Beliefnet

Is she a closet Buddhist?

I don't think you can call Bridget a Buddhist because she has too many needs. And she loves them. I talk about that in the book, about why Bridget makes a funny Buddha--because desire and love and needing are such a part of who she is. So I don't think she has the sense that she needs to give up everything. She doesn't feel like she needs to give up drinking altogether; she doesn't feel like she needs to give up food or chocolate; but she has this unhealthy affinity for them that she needs to put in check.

Which is, in a way, the pilgrimage toward enlightenment--if she can reach inner poise.

It is her own version of enlightenment in many ways, but one of things I wanted to emphasize is that it's not just personal for her, and it's not just an individual kind of enlightenment. It encompasses other people. She's a very relational person. And her sense of inner poise is not just about her achieving a certain sense of being; it extends to how she is in relationships, how she treats other people. How she knows what the good is. And so her inner poise has to do with her sense of that good, and who she thinks she's called to be.

Maybe the difference between Julian of Norwich and modern women as spiritual models is that among modern women there's no asceticism in searching for spiritual enlightenment--or enlightenment, period.

One of the things that makes someone like a Julian of Norwich-or any spiritual figure for that matter, particularly from the medieval era--so difficult for us is the extreme asceticism that was involved in worshipping God or in having a spiritual sensibility. It was about extreme bodily discipline; it was about getting beyond the things of this world rather than having spirituality mediated through the world and through relationships. Our culture has experienced such a shift in that sense, and I think women today are not looking to give up their place in the world. They're not looking to turn away from the world to find God. They're not looking to experience extreme bodily self-discipline as a way of getting to God.

Often the spiritual figures who are held up are very extreme--for example, Mother Teresa. People can admire her, but it's very difficult to be

her. So I think people are searching for models who are closer to who they are, are searching for people like Bridget who is clearly in love with the world in every which way. How can we gain a sense of spirituality through that loving? I think it's found in many traditions, but I think often the spiritual role models are the more extreme characters as opposed to everyday people.

Tell me about chocolate spirituality.

When I was writing the book, I was thinking that my chocolate habits were much like Bridget's cigarette habits or her drinking habits. I don't smoke, but I do eat a lot of chocolate. And so I recognized the fact that if you put a box of chocolate in front of me, 30 minutes later it will be gone. And I realize that's kind of extreme; so I thought that was a funny thing I had in common in Bridget.

So in other words, it's like the pure bliss of enjoying the chocolate is the spiritual moment?

I talk about chocolate because I eat it to the extreme, much like Bridget drinks to the extreme. That's my little vice.

Speaking of vices, why is sex spiritual?

Because we make it that way. Bridget and her friends, and everyone on Sex and the City

, and all these other women characters in chick lit novels are all having sex outside marriage. So one of the things I was looking to do was to figure out, How do we incorporate this experience into our spiritual lives? Because people tend to divorce their sex life and their spiritual life, since religion teaches that marriage is the only legitimate place for sex.

I went searching through the different traditions looking for some kernel of wisdom that would affirm what women are experiencing in their sex lives before they get married-if they get married at all. And I really was not able to find anything. So one of the conclusions that I came to was, "OK, if religion is not going to do this for us, we're living our lives in a way that people really haven't done before. We're not getting married until we're in our 30s or 40s or ever and so if we're going to be having sex and we want that to be incorporated into our spiritual lives, then we're the generation that's going to have to figure out how to make that sacred. Because no one else has done that for us. And so I am saying, Let's figure out how to do this.

What did you conclude?

It literally has to come from us. I admire Elaine Pagels'

understanding of authority and the fact that we need to remember that we're the authors of our own authority. There's a self that's implied there. You can give yourself authority. You have the authority to believe in someone. Can we stand with our own sense of authority and affirm sexuality as a spiritual thing? There is tons of literature within religious traditions that affirms sexuality. There's erotic poetry, there's all kinds of wonderful things about sexuality and marriage. One of the things I think we need to do is take that poetry, take that work done on marriage about the importance of sexuality and open that up beyond marriage to apply to our sex lives outside of marriages. I think that's a place to begin.

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