Well, I haven't been to church in ten years. That part of my heart is achey like tight hamstrings after a month without yoga. I'm craving it like a freshly-made shrimp tempura roll after two months in landlocked states.
I grew up going to church at least twice a week. All morning on Sundays, of course, for both Sunday school and the service. Then either a bible study, youth group, choir practice, or all three during the week. As a teenager, I wrote and directed an evangelistic theater performance that we took on the road. I read my Bible each day and prayed to the big, white-haired man in the sky each night. I led kids at school to "accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior." I was going to be a missionary one day.
There were parts of it that I really loved, especially before I developed my critical thinking capability.
When I went to college, I joined the Christian group on campus that my "righteous, man-of-God" boyfriend at the time was a part of. I sang in their worship band. I took their classes. I eschewed all drugs, alcohol, sex, rock and roll, and non-Christians (unless it was for the purpose of converting their souls). I voted for Bush, and blindly adopted political opinions without ever thinking about if I agreed with them or not.
About my sophomore year, the dissatisfaction with the type of church and the particular Christians I had been surrounded with grew to an untenable level. I couldn't be down with the homophobia and the judgement. It seemed that if this God was so big, he'd love us exactly the way we were, the way he supposedly made us. And it seemed he wouldn't give a damn about Chick Fil'a.
I also certainly couldn't be down with the female submission/subjugation thing in the Bible, or the way it was used by "upstanding Christian men" in the community to take advantage of me and other women in ways that I won't go into on this family-friendly blog. But yes, it's what you're thinking. And Bible verses were quoted as justification.
Too many of my questions went unanswered, and too many leaders turned their noses down at me for asking them. Too many of the beautiful people I was meeting in my life outside of church were kept out God's universal love for whatever homophobic, misogynistic, didn't-have-their-act-completely-together judgmental reason. I wasn't feeling warm love from this god anymore. I just felt guilt, judgment, and silence. I was done.
I left the religion in one, sudden, fell swoop. I no longer went to church, the christian group on campus, or bible study. I no longer prayed or read the bible. I lost all of my friends. Some of my family didn't speak to me for months. It was lonely and scary and . . . liberating.
Within two months, I dumped my asshole Christian boyfriend, cut off all my hair, pierced my eyebrow, got a tattoo, began drinking, tried pot, and lost my virginity. And I got angry. Really angry. So angry sometimes I was even afraid of myself.
This was a low point in my life, and I take full responsibility for making it that way. I cut myself off from God. She didn't leave me. She's never left me.
Over the past ten years, I slowly let go of some of my anger. The extreme, rebellious acts began to lose their appeal. I began to crave spirituality, but not religion. I found it through yoga, meditation, my community at Tai Sophia, and my community at the Quaker school where I taught. For at least three years now, I have felt deeply spiritually nourished. But I still didn't use words like God or prayer, and I certainly didn't go to church. That place only represented pain and guilt to me.
If you've been following my journey on this road trip for the past three months, you'll know that I've been growing in my awareness of the universal force of goodness that I now know for sure both exists and is protecting me. It is not the harsh God of my childhood, but something timeless, nameless, and big enough for everyone to love.
So as my awareness of this god-force has grown, I have really begun to crave a regular meeting of a spiritual community like I once had in the church of my youth - but without all the crap that didn't work for me. This Sunday, I found it.
I attended a service at Inner Light Ministries with my new friend, Leslie. The service had many things that were quite familiar - rows of pews, a choir with purple sashes around their necks, and people speaking in tongues. But it also had many unfamiliar, but very comforting touches - a dreaded man danced wildly in the back during the singing, a couple doing energy work on each other in the balcony during the sermon - and I'm pretty sure the woman who gave the announcements was once a man.
The reverend was a powerful black woman with a full mustache who integrated both bible verses and quantum physics into her inspiring message about living from your heart. At one point in her sermon, she broke out spontaneously into song. She motioned for the band to come back on stage, which they did, and in moments the entire congregation was singing and dancing again - completely unplanned.
Towards the end of the service, I raised my hand when they asked if anyone was there for their first time. I was brought a rose and a beautiful welcome letter that thanked me for sharing my divine energy with everyone today.
That cold, hard knot deep in my center dissolved. Not because this church was better or these people were more holy than those I grew up around. For whatever reason, people seem to have different ways to access the divine. As Rumi says, "There are 100 ways to kiss the ground." The way I knew in high school and college just wasn't my way anymore. But it once was, and I'm deeply grateful for that. I know now that everyone I've encountered was on their own, perfect path, learning and growing in their own, perfect way. It's no one's fault that I was hurt by some people who used the label "Christian." Because I was also loved and helped by many people using the same label.
After the service, nearly a dozen people approached me in warm welcome. I received offers of places to stay, free admission to upcoming workshops, and a complimentary cd of the morning's service (which is televised each week). One group of dreaded 20 & 30-somethings without bras or shoes said, "Do you want to come to our house? You can come over anytime. We have a hot tub and a garden in the mountains."
I am already planning to attend the holiday potluck this Friday, an art workshop next weekend, and both the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services.
I can't run from this anymore. I no longer want to.
|My welcome rose|