Taking the Convoluted Path to Church…Posted: April 8, 2012
After my divorce, I moved to a new area. It was a leap of faith, and no doubt a leap of craziness, as well. I found my new place by driving down the road and catching a sign in my peripheral vision. I turned the car around and stopped to write down the pertinent information. At a time when I needed something–anything!– to fall into place, this did.
The street happens to have the same name as my sister, the road I drive down to get here is the name of the place where I was born, and the church I pass between those two roads has the same name as a church from my childhood. So, nomenclature-wise, at least it felt somewhat like home, right from the start.
I have attended that church here. Admittedly, this was when I felt lonely and was thirsting for community. I like the feeling of belonging to a faith community, that feeling of belonging. But, that hasn’t always been so and it hasn’t always been easy, not that Life is meant to be.
I grew up in a staunch religious family, going to church every Sunday, attending religious schools, and taking graduate courses in Theology though it was not my major. I was involved with all sorts of religious groups with people of many different faiths. It’s safe to say I was immersed in religion, and it was as natural, necessary, and refreshing to me as drinking water.
When I was married, there were so many friends of the family who were clergy that several of them officiated at the wedding. It was quite crowded up there in the front of the church.
“Nought may endure but Mutability.” I think Shelley was right: nothing lasts but change.
According to the tenets of my faith, I was not supposed to divorce and if I did, I would not be able to fully participate. (I have been told that this has since loosened up somewhat depending upon the circumstances.) At times, I felt like I was doing penance, for what I am not sure. I was “offering it up” and I made the best of it. But despite all of my praying, all of my devotion to my God and to my marriage, things didn’t get better. I’m sure many of you know well the plaintive feeling of: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
After a while my body started echoing the anxiety in my mind. (Yes, dear regular readers, there seems to be a pattern with my body telling me things, doesn’t there?) Everyone would be singing, reciting a prayer, or listening to a sermon, and I would feel my heart pounding, and dizziness that made me sit down or leave for a bit of fresh air. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t catch my breath, felt like I was going to faint, and sometimes I blacked out.
Week by week the symptoms worsened until during one service I had sharp pains in my chest in addition to my usual pounding heart. I thought I was having a heart attack, so of course I went to the doctor. I had never had anything similar occur, and haven’t since. The diagnosis: panic attacks.
Heh. My body seems to get me out of places and relationships when my mind can’t take them but I won’t listen. The thing is, my relationship with the Lord was not one I ever wanted to damage. It was important to me. I was someone who had always prayed and carried on conversations with God. (OK, monologues maybe, but He listened!)
Looking back, I think I felt forlorn, trapped, and somehow abandoned (a pattern here, too, right? At least by the Fathers in my life). To want to belong, but to feel that you don’t because divorce was your only way out, to be trying your best but not being able to measure up and fix your marriage and be a good and upstanding member of the church… these were difficult things to reconcile.
And then, Life being Life, there were other wrenches thrown in. For the sake of brevity, I won’t get into all of them, but I’ll tell you about one, one significant wrenching incident:
There was discussion on some of the other wordpress places about whether or not suicide is forgiven by God. I have never felt it useful or even possibly accurate to attempt to say what God might or might not do in any situation. As far as I know, He can do anything He wants, at anytime, both imagined and the unimaginable. However, my sister did some research on this subject. She went and spoke to various members of the clergy and told them about the paper she was writing on the religious views of suicide.
She was assured that it was indeed possible to kill one’s self and to go to heaven. I hope that members of the clergy have since clued into the fact that anyone asking such a question might well be considering suicide. Feeling reassured of her place in heaven and not being able to withstand her pain on earth with an illness that the doctors were as yet unable to diagnose, my gifted, beautiful, loving and lovely little sister killed herself.
As far as I can tell, the pain and despair that drives one to suicide is echoed by the pain that is left to the survivors who loved that person.
She was the little sister whom I was supposed to take care of. The guilt and sense of helplessness were excruciating, especially when added to the guilt I already had felt since childhood because I hadn’t stopped my father from killing himself, either. I felt shocked, then overwhelming remorse and guilt. And I had young children to raise, by myself, for all intents and purposes.
I had been praying for my own selfish reasons, my own marriage, when I should have been saving my little sister.
But where was God? Where the heck was He when we had needed Him? I felt such pain, abandonment, even betrayal. If He so much as smiled upon me at all during any of this, I’m sure I was not looking.
It was a long way back, up to the point of despairing in my marriage and finally reaching out again to Someone almighty. But I did. And He listened, despite my pain, my confusion, my feelings of abandonment, and my absence from church. (Many of you already know that story, but if not, you can read about it here. It felt like a miracle, to me.)
Since the time when I called out in need, God has been here with me on this little journey of rebuilding my life. I have not been a devotee of organized religion for quite some time, but I have faith and in my heart I have all the proof I need that Someone out there somewhere in the universe is there in my darkest hours. I can and do carry on conversations and prayers in my head as I have always done, but sometimes it is nice to be a part of a community of others who are somehow similar and who gather to pray together.
So, on Easter Sunday, I’m going to walk down the street that is named for my little sister who is in heaven, and I’m going to go on over to the church with the same name as the church of my childhood. I’m going to go and say, “Hi Lord. Remember me?” although now that I think of it, that question has already been answered.
Hugs to all,