Geology and Theology

When I asked my sister to weigh in on Spifflicated as I was finishing it last fall, she gave me a (house)boatload of positive input, but the one that sticks is this notion of recurring themes of geology and theology.

Spifflicated is a creative non-fiction family memoir, which flowed from three years of purposeful conversations with my father at the end of his life about his troubled childhood.

The plains of southern Minnesota, the Mississippi River, the Desert Southwest, Mount McKinley, North America’s largest producing oil field in Ellis and Rooks County, Kansas, etc., et al.

 The Bemis Pool in northern Ellis and southern Rooks County, Kansas would become among the largest producing oil fields in North America. This photo was taken in the late '40s, when Victoria and Champ arrived in Kansas.

The Bemis Pool in northern Ellis and southern Rooks County, Kansas would become among the largest producing oil fields in North America. This photo was taken in the late '40s, when Victoria and Champ arrived in Kansas.

Theology, because of two things. Thing one: The premise of the book is my spiritually-based recovery from alcoholism. Thing two: My father and his mother’s interpretations of Catholicism.

My grandmother, Victoria Maday Matson, was raised a strict, dogmatic, ‘here are the rules, follow them’ Roman Catholic. To her very essence, Victoria felt her son, Champ, needed to be formally and ceremoniously saved even before he had a chance to be wrong. Champ, my father, said screw it and chucked the Catechism over his shoulder at his first opportunity.

Some may posit, after reading the book, Victoria’s devout, pre-Vatican II Catholicism, may have prevented her recovery. I can argue both sides, so I’m not sure. (Not that it matters, ‘cept maybe in book clubs.)   

The core of my recovery is a firm belief in divine intervention, grounded in personal experience. Twenty-five years ago, God removed my obsession to consume alcohol. I am by no means alone, many in the recovery community share similar stories. To those who have not experienced it, it can seem somewhat intangible. In my case, it happened without active involvement in a church or a spiritually-based recovery support community, though — and this is crucial — it happened after significant exposure to both.

In other words, I knew I had a problem and could not seem to solve it by myself.

So, I prayed.

The church and spiritually-based recovery support systems are manmade. Theology is a human invention.

The plains, mountains, rivers, valleys, deserts and oceans described in Spifflicated are more than just scene setters. They’re natural, physical manifestations that not only help tell the story, but I hope, provide a connection between the tangible and the intangible. Between geology and theology.

Champ/Jim and I covered this topic during our three years of purposeful conversations which led to Spifflicated. As mentioned in the book, I believe this is what helped him think of his mother in a different light. Like his son, his mother was powerless over alcohol.

It’s a bright, chilly Kansas winter morning as I write this. In the office of our home built into a Flint Hill, a couple of miles downstream from a manmade dam, built to save lives and property from floods, in a community founded on the banks of the Kaw River, by abolitionists driven by equality and faith.

The Kaw, which flows downstream out of the Flint Hills to the wide Missouri, the Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico, eventually, inevitably, to the vast Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

I live a life grounded in the tangible and fueled by the intangible.