Tag Archives: becoming real

letting go, keeping, being

I’m here! If you’re here, thanks for hanging with me for all those quiet months. I’ll talk about them a bit, but first this: it’s a clear January day and I’m sitting in my nook with a hot cup of tea, a view of pecan trees outside my little window, and piles of things to do. All happy things. I’m a few weeks into graduate school, having finally taken the dive. In three years, if all goes well, I’ll be a Certified Nurse Midwife. In the meantime, I have this time, this rich quiet, in which to learn and I’m so grateful for it. My children went and got big and now even the little ones have important places to go in the morning. Their excitement is mine too, and their running, jumping delight to be picked up after lunch–that’s mine as well. It’s a sweet season.

It was a weird and difficult fall, and I wrote a lot of words here, but didn’t hit publish on any of them. They seemed whiny and pathetic and not completely true, but I couldn’t find the words that did feel true. I had complicated feelings about moving back to a place that holds precious things but also where I never really thought I’d live again, and every time I tried to work through them I just ended up feeling, well, whiny and pathetic. I guess there are times we just need to simmer and let our feelings be, and wait. Things are feeling more peaceful now; my head and heart are not exactly in line but moreso than before. (I don’t care what you say, spellcheck. I love the word moreso. It says more than more so, don’t you think?)

I’ve grown tired of some things. That’s not to say I’ll never care to revisit them, but for now, they are tiresome. I just want to study and learn, be a mother, be a wife, be a nurse, be a person. I don’t know where all of my faith issues are taking me, but these days I feel less of a need to know. It doesn’t take up so much space in my life. My life is enough and more!  It is full of beauty and wonder (along with anger, sadness, confusion and all the other signs of being a living, evolving person). I feel like I’ve just given my unanswerable questions a big shrug and gotten back to the business of living. Who knows, maybe I’ll come back to them and see things more clearly at some point, like a first draft that you know how to make better after stepping away from it for a few hours.*

Last year, I set out to try and understand the process I was in. I intended to finish out the year, writing at least each month, but I didn’t get past August (well, not publicly and not in a way that felt genuine.) Despite that, as I was reading over my 2015 posts, I realized I had written enough to understand the process. It has been a slow, very gradual letting go. It began years ago, and it continues. It seems to me now that life is less about adding on new things and more about choosing what to let go of and what to keep. So, now, my focus has shifted to the things I want to keep.

Maybe this is the time for resting one set of muscles, so to speak, and exercising another. I only know I don’t want to live in a constant state of analysis and irritation–how could that possibly be good? And when I think about issues of faith, or try to engage with them, I get to analysis and irritation pretty quickly. I don’t want to think about certain things in terms of faith or even spirituality–that just takes me down a bad path. I need to free those concepts from the fences other people built around them a long time ago. I am connected to something important, something that makes me want to engage with life rather than hide from it. I don’t care so much about naming or defining that thing as I do about exploring it.

For the longest time, it was difficult to imagine a life without the framework of religion, but not so much now. Not at all, really. It looks like waking up, trying to be kind, accomplishing something, spending time with people I love, allotting time for self care, acquiring and appreciating knowledge, apologizing when I’m wrong, encountering people and their stories, letting important things change me, sleeping, repeating, in whatever order, pattern or mosaic these things come. Sunday–that day that was beautiful, terrible, confusing, edifying, crushing and magnetic for all those years–it’s mostly for hiking, connecting, and resting now. I’ve embraced simple. (Here’s a thing I’ve learned: when the highs are not so high, the lows are not so low. I may have thought that was cowardly before, but it sure seems like wisdom now. It’s like being sober, as I imagine it.)

Those are my crumbs today, here, now. It’s not so different, but then it’s totally different. I’m a pinpoint in the center of that. Maybe you are too.

 

*This isn’t a goodbye to this space or to the concept of gathering breadcrumbs. It  will just take different forms this year, as I learn what that looks like.

 

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Definition: My July Confession

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

-Rumi, 13th century mystic

This year (and so this hodgepodge of confessions) is now past the halfway point. I wonder how it will be, to look back at this year’s journey and see the shape of it better, from the other side. At this point, a little past the middle, I see that this is about a slow letting go, about giving myself time to be at peace with a monumental shift.

Some ideas take months to name, years even. Slowly, they take on a definition, over late nights and angry outbursts, apologies and silence, wine-softened conversations and stolen moments to think while driving, books devoured and stories heard.

I wrote the sentence I am walking away from Christianity in January, just to see how the words felt. I looked at the screen and couldn’t say that I meant the words completely. So I saved them in a draft and wrote instead what was honest and true right then.

That sentence brings up enormous questions, the kind you can’t answer without the perspective that time brings. What does it mean, to leave Christianity? Which one? I left fundamentalist, apocalyptic, demon-exorcising, repent-or-burn Christianity a long time ago, moving on to a lighter, evangelical, more in-the-now version. It was a relief to focus more on feeding the hungry and teaching children that God loved them, and less on who might be going to hell or how the devil might be trying to trick me that day (let’s just take a moment to laugh about that one). More compassion, less fear-mongering. That worked for a season, but then came the culture wars, or at least my increasing awareness of them.

I was dismayed to realize that even though I thought I had left fundamentalism behind, it was alive and well in churches that looked and felt a little more progressive. This is the part that still breaks my heart. I couldn’t, in good conscience, stay. I sought a new home in a progressive mainline church, in liturgy, in bread and wine and ash. These folks, I found out, are comfortable with questions and silence, and have a long tradition of welcoming LGBT, agnostic, and other marginalized people that evangelicals don’t seem to know what to do with. The pastor was slow to make declarations, thoughtful, faithful to the old rhythms while cultivating a mind that matched the times we live in. For the first time in my life, I heard the words I don’t know in a sermon where they weren’t immediately followed with a platitude. Just I don’t know. I think, if I didn’t have all the baggage from the other forms of Christianity, that I could have stayed and served there. I would have loved to. It was a short, sweet season, followed by a necessary break from all things church-related. I had begun therapy by then, and with it the discovery that I was responding to my spiritual past in the same way that people respond to major trauma. To my brain, there was no difference. This work took all of my energy. The pastor and I exchanged emails, and he surprised me by saying that perhaps what I really needed was to take a break from church, maybe temporary, maybe not. There was no pressure to stay or go. In a completely non-patronizing way, I feel like he gave me permission to leave, gracefully.

Perhaps this was the most Christian thing to do, in the quaint old-fashioned sense of the term, used when someone takes care of a neighbor.

Something has become more and more clear: with each shift to a different type of Christianity, more of my black and white beliefs fell away, and the emotional intensity of my beliefs lessened. The good news, for me, was that I no longer had to believe in hell, that I didn’t have to divide humanity into categories based on one of many religions, that I could talk to my friends without the formerly ever-present agenda of evangelism, that I didn’t have to try to reconcile conflicting Bible passages and ideas of God’s nature anymore. It has been such a relief to shake these weights off, one by one.

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As a teenager, I read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith, which contains an account of his interview with Charles Templeton. Templeton was a co-evangelist and friend of Billy Graham who gradually believed less and less of what he had once preached fervently, until eventually he left Christianity altogether.

Strobel writes of his surprise when Templeton, an agnostic, then in his 80s,, breaks into tears while talking about great his love for Jesus:

I was taken aback. “You sound like you really care about him,” I said.

“Well, yes, he is the most important thing in my life,” came his reply. “I . . . I . . . I . . . ,” he stuttered, searching for the right word, ‘I know it may sound strange, but I have to say . . . I adore him!” . . .

” . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes . . . yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don’t think of him that way, but they don’t read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus….’

“Uh . . . but . . . no,’ he said slowly, ‘he’s the most . . .” He stopped, then started again. “In my view,” he declared, “he is the most important human being who has ever existed.”

That’s when Templeton uttered the words I never expected to hear from him. “And if I may put it this way,” he said as his voice began to crack, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!”

I remember sharing Strobel’s surprise when I read this. I get it now.

Does a loss of belief mean a person has a hard heart, or a lack of emotion? Does it mean a person forgets the world within a world that he inhabited for years and years? Does a person forget what she used to believe with all her heart? Does a person forget the words of the hymns she sung as a child, or the feeling of peacefulness after prayer, or the thousands of other memories accrued?

Of course not. It is all there, intertwined with first kisses and essays on Milton and The Periodic Table and how to play chess and the time she almost threw up on her prom date and skinned elbows and early morning band practice and the moment she gave birth to her first child and her husband sobbed.

It’s all part of who I am.

If anything, a loss of belief shows how soft a person has let his heart be. It comes on the heels of serious consideration, the agony of deconstruction, the exhausting task of trying to find a way to make it all work and make sense again, perhaps repeated over and over. For me, this process has taken the better part of ten years.

Templeton remained a full human being, religion or no religion, as do I, as do the many people who find themselves unable to believe what they once did. He had his grief and he had his conscience, and it seems to me like he chose to go where his conscience demanded.

There are incredible folks, dear friends I know in real life and people I only know from their written words, who have found a home in various streams of Christianity. I continue to watch them and read their words with great interest, even with the sense that this particular path isn’t for me anymore. I admire how they are trying to affect change from the inside, and applaud their creativity. I still care about how Christianity navigates its way through different seasons of thought. There are so many good, precious people, and I never want to forget that. I never want to reduce something as wide, varied and rich as Christianity to less than what it is and has the potential to be.

There are no sides–there is humanity and the quest to make things better for all. There is kindness, and there is cruelty. There is hunger and there is food. There is ignorance and there is education. There is the trap of poverty and the hope and struggle for ways of escape. When humanity moves forward, away from a stubborn insistence on our differences and toward a realization that we have to take care of each other, that is truly good news.

I admire the kind of Christianity that participates in this process.

I have much to learn from Christianity still, as well as other systems of faith. I remember many things with tenderness and gratitude.

But.

I sleep more soundly now, and pay greater attention to the world around me, and feel things I didn’t have space to feel before. I put trust in my intuition, and I’m more comfortable affirming myself and my children than before. I feel more connected to the rest of humanity. Doesn’t it make sense, that when you suspect this life may be all we have, that you savor it all the more, that you want to make the most of it, that it becomes of greatest importance that your people know of your great love for them?

There is sadness, but oh, there is relief.

I have to think more deeply and look more closely and feel more uncomfortable feelings. There are no pre-packaged explanations. There are unknowns, waiting to be known. I feel like I have to use a set of muscles that I didn’t even know existed until recently, and I notice that they are getting stronger.

Am I saying that I’m no longer a Christian? I suppose I am, in a plain and surface sense. But not to the extent that I no longer admire or learn from the life of Christ or the love of his followers. Not to the extent that I deny the part of my humanity that longs and aches and hopes for more. The part that wants to be connected to every living thing and see its purpose. The part that must kneel and kiss the ground, that must extend thanks to the great, wide out there. And most importantly, the part that recognizes that very same thing in my fellow human beings, whatever faith they practice, and longs to sit with them at one big table where there are enough seats for everyone.

That person? She has existed all along. I am only now discovering more of her.

(Your story, however it looks, is welcome here, in case you are of the mind to share it.)

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The Contrast Of It All: My June Confession

June was a month of oddness and simple wonderful ordinary: mulling over a big decision while counting down the last days of the school year, walks to the pool, firefly catching success and long conversations about the future. Heavy, light, heavy, light. Summer eased in while a deadline loomed. Knowing, not knowing, feeling sure, feeling no particular sense of direction.

This new place has been about growing up in some ways, which sounds funny when I’ve been an adult for some time. The thing about fundamentalism is this: it tries to keep you a child your whole life. Putting space between my physical body and all those memories turned out to be quite helpful. I did some growing up, out, in.

We decided to move back home. I hope it will be home.

I am glad to return to dear friends with whom I share deep roots, glad to have grandparents merely hours away than days away. I am glad to return to the big wide-open sky and spaces, to the feeling of getting into a sun-baked car, to the smell after a desert rain, to the mountains, to the contrast of it all. Blue and brown and subtle color everywhere.

I will miss this place with its walls of trees and abundance of water. I will miss the ease of growing things. The effortless flowers. The heavy, loud air in the summer, thick with cicada and bee and humidity. The smell of honeysuckle. Our little neighborhood with a circle that the kids ride around and the trails to the lake. Canada snow geese. A flash of cardinal against snow.

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I’m achy inside about it. But I ache, in a different way, thinking about the possibilities that await us in the desert, with its wide open spaces and availability. Mountains that help a person know where she is, standing blue at twilight. Watercolor skies. I wish I could have both, but this is the way of adulthood, I suppose.

One thing we discuss, over and over, is the history of the place. For me, religion (I mean this broadly) was in the sky, the mountains, the rain-smell. It was in the East that I learned to whisper my thanks to the trees and the water and the very air that wrapped around me, as I used to whisper my thanks to God. Maybe I was talking to God in both cases, but I cannot seem to know this now. In the East, I found a way to live in the in-between space and honor it somehow. I rid my chest of the heaviness and searing pangs of religious angst, and was left with an ache for beauty. Beauty, I seek out. Beauty, I worship. Many of the writers I adore would say that this beauty is God, there is no difference. And I hear them, and consider their words, and simply go back to not knowing.

I may know someday, or I may never know.

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Expansion: My May Confession

Possibility is oh-so-surprising, isn’t it? The thing you silently swore to yourself you wouldn’t do is now the thing you consider with caution, then reserve, then openness, a smile slowly forming on your lips. You think about your family as a whole, about having a big wide open space to invite others into. You remember the sky, the softness of the dirt sifting up around your ankles, the warmth of the rocks, the mountains rising up at the end of the horizon. And the place is beautiful again.

Of course, it always was.

It holds pain. Home always does. You get just about as far away as you can, and you breathe for awhile. You take in some new things; join your tributary with others and wind into the larger body. It’s easier to see, from a distance, how we’re all really the same. We all want, we all disappoint, we all find ways to get back up, we all hope.

So you align your hope with an old place that may become new. Maybe.

****

You’re getting better at considering. Consider the potential of Sundays outside of the world you knew. Consider parenting differently. Consider–imagine–a world for yourself that looks different, better.

Life is for creating.

Pause, heal, reflect, consider,

create.

****

When you were dating, there was a book that suggested adventures were for men, and women supported those adventures. A good number of people raved about it, thought it profound. It sent shivers down your spine and thankfully, down his spine too. You threw it on the proverbial fire and said nope. We will both have our adventures. We will be support beams for each other. We will be open to dreams.

You didn’t know then, but more and more and more things would make you uneasy. You would them on the fire too, sighing with relief. You didn’t think you’d ever want to go back to the space that held all of that, associating the two so closely.

But now, you see that there is more.

In this new life, there always seems to be more. It makes you swell like a cloud about to burst in July, puffing out into the azure width of sky, unapologetically dramatic against cliff against spine against rushing water, defying the dry. There is so much more.

You let go, and it all gets bigger.

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Loyalty and Longing: My March Confession

Every Easter morning I can remember, my father would be singing up from the grave He aroooooossssse! purposefully, mischeviously even, as he poured pancake batter over the griddle and we scrambled to get ready for church. It was a family joke of sorts, sung sometimes on other mornings, tying the resurrection to the daily difficulty of getting out of bed. But I knew he sang the words with a deep reverence too. I knew that being made new was central to his theology.

Easter is almost here again. The bulbs we planted last fall are shooting up out of the ground, the temperature outside is slowly creeping upward, and I’m optimistically packing away the heavier coats and scarves. There is warm rain falling outside, and it smells earthy when I step out of the front door. With these changes come a fresh energy, an ease of work. I’m cleaning, brightening, sorting. This is how things are supposed to be.

It’s been a year of quiet, of going inward, of letting go. The years that led up to this year were louder, angrier, heavier with emotion. But this year–from one Easter Sunday to another– has been mostly, mercifully, quiet. Perhaps, after all this anger and frustration (which is to say, anger) and impatience and sadness and whatever else it has been, comes a longing.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes this of belief and faith:

Religion, faith and belief are not the same thing, he [James Fowler] says, though often we speak of them as if they were. In the sixteenth century, “to believe” meant “to set the heart upon” or “to give the heart to” as in, “I believe in love.” But in the centuries following the Enlightenment, secular use of the words “belief’ and “believe” began to change until they said less about the disposition of one’s heart than the furniture in one’s mind. By the nineteenth century, when knowledge about almost anything consisted chiefly of empirical facts, belief became the opposite of knowledge. A person’s belief in God was reduced to his or her belief system–the unprovable statements of faith that person judged to be true. The great pity of this conflation, Fowler says, is that when faith is reduced to creeds and doctrines, plenty of thoughful people are going to decide they no longer have faith. They might hang on if they heard the word used to describe trust or loyalty in something beyond the self, but when they hear “faith” used to signify belief in a set formula of theological truths, the light in their eyes goes out. When I listen to college students talk about faith, beliefs are what interest them most: Do you believe in the virgin birth? Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins? Do you believe that only Christians go to heaven? No one asks, “On what is your heart set?” No one asks, “What powers do you most rely on? What is the hope that gives meaning to your life?” Those are questions of faith, not belief. The answers to them are not written down in any book, and they have a way of shifting in the dark.

Learning to Walk in the Dark, p. 143-144, emphasis mine

I knew as a child that my parents’ actions–my father’s prayers, my mother’s devotion to reading and reciting scripture, and their focus on passing these things down to us– stemmed from a faith that was larger than they could fully express, though they tried. It truly was something they had “set their hearts upon”. I want to honor their reverence, while making a more open space for my own.

Last Easter I sang Christ the Lord is Risen Today with so much gladness in my heart, after eating breakfast with a kind community of people and sharing in the fun of watching children hunt eggs in their pastel frocks and button ups. I had the glorious luxury of singing the words without dwelling on whether I believed them–I simply sang, loud and happy, because the song is beautiful and because it is familiar. I felt a loyalty to it. I still do. It’s of those homesickness things, Easter.

Right after that beautiful Sunday it all just fell apart. I let it. I didn’t return to any sort of church until late November, using Sunday mornings to try to heal myself instead. It wasn’t because of that welcoming and anciently forward-thinking congregation at all, and it wasn’t because of the genuine outpouring of faith my parents gifted me as a child, or the many beautiful people of faith I’ve known over the years. It was because of other elements of American Christianity I’d observed as I paid more attention–the anti-intellectual attitude, the refusal to see other points of view, the rigid insistence that one interpretation of Scripture is the only one possible, the demand to be served, to maintain rights and status and privilege–all behavior that makes no sense for people who claim to follow the ultimate servant. This was not something I wanted to align myself or my children with, and so I started picking it apart. I think I understand now why people can be so resistant to questioning–once you start it’s nearly impossible to stop.

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My religion of birth, Christianity, was given to me as absolute truth. I do not see it this way. I see it as a useful and beautiful story, one of many that the people of this Earth have assembled over long periods of time. The question inevitably, eventually, must follow: if this is merely a story, useful and beautiful yes, but just a story, is it worthwhile? I say, and choose to believe, that any beautiful story is worthwhile. The beauty I find, in Christianity or elsewhere, informs my daily actions and in turn what my children will find important. This is the hope that gives meaning to my life. It is enough.

My parents, in their own way, taught me to pay attention, and that’s the same thing I am doing, just in my own way. I believe in ritual and beauty and metaphor. I am trying to be brave enough to let my children believe in some things in a literal sense so that later they can know it was a foundation for something else. I will always protect. I cannot control. They will draw their own conclusions, when they are ready.

Perhaps it is a gift that can’t quite be understood before its right time comes: to lose one thing in order to find another.

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I come from women

I come from women who have found themselves with child

and carried on, surprised and terrified,

waiting for the feeling of delight.

I come from women who dig into the dirt

for comfort and make things grow

perennially.

I come from women who know a darkness

who speak of it in shadowed ways,

or not at all.

I come from them, I am them.

We who walk away from crowds and conversations,

we who talk about sunsets with charisma, we who return from

time spent on big warm rocks, skygazing,

with a new strength.

We who must learn, again and again

just how much we need other people.

I come from a religion of planting flowers.

Always, there were tangled vines with purple-blue

buds opening into a burst, climbing up the

criss-cross of wire fence,

beautifying, complicating, every spring and summer.

I come from places I cannot name well,

but I know them well.

I will plant my seeds too, and revere

the beauty

at the end of the tangles.

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something to know

I sat in it for the rest of the afternoon, staring at the lake. I still had 334 miles to hike before I reached the Bridge of the Gods, but something made me feel as if I’d arrived. Like that blue water was telling me something I’d walked all this way to know.

This was once Mazama, I kept reminding myself. This was once a mountain that stood nearly 12,000 feet tall and then had its heart removed. This was once a wasteland of lava and pumice and ash. This was once an empty bowl that took hundreds of years to fill. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them in my mind’s eye. Not the mountain or the wasteland or the empty bowl. They simply were not there anymore. There was only the stillness and silence of that water, what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after the healing began.”

-Cheryl Strayed, Wild

I watched this movie with my friend after a day luxuriously full of words–all the words we had saved up for each other. We spent a quick few days eating, and talking, and enjoying her family, and talking, and seeing beautiful things, walking through the drizzle of Seattle, and talking. We sat in a theater and watched this woman walk 1100 miles alone, holding an enormous weight on her back, making her way to somewhere she needed to be. We felt the same heaviness and the same lightness, I think, about our shared history and our shared letting go.

We both used to have this big, complicated, form-giving understanding of the world and we both know now that it’s possible for that to fall away. We know the chaotic swirl of possibilities left in its wake. We know a simple stillness, too.

I went home to my life and slowly made my way through the book (breaking the sacred rule of read the book first) and took my time with Strayed’s journey. Many times, I’ve instinctively known that I need time alone in the forest or the mountains or the desert, whatever is available to me, to heal what is broken. I know this. I always return home filled with what I needed.

Sometimes you need to walk alone and carry heavy things, only so you can reach a place of beauty and set the heavy things down.

And then, you will know forever that you did it and could do it again. It will always belong to you.

for my dear friend E.

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