Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I have been wanting to post a few miscellaneous things; a word on my position in life, and the feminism born of that; a bit about my searching for faith.

No post about spirituality can really encompass the content of one's heart, but the steps of a journey have long been of interest to me, even if it is impossible to convey feeling or belief.

I grew up in the Baptist Church - Southern Baptist - at a time when that wasn't a snarking epithet (before the 1980s, for you young'uns out there). The pastor of our church was - and remains, to be sure, though long since retired - an engaging and charismatic man of great good looks, intelligence, and storytelling ability. Our Sunday schools were geared to talking, at least part of every week - and I was one of the kids who engaged, who talked, who entered in with consideration. We read all the stories; I knew about Lot's daughters at a young age, and other such stories I realized long later were verboten in many faiths and churches. Faith wasn't a difficult or inscrutable thing, and it was to be handled, exercised - declared. My teachers, no matter how conservative they might have been, never discouraged me from talking either for dogmatic nor gender reasons. Of course, I would have offered little heresy in my childhood. But even so. I don't have clear, specific memories, but I do know I was nurtured by my successive religious instructors.

It was in fourth grade we came along for baptism; instruction and rite, followed by our own bibles (I still have - and read - mine) and membership. Our church had just built a new, large sanctuary; I was the first "class" baptized in this venue. I learned not long ago, my stepfather's late wife was also in this class; one of those odd confluences our city boasts in droves.

Also around this time came the teacher who paid most close attention to our class - Mrs. M., who had us to her own home, and once gave her girls REAL silk wallets - and Youth Group, and that subtle transition from immature (passive) experience to more sustained, cumulative-and-building memory banks. Cognition. In fourth to sixth grades, I moved from "child" up to "kid" and that meant something important to me. To this day, I view that time as the span in which I began to process things, mentally, with a new set of abilities.

I stayed in my faith pretty well, if not indelibly strongly, through high school.

Inevitably, it was Religion 101 which alerted my freshman brain, come college, to New Ideas, New Vistas. Oooh, Taoism. Oooh, Buddha!

I never could go so far as to adopt a new religion - even now, I'm too WASP a kid to believably appropriate anyone else's culture unapologetically. But I did ... let my own slip away.

It wasn't a speedy process, relinquishing my childhood churchin'. It wasn't precisely conscious, though I knew I was disillusioned and found the Other at least somewhat seductive. I just quit, except when living under my mom's roof, and let go of most spirituality altogether.

I was twenty-five before my own poorer character and discomfort with choices made led me to question again. I'd married the man I genuinely loved, and didn't understand why this wasn't the be-all. I felt myself becoming bitter and ugly in ways which terrified me. The strength it would take to overcome myself was more than I felt I could possibly muster, and I have never been much of a natural self-starter.

Cut to the divorce, after geographical histrionics and some outright meanness to a man who didn't really deserve it, and I found myself in a position to reach, but with no understanding what to reach for - and little direction or motivation to figure it out. We didn't have Teh Intarwebs, really, back in 1995 y'all; I wasn't the kind to haunt libraries, or go to bookstores' "Spirituality" sections.

Like a lot of women my age, in that period of the world, I became a Solitary Practitioner. I wasn't quite the vogue neopagan some opted to be, but the model fit well enough: someone both timorous and arrogant enough to feel they might find their own way.

I re-learned prayer, and found it could come to me - from me - with some power and depth. I discovered how possible it was to be something other than completely self-interested. I spent time loving lightly and less so, and also being alone. I spent a lot of time alone, acutally. Liking it or not, I understood that was important. Never having been willing to "settle" I understood it was necessary, too.

More than anything else, I cleansed myself of the sins of my worst nature. I repented and learned what behaviors could come out "good" even if coming from me. When enough time passed, I was blessed with the friendship of my own ex. When enough exposure to TEO, my best friend, has worn across my life's surfaces, I was taught some fundamentals of decency and friendship. I never lost my vanity, or worse traits, but I know how to work around them, and I know them for what they are. I no longer ascribe to my hopes any real importance. I'm not at all free of sin, but I know where it lies - everywhere.

When I met E, he astonished me quickly by first turning out to be a republican, then being a churchgoer. He wasn't my first churchgoer (there'd been a young man who wanted to be an Episcopal priest, years back; and a conflicted Preacher's Kid of more overwhelming prettiness and charisma than enduring emotional substance). But he was the churchgoer ... who got ME thinking about it seriously.

I wanted, for some time, to find a church home with him. Some thousands of miles got in the way, and then several years; and I finally realized, this year - after a conflagration in which he was supposed to come home after so long, and finally didn't - I needed to do this with or without him, at last.

I tried the Methodists, and found them warm, kind and welcoming.

I tried the Episcopalians, and felt fellowship.

For the first time in my life, I felt adult, spiritual, volitional, real fellowship.

I saw people praying in their sanctuary, on their own - and learned that this is something people DO, that independent, public, individual prayer, isn't just something depicted in movies wherein something awful is about to happen in a Catholic parish.

So. Since springtime, I have tested other waters, and found myself coming back to one Episcopal church, a pretty place near my home, populated with fellowship, with kindness, with prayer I feel very deeply, with welcome and an open invitation. Only last week was the subject of my "finding a home" there broached, and then kindly, lightly, by a member of the choir who was one of my first two friends here.

There is much about the Episcopal church I feel fits me as a person. Their politics. The immediacy of the prayers. The sociability blended with the "high church"ness, the sense that faith pervades but doesn't contain or constrain. The sense of their innate wellbeing, socially, financially - I can admit some of what draws me is cultural familiarity.

Even as the unfamiliarity, the exoticness of ritual beyond my own experience, and the texture of a faith unknown to me in my youth, do appeal to me at the same time.

More than anything else, though, it is communion (another, higher, fellowship) and prayer which draw me fundamentally.


In February, in much pain, I experienced something in Christ I have never known before, and since then I have felt inordinately blessed. Such joy is as exotic to me as the vestments and altar of this new church; but so rapturously, gratefully welcome. It is the single minute, felt in the darkness of my terrifying solitude, of love from the Son of G-d, which has made this year possible for me. It has been powerful. Literally ... awesome.

My faith is weak and vascillating, but connection to this congregation, to this church, have been immensely strengthening. Giving my solitary practice to the guidance of a church, a faith designed - as they all are - to hold me (okay, maybe contain without constrain), has bestowed one thing I've prayed for for yeaars: "teach me how, and I will give; show me where, and I will go."

I craved instruction more deeply than I could have imagined thirteen years ago, feet just embarking on a kind of growth beyond my comprehension. Finding it has been amazingly joyous.

The bittersweet. The painful part.

To tell my mother I want to embrace a faith other than hers will be genuinely heartbreaking - and not only for her. I know what her children's religion means to her, and I know that my own path will look like a betrayal. There is part of me young enough at this venture, enthusiastic enough at its beginning, with the freshness and brightness of embarkation, which will want to persuade her of the joys in this - if not for herself, at least for her daughter. It seems important to keep this part in focus, and possibly in check. I'm not introducing my mother to a man I'm nuts about I hope she will like: I am contemplating the possibilty of taking on a faith alien enough to her - disparate enough from her depth of belief, her hopes and expectations - that the choice may be actually spiritually fearful to her.

I don't want to betray my mother, but her convictions, I fear, may make this nothing less. I can't condemn her for "rigidity" for that; to her, there is strength, even if it appears intolerant to reject what is coming to mean so much to me.

She is not mine to judge.

But I am her daughter. I am more than hers to judge, no matter my own convictions - or final actions. No chafing, nor even righteousness, removes her right to *feel* as she does. Spiritually. Maternally.

I have been unable, as I initially envisioned, to go to her and say, with some pride, that I'm back in religious practice of a recognizeable kind. It had always seemed to me something of an offering I might be able to make - as, yes, the bum-kissy younger child. As the religiously filial daughter. I didn't expect a Protestantism quite so removed from hers.

Now instead I have a secret which is so nurturing to me, yet will hurt the woman who nurtured me first. And in her faith.

What does one do?


And keeps praying.

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