And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.Exodus 2:22 (KJV)
Christianity is often at odds with popular culture, isn’t it? And this delightful poem captures that perfectly. We are, truthfully, pilgrims on this earth, strangers in a strange land. To take a magazine quiz on how spiritual you are is to take a step into that strange land. It is to realize that our culture’s notion of spirituality is not ours.
In this poem Marjorie Maddox tries to fudge her results by re-taking the test. But she doesn’t succeed, because this test’s notion of spirituality is so different from hers, so different from ours. We are “strangers in a strange land.” Why? Because our spiritual life is built on the foundation of believing “in one God, the Father Almighty.” To believe that, and to build our life on that, is to live in a strange, wonderful land. And there is no place I’d rather be.
How Spiritual Are You | Marjorie Maddox
– Time magazine quiz, 10/25/04
Tallying twenty True or False answers to wishy-washy visions, I’m translated from a poet of faith into “a practical empiricist lacking self transcendence” according to a noted psychologist touted as today’s expert. I don’t like flunking and try again. Any room for fudging? To insert faith? Even a seed of the spiritual? “extrasensory perception”? “completely unaware of things going on around me”? “I love the blooming of flowers . . . as much as seeing an old friend”? Though I scan and re-scan, all I can check with confidence is the final slot—the quizmaster’s definition of extreme?— “I believe miracles happen.” A half-dozen more statements I rationalize as “sometimes,” insulted by society’s synonyms of “spiritual” and “spacey.” As a poet, I should be used to this but gain no points from that either. A sidebar promises to explain a “God gene” inherent in some of us—a cultural twist on predestination that leaves me unable to select the first square: “I often feel so connected to the people around me that it is like there is no separation between us.” Where is the “stranger in a strange land” line? Where is the question, “Do you believe in one God, the Father Almighty…?”
I first encountered this poem in a new anthology of poetry published by Paraclete Press: “Christian Poetry in America Since 1940: An Anthology.”