Some memorable moments
I guess all readerly people are seekers, aren't we?Don't you love that word? Readerly.
When I first got sober I had this sort of — Virgil, this kind of spiritual guide through the hell of early sobriety who would say to me — when I would tell her something I was afraid of, she would say, “What is your source of information?” And 99 percent of the time it was, “I thought it up.”It reminds me of Brene' Brown saying "What is the story you are making up?" What a good thing to ask yourself.
“And second, how did you get here?” “Well, I haven’t slept. I’m working full-time. I’ve got two kids. I haven’t eaten.” I was like, “Yeah, OK. Well, maybe have a sandwich,” you know? “I mean, maybe it’s time to have a sandwich.” But just, for me, the voice of God never gives me a long-term plan. It never helps me with any kind of lottery number or anything. But that voice that says, “You need to sit down and have something to eat, or it’s not going to be good to be you anymore.”Imagine God saying "You need to have a sandwich." I like it, though, knowing "God never gives me a long-term plan."
...the problem with being judgmental, says one of the most judgmental people on the planet, is that the voice you use to criticize everybody else is the exact same voice you use to criticize yourself with.There's something I wish I'd realized years and years ago.
MS. TIPPETT: [Sylvia Boorstein is] on the West Coast. And I did just some sitting with her, and she introduced this concept, which seemed so radical to me, which was about, not so much having a mantra or even following your breath, but about sitting and just kind of noticing, taking in the natural peace and ease of your mind.
DR. KARR: [laughs]
MS. TIPPETT: OK, I know, and that’s how I felt, right? Because… [laughs]
DR. KARR: [laughs] You’re like, “The natural peace and ease of my mind?”
MS. TIPPETT: Right. Well, so — and that was such a crazy — just is such a foreign idea to me. But then, if you think about it that way, like, if you think that all the noise and all the chaos actually is something you’re doing, that it wasn’t there, it was not preexistent, it doesn’t have to be that way.Not only is what Karr and Tippett are saying full of insights, the way they laugh together is so cool. You could tell through the whole interview they were really listening to each other, and responding from the heart to each other. Mary Karr talked about being "astonished by the human comedy," and how watching humans do ordinary, yet heroic things, was so "pretty." I thought the interaction between her and Krista Tippett was beautiful in that same way. Karr heard Tippett say "the natural peace and ease of your mind" and immediately burst into laughter. I think they are kindred spirits, too!
DR. KARR: Yeah. I love that. I mean, I love that thing Thomas Keating says about practicing mindfulness, and that it’s sort of like — there’s a bunch of water that has mud and silt in it, and the longer you practice, the more that just kind of settles to the bottom, and you don’t feel any peace. You might practice for days and weeks, and it’s just cloudy and noisy. And he says what you don’t realize is that healing is happening, that that stuff — by doing that, you are settling it, but you don’t notice it because it hasn’t settled yet. You have to just — how difficult just to keep sitting there.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. Yes. And unfamiliar, right?
DR. KARR: Oh, yeah. Right, ‘cause I would rather snort cocaine and make out with the FedEx guy. Yeah. [laughs]"...'cause I would rather snort cocaine and make out with the FedEx guy." I do love people with "the mouth of a sailor."
I’d been meditating and praying for four or five years before my son came in in his little Spiderman pajamas and said, “I want to go to church.” And I said, darkly, “Why?” And he said, “To see if God’s there.” Which is kind of the only sentence he could have said that would have got me up off my butt away from The New York Times and that bagel and into a church somebody told me we could go to, you know?"I want to go to church....To see if God's there." Takes my breath away.
And in church:
...just people saying their prayers, people saying, “Please pray for my daughter who’s having surgery,” people bringing hope and terror into a public forum and saying, “I’m afraid, and I need these things to happen in order to go on.”The beauty of people saying what they're afraid of, where they need help, and the church praying with them.
MS. TIPPETT: And talk about what you are thinking when you talk about sacred carnality in The Art of Memoir .
DR. KARR: What I liked about the Catholic church that I didn’t find, say, in the Protestant tradition, there’s a body on the cross.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
DR. KARR: Even just being in mass that you stand up and kneel down, that you move in unison, that I know a lot of cradle Catholics complain about how sheep-like you feel, or they’re like dumb cattle or something like that, but I sort of found it — it’s like being in hip hop class. [laughs] When you move like everybody, you kind of feel like you are like them. And the idea that we’re hunks of meat incarnate — in meat, that it’s not metaphorical, the idea of Jesus and the Eucharist. It’s not a metaphor that you’re going to be renewed. It’s not a metaphor of his body or his “teaching,” quote-unquote, or his love or whatever. It’s his body. It’s so lurid.
And I remember looking at the body on the cross and saying to my son that — I don’t even remember whether I ever wrote about this or not — but I remember looking at it before we were baptized and saying, “I don’t get this whole crucifixion thing. It’s so awful. I mean, the suffering, beaten critter nailed up there is just so gross. Why don’t they just have you say the jump rope rhymes, and then you’re redeemed?” And my kid, who was young, like, maybe, I don’t know, 8 or 9 said, “Who would pay attention to that?”
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Right.
DR. KARR: And he said, “This is like Pulp Fiction.” My mother, the one time I left him with her, had let him watch Pulp Fiction when he was, like, 7 years old. And he said, “This is like Pulp Fiction. It’s just like — everybody is going to gawk at this.”
MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Right.
DR. KARR: And then I suddenly thought, what else would we pay attention to as human beings but this grizzly, awful, morbid thing? You’re not going to look at that and say, “Oh, you don’t know about suffering. You’re God. What do you know about suffering?” You’re going to look and say, “Oh, you were a hunk of meat like me. Wow.” That’s a radical — that idea of descending theology of the spirit being in these hunks of flesh, it’s — wow. It’s a big deal.Standing up and sitting down like a hip hop class. The "crucifixion thing" like Pulp Fiction. Surprising and so right, so true.
DR. KARR: I remember before I did The Ignatian exercises, which I did, like, probably around 2000, ‘98, it was all very metaphorical for me.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
DR. KARR: It was all very groovy kind of new-agey. Resurrection was starting over in some kind of hippy-dippy way. And in Ignatian spirituality there’s a thing you do where you compose a scene with your body with all the senses that composes — the way St. Ignatius writes about it, it’s like, if you’re at the nativity, if you’re at the crucifixion, what can you smell? What do you touch? What does the cloth feel like on your skin? What do you hear? What do you feel? You try to put yourself bodily — using your senses into passages from the scripture.
It’s a very powerful practice to take a passage from a scripture and try to ask the Holy Spirit to put you somewhere, to place your mind and your senses in another place. I mean, it’s a very radical, dangerous kind of prayer to make, and I did this over 30 weeks and they give you a lot of different methods of prayer and somewhere in there all of the stuff that had been metaphorical became very actual for me. The idea of my sense of Jesus — I didn’t like Jesus when I became Catholic. I came in on the Holy Spirit.
And then I got that sense of Jesus that — I just noticed that the people who are always running the soup kitchens, and taking care of the babies from El Salvador, and bringing in orphans, doing all the good stuff, and who don’t seem really angry and crazy and kind of pissed off and really pious — they seem kind of realistic — always talked about Jesus all the time. So I thought, “I’ve got to get on this Jesus boat. I’ve got to get with this Jesus program.”
And somewhere in there, I just found that I was able to practice it. Do I doubt? All the time. Sure, there are days that I wake up — I mean, to me, being a Catholic is like any spiritual practice. It’s a practice. It’s not something you believe. It’s not doctrine. Doctrine has nothing to do with it. It’s a set of actions.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
DR. KARR: Everybody talks about the doctrine. Do you believe in this? Do you believe in that? What do you do on a day? Do you get on your knees? Do you try to practice charity? Do you try to apologize for your mistakes? Are you trying to live a life that is less shameful than the one the day before? [laughs]Religion, spirituality, faith, -- it's not doctrine - what we believe in. It's practice. It's doing.
...just watching the old lady with the walker on my way to the studio get off the bus in front of me, and just watching how it was just so heroic. I was just looking at it thinking, Homer wrote about this. I mean, just somebody struggling to move down the damn road with all this effort all by her little ancient self. Good for her, you know? It was just pretty to watch."all by her little ancient self" I love that, and I often feel that sense of of heart-touching beauty when I see small acts by humans. A woman guiding her old friend or mother by the arm, bending down to listen to her. A father holding hands with his little boy, cocking his head and nodding to what the child has to say. A mother keeping her watch over one child outside the car while getting another out from the car seat. A woman responding to the mutterings and complaints of another with kindness and dignity. Two old friends joking and laughing. Those are what make me feel surprised by joy, filled with hope.