Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Finding My Way

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way,
the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
~Friedrich Nietzsche


Last Saturday my friend Lacey's daughter got married. I met Lacey about nine years ago at Calvary Chapel Church. It feels like a lifetime ago. At that time, I was moving away from traditional conservative Christianity but I was clinging to a hope that I could transform it somehow from the inside. I would go to church and literally feel sick, anxious, and angry at what I saw and heard within those walls. Another good friend of mine, Cheryl, had endured a ruthless excommunication from another Calvary Chapel across the country and some very major players in the Religious Right camp had drummed her out of business and harassed her incessantly to the extent that she finally took their sorry hides to federal court and sued them. She won. I had flown out to her side of the country to testify in court on her behalf because I had witnessed firsthand much of the harassment and slander from her Christian business competitors. It got ugly and the entire debacle caused me to question so much about this belief system in which I had immersed myself. The main players had been leaders in the Christian homeschooling community and I swore I would never, God help me, ever homeschool my kids, at least not within that subculture. I found myself angrily saying, "Those...those God-damn...Christians!" forgetting for the moment that I still claimed that label for myself.

Lacey and her husband, Terry, attended a weekly Bible Study we hosted in our home. Lacey was struggling with some spiritual/church-y stuff, too. So we agreed to meet for coffee. She had just decided to pull her kids out of public school to homeschool them. I soon followed suit, but as I had promised myself I did not rely on the support or networking of Christian homeschoolers. Instead, I found a welcoming, secular group of families through which both Lacey and I found support, social interaction, group activities, and friends. Lacey and I treated our weekly coffee date as sacred. Almost nothing would interfere in our meeting at the bookstore coffee shop once a week for a couple of childfree hours. We would relish in that time and share our thoughts about church, spirituality, family, homeschooling, parenting, and anything else that we were experiencing from the mundane to the deep. I don't know if Lacey knew what she was getting into when she embarked on this journey of friendship with me. I'm pretty sure she got more than she bargained for.

See, I'm someone who is always digging, reaching, and searching. As a child, I wasn't content swallowing the Bible stories in Sunday School at the Episcopal Church my family attended. While my older sister dutifully went through the confirmation process and ritual, I sat in confirmation classes questioning everything. The answers not being satisfactory, I announced to my mother that I no longer wished to attend church and pronounced myself, at age twelve, an agnostic. I've always been fascinated by the supernatural and spiritual, researching paranormal studies in the public library's reference section and conducting my own experiments with the Ouija board and sharing woo-woo stories with my friends. At sixteen, I had a fairly grounded belief in reincarnation and I read books like The Exorcist and Seth Speaks. When I met the man who would become my first husband, he introduced me to Islam. I read the Quran and found it resonated strongly within me, however I wasn't a full-on Muslim convert. I retained a lot of my woo woo beliefs. In time and experience within Islam, I moved away from what I viewed as a distasteful focus on violence, the glorification of martyrs and the brutal stories within the Muslim tradition. It didn't help that my then-husband was also violent. He was a batterer and after seven years of marriage I was forced to flee to a battered women's shelter with our son, file for divorce, fight him for custody, and continue having my life harassed and threatened for many years to come. After separating from him, I moved out of Islam and back to my own, comfortable seeker spirituality. It was during this time that I had my first tarot reading and explored psychic phenomenon.

My life and soul had been so traumatized by the abuse of my ex-husband that I now, looking back, understand that I was searching for stability and security for that very wounded soul. Some months before, I had found a "Novena for St. Jude" published in a local paper and not being Catholic but being very, very desperate, I prayed the prayer for the prescribed nine times over nine days, crouched alone in my closet for fear he would find me praying to "that bastard Jesus." I, myself, didn't know what to think about Jesus and frankly, I didn't care. I just wanted out and I needed a miracle. I opened the Bible to Psalm 46 and read the words of comfort to a people shaken and traumatized by their oppressors and I believed I would be helped. A few moments later, my husband went into a full-on tantrum and screamed and pounded his chest as I cowered in a corner waiting for the blows. Amazingly, they didn't come. I opened my eyes and he was gone. I heard the front door slam. I felt like death had just passed by my door. A few moments later, I heard a knock on my door. My friend, the one who would later share tarot with me, asked, "Are you ok?" Clearly, I was not ok. She said that she had just been about to get into her car to go shopping and "someone" told her to come and check on me. She held me and hugged me and called the crisis center for me. So this, I thought, was my answer, my miracle.

It was not the last time my husband beat me. No, there was one last time after that. One. Last. Time. Shortly after I moved out, I visited my friend and she read tarot for me. She told me that my ex would be in my life for a very long time to come. My heart fell to the pit of my stomach and fear clenched my chest in its place. However, she also informed me that she saw another man, a really good man, entering my life in about three months time. On schedule, I met my second husband a few months later. A friend of his invited me to his church, a Messianic Jewish congregation in my hometown. Being inquisitive and curious about all things spiritually unusual, I was intrigued by this unique blending of Judaism and Christianity. Also being in the wounded and needy state I was, the faith and fellowship offered was just the balm I needed for my battered soul. I became a born-again Christian on December 16, 1988.

Coming out of fundamentalist Christianity was a process that took four or five years, but that is where I am today. I am back again to my roving spiritual path that has taken me through monotheistic religious boxes and back outside those boxes again. I don't regret my time within those boxes. I have learned so very much. I continue to be fascinated with Biblical studies, though now my perspective has altered tremendously. Dear Lacey, she has walked with me through my emerging, converging, and sometimes conflicting spiritual incarnations. I have challenged her own very Christian faith. I introduced her to the concept of mutual submission within a Christian marriage, then radical feminism, then tarot. She balked at all three at first. She fretted for me, prayed for me, wondered what the heck (never hell) I was up to next, yet always, in the end, stayed. She hasn't compromised her own beliefs for mine. She is an advocate for equality, for women, for love, for life. She votes Republican and is pro-life, but she questions her own stances constantly. She won't indulge my tarot obsession, but she won't censor me either. As women we've both changed, but she sometimes fears the changes I have experienced will pull me away from her. It's ok, I understand. But we're both committed to loving each other exactly where we find the other, no matter where our individual paths take us. It isn't always easy, such as when I winced at her daughter's wedding to hear some of the sexist references in the wedding ceremony (references I know Lacey herself does not agree with). Likewise, she winces when I say the f-word or celebrate because the Dems just won the House and Senate.

At the wedding I chatted with a few acquaintences I knew from our old church. One asked what I was up to these days. I paused. Do I tell her? Do I say, "Oh, I'm reading tarot professionally now" knowing full well that she would put two and two together and come up with "backslidden?" I wondered if Lacey would be judged for having a tarot reader as a friend. I didn't want to create any awkward moments for anyone. So I didn't tell her. I talked about going back to college and about my kids. I'm no longer in that world so I felt no need to prove anything. Was I a coward? I don't think so. I decided that the truth would be a needless bucket of ice water poured on a woman I will likely not see for another five years. I believe I am free in Christ or outside of Christ, no matter, to do as I want. However, if I cause offense with my freedom, I am not living with love towards them. The Apostle Paul asked first-century Christians not to eat certain meats that had been sacrificed to idols while in the presence of someone whose beliefs deemed that act offensive. He went on to say that while he gives no credence to idols nor the meat and doesn't believe it to be tainted in any way, you can still be the bigger person and pass on the meat if someone else eating with you is going to feel bad about it. So I hope I chose the "high road." I'm still not sure I did.

From the outside looking in, my spiritual meanderings may seem flakey to some. I suppose it depends on how you view faith. I view faith as a living thing, something that grows and changes with me as I grow and change. I have never been content with being handed a prepackaged set of beliefs, at least not for long. I keep pressing at the edges and asking, "But why?" and "Why not?" Many would not be comfortable in my spiritual world, a world with no boundaries, no definite structure, no final answers. I understand. Some may think my faith is not strong because it seems so fluid, but I would ask how strong is a wave that knocks you on your ass or carries you safely to shore? How strong is a river that carves canyons? Where my faith takes me sometimes may seem to leave me adrift, but there are undercurrents that eventually guide me to my next port.


"Not all who wander are lost"
~ J.R.R. Tolkein
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