TO CELEBRATE THE OCTOBER RELEASE OF MY BOOK THRASHING ABOUT WITH GOD, AND TO EXPAND THE CONVERSATION BEYOND MYSELF, I HAVE ASKED 31 BRAVE PEOPLE TO SHARE A GUEST POST WITH THE THEME OF #IAMTHRASHING. THESE ARE PEOPLE I HAVE PERSONALLY DIALOGUED WITH, PEOPLE WHO I KNOW HAVE RISKED A LOT TO WRESTLE WITH THE HARD STUFF THAT COMES WITH SPIRITUALITY. OUR FAITH MAY NOT LOOK LIKE YOURS, BUT WE WELCOME YOU TO THE DISCUSSION.
I don't like church.
There. I said it. The combination of faulty human beings running an organization based on a religion that has been heavily influenced by humans throughout the centuries for their own personal triumphs, and the continuation in this day and age of those influences to be molded and modified to format religion---Christianity---into modern society, drives me absolutely to the furthest reaches of any desire to sit in a church and listen to a preacher, read scripture, or sing hymns.
But that doesn't exclude me from believing in God or appreciating and learning from the historical context of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. I just can't handle being told to believe in someone else's version and interpretation of any of those events, the hand picking of items to accept and force upon others, the forgetting of context in time and space of the events that occurred in the Bible. I know, I know, I’m going to hear something along the lines of “Handle? You aren’t supposed to handle it, you are supposed to be in church for your own good and because Jesus wants you there”. Yeah, well, that’s where the handling comes in. Maybe I can’t handle God’s people, the general Christian public, but I can handle God himself, on my own terms and my own time.
Does that leave me as not religious but spiritual?
My history with church was not necessarily bad but it never left me with a feeling of wanting to throw my hands up in the air during worship services or ever with the desire to be baptized. My relationship with God is entirely personal and not up for debate or discussion in front of others in the formal setting of church. Instead I feel almost entirely more religious and spiritual outside, in the wilds of nature. I don't need to be hiking or in some remote place, necessarily, I can feel perfectly content with God and with the greater scope of where we are in this universe in my own backyard, as dusk is falling over my garden.
Awhile back I came across an article from the New York Times describing Thin Places. Since then I’ve also learned about thin moments, which I seem to experience more often. Getting to places that allow me to access that other plane of spirituality, to absorb God or whatever other force keeps this life in balance, doesn’t happen nearly as often. The article talked about places, known religious locations or not, where people felt the presence of spirituality, that life was beyond them. For me, this is what religion and spirituality should be; not the booming baritone voices of preachers pounding on the pages of a Bible every Sunday morning. We should all be able to reach those thin moments, to experience those thin places, and not be shamed by the dogma of religion day in and day out, pushing us further away from God.
Maybe I’m completely wrong, I don’t know.
But what I do know is that when I rounded a corner on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont and saw the forest decorated with rock cairns of varying sizes and heights, I realized it was a sacred location. I didn’t know then what the term Thin Place meant, but that’s what the place was to me and to likely hundreds of other hikers who had built cairns in this location over the years. My husband and I stopped hiking for a few minutes and I built a small cairn in memory of my niece Ashleigh, but I didn’t say a word at that moment that was who and why I was building it for. It was too raw, too sad then. I had been carrying her with me from Georgia, where we started hiking. Part of the time she was living and the last part including Vermont, she was with God. Even the terrain of that little portion of trail felt different than the rest in that section; shady and secretive, a blanket of fir needles on the forest floor, and hiding beyond the trees was a vista looking out into the valley below.
Perhaps what I’m really thrashing with is God’s people and not God himself; that I can’t sit down and explain in any decent verbal way that the way for me to experience God isn’t at church or in a particular denomination or religion. I’ve tried on various other religions for size and none of them seem to fit me right either. Shrugging God away and calling myself an agnostic or atheist doesn’t quite work either. Misfit Christian might fit, but why burden myself with another identifier?
All I do know is that Mandy has helped me reconcile some of these feelings even if I don’t always feel the same things she feels or believe in God the way she believes in God. But, she’s made it possible for me to think about God a little harder, to accept that I do have some spirituality inside me even if it doesn’t fit conventional religious ways. I thought hard about writing this after she asked me to contribute, thinking that I really have nothing to offer and with such a meager religious background why would anyone care what I have to say? But here I am. Mandy has been brave showing her heart in her journey in thrashing with God, so why should I be afraid?
We all walk with God in some different way---those of us who believe in God---we shouldn’t be ashamed to accept the way we spiritually connect with God. It’s a slow process to work through and I’m not complete with my thrashing, but I’m getting there.
A lover of the natural world, Misti spends a considerable amount of time outdoors. Whether it be breaking trails in the woods or digging in the living Earth, she finds solace in nature. When not outside she attempts to continue to hack away at a memoir of thru-hiking the Florida Trail with her husband, and being creative in any way possible. She writes at http://www.oceanicwilderness.com