Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In a religious quandary

Yesterday I sat in a room with a group of like-minded women, women who have been on the spiritual journey together for several years now, and one of us was struggling with issues of shame.

I remember, during the worst of my first marriage, sitting in the office of an Episcopal priest (I was NOT religious at the time) and struggling with these same issues.  And what I remember is this: that at that moment of deep sorrow and disillusionment, he said to me, very gently, "I know that you didn't want me to bring any religion into these conversations.  But I believe -- and I have to say this -- that this is the gift of Christianity: that Christ's death on the cross was precisely for moments like these.  He took the punishment for ALL of our sins so you don't have to.  Really.  You are forgiven. Already."

... and the amazing thing was that I heard him. Felt the words. And felt the burden of shame lift away.

It was an incredible gift, a seminal moment in my life, and whatever my issues with the church -- and even, sometimes, with Christianity -- that moment has stayed with me for thirty years now.  My faith has a much different shape and texture these days, but that awareness, that we as individuals could be loved so intensely despite all the ways we screw up, is rooted very deeply in me.  I may not always be proud of myself or my actions, but some part of me knows I am loved -- and that makes it a little easier to love myself.

So I felt the impulse to tell the story, to share that.  But even though all of us have Christian roots, even though we've been in Bible studies together, I couldn't figure out a way to do it that wouldn't sound ... well ... evangelical.  Maybe even ... tacky? Awkward?  Inappropriate? And so I kept my mouth shut -- and how sad is that? 

I sit in this odd place -- carrying deep roots of faith but uncomfortable with many of the applied precepts of organized religion -- and sometimes feel I'm walking on eggshells.  How is it that I can know the saving power of Jesus and still have a house full of Buddhas?  What is it in me that feels anxious even writing those words -- "the saving power of Jesus" -- for fear of alienating, of sounding like one of those exclusive evangelical types? And why would I keep my mouth shut, in what SHOULD be one of the safest places I know, in a moment when I could be giving such an incredible gift?

I believe I would have spoken up if it had just been the two of us.  But to say it in a group... I think both of us would have felt horribly exposed and awkward. 

And so I didn't. 

And how weird is that, that I feel safer saying it here?

1 comment:

Maureen said...

It must have taken courage for your friend to have revealed her feelings of shame.

A mirror of questions. Answering them requires us to unlock something in ourselves. All we can do is continue our long and often troubled work of looking inside until we find what holds us back in an instance like this, examine it, and then find a way to extinguish it. Whenever we can do that, it feels like a home-coming.