I began with my favorite psalm, Psalm 42
I have always longed for some kind of relationship with the source, with God. But I am inconsistent.
I don’t believe.
I search for something else.
I walk away.
Paul Simon writes about my experience when he says “We are born and born again like waves of the sea.”
As a child, I attended Catholic church. I am old enough to remember attending Latin mass and covering my head with a veil in worship. I loved the music, I loved the scripture readings, and I loved the homilies. I’d come home and explain them to my mom (not that she needed my exegesis, but I guess that was a precursor to my later career as a teacher).
I left the church in my teens. Literature, nature, and music became how I connected with God. Some odd combination of CS Lewis and Godspell got me through my teens. I read and talked about God a lot, but I had no place to call home.
I even flirted a bit with the Guru Majaraji, but to be honest, that was probably more about the crush I had on a woman who followed him than an honest search for spirituality, and both flirtations were short lived.
In my twenties, I became a member of the Metropolitan Community Church in Omaha. I was a deacon there for several years, and my partner and I played guitar and sang to lead music for the evening services. During those years, I sincerely sought a more intense relationship with God. I attended charismatic services, and several of my friends worshiped in that way. I couldn’t make the connection, though. I remember going to the altar to be anointed, and feeling the minister push me. I wanted to feel the spirit push me. I wanted to speak and sing in tongues, and I felt it was a great failure on my part that I could not give up my resistance. If I could only really believe, I’d think . . .
Again, as I had felt in the Catholic church, there was something about me that blocked God in my life.
I got sober in my late twenties, and moved away from the church again. Unfortunately, I did not pursue a spirituality in the program, so I had a long period of experiencing that God-sized hunger Jackson Browne writes about.
I started coming to University Presbyterian in the 1990s. At first, I came to church to make my mother happy. But I soon felt at home there, and I felt that need for a relationship with God reawaken. In those years, I became active with the church, and even sat on the pastor nominating committee that called Lib Simmons to serve at the church. I also worked with the middle schoolers for a bit, and was a deacon.
About a year before my mother died, I started drinking again. I suppose some of it was my anticipatory grief. I think a lot of it was complacency. As I said before, I didn’t really work the spiritual part of the program before. It’s funny to me now, as I think the whole program is spiritual, but I managed to stay sober 14 years without working the steps (much). There came a time when what I was doing wasn’t enough to keep me sober.
About a year after Mama’s death, I got romantically involved with a woman who had a huge resentment against the church. I am ashamed to admit that, to keep my relationship with her, I dropped out of the deacons and left UPC.
The story of my life when I was drinking is similar to that of a lot of alcoholics. In the Big Book they call it “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” I tried to get sober several times during that time, but it took me 8 ½ years to finally get sober again. I know it’s weird to talk about alcoholism when talking of my spiritual journey, but the truth is that I have always felt a lack. In AA, we call it a “God shaped hole in the soul.” I tried to fill that hole with liquor, with food, with relationships, and sometimes with church, but nothing worked.
I got sober Jan 22, 2010. And I started trying to work the steps on a spiritual level.
In April of 2012, I was on Facebook, and I learned that a member of our congregation had killed herself. Those words still strike me with shock and disbelief. I had served on the pastor nominating committee with her husband, and I always felt a connection with him—well with both of them. I had to talk to someone about it, so I called Bob O. Not sure why Bob, but I called him. He told me he was on his way to the church to pray and I should come. I felt like a fool. After I’d been walked away so blithely, I felt like I was imposing. But Bob said, “you’re family,” so I came. It was so sweet to be with kind and loving people that sad day.
Shortly after that day, Kelly invited me to coffee and told me that I needed to return to church. She really didn’t ask me to return or say I should come if I wanted to. She said I should come. “These people love you. You love them.” She also told me in no uncertain terms that I would regret not spending time with people like the N’s (an adorable and adored couple in their nineties), whose time was limited. I felt chastised. I came back. It is ironic that it was Kelly whose time was limited, but I am grateful I came back and got to know her a little.
So here I am. I still ebb in and out in my belief and consistency. I still want to believe more than I experience belief as a feeling. But perhaps that’s because it is not a feeling. Perhaps, like love, it is more about being there. About “suiting up and showing up” as we say in the program. Perhaps belief is an action. I don’t do an especially good job at suiting up and showing up, but I am grateful that this community is here. And there are times when that God-sized hole feels healed – or at least healing.