Something that intrigued me about Bali was the prominence of religious observance in daily life. According to our main driver, Andy, one factor that prevents most Balinese from visiting other parts of Indonesia is the extent of their ceremonial obligations. We often saw groups on their way to temples for what we were told could be rituals lasting several days. And every morning – before dawn in many cases – offerings were placed around people’s homes and places of business. Apparently, the Balinese version of Hinduism requires both good and bad spirits to be acknowledged. Woven baskets filled with flowers and small pieces of food, often accompanied by incense, were placed on shrines to honour the good spirits. Similar baskets were tossed onto the ground to keep the bad ones satisfied.
Given my frame of mind, the idea of fickle, mischievous spirits alongside good ones made a kind of sense, and I enjoyed stepping over their scattered gifts. I liked the idea of starting one’s day with a frank plea for good luck before plunging into the fray. It seemed to fit a society where there is less of an illusion of control – and appealing to a Westerner for whom that illusion lies in tatters.
Like countless others, I struggle with the Problem of Evil – the question of how the presence of an all-loving, all-powerful God can be compatible with the existence of seemingly pointless suffering. I have wrestled with this for much of my adult life. Contemplating the possibility of not seeing one’s children grow up certainly doesn’t make the answer any clearer. While going through treatment, I stumbled upon this strip in one of my sons’ much-loved ‘Pearls Before Swine’ anthologies.
I shed a little tear while laughing at this comic, and the boys wanted to know why I loved it so much. I told them that there are some questions for which you may search all your life for an answer, and “Dude, I just make the tacos” sometimes feels like it’s as good as you’re ever going to get. Right now I feel like putting it on a t-shirt – and tossing a daily offering to the ground from the edge of my verandah.
[* The title of this post - as well as being an expression of existential angst - is a tribute to one of my sons' other favourite funnymen, Weird Al Yankovic].