Monday, October 15, 2012

Longing for the One Who Denies Me

I have a question related to a comment you posted on [another blog]  I hope you don't mind.  You said:

"I grew up a third generation Christian. When new converts would come to our church or I'd help out my dad with his work with street people and addicts, I used to wish I hadn't grown up in a Christian home so that I could see God's grace as actually saving me from something. These people with their newly-converted zeal--which sometimes lasted for many years, at least as long as I knew them--had an experiential understanding of salvation that I could only glimpse intellectually. My Christianity was a mental exercise of theology--doctrinal statements, lists of rules, and worldviews--I longed for what those homeless drunks found in God. What had I been saved from after all? My big sins were arguing with my brother and having "an attitude" with my dad, and those certainly didn't go away with a conversion experience. I never saw that I had been "saved" from anything nor to something that was experientially different than my "former" life."
 I ask, have you ever found an answer for that longing and dissatisfaction?  I ask because that is my longing too.  I have been a Christian since I was 5ish.  I know I didn't fully understand it all at age five but I did have a heart for my parents God.  That faith matured until I though that he was my God too.  But that longing to truly have that fervor for the Lord, to be truly saved from and FOR something has never left me.  It ate at me thorough my childhood as I wrote stories and poems of a God who SAVES.
Now, I am tired of waiting for that salvation.  I long for the feelings of redemption but I fear that God has forever denied me this.  I grew up in a house allergic to Christian emotions and I am honestly about sick of Christianity.  I am sick of longing for something and loving the One who denies me it, then beating myself up for wanting it and telling myself to submit to an intellectual faith.
I know that you are a complete stranger, if this letter is just too personal I am sorry, please ignore it and know that in no way am I trying to be rude or to dump my problems on you.  I am simply approaching you because you wrote exactly what I was feeling and I hoped that perhaps you had found the answer.  Thank you for clarifying what had been simmering in my hear for a long time.

"I hoped that perhaps you had found the answer.”

I certainly haven’t found The Answer, but I have found An Answer, sometimes.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that I had to leave Christianity to find it.  In every flavor of Christianity that I experienced growing up—dozens of different denominations and teachers but all of the same basic fundamentalist Evangelical genre—God was always this distant, self-righteous, easily offended, jealous/possessive tyrant who used Jesus alternately (depending on the teacher) as bully-boy to enforce his Will or as whipping-boy on whom to take out his displeasure with me.  Of course, that was rarely the direct teaching I got, it was taught implicitly in “live right to please God”.  The cognitive dissonance between the explicit teaching of “for God so loved the World” and the implicit next phrase that he’d rather kill his own son than meet directly with humanity baffled me for years.

As a very young child, as I suspect most children do, I had some visceral understanding of unity with Love and Life and the indivisibility of Creator and Creation.  Over time (and through some traumatic experiences) that intrinsic awareness of Love Divine was co-opted into language of self-hatred and bigotry and performance.  Despite my best efforts to make sense of a god of love who has damned all people to eternal torment if they don’t live bounded restricted lives of martyred self-abnegation, which was called abundant life, I just couldn’t accept it.  Somehow, in that place where I knew things that my Evangelical worldview said couldn’t be known, I knew that God was more than some bipolar sky cop (as a commenter on my blog called him).  Somehow I knew that love and punishment could not be synonymous (though I still get that mixed up).  So in my mid-twenties, I began walking away from Christianity. 

It took me a good five years to completely leave the religion and begin living a thoroughly secular life.  Five years and the support of a contentedly skeptical agnostic husband whom I married during this period.  I tried to be an atheist, denying both the tyrannical god of Christianity and the Divine Love I had once known but I found myself drawn to people who had found other means to manifest their spirituality—Pagans, Witches, Buddhists, social justice and tree-hugging do-gooders—I just couldn’t leave the God Question alone.  Finally, in my mid-thirties, I found in yoga a place where I could quiet my brain and all its doctrinal doubts and declarations, where I could simply Be and let God meet me. 

In the quietness of meditation, my mental chatter finally shuts up, quits repeating to me all the noise of doctrinal “faith as intellectual exercise”, and lets God speak in silent fullness.  I developed a very ecumenical spirituality of Pagan earth-loving, Catholic saint-commemorating, Buddhist mindfulness, Hindu-originating yoga, and totally commercial Easter Bunny/Santa Claus rituals and family festivals.  I became a glutton of religious smorgasbord.  But it grew out of a healthy awareness that God was present in all these traditions in a way I hadn’t found him in Christianity.  But I kind of burnt out from all of it.  Largely, I suppose, because I still hadn’t let God be God—I hadn’t truly renounced the god of Christianity as I’d known him, I was just trying to drown him out with these other practices. 

Somewhere in the mix, I began reading the works of the mystics, mostly medieval, mostly Muslim/Sufi and Monastic Christian, and I was happily astonished to find that the God that they all wrote about having met was remarkably similar to the God I met in meditation.  Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Rumi, Hafiz, Meister Eckhart all seemed to know most intimately this same God of Love, of renewal, of creation, of compassion.  And they all were at odds with the conventional God of their religions.

It took developing a chronic hysterical illness in my mid-forties for me to begin re-examining Christianity from the perspectives I’d learned through my years as a heathen.  I realized that in rejecting Christianity so vehemently, I wasn’t embracing all traditions with tolerance and a willingness to learn, I had become an anti-Christian bigot.  Logically, I knew that Christianity couldn’t be any better or worse than any other religious tradition; they all have better and worse expressions. In order to become whole, I needed to exorcise the demons that still inhabited my soul, making me fearful, inspiring me to hatred.  I needed to find the God I knew within Christianity, as I’d found him in so many other places.  I’m still working on that.

So, yes, I have found a communion with the Divine that fulfills me and I find comfort in reading so many that have come before me who found that same communion.  But no, I have yet to find a community of fellow God-finders with whom to corporately commune. That is what I long for.  A group who comes together to meet God, each in our own way, perhaps, but together.  The internet has been marvelous for connecting me with people who seek the same God but often at great physical distance from me.

I don’t know if my experience will help you find God—or more realistically, help God find you—I hope so.  

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