I read it during both services, and the 9:30 service is much more reserved and traditional than the 11 am. I got laughs (which I was going for) at the later service, but Christine assured me she saw some people wiping some tears away during first service, too, so I guess that's good.
I want to post it here to honor the bravery I could muster to say any of this at all -- to myself not to mention to the whole church.
I'm very much wondering where I'm going in my life at the moment. It feels like there are a lot of big things in motion -- glacial shift, I like to tell myself. Pick a continent or be ready to stretch into the splits... There's work movement and poetry community movement (thanks to those supporters there to see me read TWICE this month -- crazy -- after not having read at a public poetry event in, well, fourteen YEARS) and personal movement (thanks, by the way, to my crazy heart-friends who just presented me with the Anti-Bride Planner). I feel like I'm preparing for something... who knows what ... but something big and good.
So here it is in its entirety.
Christine asked me to share with you today the story of my finding this church and making myself a home here. It’s a long story, so I hope you’ll bear with me through the twists and the turns.
When I was little, I used to sit at my window, watching the rain and feeling myself filled with the overwhelming beauty of the world. My little cup runneth over, and I cried and cried with the aching power I felt in witnessing and connecting to … well … everything. Looking back, I realize that was my own kind of meditation. I did it a lot.
At the time, there was plenty to cry about – the usual family griefs, being an American in the 20th century – namely divorce & family financial stress. Maybe I was crying about those things, but what I remember about those moments is feeling simultaneously bigger than myself – elevated above my personal worries – and suitably small – recognizing the importance of being that single witness in that particular time.
I went to church a lot as a little girl. Always the over-achiever, I liked going to school even on the weekends, and there was something compelling about the stories, even though I didn’t believe them to be literally true. When my family stopped attending, I went with friends and neighbors. My sister remembers me begging my mother to take me.
When I was twelve or thirteen, a family friend asked me about my faith. I told him what I believed – that everything in the universe is connected through energy, almost as if every particle were an instrument that together formed sections within the universal symphony playing time. I thought it was a beautiful description; he said it wasn’t faith at all – it was science – and that I didn’t believe in God. I never knew that was an option!
As I was approaching the teenage years, I embraced it with a passion that mortified my non-church going family when I announced to all of
that I was an atheist in response to a reporter’s question about a lawsuit barring the invocation at my high school graduation. My family still brings that up. In my own defense, it was true at the time, and I was siding with freedom from persecution and the separation of church and state! (See – latent UU even then!) Albuquerque
I stayed an atheist a long time, but an atheist who believed fervently in the power of community, the transcendence of connection through language, and in the beauty of quantum physics. I pretty much gave up the idea of ever finding myself comfortable in a church again.
Then my sister had children. Her husband’s family is Christian and were quite sad that their grandchildren would grow up without a religious community. Maybe it wasn’t what they had in mind, but my sister decided to bring them here, for the religious education. She was pretty surprised, I think, when she started learning as much as the girls from attending church. She kept telling me about these amazing sermons by Christine. We’d talk about them for hours. I knew I had to check this out.
I was not prepared for the visceral shock of going to church – how familiar it would be and how different: The singing, the silence buzzing among us during meditation, the compassion and acceptance that underscored every word. I kept waiting to hear the things I would disagree with. This was church, after all. But they never came. Instead, I felt broken open time and again, feeling the power of connection that feels a lot like faith. When my sister and I sit together on Sundays, we can’t stop looking at each other, checking to see if the other one is crying, too.
My exploration of belief keeps getting broader the longer I’m here, and for a girl who went to college to learn everything about everything – and then stayed there for 13 years trying to do just that … it’s a blessing I can hardly believe.
I’m telling you this because I think the story itself is enough. But there is more. Two weeks ago, I signed the book and became a member after attending church here for over four years. It was so hard to join a church – even one I agree with as much as this one. But this community, this church, the work that we do together – in the RE program where I’m helping these fabulous mid-high students, the social action group, our ministry that keeps getting bigger and bigger – is important enough to me that I’m pledging part of my fledgling career salary to help support it. I can’t thank you enough for helping to support me. And to my sister, who’s been there for so much for so long, I say: thank you for giving me back the memory of my faith. It’s been a long time gone.