Nope. The massive structural system of electrical wires and substations and transformers, all of which failed tremendously during Hurricane Gustav a few years ago in the almost entire state of Louisiana ushered humanity into a world with refrigeration and Lean Cuisine zapped in a microwave in three minutes or less. Power helps us wash clothes and dry them and keeps us from killing one another because it’s simply too damned hot in southern Louisiana in August. The Governor’s Office made a press conference about the number of homes in Louisiana without power, close to one and a half million. Insert the bad joke about not knowing that many homes in Louisiana had electricity to begin with. After all, I live in a state filled with swamps, alligators, and the people who love them.
I, however, live in the state capital, with boutique shops, amazing restaurants, and a major university, none of which had power. If you’ve ever been in a long, drawn-out, power outage - I’m talking weeks here, not a day or so - you quickly realize two things. One, it’s really, really dark without street lights, so I can easily see why streets before lamps were death traps, because I couldn’t see my own hand in my living room after ten at night. And two, most bathrooms don’t have windows, which makes one’s toilette a bit challenging.
Oh, and tuna and peanut butter get old very fast.
I also realized a few other things, too. All the time I waste during a day on bad television shows and checking my email and doing laundry or even simply browsing in shops dissipated into total and utter free time. I could now honestly have the time to meditate, pray, and sit quietly.
I have this image of myself as Mother Laurie, Amazing Prayerful Priest, sitting in the lotus position for an hour or more, simply being in the presence of God.
Which I did for exactly twelve minutes.
Perhaps not the most accurate image of myself.
Then I decided to read. The afternoon light through my windows gave me enough to engross myself in the pages of a book, which I did.
Did I read Augustine’s Confessions or even some reflection on God by the current favorite spirituality writer on Oprah? I am, after all, a priest. Surely priests and those Godly-types read about God.
Sometimes, but not now. Nope.
I went straight for the trashy romance novel.
One I’d actually purchased a few days before Hurricane Gustav gave me this great chunk of free time. In the bookstore, in my collar, I trotted to the register with my newly-released, long-awaited book in a series about vampires and Roman gods and the women they have great sex with in completely implausible circumstances. The sales clerk looked at my book, then looked at me.
“I didn’t know clergy read books like this,” she said, with great seriousness.
“I skip the sex scenes,” I replied.
She laughed that awkward, please-pay-and-leave laugh and handed me my book, sex scenes, Roman god, and all. The same one I buried my heart and soul in now.
A disclaimer: I actually read many different types of books. I love mysteries and historical novels. I have tons of books on spirituality. My library is way too eclectic, but it’s mine. There, now I’ve stated I’m not a bimbo.
Maybe I read these novels because I’m not married, and sometimes they are the most action I see in a month…or a year or two. Maybe the handsome, dashing men saved from eternal emotional damage by their female soul mates sets me up for failure in the real-life romances between human people who are far less than perfect. Maybe I like nice resolutions in 323 pages, because in my gig, life resolutions are far from quick or easy, and usually take 323 years or so, give or take a few.
I don’t delve too deeply into my mindless reading entertainment. I simply enjoy it, which isn’t a bad reason to crack open a book. So this summer, hurricane or not (and let’s pray for not), spend time in mindlessness, just enjoying something each day that doesn’t seem to involve the salvation of the entire human race. Read People magazine or a mindless book, enjoy an ice cold Coke over gerbil-food ice (you know, the kind Sonic sells) or polish off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s without the slightest twinge of guilt, or sit for some time doing absolutely nothing (or watching any of the Real Housewives on Bravo - God won’t tell). We humans seem to be better people when we’ve spent time doing nothing.
Because it does something wonderful for our souls.