Monday, November 9, 2009

Under God's thumb

Way back in 1966, when I was a junior in high school, I spent a summer taking courses at Dartmouth College. There were only a few of us high school kids there -- mostly girls -- and lots of college men (it seemed an ideal ratio at the time!) and I got involved with a perfectly lovely boy, a junior from Stanford.

As a sweet midwestern girl, dressed in those little flowered and madras Villager outfits with the round collars and the circle pins, I was enchanted with this California dreamer: he was on the wrestling team (gorgeous pecs)! His hair was long enough to touch his shirt collar (all the boys I knew had crewcuts) and he played guitar in a rock band! He smoked (and not just cigarettes)! He drank! He was actually really sweet and gentle and bright. And he listened -- for hours on end, it seemed -- to bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Rolling Stones.

Which I why I thought of him this morning, when this image came forward: there was a song on his Rolling Stones album called "Under My Thumb," and I could suddenly hear the lyrics -- and Mick Jagger's snarl -- as I looked at this photo. I looked up those lyrics, just out of curiosity -- I vaguely remembered they were pretty macho -- and realized they were really about the power struggles we so often see in relationships. Jagger was crowing about the fact that some girl who had "done him wrong" (the lyrics are rougher than that, trust me!) was now dancing to his tune.

And then I remembered a friend named Marco Selvaggio, a trumpet player old enough to be my father. Marco was upset because his son had become involved with a radical fundamentalist Christian group (a group in which I too worshiped for a brief period). Marco's objection wasn't to faith -- he was, himself, a lapsed Catholic -- but to the potential loss of independence and identity: "I wouldn't want no God leadin' ME around by da nose." He didn't want his son to be "under God's thumb."

Which is the problem MANY of us have with religion -- so often it seems to leave people "under God's thumb." But that's not really God's thumb, it's a human thumb, and belongs to authority figures who are often motivated by the all too human emotions around money, power and ego. God's thumb, I think, is far more grounded and steady -- more about what is than what should be -- a gentle touch, a firm presence around which our lives eddy and swirl and shape themselves; a touch by which we are marked as God's own.

And so I look at this image, and I am warmed by its simplicity, amused by these odd reminders of people and songs and feelings long forgotten. And I am grateful once again for God's serene and calming presence in my life.

It's all good.


Anonymous said...

Hi mom,

I don't often read your blog in the morning, but I think today was a good day to read. I know you probably didn't even think about how I've been feeling when you were meditating and writing this morning (not that I don't think you think about me, just, you know...), but I think this really applies to how I've been feeling about everything around me. It's nice to have mom insights without having to call you at unreasonable hours.

I love you.

Maureen said...

That boy left quite an impression on you!

Love the image of "God's thumb". His thumb can really leave an impression when it needs to. We just have to be open to feeling it. And to wearing the mark.

I went to a talk last week in which I learned from work at MIT's Media Lab that virtually everything else in your mind can disappear but you'll still remember music and lyrics from decades ago. Fascinating. All of us of grew up in the '60s are going to be doing a lot of singing!

Diane Walker said...
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Terra said...

Your friend, Marco's, comment and your words in this post remind me of C.S. Lewis's beautiful accounts of his conversion experiences, as a reluctant convert to Christianity.
His riding in the motorcycle sidecar is a great scene.