Interview with spiritual author Myrna J. Smith

Today’s special guest is spiritual writer, Myrna J.Smith. We’re chatting about her new book, God and Other Men: Religion, Romance,
and the Search for Self-Love.
If you’d like to learn more about Myrna, you can visit her other tour stops. Dates and links are found here.
           
Welcome, Myrna. Please tell us a
little bit about yourself.
I am
fortunate to have lived in four different parts of the country: Oregon,
Indiana, Wyoming, and New Jersey, and to end up in the one I like the best, New
Jersey. I live in the western part of the state, in Frenchtown, where there are
farms and open spaces, yet I can be downtown New York City in an hour and a
half. I go there not only for the theater and the opera, but also for the
energy emanating from the variety of people on the streets.
For over
thirty years I taught English and, for the last few years, Comparative Religion
at Raritan Valley Community College. During that time I was able to complete my
Doctor of Education at Rutgers, and to attend Princeton University on
Mid-Career Fellowships, once in English and once in Religion.

Besides
reading and writing, I have two hobbies: playing duplicate bridge and traveling.
I like the concentration required to play serious bridge—like writing, you
can’t think about anything else. I also like the excitement of going someplace
new, especially if the trip is not too planned. I just returned from five weeks
in Asia, the last two being in Vietnam on my own.
To balance my
competitive nature that comes out in playing bridge, I am a daily meditator and
attend a Unity Spiritual Center. Luckily I have a great family that helps keep
me grounded—three children, five grandchildren, a sister and a brother and some
valued in-laws.
Please tell us about your current
release, God and Other Men that released
in Oct 2014.
Myrna Smith opens her
story one Sunday night when she returns home from a ski weekend with her three children.
While she was on the slopes, her husband had moved out. That had been the plan.

Yet her story, though it encompasses her divorce, is much larger. Ultimately,
Smith sets out to love herself, to find an inner place where she can rest and
grow.

In this search-for-the-holy-grail memoir, Smith traces her travels toward
enlightenment as a middle-aged American woman with a wry humor and heartfelt
longing. On the journey she discovers spiritual fulfillment doesn’t come
easily, or all at once. For her, it is quite elusive.

The quest really started, she realizes, in her childhood on an Oregon farm
where she and her older sister were once “converted” in their father’s pea
patch by two young Bible summer school teachers barely out of their teens. The
school was part of the tiny church their mother attended while their father
stayed home, read Edgar Cayce books, and mused on reincarnation.

Later, drawn by the mysticism of the Hindus, Smith’s journey leads to Bangalore
where she touches the robes of Sai Baba, the Indian saint. Back home in New
Jersey, she finds herself in a country farm- house getting prescriptions
channeled through a medium for every- thing from her back woes and diarrhea to
an obsession with money.

She also writes of the demons that surface during a years-long love affair with
her beloved Charlie and what A Course in Miracles stirred within her.

Smith’s story is one of adventure and effort that, in the end, reveals three
simple yet essential truths that are both the journey and the destination. 

What inspired you to write this book?
In my late
thirties, I got divorced, an event that threw me into a life crises and sent me
on a spiritual search. Over the years I have had the privilege of seeing or
studying with some unusual teachers. I saw the materializations of Satya Sai
Baba when only a few hundred (as opposed to a few thousands that happened
later) went to his darshans; I traveled and lived with two Indian gurus; and I
received guidance from a mystic. I wanted to tell about these amazing people. I
decided the best method would be to incorporate them and their stories into
that of my own life crisis and spiritual search.
Excerpt:
This except
needs a bit of set up. My father and my beloved paternal grandmother had read
Hindu texts as well as the publications of Unity. My mother was a traditional
Christian and took all four of us children to a fundamentalist Sunday school
and sent us to Daily Vacation Bible School each summer. My sister Lynette and
I, close together in age, had the following experience:
Two young
women, hardly more than teenagers themselves came to our community to teach
that summer. Each night they ate dinner with a different family from the
church. When they arrived at our house Mother sent the four of us across the
highway to pick peas for supper. Daddy had planted the peas next to the barley
so he could irrigate the two crops together. Nothing grew without irrigation. We
took brown paper bags Mother had saved to hold the peas. Squatting between the
rows and picking peas in the still hot field, we were a captive audience for
these young ambitious-for Christ women. When they started talking about Jesus,
I knew what we were in for.
First they
asked us to pray, to thank God for the food around us. Then the one with the
dark hair said, “You must invite Jesus in. He is just waiting for an
invitation. Say the words, ‘Jesus, come into my heart.’”
We said, in
turn, “Jesus, come into my heart.” But Lynette and I both knew what was coming
next. They asked us to say the statement we avoided, a statement that was
spoken over and over again at Sunday school, a statement that Daddy and Grandma
would find repugnant: “I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.” Had we been
closer to the house, we could have just run inside. But we were across the road
so there was no escaping.
“You each
have to say the words or they won’t take,” said the one with the freckles and
long reddish hair.
What were
we to do? We had been trained to mind adults.
After we
each had made our individual proclamations, “I accept Jesus Christ as my
personal savior,” they clapped their hands. The darker one said, “It is so wonderful.
You are saved.” Perhaps she pictured two new stars in her heavenly crown.
Lynette and I tried to act happy too, but we knew in our hearts we had betrayed
Daddy and Grandma (God and Other Men 26-28)
What exciting story are you working on
next?
Although I
would like to write the female Siddhartha,
I am afraid I am bound to non-fiction. Right now I am working on two pieces. The
first is an essay based on the drowning of a woman at the mouth of the Ganges. I
was one of the first persons to meet her five traveling companions the day
after she drowned. It has been turned down by one publication, so I have to
revise it or look for another market. I am also preparing a talk on Conditioned
and Unconditioned Reality for my spiritual center.
When did you first consider yourself a
writer?
I have wanted
to be a writer for many years, and even wrote a note to myself and put it in my
drawer, “I want to be a writer” after I finished my dissertation. I did not
have the courage to call myself a writer until after I published my book.
A conversation
I had with an elderly professor at the university where I held an
administrative job—and therefore had more time for writing— that contributed to
my feeling of not being up to the task of being a writer. Everyone in the
building knew I would be returning to my position as an English Professor at
the community college from which I had a leave of absence, but this scholar asked
me about my academic plans. I told him I intended to continue to write. He
asked me a series of penetrating questions about my knowledge of languages, my
research specialty, etc. When he found out I had no special skill, he made a
disparaging remark, “How can you write; you have nothing to say.”
Fortunately,
I was able to recover from his comment by finding that I do have something to
say and can now comfortably call myself a writer.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your workday like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I have
trouble writing unless I have an idea to which I have committed myself. Because
I give sermons a few times a year, I am often composing the next one. I attend
a Unity Spiritual Center, so I do not have to defend any religious point of
view. Once I have an idea I can write any time, any place. I wrote much of the first
draft of my book God and Other Men
when I was teaching part-time in a middle school—having retired from college
teaching two years before.
 What
would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I often come
up with ideas of what to write about, but not many take root. Once I get past
the difficult and sometimes mysterious part of committing myself to a writing project,
I spend time thinking. My mind seems to work best if I am moving, so I often go
on solitary walks to work out a plan, almost an outline, in my mind, one that I
hold onto to but don’t write out. Many writing experts have given advice on
getting started. Some say just moving the hands to write, or type, produces
ideas—I would extend that to moving the legs.
As a child, what did you want to be
when you grew up?
I grew up
on a farm in Eastern Oregon with little exposure to anything but farmers,
teachers, and nurses—we had doctors, of course, but they were men, so I put
medicine out of my sight. I liked much of the farm work, especially plowing
fields, so I held the dream of owning a large farm for awhile, but I soon saw
that I would probably have to be a teacher if I wanted to escape the poverty of
my family—something I was determined to do.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
At a recent
book discussion of a memoir an historian argued that the book The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to
His White Mother
is really fiction because the conversations and other
details could not have been recalled. I made the point that two events I use in
my memoir, including the one above, were partially constructed with the help of
my sister who was with me on both occasions, but that the feeling was the truth.
Others in our book group agreed that the feeling is the most important aspect.
Having just been in Vietnam and seen the Vietnam War (American War over there)
I realize that history may also be fiction because of the bias of those telling
the story.
Thank you, Myrna!

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