The Tao of Bridget
How Bridget Jones and the gals of chick lit teach us what's sacred about sex, chocolate, gossiping, drinking, and smoking.
BY: Interview by Deborah Caldwell
Often the spiritual figures who are held up are very extreme--for example, Mother Teresa. People can admire her, but it's very difficult tobe
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 onSex 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 admireElaine 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.
In your book, you also bring up Sex and the City. You suggest that the four characters' sitting around a table and telling dating stories is a spiritual act. Why?
Spiritual practices are not just about sitting down and praying by yourself. There's a fellowship aspect. You come together in community, over conversation, over dinner, over a shared something that everybody has an affinity for. Traditionally, people came together in community in worship services, in religion. I think young people today are not necessarily seeking it in the walls of a church or a synagogue. So we come together in dinner parties. And one of the questions I was trying to challenge my readers to think about is, Can we look at some of the things we do in community with our friends as having a spiritual significance, as a kind of ritualistic practice? I think that's something we need to think about. Because spirituality isn't just an individual thing, it's also a communal thing.
It seems you're trying to reflect what's happening in the culture spirituality, but then you are also trying to push our theology a bit.
I'm definitely pushing boundaries. This book is meant to be subversive. People believe the religious figures we look up to are supposed to be saint-like. And Bridget's no saint. But neither are we. So one of the things I'm trying to do is to say, OK, we can get these ideal portraits of what it means to be a woman in religion, but that doesn't change the fact that we're real women who have real issues and we're living lives that are very, very different from the women who have gone before us. And how do we reshape our sense of spirituality to fit where we are?