Spirituality. Religion. These aren’t things we’re supposed to talk about, right? Well I’m going there. Spirituality has been a big part of my journey “to know her” uncovering my true self in an effort to LOVE her this past year. I’m at a place in my life where TRUTH is of the utmost importance. Both in my ability to know & speak my own and help others do the same.
I share the following recap with you quite vulnerably. I’m not looking for debate. I’m also not assuming that you’ll take great interest in my own Spiritual journey. Rather I hope that by sharing my journey and my present day TRUTH it will give you permission to reflect and choose your own.
THE BEGINNING: 1986 – 2005.
From 0 – 18 I was the picture perfect Catholic girl. I’m the youngest of 10 children—so that gives you some indication on my mother’s level of commitment to Catholicism. Catholic grade school. The rosary every time we went over the Stillwater bridge (thank GOD they finally built a new one). Near weekly reconciliation. Friday mass with my mom in the summer even when I wasn’t in school. Singing & cantoring every Sunday. ALL of the Holy Days of Obligation. This is the boring part. So I’ll speed it up a little for all of us.
THE MIDDLE: 2005 – 2016.
Summer 2005. I went through HELL. 127 days of working every. single. day (not exaggerating one bit) putting in 16+ hour days and commuting 2 hours a day across 3 different jobs just to be able to pay for college the next year. I would get up at 4:30am to be able to take one of my employers to 6am mass on Sundays “so I wouldn’t miss it” due to working for her later that day. It was brutal. It sucked. I remember collapsing on the floor in my parents house crying and wondering where the heck God was in this struggle. It made me start to question a lot of things in my life and what “it” was all for.
I start my sophomore year that Fall in a philosophy class and another professor, an Atheist who will remain unnamed, that I admittedly had the hots for starts sharing more of his beliefs with me in study hours. So, I started reading a lot of what he and my philosophy professors would share with me. My family essentially writes me off as a heathen damned to hell. Truth be told—some still do having never considered to ask questions early, always & often and recognize that true faith is walking alongside others on their spiritual journey even when stuff gets real. Their loss…my gain. How so? Well…
I gained beautiful and GENUINE spiritual teachers willing to work with me through my exploration. One of my business class professors bought me a book Called to Question and invited me to go with her and her husband to church at St. Joan of Arc…a far more liberal Catholic church than I had ever been exposed to before. I took up with a Spiritual mentor and kept walking. I explored numerous churches and viewpoints over a 1 year period (or maybe 10 years? Hard to say as it never really stopped). I read essays, books and journals from both sides everywhere from Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness to The Humanist Anthology.
It took me a while to see, but now I know all this spiritual reckoning was for a purpose. Did you know I met my husband online? And I was searching for an agnostic/atheist? And HE appeared. 😍 Yep, you heard that right. My husband of 9 years considers himself to be Agnostic. And that experience has ended up enriching both of our life experiences greatly.
So I remained a halfhearted Catholic for the next 9 years or so going to church just a few times a year for “cultural” family events and admittedly, when I started to feel guilty via my mom asking me “So what music did they do at church?” This remains her sly way of checking up on your spiritual health.
THE NOW: 2016 – 2017.
A year ago many young acquaintances to close friends died. It wrecked me internally and caused me to question yet again. It’s why I started this blog. Who had I become? The experience caused me to pay much closer attention to who I wanted to be and how precious life truly was. That closer attention caused me to realize many of the people I respected hugely on a personal level were all quietly but DEEPLY faith-filled ranging from my direct reports, to peers and mentors. They’re not flashy or preachy as some of my family had been/still is during “the middle” loss & exploration of faith time. No. Instead they let their actions speak to the quality of their character. And MAN. Did they have the kind of character I wanted. They invited me to attend church with them. They spoke openly with me about their own journeys. They respected and cared for people deeply. (Thanks Mer, Matt, Shae, Margie, Tanya…the list goes on!).
So it got me thinking. Maybe faith isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe I need to give this another go. I was also DEEPLY craving community of like-minded spirits who shared my values and wanted to share in fellowship. Not the bible thumping, rule following kind of fellowship. But the soul-searching, gut-wrenching questions and deeply vulnerable conversations about who we are, where we are going, and how we can better serve humanity.
But I was resistant. I had deep fears that my husband and I would be drawn further apart (remember, he’s Agnostic). We had a ROCK SOLID marriage and I was scared to rock the boat. So on a long drive to Columbus we committed to talking it through and, per usual, he melted all my fears away. My husband freaking rocks if you didn’t already know. Despite his own questions, he is willing to SHOW UP FOR ME in ways that are just incredible. He wants to hear my voice, he respects me and what I value not just on a words level but an ACTION level.
He now sits with me in church at St. Joan of Arc (SJA) EVERY. SINGLE. SUNDAY. (that I choose to go) and that means the world to me. He openly and comfortably discusses the homily, music and pre-mass speakers with me. He reads the bulletin and we talk about what the message was. His RESPECT for me brought me to a whole new level of faith in believing that anything is possible. An Agnostic and a…a….”Spiritually-centered” person (I still struggle to re-embrace the identity of “Catholic”) can fall deeply & madly in love and stay there while both live out their values in harmony.
We attend the most liberal Catholic church in our area most Sundays but certainly not all. They host summer retreats for LGBT youth, have a pre-mass speakers (Catholic & NOT!) focused on educating us on social justice issues, do an annual Cabaret event, a mental health ministry, and even PRAY FOR THE BISHOP TO FIRE PRIESTS WHO REFUSE LGBT PEOPLE COMMUNION. HELL YEAH!!!! Now THAT is my kind of Catholic church. The list goes on. The Spiritual Director, Cynthia Bailey Manns…a phenomenal woman, gave the homely last week. Yeah, you heard that right.
A WOMAN gave the homily in a Catholic church. And I LOVED it. I’m part of the foster/adoption book club and recently attended a Women’s retreat that evolved into a small group of women digging into some meaty questions together weekly October – January 2018.
I also meditate near daily. I do yoga (not just the physical kin, but the spiritual). And I occasionally dabble in past lives readings and believe they’re probably real on some level. I also believe my grandmothers and Jimmiee Gaulden are my guardian angels. I have felt Jimmiee’s presence working in my career life since the day he died even though my Mother told me it wasn’t possible and I should thinking stop that (LOL). And I pull daily guidance from my Angels in weeks that I’m feeling especially out of touch and in need of guidance. This is MY truth. MY SPIRITUALITY…not yours.
Now onto the “food for thought” section. Today, I have two questions for you that were asked at the retreat a few weeks ago–
Who is GOD to me?
My Answer: God is a woman (even though I still slip and say He a lot…I’m working to shift this). God is big, flowy & wearing white. God is smiling. God is nurturing, loving, compassionate. God is all knowing. God is…a warm soft hug. A smile. A laugh. Outstretched arms. Inviting me to sit with her. To talk a while. Willing to cry with me. Willing to hold space for me. Undemanding. Willing to pick up wherever we left off. God is LOVE. Unconditionally. Absolutely UNCONDITIONALLY.
Who am I to GOD?
My Answer: PERFECT. A daughter. Important. Worthy of time & attention. Worthy of investment. Worthy of care. Worthy of love. Something & someone to be proud of. Someone worth loving, cherishing & caring for.
A big part of healing my wounds for me is about reclaiming my spirituality on MY TERMS. Part of this also meant recrafting my image of God. And if you’re reading this and like “NO! YOU CAN’T DO THAT. GOD is GOD. GOD is a HE. RULES RULES RULES! Ahhh…you heathen!” Well…then this whole post was probs not for you.
But if you’re thinking “Hmm…your view of God is really radically different. And I’m kinda diggin’ it.” Consider watching The Shack to help you begin to personify your own picture of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The acting is pretty terrible. HOWEVER! It was mind bending and heart opening for me to begin giving myself permission to reimagine and personify these roles in my life. When Octavia Spencer plays God yet is called Papa…your mind churns in the best ways!
All said & done–if you ever want to talk about your own spirituality, I’m here for you and ready to listen or walk alongside you WHEREVER YOU ARE ON YOUR JOURNEY as we say at St. Joan of Arc. I know what it feels like to be berated and belittled in a time of spiritual crisis. And I know what it feels like to be heard, held and listened to. Rest assured you have nothing but open arms and open ears in me. And if you’re a lapsed Catholic (or anybody really) ready to give it another go, Nate, Big Girl T and I welcome you to join us any Sunday at Joan of Arc.