As a nanny I cared for the most beautiful, sweet, perfect child. He had neuromuscular problems, he couldn't move his legs and at a year he had the mental capacity of a three month old. I cared for him for a year, my first year away from Bible college, my first year as a married woman, my first year on my own. In that year I fell in love with him, his older sister and his younger brother.
I gave him baths pretty much every day, and for some reason I found myself singing to him.
he leadeth me, o blessed thought
o words with heavn'ly comfort fraught
what e'er i do, where e'er i be
still tis god's hand that leadeth me
sometimes mid scenes of darkest gloom
sometimes where eden's bowers bloom
by waters still, o'er troubled sea
still tis his hand that leadeth me
We were that christian family - the one who had the hymnal memorized, who sang together while washing dishes, whose love of music was based on The Concordia Hymnal.
When this little boy I loved with my whole heart left this world, I held to that hymn I had sung him hundred of times.
and when my task on earth is done
when by thy grace the victory's won
e'en death's cold wave i will not flee
since god through jordan leadeth me
I still cry, reading those words.
Today I was driving my own three precious children and listening to the ever-popular Mumford and Sons. The song was Below My Feet.
keep the earth below my feet
for all my sweat, my blood runs weak
let me learn from where i've been
keep my eyes to learn my hands to serve
keep my eyes to learn my hands to serve
I was singing along, quietly, and suddenly I heard the tone, the heart - it was a hymn. I was overwhelmed by how easily these words became a prayer of sorts, a hymn for me. I had no thought in my head that I was praying for some other One to keep the earth below my feet, or to keep my hands and eyes - just that these were things I desired. To learn from where I've been, to learn, to serve.
[Mumford and Sons, for the record, have stated that their music is not Christian and Marcus Mumford eschews the label, but if you look up the meaning for these lyrics person after person interjects Jesus and God and salvation and death and more.]
Guys. It felt so natural. Hymns.
Also this weekend I found myself attempting to talk about things I am learning about and things I absolutely care about. Inclusiveness, feminism, psychology and more. And I floundered. I totally floundered. Inclusive language, sensitivity to others, not acting like an asshole - I kind of flailed about.
In this blog post (which just exploded my mind with ZOMG that's ME!) the phrase "identity suicide" comes up and can I tell you that ZOMG that's ME.
I kind of can't find my footing right now. I imagine that feeling will persist for years. My identity was wrapped up in the Church, was defined by the Church and my future was written and determined by the Church. (Or God, or Jesus, if you prefer.)
I speak about fifteen varieties of Christian-ese. The uber-conservative one, the homeschooling one, the evangelical one, the slightly liberal one, the liberal one and more denominational and theological tongues than I care to think about. I speak these, for the most part, fluently and with a fairly comprehensive knowledge. I can converse with jesus-hippie-libs and dogmatic doctrine-over-person christians. I have the words!
That's important to me. To have the words.
But those languages, those words, are useless to me. Identity suicide somehow involves learning how to speak all over again.
So I find myself pouring over feminist literature, trying out new words. I am learning what kind of inclusive language my GLBTQIA (or QUILTBAG) friends would prefer. I even have to relearn what kind of language that I used to employ is implicitly (or explicitly) racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, etc.
Guys. I'm flailing here.
Twenty-five years of indoctrination and feeling that any other way of viewing things would cause God to be displeased with me? That conditioning is not easily overcome. But I'm working on it, I'm learning, I'm getting better. Not fast enough, though, because one more hurtful word, one more racist or sexist statement is one too many.
And here I am, working at this like mad, and then hymns.
Maybe I need to do that most difficult thing and give myself time, forgive myself and give me a little space and grace. I do not know how to balance, to remember and enjoy the good parts of my history, my "culture of origin" and the faith that has defined my life for so long, with the new and good things I am learning now. How much can I or should I hold onto and how much should I leave behind?
Even in this, I find myself remembering one of the hundreds of verses I memorized -
"It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes." (ecclesiastes 7:18)
I'm not, according to my faith-culture, one who fears God. And, as I said, I have no idea if there are good things I should be holding onto as I reach for something better.
But perhaps, someday, I will find a new place that honors both the truth-seeker and the mystic in myself.
"After I deconverted and felt like I was losing all of my identity (since I had always shaped and understood every part of it around Christianity), in picking up the pieces I began to think that what must really have been core about me all along were my commitments to truth and to loving other people. Those were the real constants, the things that proved more important than the faith—enough that I had the strength to actually leave it even. And they have proved the most enduring parts of me too, as they remain core parts of who I am over thirteen years later."
( go here. read. )