*This is a cross-post from Rae‘s new blog “Heart of Thought,” which she began “in response to reading about theology, philosophy, and experiences of god without getting the opportunity to theologize, philosophize, and talk about my own daily experiences with god.” This particular piece appeared on October 29, 2015. You can find more blog entries here.
Since arriving at Claremont School of Theology I’ve become increasingly aware of how strained my relationship with Christianity feels. This fact isn’t necessarily anything new. The Am I a Christian? question has been following me around for most of my life. But the answer to this question has been uncomfortably nudging me, causing unrest in my soul.
I’ve actually been quite content with my strained relationship for most of my life. At three, I questioned a male God and declared God to be a woman. In middle school I had a total meltdown the day I was supposed to be baptized because I just didn’t get why or what it was that I was doing. At 15, during what I’ve now deemed as my “Baptist Brainwash” stage, I thought I found Jesus. But when I was told that following Jesus meant supporting the U.S. government (this was in the good ol’ George W. Bush days) and not speaking because I had a vagina, I decided this whole Jesus thing may not be the right choice after all. In college my brewing resentment toward the church led to a transformational independent study on the Divine Feminine and goddess religion, and I found a new path to God/dess. In Indonesia I began to see Christianity in a new light, a more tolerable way, yet still didn’t find a strong resonance. Traveling the United States on a Greyhound bus I began to understand God/dess through the lens of One-ness and the undeniable interconnectedness of everything in and of this universe–a spiritual awakening that I still look back at with awe. At Lama Foundation it didn’t matter what I called myself or how I practiced my spirituality; my identity was in flux and that was totally okay. Not attending any one church on a regular basis for years, I didn’t need to define myself in an ecclesiastical context either. My Episcopalian spiritual director in Taos was all about my big questions, so in general I accepted the strained relationship with Christianity. Two months of theology school has proven it difficult to rest in the discord though.
Last night I woke up around 3 AM and tossed and turned. Due to my knowledge that Spirits are most present in the waning hours of the night before dawn, I opened myself up to the unseen presences, inviting them to speak–after all, why else would I be awake? My mind floated to a few situations I had during the day.
First scenario: I approached a group of people chatting on the sidewalk on my way back from class. CST doesn’t really have communal meeting space and so often conversations happen on sidewalks outside the main housing. These conversations seem fluid and people often walk in and out of them–they aren’t exclusive. Yet, whenever I happen upon these conversations, I rarely join. Somehow I feel like I’m being intrusive. The thought goes something like, “You weren’t invited to join, so don’t. Just acknowledge their presence and go on your merry way without causing too much disturbance.” When I continued on my merry way I suddenly thought, “Should I have stopped to chat?” I began thinking of what the average person would do, and I decided they probably would stop to chat. I then went on to think of people’s perceptions of me not stopping to chat (not an advisable or worthwhile activity, but something I did none-the-less) and came to the conclusion that people could potentially perceive me as snotty, quiet, uninterested, or just too cool for conversation. “Woah! That’s not what I’m about! So why do I just walk away from these situations?”
Second scenario: An hour later, I found myself debating whether or not to go to a birthday party for 3 students at the school. The person who invited me suddenly announced she wasn’t going because she wasn’t feeling well. I thought, “I barely knew the other two people, so why would I go? That would be awkward. They didn’t invite me. How would I know that they wanted me there?”
Why did I respond in these ways? Laying there in the early morning hours I discovered that so often I’ve already counted myself out. I’ve already assumed that I’m unwelcome at certain tables, so I don’t even try. I’ve resigned to being an outlier on the outside of the supposed inside–whatever that is.
I also saw how I’ve grown to accept this outsider idea in a very self-assured way. It has become my identity. Yet this false belief perpetuates a distancing from others, a separation, a self-selection of otheredness, which then distances me from beinglove. As I was reflecting on this, my mind went to my relationship with Christianity. Am I a Christian? Why is it so hard for me to identify as a Christian? Why is it so hard for me to identify with Christ?
Suddenly, Jesus was in the room. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt or seen Jesus’ presence in and around me. It was the first time though that I actually felt like I whole-heartedly welcomed him fully into my space. Which made me think, “Have I been counting myself out of having a relationship with you, Jesus?”
He smiled at me and sat on my meditation cushions in the corner of my room as I continued the mind and heart game of self-accountability. I realized that through my life I have been told so many times that the reason I need Jesus is because I am not enough. The reason I need to be “saved” is because I’m dirty, sinful, and there’s something innately wrong with me. Through this lens, having Jesus meant not accepting who I am. Upon “salvation,” I had to live up to a legalism laid down by the men of the church. I had to deny the truth of who I am. I had to pretend to be something I am not. Authenticity being an intrinsic value in my life, this perception of salvation was unacceptable. It was inauthentic. It was repulsive. But with that said, could I then even call myself a Christian?
Though I consciously knew Jesus as a beautiful being–an enlightened prophet of God who had a profound relationship with the Divine that most humans never experience, who was the Divine incarnate, who blessed the world with his teachings of truth, radical justice, and undeniable acceptance–my unconscious self had not yet let go of the spiritual damage encountered through years of indoctrinated Christian dogma. What it all came down to is that I did not trust this relationship that I was told I needed to have with Jesus.
At that point I invited Jesus into my bed. Yep, I really did. And he climbed right in! And I turned to him and said: I guess this is true salvation… truly what it means to be saved. It’s to be saved from what the world has told me I am and has made me into. It’s not being saved from the original sin brought upon us by woman, rather it’s being saved from the idea of “original sin” and the idea that Eve somehow caused a thing called “the fall.” It’s not being saved from being a woman, it’s being saved from the patriarchy that has told me I’m not worth as much as men because I am a woman. It’s not being saved from my queer body, it’s being saved from the world that has told me I am unworthy, unloved, and unaccepted because I experience my sexuality in its fullest expression. It’s not being saved from all the horrible sin I’ve supposedly caused and created in my lifetime, it’s being saved from the horrible false beliefs I have about myself, beliefs that I am bad, shameful and disgraceful. It’s to be saved from the ideas and preconceptions placed upon me by the world, and instead stepping into who I AM.
David Brenner once said, “God’s will is that you become the person that from eternity you were destined to be–your true self-in-Christ. God’s will is that you discover the fullness of life that is uniquely possible in surrendering to Divine Love and taking up your calling in the Kingdom of God.” The will of God is the love of God, and as I grow with God I experience a daily oneness in heart and mind–including oneness with Christ. Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” makes a whole lot more sense now.
I don’t know why I spent so much time allowing other Christians to define my relationship with Christianity. I see now that the reason I have been so attracted to inter-spirituality and other religious and spiritual practices is because no one in those religions and spiritual traditions placed me in a box. They hadn’t determined if I was in or out. They hadn’t told me I was worthless. They hadn’t addressed me as a shameful, unlovable creature. They just allowed me to experience God however I could experience God, and they rejoiced in this Divine relationship. They didn’t question my contemplative revelations. They didn’t question the authenticity of my words. They knew that God dwelled within my heart as God dwells within everyone’s heart, and allowed it to be so. They saw God within my very being.
It is not for the world to define my identity. It is for me alone. And my identity is who I AM.