Free Floating Feels… Nice

Things have been shifting for me for a while now.

So much has changed.

On the one hand are all of the external changes we’ve made. I’ve gotten a new career. My husband (also referred to as my seminarian) left his IT career to go to… yes, seminary. There have been other external, sort of tangible changes, but the truth is that the biggest shifts have been entirely internal, shifts in world-view, shifts in self-view, and perhaps most unexpectedly, shifts in God-view.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that my relationship with the almighty, God, Spirit, the Universe, the All-One, whatever you want to call it (because they’re all just words for the same thing for me, but we can argue about that later) has been tumultuous in the past and I ended that roller coaster ride with an ugly and protracted break-up that I think became (or so I thought) final in about 2001.

argument-bench-breakup-984953I can say more about all of that, and the factors that went into my divorce from spirit, but that’s not today’s tale. Today’s tale is more about certainty and uncertainty.

During my breakup with God I started putting things into buckets. One of my clients talks about this too: the good people bucket and the bad people bucket. She realizes that there, at the very least, needs to be a more ambiguous bucket, and that further the buckets are problematic to begin with. My labels were different, but I had buckets of my own and the labels for them were no less black and white.

My rejection of faith was so complete that I put people of faith in their own bucket (not my bucket) and I ascribed characteristics to them that were, even on a good day, uncharitable. It was all part of distancing myself from my own faith, but that’s not all it did. And in order to maintain my own clarity about my beliefs, I became adamant. Clarity was important in a way that, at least during that time, huge groups of people were not.

I was adamant that there was no entity outside of what we can touch and experience with our concrete-loving senses. I was certain that all of the theology that went with the belief in such a being was equally deluded. And, just to be extra nice, I figured that in order to buy all of that claptrap, you’d have to not be using that God-given (ha) grey matter very well. I was certain. I was adamant.

And in my certainty I made my world pretty small. There were songs that were uncomfortable to sing. There were thinkers I didn’t want to listen to. There were stories that didn’t interest me. There were specific sets of myths I didn’t want to share with my children. There were ideas I didn’t even want to consider. There were people who would be hard pressed to get further than the front gate of polite conversation. I did a whole lot of filtering and rejecting.

Riding that intense certainty was kind of like being on a raft in the ocean (one of those old rubber blow up jobs), floating above everything. And sure, that’s nice. You can bob along, taking in the sights, dipping your toes and fingers into the water to cool off, if you’re really good you may even manage to ride a wave in a little ways. You’ll stay mostly dry and you’ll have a little fun, but you miss out on SO much, and you still run the risk of getting wiped out by a really big wave.

My certainty kept me from so experiences that could enrich my life, made me uncomfortable rather than curious when presented with songs, stories, or ideas that fell outside of my rules for believing. It kept me safer, up on the raft, but I never got to get all of the way in the water and see what it feels like, the coolness up against my skin, the shells on the ocean floor, the little slaps of the wave against my skin, the rush of the decision to dive under or over or bodysurf a wave in.

In the past several months (year?), my certainty has left me. More recently I have left it. There is no grand declaration of faith coming here. I really don’t know what I believe. THAT’s the declaration. And opening that door, leaving room for uncertainty has let in a flood of possibilities that have enriched me so thoroughly I’m dumbstruck.

beach-blue-feet-37921I’ve encountered people, ideas, music, books, poems that I would have rejected wholesale before with a range of emotions from curiosity to delight.

I’ve played with my own ideas, turning them over, testing them out: “What would it feel like to actually believe in a benevolent God?” and feeling the peace, the comfort, and the support that that very idea has held for countless people for so very long.

I think there are a lot of folks who would probably like me to get more specific, to define the terms of my conversion. But I’m not interested in that.

I’m interested in the uncertainty. I’m interested in the ideas. I’m interested in the experiences, and I’m especially interested in how letting go of my own certainty has changed the contours of my days.

I think there is a God, or something that fits under that general idea, and I think that she must be very, very patient. And for that I am grateful.

A Glimpse of Heaven

When I was in high school, I was invited to a Christian youth group. It was held in the evenings, at participating students’ houses. There were college aged leaders. Songs were sung – with guitar players from our school. The kids who went were nice. We had fun. The theology was pretty accessible and it felt really good to be there.

So I dug in.

I started reading the Bible.

I started listening to Christian music.

I joined a smaller group who did Bible study and met BEFORE school – meeting before school is a big deal for a teenager who is already completely fighting biological rhythms by starting school at 7:30.

I dug in.

And the connection was such a gift.

converse-all-star-fashion-foot-1581In that time of psychic disorientation and social confusion, romantic experimentation and disappointment, total insecurity and budding ego these smaller rooms full of people who seemed to want to do good, be better, and talk about what made that hard felt like a balm for my adolescent soul.

I went on a weekend trip to Ocean City. Honestly I don’t remember much of that – but only because it has faded, not because of either intoxicated highjinx or trauma. It just doesn’t stand out.

The time I spent with that group was good.

For Easter that year my Mom included a gospel tape (pre-CD, I am old) in my Easter basket in an attempt to be supportive. I hadn’t heard of the group and when I said thank you with a full understanding of the symbolism of the gift, my stepfather responded with: “Well, what else do you get a Jesus freak?”

That’s fine.

It was fine, really.

I didn’t particularly love the label, but I didn’t really care about it either.

What it DID say to me was that I was treading into water that was uncomfortable for my family.

Part of that discomfort was around the fact that the faith that I seemed to be dipping into had a real component of feeling. A little religious ecstasy was allowed. The Episcopal Church of my youth was not big on ecstasy – although if ecstasy had been around in the 70s I can’t make any promises about how that would have gone…

The point is that the messages I got – or I should say the messages I received/chose to hear/interpreted to be really fair – reflected a faith of the intellect, a mental pursuit of the holy. This new water I had my feet in said I could FEEL God. And oh lordy did I want to feel God, especially if God would love me unconditionally, accept me exactly as I was, be there in times of sorrow, be the friend I could count on. Oh yes I wanted to feel that God.

And it caused some worry, this change for me.

My sister checked in. She rightly raised theological questions: “Do these people think I’m going to go to hell if I don’t accept Jesus as my personal savior?” I stammered, not really knowing the answer. You see, you don’t get to those kinds of issues for some time in well-orchestrated religious youth groups.

I had found a place that was safe, where I belonged, and it felt good. I felt good. I don’t just mean I felt good, like pleasant, I mean I felt like I WAS good because I was doing “right” things, being with others doing “right” things. It felt, and I felt good.

So good, that when the question of summer camp came up, I asked my parents if I could go. My folks paid for my trip and I anxiously waited for the months to pass until we could go to the Adirondacks as one big feel-good tribe.

And then the wheels kind of came off the bus. Some infighting developed. People began having issues with other people, even in the more devout early morning group – issues. The leaders worked to help us find ways to reach out to one another, to bridge the gaps. I really don’t remember the details, I just remember tension rising.

And then the bottom dropped out. School ended. I waited to hear about our camp trip. As the date approached, I didn’t hear anything. I started to get nervous – maybe something had gone wrong. My Mom asked if I had a packing list or anything – an address, emergency telephone, that sort of thing. Nada.

I waited and trusted. And then I called. I called someone else who was going and discovered that there had been several meetings in preparation for the trip. They had all been meeting without me. As an adult I can look at it and see that there was obviously some logistical snafu, I got left off the list. But that is DEFINITELY not how it felt to teenaged me.

I was sure that this was proof that these people were no different. I took it as evidence that this gathering was just one more place where people would be crappy to each other. And truth to tell, in those things I was right. But what I forgot was the good stuff. I forgot about all of the good stuff that came with it. And I wrongly attributed all of that to the people involved.

You see what I was really benefiting from was connecting to something larger than myself. I was feeling good because I was allowing myself to plug in. And I was willing to believe that the force that I was plugging into loved me, saw good in me, would care for me. THAT was where the good stuff was. THAT was the ecstasy behind the theology that, as an adult with internet who can look it up, I really can’t agree to.

By allowing myself to connect to something bigger and benevolent, I allowed myself a glimpse of heaven here on earth. I allowed myself to believe that I was okay, better than okay, worthy of love, worthy of attention, worthy of any of the things I wanted.

adult-black-and-white-blur-257037Today I know I can get that without agreeing to ideas about people being born evil or what they have to do get right. I can have that experience without even having to read or believe in any book at all. I can make contact, I can connect with all the parts of me. I can accept the parts I’m not as proud of. I can accept myself and love myself unconditionally. I can experience connection with the divine, and not even be sure what that means.

It’s been right there the whole time.

All I had to do was believe I was good enough and allow it.

In ill-defined and amorphous faith,

julia