It’s still May, right? Okay! Where were we? Oh right, that chapter I’ve been avoiding for, like, a year. “Anne Says Her Prayers.”
“‘I never say any prayers,’ announced Anne,” on the first page of the chapter. Neither do I, Anne. Neither do I.
Here’s the thing. People whom I love read this blog. I’m pretty sure some of those people say their prayers. I really do not want to hurt their feelings, but there is a really good reason I never talk about religion with, say, my mother. (Hi, Mom.) Despite the presence of religion in the Anne books – L.M.M. herself was married to a Presbyterian minister, Ewen MacDonald (sometimes misspelled “Ewan”) – it never helped convince me that religion was useful. (Neither did going to church, ever, or attending an Episcopal school for a few years in elementary school, or going through confirmation during those years.)
Obviously Marilla is horrified by Anne’s irreverence. She informs Anne that the little girl is probably a terrible person because she does not perform the nightly ritual of prayer. I mean, yay, Jesus, amirite?
Anne’s response has always struck me as a pretty sound reason to question religion.
“‘You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair,’ said Anne reproachfully. ‘People who haven’t red hair don’t know what trouble it is. Mrs. Thomas told me that God made my hair red on purpose, and I’ve never cared about Him since. And anyhow I’d always be too tired at night to bother saying prayers. People who have to look after twins can’t be expected to say their prayers. Now, do you honestly think they can?’”
Now, there are two separate but entwined issues at play here. The latter – being too exhausted to bother with spiritual obligation – may for some people be even more reason to embrace and practice religion. I’m sure it is comforting for some people to engage in that sort of psychological organizing of one’s troubles. But I have always found it more frustrating than helpful. I feel like it puts me in a passive relationship with my struggles. I don’t draw strength from outside sources like that, in a way that I can use. It has to be internally generated with me. So, religion as a support system doesn’t convince me of its usefulness because I find no comfort there.
The former issue is far more interesting to me – the idea that God made things the way they are on purpose. Now, on a world-stage level, I find the entire concept of forced trial and suffering as a means of achieving spiritual purity completely offensive, flawed, and a means of upholding systems of subjugation. If you want to, like, fast or give up your worldly possessions or self-flagellate, you go right on ahead. But there is a lot of suffering in this world in which people have no choice in the matter, and I find it pretty problematic that it’s all supposed to be part of God’s plan. Plus, why would I turn to God for comfort if he’s the one putting me through that mess in the first place? As a test? I know about Job and all of that. God must be pretty insecure if he’s got to play those kinds of games. NO, THANK YOU.
I relate to Anne’s bitterness about her red hair on another level as well. In short, this is what I want my body to look like -
And this is, more or less, what my body does look like (no matter how hard I work to change it) -
Now, it is one thing to come to terms with the fact that as far as the genetic lottery went, I didn’t get lucky. It’s quite another to believe that someone, somewhere out there, MADE THIS HAPPEN ON PURPOSE. If that is true, if I ever meet that someone, I will throat punch him (or her) repeatedly and with extreme prejudice. Jokes about animated hippos in tutus aside, it has caused me more psychological trauma than I care to recount here. And continues to do so…
RETURNING TO ANNE, but still on the subject of nice legs, CHECK OUT THE GAMS ON L.M.M!
No really, back to Anne. A really interesting point she brings up to Marilla in this chapter is the issue of sincerity in religious ritual.
“‘Why must people kneel down to pray?’” Anne asks, “‘If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep woods, and I’d look up into the sky – up – up – up – into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.’”
Going through the motions is about as useful as speaking in platitudes (a problem I have previously discussed in Chapter Three) and Anne’s questioning of religious habits is a very fascinating theme in this book, one which I think is particularly poignant given LMM’s literary imperative. The typical Victorian Sunday School heroine was LMM’s bread and butter before she published the Anne books, and Anne Shirley is quite a departure from that character. Anne is flawed, she is fiery, and she intelligently questions authority not to be subversive for the sake of it, but to learn and grow as a person. These issues will come up again so consider this a preview of discussions to come.
Spirituality derived from nature is likewise an integral theme in the Anne books, and another one I will save for a later chapter.
So now, I open the floor. Let’s talk religion. Or body acceptance. Or both!