I left the Orthodox Church a decade ago. Meaning, I stopped hoping that was the path to God, salvation and peace. I have been longing and looking for a spiritual relationship that matched my inside for four decades and these days I feel I am getting closer. When I think of my guides through this path, it makes me smile that a little while ago I said to a friend that I trust no preacher who hasn’t experienced mental illness, addiction or tragedy – aka a God of rock bottom or of the bathroom floor (Glennon Doyle).
I was always (I mean until recently) “the good girl”, compliant to a fault, teacher’s and preacher’s pet, and an obsessive compulsive that fed right into the practices of the orthodox church: read this prayer, from this particular book, five times a week and miracles will happen. Or maybe you will be forgiven for being such a screwed up one. Over twenty years later I still remember myself not leaving a subway station as I had not finished reading my prayer, on my way to work in the morning, feeling both the guilt that I was not on my knees (as the priest said I should be) and the release you get (short-lived though it may be) when you perform a compulsion (you know, kind of like not stepping on a certain stone or every fourth stair as your ocd ridden mind decided it’s the rule). Guilt, fear, anxiety, depression, more guilt, more fear and back again were the only, the only , results I ever experienced. My only release would be gained from the fact that I was the meek sheep, that I followed, that I complied. Again, very, very short-lived.
I thought I left God and that God left me the day I sat in front of a bathroom mirror, looked at myself and asked: choose hell and her or church, God and my standard existence. What amazed me is that I chose without a blink. Somehow, what I had lived for the 35 years prior to that moment felt both fake and like hell. So, no loss there. At least this new scenario was the path not taken … at least there was room for some surprise. I knew where it would all end up had I stayed in the fake.
Ten years later, thinking about writing this post, I found myself smiling (for some reason, also in the bathroom – must be a sacred place or something): it almost seems to me like God was a bit desperate about me. She figured that I was not ready for more theory, different though it would have been, and started my reformation with practice. One of my deeply rooted beliefs and obsessive thoughts was that the moment I let go, enjoyed myself and chose what I wanted instead of what I was supposed to do, God will strike me. She must laugh her ass off at this … well, maybe after she cries her eyes out at the way that small men with small minds have made her out to be – merciless and cruel (aka a just judge – I think these are the words used in church). So she set out to show me that incredible loss won’t make me lose my mind, that the deep valleys of depression won’t make me lose myself for it is there that she and I meet most often with no filter and many times it is there, in the rock bottom that she and I have our truest one on one meetings that touch my heart and carry me even when I don’t realize it and think I cannot take another breath. God set out to show me that life can be amazing, that love exists and I am worthy of receiving it, she basked in showing me that it is ok to relax into joy, even if it is fleeting moments (is it ever any other way?) and whenever she felt I was ready, slowly, steadily, just like you bring in a stray, scared puppy, she started to feed me different information. One that was not going to have me crush my soul and identity to fit.
My spiritual reformation started with The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown and it offered me a definition that most resonated with what I had been looking for in each and every church and congregation I had ever entered, but never found:
“Spirituality is recognising and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.”Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
It’s never hard, I now have figured, to recognize when you are in truth or when you are in compliance. There is a voice in there, deep down in your soul, that will always, always know and will always be able to whisper truth into your ear, if you tune down the crap enough to listen.
In a letter to her wife, Abby Wambach, as reparation to Abby’s idea that she had to choose herself or God as a gay child in a Catholic family, Glennon Doyle writes:
“I turned to you. Touched your hand. I said. ‘ Babe, wait. Yes. When you were little, your heart turned away from the church in order to protect yourself. You remained whole instead of letting them dismember you. You held on to who you were born to be instead of contorting yourself into who they told you to be. You stayed true to yourself instead of abandoning yourself. When you shut down your heart to that church, you did it to protect God in you. You did it to keep your wild . You thought that decision made you bad. But that decision made you holy.
Abby, what I’m trying to say is that when you were very little you did not choose yourself instead of God and church. You chose yourself and God instead of church. When you chose yourself, you chose God. when you walked away from church, you took God with you. God is in you.”Glennon Doyle, Untamed
For the past ten years I figured I would have to just …. be, that I was not in a place where I was going to find the community I needed to worship the God in me. That my dream of actually finding a community of people where I feel like I belong was more Hollywood than reality. And then, I stumbled over The Chapel. And I stayed. Turns out God figured they may use technology after all and create a meeting place across timezones, religious beliefs and ideas, just basically keeping out the assholes. I now start my mornings with a daily devotional – who would have thought… . And the barometer is always the same “pay attention to what insults your soul” as Glennon would put it.
God must have thought I was ready for theory now and put books into my hands and in front of my eyes that start me from scratch. It is as if he said “ok, throw away everything you have ever heard about me and start over, it’s the only way.” And even though it is tough because the soil of me is never fresh, it bears the roots of past beliefs and ideas, it is a welcoming ground to the new. And knowing how I like rules, bullet pointed and simple, this is how he started:
“A lot had happened to me in church basements. I’d had my first kiss, had been taught to fear an angry God, learned to trust a higher power and now had my life changed again. In short, here is what Pastor Ross taught me:
* God’s grace is a gift that is freely given to us. We don’t earn a thing when it comes to God’s love, and we only try to live in response to the gift.
* No one is climbing the spiritual ladder. We don’t continually improve until we are so spiritual we no longer need God. We die and are made new, but that’s different from spiritual self-improvement.
* We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time.
* The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, simply does not have the same authority.
* The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety, or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.Pastrix. Cranky, Beautiful Faith, Nadia Boltz-Weber
And the mike drop for me:
“God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace is that my brokenness is not the final word. My selfishness is not the end-all … instead, it’s that God makes beautiful things out of even my own shit. Grace isn’t about God creating humans as flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace – like saying ‘Oh, it’s ok, I’ll be a good guy and forgive you.’ It’s God saying I LOVE THE WORLD TOO MUCH TO LET YOUR SIN DEFINE YOU AND BE THE FINAL WORD. I am a God who makes all things new.”Pastrix. Cranky, Beautiful Faith, Nadia Boltz-Weber
These days I have gathered enough traction to take a step forward and I am looking at A Sexual Reformation. Gotta make sure I tick all the important boxes, right? Well, Nadia had me at her Invocation:
” It doesn’t feel very difficult to draw a direct line between the messages many of us received from the church and the harm we’ve experienced in our bodies and spirits as a result. So my argument in this book is this: we should not be more loyal to an idea, a doctrine or an interpretation of a Bible verse than we are to people. If the teachers of the church are harming the bodies and spirtits of people, we should rethink those teachings.”Shameless – a sexual reformation, Nadia Boltz-Weber
This came full circle for me in terms of how we listen for truth. This morning I walked the four legged angels in our family listening to a podcast about freedom. The note it ended on felt like such a guiding light for me – look at everything that you are told and taught and make sure it doesn’t insult your soul. In other words, that it does not insult the God in you. Amen! (oh and Hallelujah!!)