“…Was Lost But Now Am Found”: How I Lost My Religion and Found My Faith (PART 2)
Just in case you didn’t know, I’ll catch you up.
Sarah Johnson and I have been best friends since tenth grade. We both grew up in Christian families and we both have two siblings. We graduated from the same college with similar degrees, and two months after graduation we both thought it was a good idea to start GirlSense & NonSense. We also seem to experience religious crises and transformations at the exact same time.
Although I left my church at a younger age than Sarah, the reasons why I did were very similar to hers: misogyny, homophobia, racism, etc. Her eloquent and emotional essay on the subject (Part 1 of this series), says it far better than I ever could.
But here's what I will say.
I never found Jesus or God in a church. So I never went back.
I didn’t need church anymore because I found Henry David Thoreau, who told me to find God in the trees.
“Talk of mysteries! — Think of our life in nature, — daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, — rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! The actual world! The common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? Where are we?” (The Maine Woods)
And then a teacher gave me Annie Dillard, and Annie told me to find God in a stream.
“Our lives come free; they're on the house to all comers, like the shopkeeper's wine. God decants the universe of time in a stream, and our best hope is, by our own awareness, to step into the stream and serve, empty as flumes, to keep it moving.” (For The Time Being)
Edward Abbey came along soon after and told me to find God in the desert.
“The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.” (Desert Solitaire)
And then there was a Franciscan monk named Richard Rohr, who clarified that God was indeed everywhere and in everything, trees, streams, and deserts too, but mostly in me.
“The early Christian writers tell us that this discovery of our True Self is also at the same time a discovery of God.” (Immortal Diamond)
Mr. Rohr made a lot of sense. I’ve never felt more in sync and aligned with God than when I’ve tried to be the truest, most authentic version of myself.
But it’s hard to be yourself and even more so when you have learned to hide yourself for so long.
In my family, where conservatism is akin to godliness, it’s not easy to be even a little bit different. I’ve had different political opinions and worldviews since I was in middle school, different thoughts on God since I was in high school, and my entire being shifted once I entered college. Sometimes I would feel brave enough share my thoughts and opinions, and the experiences that shaped them. Sometimes I was heard by members of my family, but mostly I was shamed, mocked, and ostracized for being the “liberal” or the “naïve college kid”. These interactions, perceived by some to be harmless, taught me to hide, to hide myself away until not even I could find me anymore.
It has only been in the past two years that I’ve slowly re-discovered my true self, a self with passions, feelings, and hope, so much hope. Though with this discovery, there has been loss, as I’ve learned to trust myself and let the things that attempt to silence me fall away.
“Because far too many religious folks do not seriously pursue this “reverence humming within them,” they do not recognize that something within them needs to be deeply trusted and many things must be allowed to die.” (Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond)
Let me warn you: as with all loss, you will suffer and mourn.
And then you will slowly let go, as I have slowly let go.
With nothing left to hang onto, I turned inward. In doing so, I’ve encountered specks of light, a brightness, a warmth, that helps my heart to slowly open and engage with people I don’t understand, oak trees, and desert cacti.
That is God working; I know it.
Forward, forward is the only direction I walk now. With each step, I see more light, more sun, and most importantly, I see more and more glimpses of who I really am.
And I’m never looking back.
“We are as much as we see.”
Henry David Thoreau