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.
Anyone who knows my heart will know this isn't speaking against anyone else's choices or beliefs in life, but simply my own journey coming from a strict fundamentalist evangelical background. When someone from my past uses a particular label it goes so much deeper than the actual word itself for me. It means that "we have judged you to be this and therefore you are not allowed to be part of our lives anymore." Sometimes, to avoid rejection and grief, we tend to defend ourselves to prove that we're still worthy of love. Defending is also a journey of its own, vital and necessary at first because it is simply an opportunity to work through something for yourself and explore deep in the soul. And when you don't have an inner need or compulsion to defend anymore, well, rejoice! Because that's when you are free.
“All saying must be balanced by unsaying, and knowing must be humbled by unknowing,” writes Richard Rohr. I'm folded into the corner of the World Religion section at my local Half Price Bookstore reading his book The Naked Now. Shelves marked Islam, Hindu, Buddhism tower above me, overflowing with teaching and philosophy. But it’s the three humble rows called mystic I’m most interested to see. I’ve gathered an armload of promising texts and Rohr is on top of my pile. “Without this balance, religion invariably becomes arrogant, exclusionary, and even violent. All light must be informed by darkness, and all success by suffering.”
The words press to my heart. I scan through the pages ahead and my spirit sighs yes. This book is coming home with me.
I’ve spent the last few weeks working through Spiritual Wanderings, an ebook companion to Mandy’s freshly-released debut called Thrashing About with God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything. I didn't expect all it stirred within me, but I come to this moment wearing entirely new skin than I had before. With permission to thrash freely, thrash about I did. And I am. Because what Rohr says about imbalanced religion which can become arrogant, exclusionary, even violent? Those words resonate. They were true for me.
“Maybe there are more Rohr books here?” My voice is hopeful. I'm with my friend and we eye the shelves. I've gathered a few more books for my keep pile. She disappears, returns a bit later.
“Now you know I love you,” she says laughing. But I hear a barely discernible edge. More feel it than hear it, really. I run my finger along the salience of her words. “I even looked through the Christian section for you.”
I understand, and smile. Then I sigh. I feel the significance of this simple thing. Used to that's where you'd find us all the time. In the Christian sections, neatly cloistered between shoulds and shame. Perhaps you know them too. We were the ones you'd see at Barnes and Noble, bibles and notebooks spread over the table, us talking boldly about doctrine and theology. We inhaled purpose and passion. We knew the language and used it well.
Now the words stick in my throat, just sitting there. I can't swallow them. They feel superglued to my lungs. I want to scrape them off, breathe fresh air. It's why I sound guttural, hoarse. It's the words and the thrashing and the scraping.
It is holy work.
I try to explain what it's like, my experience within arrogant and exclusionary and violent religion. “We're not all like that,” Western Evangelicalism pleads. I know this is true, just as I know it's true that I go running when I find myself smack dab in the middle of shoulds and shame wherever they are found. More often now, though, I'm found pressed between the earnest desire to offer grace and compassion to the same world I run from and the aching inability to be in that world very long. Invariably my heart begins to pound, my head spins, and that lurching in my tummy promises a bigger mess than I've bargained for. Some might say this means I've not healed enough. I shrug. Perhaps. I think it's the language of Western religion most of all. It's not religion, it's relationship … once again with the words! They feel tired and drab and old.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? A tender whisper melts my heart. Why indeed? There is no life in this language for me. So for now, I refuse to speak it anymore.
There's a saying that goes something like, “People fear most what they don't understand.” If my journey doesn't fit into a neatly-ordered box (strangely in the shape of my body, which strangely reminds me of something else) according to the perceptions of others, then my life becomes demonized, villainized. I become reduced to a label, something sticky and small and dismissive.
I've been thinking about labels lately. Labels are boxes of their own. They stop the discovery process. “Oh, he's Baptist,” we might say of someone, and instantly have visions of cushy pews and hymnbooks and choir-robes. We already know what he believes and don't need to bother hearing his heart. Perhaps we stiffen a little if we don't agree with Baptist theology. But not to worry; he is invisible now.
“She's rebellious,” we might say of someone else. Depending on our view the label might be a warning sign. “She's backslidden. A witch. Pray for her. Don't let her come around. She's a deceiver. She leads people astray.” Loaded words.
The first time I am called a witch / wiccan I think I burst into tears. The second time I grow frantic. According to the rules, if this is the perception of me (never mind what the truth might be), I'm not being a good witness. What am I doing wrong? Not going to church? My clothes? I wear mostly black. I burn incense. I have tattoos and a gypsy soul and believe in the feminine nature of God and the presence of Spirit in the earth. Naturally I panic. Grow depressed. Embark on an evangelical frenzy to prove I am, in fact, not a witch, despite my unconventional ways.
The third and fourth times I get angry.
By now I've forgotten every situation but the last time stands out most of all. It makes me sad, for reasons of my own, but also sets me free. People fear most what they can't understand. I wonder if people hate most what they can't control? Even the Christ divine was called a devil by religious folk. I suppose I'm in good company.
I wonder how often I dehumanize others in the vulnerable midst of their own thrashing. Maybe I toss around a label as easily as tossing back my hair. Maybe that lost / angry / confused / irritating / inauthentic / trying-too-hard / judgmental / graceless soul simply longs to be seen. Needs a tender kiss from life. A breath of fresh air. A gentle squeeze, a whispered reminder that you are loved. To know that even at their most vulnerable--I won't say ‘worst’--they are somehow also the most worthy, because love covers a multitude of sins or so I'm told. Hurt happens when we forget we are loved.
Because there's so much I don't know about other soul-journeys; so much I don't need to know. I certainly don't need to tell anyone how to live. This journey is more intimate than anything--sex, poetry, touch. They will be found in their own time. Loved. This is the only label we need.
I have a voice. We go through natural seasons together. My soul tells me I've been quieter than usual this past year, and not because I need to be, necessarily. But she's not mean about it. She calls me Love. “Love, I think you gave your voice away,” she says gently. “I think you are holding back your words.”
Now, there's such a thing as contemplative stillness. It is deep, intentional, resonant and holy. It is the practice of being, of listening, of prayer. Then there is the silence born of suffering. I am nervous to speak of such silence, for how dare I admit I have suffering? Who am I? But even closer to home is the silence caused by fear. The cold, reeling, hand-over-mouth kind of terror that leaves you wide-eyed and trembling.
“Wouldn't you?” I respond. She knows about All the Things.
She doesn't flinch. She feels warm like comfort. I take advantage. “Well, if I use my words, I want my own language.”
Right now I am in a strange kind of trembling hush that, for all my talk of words, find me running low on them. I find myself immersed in songs like this one by Sigur Ros. I cry every single time, for I am the boy with the drum. I am the girl who tears off her mask. I am all the gypsy children running to freedom. I am the little dreamer who dares to wake up and find life. This is what the thrashing journey is for me: waking up, finding life, and living it full to the end.
Soul of Rain: This is me, love. Here I am, taking a deep breath and fleshing out the words of my own soulstory. It's a shadowy bohemian tale of a gypsy mystic who lives in her wakened wild with hope in her eyes and the moon on her skin. She believes in mystery and redemption and grace. The seen and the unseen. That freedom is equal to love. She listens to her soul-voice and stands in holy hush as others learn to listen to theirs. I want my own language, she says. She believes in the wild poetry of Spirit and God and light. She writes about life, spirituality, and healing arts at www.spiritsoulearth.com.