Elizabeth Gilbert


Ross Douthat in his book “Bad Religion” distills Elizabeth Gilbert’s conversion experience from her enormously popular book “Eat , Pray, Love”.

Her story captures the grittiness of spiritual exertion— the psychological agony involved in shutting off one’s internal monologue, the cruel physicality of extended prayer and meditation, the boredom that so many rituals can inspire, the necessity of fighting your way through all these obstacles. Then it captures, humorously but also movingly, what so many mystics have found waiting on the other side: the sense of an overwhelming divine love, like a “lion roaring from within my chest” ; the sense of a God who “plays in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water” ; and, above all, the sense that all of mortal life is a “kind of limited comic-strip world” compared with what it feels like to be “pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute.”

Through all these earth-shaking, all-enveloping encounters, though, Gilbert’s theological views don’t seem to change a whit. Despite meeting God in a Hindu ashram, she doesn’t become a Hindu, but then again neither does she revert to the Christianity of her American upbringing. Her initial premises endured unchallenged to the end: All religious traditions offer equally valid paths to the divine; all religious teachings are just “transporting metaphors” designed to bridge the gulf between the finite and the infinite; most religious institutions claim a monopoly on divinity that they don’t really enjoy. To the plight of so many contemporary Americans, awash in spiritual choices but skeptical of every particular religious option, eager to worship and pray but uncertain where and how and to whom to do it, Gilbert offers a reassuring endorsement of do-it-yourself religion. “You have every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace in God,” she insists. Not only a right, indeed, but a positive duty: “You take whatever works from wherever you can find it, and you keep moving toward the light.”

Her final theological epiphany is the same as her first one. A journey that began with God speaking to her in “my own voice from within my own self”— albeit “as I had never heard it before”— ends with the realization that the Elizabeth Gilbert-ness of that Voice is the key to understanding the nature of divinity itself. The highest spiritual wisdom, she writes, isn’t just that God waits for us inside our own hearts and minds and souls. It’s that “God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are.” The best way to remedy our “heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment,” then, isn’t to remake ourselves in imitation of Christ (or Buddha, or Krishna, or whomever), but rather to recognize that “somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace. That supreme Self is our true identity, universal and divine.” This is the highest religious dogma, and our highest religious obligation is like unto it: To “honor the divinity that resides within me,” and to worship at the feet of the God Within.

Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). Bad Religion (Kindle Locations 4252-4278). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

In her mega-selling book Eat, Pray, Love (I am the only man ever to finish this book), Elizabeth Gilbert wrote that God manifests himself through “my own voice from within my own self…. God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are.”

Brooks, David (2015-04-14). The Road to Character (p. 7). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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