“You have permission to like something you previously disliked.
You have permission to hold both sides of a contradiction as equally true.”
- Roots of She, Yes, You May
“I don’t think I’m tangible to myself. I mean, I think one thing today and I think another thing tomorrow. I change during the course of a day. I wake and I’m one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I’m somebody else. I don’t know who I am most of the time. It doesn’t even matter to me.”
- Bob Dylan
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.–’Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’–Is it so bad then to be misunderstood?”
-Self Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson
We were walking down the sidewalk of a quaint little harbor town in Georgia. I was aware that this sort of scenario very well might never repeat itself. What with my mom and my dad and me together, just the three of us. And I was taking deliberately slow steps to soak it all in, to feel the oddness of being without my children, without my sister, without my husband, with solely my mom and my dad, my two life-givers. I stopped every few steps to snap photographic memories, while my dad made funny remarks like,
“What are you taking a picture of now, the sewer grate?”
“It has a cool design to it. Leave me alone.”
The banter was warm and lovely, as was the sun burning off the morning fog, and the ships docked along the short piers.
Passing a large church property, enclosed by a white wooden picket fence, I was moved by the crosses that popped up through the thick green leaves, lining the top of the fence solemnly. I paused to photograph. And then I contemplated:
What am I doing? Isn’t this the symbol of my religion, my religion that is giving me a fit lately. My religion that leaves me baffled and bewildered.
Ah yes, I told myself, it is. But equally it is a religion that leaves me marveled and moved. So what am I to make of the strange dichotomy?
I felt squishy. Like if pressed I would smear like an earthworm in the hands of toddler who grips the slimy body a little too hard against the concrete.
I was standing there with my parents, my parents who have both shared and lived such a full faith. Truly I am aware that sometimes, many times, I do believe just as fully as their little 6th grade girl who got baptized on Easter. I am a Christian, I say, without apology.
But other times, I can’t look upon the religion without the knee-jerk reaction of turning away. These are the times I interact with Christianity and I feel shallow, superficial, empty waves of nothingness wash along my sandy, stripped beaches, and I have this innate desire to flee or to lash out. Something of God gets sorely lost in translation. Who are you Christians? I say, with accusation.
Maybe I am the earthworm. The wriggly mess of a body with no distinct form. I wonder if it would be better to be severed and to be two entirely different earthworms, than to be one unified confusion. But I think Paul would have me remain one earthworm warring within.
I feel blessed on the days when I can look without turning away. When my faith comes back to me through secret messages that sneak incognito across enemy lines before my brain has translated the hidden code or my eyes have distinguished the disguise. I hear Sandy Sasso say, “Don’t let your tradition be refined by people who may have ruined it for you.” I know that, like it or not, Christianity is my mother tongue.
Usually I can’t stomach Christian songs, but on occasion the lyrics strike a nerve and attach a harness to pull me out of myself and drop me into a momentary land of clarity and peace. These are some of those words I’ve collected:
“This is my prayer in the desert
And all that’s within me feels dry”
“You’ve rolled back the curtains from our eyes. Now we can see you.”
“You are true, you are true, even in my wandering. You are more, you are more, than my words will ever say.”
“You illuminate the open air
I am silently catching every glimmer I can
Cause i know that when the lightning hits
I’ll be standing here breathless in the wake of each glimpse”
Usually I can’t read the Bible, but on occasion a friend will extend to me verses, and somehow I can see them through their lenses, instead of my convoluted bottle-thick ones:
Like my friend sharing Acts 2 and Acts 4 with me and my instant revelation that I am at home in a church, but it is not a building, it is made up of artists who see the world as I do.
Usually I can’t read Christian books, but there are the occasional touches with greats who weave words into poetry and make me feel not quite so odd in my searching:
One Thousand Gifts
Thoughts In Solitude
Usually I can’t hear the gospel without zoning-out, because I have heard it so many times. It sounds empty and hollow and memorized, but it is helpful seeing it through the eyes of a twirling child on tip-toe, who turns to me in awe and says with Shirley Temple-like wide eyes:
“Look there is a big giant cross because Jesus had to die. They hurt him. And oh it is sad, it is sad. But then it is happy because he did not stay dead. And he is alive now. We get to be alive now.”
The extent of this crazy vacillating occurred to me one day as I read something that said Jesus was praying for me, on my behalf. Something resounded in me upon seeing those words, like a gong that vibrated my insides, a head-to-toe soul-scan that left no nerve untouched and yet nothing flinched. Not a single knee-jerk desire to turn away!
I can’t tell anyone this, I thought. How can I admit that I am comforted by the thought of Jesus praying for me, when I am the very same person who did an entire mind-map of all my problems with Jesus? How do I balance on one foot and then the other so seamlessly? And yet, AND YET…
“If the truth is worth telling, it is worth making a fool of yourself to tell.”
- Frederick Buechner
“ . . . good writing is about telling the truth.”
All I have is my truth. Right Anne? Right Frederick? And I have to listen to that truth. And I have to speak that truth, right Teresa? Not bury it deep within the mud of my kind, the earthworms. Open the floodgates. Pour out the puddles. Flush me out of my hiding place. These splashes are reminiscent of 6th grade baptismal waters, and I’m coming clean.
There is no self-love like the self-love of letting yourself speak what you must.
So on one day I find myself the enemy of Christians and on another day I find myself the enemy of those who are not Christians? So be it. I am a messy earthworm warring within, and all I have is my truth. And my truth contradicts. And my truth changes its mind. And my truth does not fit the business model. And my truth is making me sorely misunderstood. But Anne, but Frederick, but Teresa, it is still my truth isn’t it? And though it is painstakingly difficult to live it, it is incredibly easy to write it out. just. as. it. is. Perhaps it’s the only piece of my journalism degree still intact: Report just the facts ma’m.
The fact is I am in need of prayer, and I can think of no one greater to pray for me than the very Jesus who baffles me. I don’t know why, but I will not argue with my truth of the moment.
“So, pray that God will come find me, would you, Jesus? And pray that I will be able to stomach my own wishy-washy wanderings from knee-jerks flinches to vulnerable embraces. And pray that the truth, my truth, won’t embarrass me to the point of silencing this artist. And pray that I can have a few kindred friends on both sides of this Christian/not-a-Christian coin that I keep tossing.
“And pray that when I pluck off the last petal of my daisy it’ll be when I’m whispering the words ‘He loves me.’ Pray Jesus, pray hard.”