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Giving thanks with Joe Eszterhas

"Giving thanks with Joe Eszterhas" Continued...

Issue: "'To stay is to be killed'," Nov. 29, 2008

Q: Had you prayed before?

I'm astounded that I'm praying, because I haven't prayed since I was a little kid. My mom was religious and I prayed with her, but I had marginalized and turned down God in my mind. So I hear myself praying and I'm mind-boggled that I'm praying, but the prayer continues. I think I must have continued praying in this fashion for five minutes, maybe 10 minutes. I bring my head up and open my eyes, and there's this really shimmering kind of brightness that I see. It's a bright day, it's a sunny day and all that, but this is a great brightness, and I sit there rubbing my eyes until it gradually returns to what I would say is a kind of normal brightness.

I stand up and I realize that I'm not shaking, my knees aren't weak, I feel very strong, and for the first time in my heart, I think, "I can do this." But the attachment is there: What I really feel is that I can do this with God's help, and that God is helping me and that God will help me. I walk back home, bugs are gone, I stop sweating, and it's the first time that I feel strong. And from that moment on, I began praying, consciously praying. It's tough to explain this to people who don't have God in their hearts, but I know that you do. I felt strong and at peace, and I feel a great sense of solace. I feel differently than I ever have before.

This was seven years ago, and I began trying to figure out how to pray in a direct way. What I really was trying to do, I think, was figure out my language and my own grammar vis-à-vis God. That process took some time, and in some ways it's still a work in progress, but I began praying for serious amounts each day. My walks became a time of prayer, and I began walking five miles a day in the summer and the winter. This is a man who had never physically exercised in his life and suddenly I began walking five miles a day, and loved it. My doctor said the infusion of cold would actually be good for my lungs if I didn't catch pneumonia. So I did that, and prayer became a central part of my life.

Q: You note that once you started praying again you visited an evangelical megachurch and heard a good sermon, but you wanted communion at each service and missed the Catholic liturgy of your youth. You headed back to what you call in your new book, Crossbearer, "a church full of pedophiles and riddled with hypocrisy, deceit, and corruption."

I ran into two priests who were really good priests. They are fierce in their belief, but they are also fierce in their belief that a lot of things have to be changed. And I'm trying to read the Bible more because in the Catholic tradition you really don't grow up reading the Bible. At a certain point we started going to church and I watched people carrying the cross. I thought, "one day I'd like to do that," so I asked, and they said, "terrific." I've been doing it for six years. Carrying the cross is a great honor, and often it's almost like a high.

Q: Naomi, did you see a change in Joe?

Someone said having God in your heart changes your heart, it doesn't change your personality. I was always very devout, and he would say, "Say a prayer for me." Now, he prays more often than I do and he has a very deep faith, but the person I fell in love with is still there. He has a wonderful sense of humor, sometimes he's very irreverent, but he's kinder and gentler, and he loves people more. That wasn't the man before-he kept people at arm's length, he was suspicious and cynical. He still carries some of that with him in how he views the world, but I think there was some hard layer of his heart that got peeled away in that process.

Q: Joe, when you talk about your experience, do Hollywood people think you're nuts, do they think you're scamming?

They think I'm nuts. I read Tony Blair's thing where he said that when he was prime minister, he didn't like to talk about his faith because he would be viewed as a "nutter." That's sort of what I feel. Many people have known that I've found God and I'm living my life very differently. And it's Hollywood, so they don't really confront me on it: I just notice that I don't hear from them anymore. I went back and buried my old agent, Guy McEwan, and he was a day away from dying, and there was a group of his Hollywood friends in the room. I went up to him and I said a prayer, and I hugged him and kissed him. When I turned away I saw the group of people, and they were in shock.

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