada when I was 23.
My parents weren’t overly religious, but classification wise, my household was in Jodo-Shinshu, a sect of Buddhism. Japan being mostly multi-religious country (We go to Shinto Shrine for the New Year, eat Christmas Cake for Christmas, and have funerals in a Buddhist temple), I grew up not having a lot of religious experiences, except for funerals and new years. (Christmas part is not religious at all. We just do the Santa, cake and presents. Only the real Christians would go to a mass-which I have never been.)

However, the last few years I grew rather “spiritual” — As we grow older, we encounter more sufferings, and I think it’s natural to want something to lean on. Some people turn to religion, counselling, or in worse cases, drugs and alcohol. The last few years have been really tough for me, and combined with my father’s passing, I felt I needed something bigger than myself for guidance.

Have you seen Dr. Brené Brown’s TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability”? It’s heartfelt, funny and poignant and it is one of my favourite TED Talks. In the video, she talks about Breakdown” AKA “Spiritual Awakening”. I think that is what I am going through. Things happen, and you don’t know who you are anymore. You feel lost.

I started praying first thing in a morning every day, and it has become my ritual for well over a year now. I do use my Juzu praying beads my mother gave me, but I’m not necessarily praying to Buddha. I pray to my dad, my ancestors, and the Universe.

Ever since I started praying, my stress level was reduced significantly. I still have troubles and big stresses, but I have come to realize that nothing is unsolvable. Sometimes the problem solves itself. Sometimes it gets resolved in a way I’m not 100% happy about, but I understand I cannot win every time.

I picked up A. J.’s book out of pure curiosity. I really don’t know anything about the bible. My husband is the “Olive Garden” Jewish, as A. J. puts it — he is not practicing Judaism, but some rituals he grew up with are very much a big part of him, like washing his hands before meals (Well that’s just a good hygiene, you might say.)

A. J.’s project in this book was to follow the bible’s teachings as literally as possible. He follows Old Testament first, and then the New Testament. He tries not to lie, steal, or commit adultery. He even stoned an adulterer and grew his beard (no shaving allowed). Some parts were literally laugh-out-loud funny. Some parts were quite poignant.
I learned a lot about the bible thanks to this book. My husband seems happy that I was interested in his religion too.

I don’t think I will ever convert to Christian or Jewish, but I appreciate their beliefs and culture. But what I really got out of from this book, is to be more compassionate, and to be aware of my own spirituality.

I enjoyed A. J.’s writings. As I mentioned above, it’s not always easy for me to read English books. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to turn the page. Some books are written beautifully, but somehow I cannot get into it, and it’s just a torture. A. J.’s book was one of the two books I’ve ever read that was so easy to read through, and I don’t mean it in a way that it was dumbed down. I think it was because he and I were on the same wavelength, at least in this book. I could relate, understand where he was coming from, and I was laughing, crying and reading through the whole book with ease. (In case you are curious, the other author I felt very much in sync was Pamela Slim). This is such a wonderful feeling.

I also resonated deeply with his view of God. This part resonated with me;

“I spend a lot of time marvelling. I haven’t stared at a forklift yet, but I’ll marvel at the way rain serpentines down a car window. Or I’ll marvel at the way my reflection is distorted in a bowl. I feel like I just took my first bong hit. I feel like Wes Bentley rhapsodizing about that dancing plastic bag in American Beauty.

I’ve noticed that I sometimes walk around with a lighter step, almost an ice-skating-like glide, because the ground feels hallowed. All of the ground, even the ground outside the pizzeria near my apartment building.

All well and good, right? The only thing is, this is not the God of the Israelites. This is not the God of the Hebew Scriptures. That God is an interactive God. He rewards people and punishes them. He argues with them, negotiates with them, forgives them, occasionally smites them. The God of the Hebrew Scriptures has human emotions-love and anger.

My God doesn’t. My God is impersonal. My God is the God of Spinoza. Or the God of Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian who believed that God was “the ground of being.” Or the God of the Jedi knights. It’s a powerful but vague all-pervasive force; some slightly more sophisticated version of pantheism. I don’t even know if my God can be said to have a grand plan, much less mood swings. Can I keep edging toward the true biblical God? I’m not sure.”

My God is similar to his God. My God is mother nature and the Universe. I know that sound very airy-fairy; but to me, that’s the most natural concept of God, IF I ever believe in God. This is actually what Shinto is, so I guess my religion is Shinto. But I’m not sure.

When I visited Okinawa, we learned that people in Okinawa generally worship the nature. There are places called Utaki, which was translated as “Sacred Places” throughout Okinawa, and we visited one of them. It was a beautiful place in the small forest. There was a path that eventually leads to a viewpoint to the ocean. I’m usually pretty oblivious to supernatural stuff and I don’t “feel” anything, but at the Sefa Utaki, I could believe that once was a very special place. And this nature-worship idea suit me. I often look out the window and see the way the sunlight is shining, tree branches swinging in the wind, flowers in bloom. When I walk outside I notice the clouds, birds and again the way sunlight casts shadows onto the sidewalk. When I go to the beach I’m awestruck with the way waves crush with splash. And it often brings me almost to tears, because it’s all so beautiful. That is my God. Every time this happens, I give thanks to the Universe for its beauty.

Another point I found very interesting in A. J.’s book was ‘Not to look at the bible as a self-help book.” I think we all do this- praying for God when you need something. If I call myself religious, apparently I can’t do that. Because religion is about serving God. I don’t know if I want to call myself religious, but if I did, I have a long way to go. I try to give thanks, be grateful and pray for people in need as much as possible, but I still pray, asking for help, guidance and/or solution. I guess I’m not “enlightened” enough yet.

Also, in the book, A. J. goes to see his “guru” uncle Gil in Israel. He is supposed to be this charismatic spiritual leader his aunt was once married to. I honestly wasn’t too impressed with him. He just sounded bossy and angry. But one thing he said stuck with me: “Whenever you’re sad, things aren’t working out for you look around, see if there’s someone else in trouble, go and help them. And I promise you, I promise you, I promise you, your problems will be solved.” I know we’re not supposed to look for solutions in religion and God, but I think this is a sage wisdom, and from my short time on this planet, I know this to be true as well.

A.J. wonders if the bible made him a better person. According to C.S. Lewis, pretending to be a better person is better than nothing. I think, trying to live “biblically” or “spiritually” is all about trying to be a better person. I fail almost daily, but at least, I’m trying. I had started my year of living spiritually without me even knowing it. I’m grateful that I came across this book, and the opportunity it gave me to ponder all these.