American women of a certain age -- mine -- almost all remember reading "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," Judy Blume's coming of age story about Margaret Simon who talks to God every night and wants the attentions of Philip Leroy and above all else, to get her period.
That last part seemed to define the book and for many, (me included), it was a real introduction to menstruation.
To me, though, the important part of the book, alluded to in the title, was Margaret's spirituality.
How I related to Margaret! The backstory was that one of her parents was raised Christian, the other was Jewish, so she was unchurched -- they decided that when she grew up, she could choose her own religion. As I recall, it was obvious that her parents were agnostic. I remember her saying that her mother thought God, "was a nice idea."
Neither of my parents were Jewish, but everything else was spot-on. Like Margaret, I began saying prayers/talking to God at a young age. Also like Margaret, my parents never knew. Both Margaret and I questioned what their response would be.
I have to think that of this "Margaret generation," there is a subsection of us who related to Margaret on that religious level. The part that hungered for spiritual nourishment, for a relationship with the divine, but eschewed the pull of outside forces to choose a particular theology. It is that pull of outside forces that makes Margaret temporarily give up God. Her grandparents are fighting about whether she should be Jewish or Christian, so she angrily announces she doesn't believe in God at all. Of course, this is for show. She stops talking to God, admitting to herself that it's because she is angry with him. In the end, she gets her period, and is so excited, she goes back to the relationship -- Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret!
Longtime readers of this blog know that I've been on quite a journey of my own with the divine, as I rejected an earlier vision of God and went through the process of stripping away any vestiges of belief in the divine (not unlike the song I reference often, John Lennon's God).
Like Margaret, who misses the comfort of that personal relationship, I would find myself, at night, missing God. I knew that my beliefs in a personal-pal God no longer meshed with what I felt to be true. It felt juvenile and fake to "talk" to God as I did previously. But I missed God.
Slowly, I have come back from that. The writings of Bishop Spong, among others, helped. My belief in Unitarian Universalism helped immensely, because for me, it is the doorway to the divine. I have faith that this religion exists to help us all find our own definition of the Holy -- which, incidentally, includes definitions that reference no God. Definition can pave the way for experience. For so many of us, definition is an integral part of experiencing the Divine. We can't just lie in bed and pray until we feel that the experience is backed up with some sort of honest personal framework.
So, whatever happened to Margaret? As far as I know, Judy Blume has never elaborated. I read somewhere that Margaret would be 49 this year, about a decade older than I.
For me, Margaret ... well, I think she grew up. Tried different religions during college and her early 20s. Had a tragedy in her life that made her rethink everything. Came back with a new definition of God, but discovered that her relationship with God hadn't changed that much.
What can I say? I am Margaret.