"I am playing with myself,
I am playing with the world's soul,
I am the dialogue between myself and el espiritu del mundo.
I change myself, I change the world."

Gloria AnzaldĂșa

12 January, 2017

My Faith Journey or: Yay! More Oversharing!

I wrote this to share with the deacons, and of course, that means you.

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 believe.
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.


6 comments:

The Other Laura said...

Karen, I am glad that you have rediscovered your faith community - one that gives you so much and I am certainly benefits so much from having you back in the circle.

You are an inspiration and an asset and I am happy to call you friend.

Karen Jensen said...

Right back atcha, Laura!

Kelly Buchholz said...

I like to say that AA was basically the (closest thing to a) religion I was raised in! My father was a recovering alcoholic (nearly twenty years sober at his death) and I grew up in various AA halls, doodling while I absently listened to some of the rawest, bravest people I'll ever know as they shared their stories. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference! The experience has had a lasting positive impact on my life. On a sidenote, I was in Godspell in college! Gilmer was my role: "I can see a swath of sinners settin' yonder and they're actin like a pack of fools..." It was probably the biggest spiritual experience I've ever had!

That said, today I'm a happy little atheist, but I really just want everyone to find what they need, and it warms my heart to see you find (or rediscover?) your faith, community and family. Thank you for sharing your beautiful and honest story, Karen. It was an honor to read it.

Leslie Todd said...

Thank you, Karen. I "suit up and show up" every Sunday while worrying about my wavering faith.

Karen Jensen said...

Kelly, I love you. And I love that AA and Godspell were spiritual for you, too. And I love that you're happy.

Leslie, Thank you. It's always good to hear that people who look good on the outside have the same wavering that I experience! Love!

spokalulu said...

C.S. Lewis and Godspell don't seem like an odd combination to me, but perhaps that is because I had both of those, too. “Suiting up and showing up” is tremendously important for everything in life. The times I have failed to do so involve depression and apathy, as opposed to alcohol, but the concept remains very much the same. I know that I am blessed and encouraged by everyone who chooses to spend Sunday morning with my family of believers -- wherever they are on their journey.
~Karen