The church and the family I grew up in would consider this unthinkable, it occurs to me as I stand in the shop in front of a display of polished mediation stones. This store, these items, they are things to be wary of. The woman who runs the shop, who just purchased a couple of used books from me, she would be someone to avoid. The incense burning at the table just outside, the smudge sticks, the crystals, the tarot cards, the amulets. The statues of Buddha, indicating that this place welcomes many faiths. All these are to be avoided, for they are contaminated. The world I was part of as a child would tell me that I am endangering my soul by considering this. I pause, remembering all these things. And then I pick up a piece of citrine.
My religious practice has changed multiple times over my nearly thirty years on this planet. The church I knew as a child, the one where there was a debate about the use of drums, where my mother forged a drama ministry mostly on her own strength, where the music of organ melded with sounds of the guitar, where I lit branches of candles while dressed in black and white robes, the place that was at odds with my parents’ charismatic leanings, the church I ran through barefoot, knew inside and out, where I took my confirmation vows robed in white, is not exactly home. Nor does that church exist anymore. A visit to it on a journey to my parents’ home revealed a church that felt mostly generically evangelical, which, on one visit, sent me running to the bathrooms to breathe through an anxiety attack.
As a teenager and a young adult, I visited other churches, other communities. There were the wildly charismatic services where most of the participants seemed to be speaking in tongues and having moments of ectasy while I withdrew into myself, sitting on the floor, and letting my meditative state take me where it would. I walked a labyrinth during Holy Week and the uplifting experience was tarnished by a friend, who, ignorant of the labyrinth’s history in the church, called it “New Age” and made me worry I’d participated in something dangerous rather than healing. I attended one church that reminded me somewhat of my childhood community until I discovered their Calvinistic leanings and could no longer force myself to stay. I breathed in the incense at a tiny Orthodox church which was beautifully welcoming towards an outsider such as I. I sang worship songs with other teenagers at youth events in stadiums. I found myself discomfited by the treatment of communion in non-liturgical churches. I attended Mass shortly after learning of the suicide of a former co-worker and wept for her death and for the loss her son must have experienced.
For a time, I was on fire, as they put it. I was filled with zeal for the Bible, for the Holy Spirit, for Jesus. I wanted to be a missionary and was convinced that was what God wanted me to do. I spoke in tongues and cast out demons and had visions. I believed that when I felt worried or upset, it meant that God was prompting me to pray for someone. It all made so much sense and felt so real.
Then depression and anxiety hit me like a train wreck. I still felt like my anxiety must be God telling me to pray, and sometimes, it’s true, prayer did make me feel better. But all the prayer and Bible verses in the world don’t fix the chemical imbalance that my brain is prone to. Over the years, my sense of God, that constant communion that was just there started to slip away.
I tried daily devotional books, and didn’t do so well. I read the Bible, and tried the fortune-telling method of listening to God, where one reads the first verse their eyes fall upon after opening the book at random and assumes that’s what God’s trying to tell them (this is not considered good practice regarding the Bible but it’s suprisingly common). I prayed. I meditated, though I didn’t call it that then, when I was in a more evangelical community. I went to church weekly. Then I didn’t, but at a Christian university, it didn’t make much of difference. If I wanted church, there was daily chapel, if I cared to attend, and usually I didn’t. I was saturated with Christian culture just in the everyday class environment.
Christian practice was familiar, and often easy because of that, but much of it no longer fit. The practice felt right when I sought out the liturgies of Celtic Christianity, and when I participated in the Eucharist at the tiny Anglican church my husband and I had eventually landed in. But the worship songs I connected with as a teenager, the constant focus on the abnegation of the self, much of it no longer resonated with me. It often felt wrong. I could no longer call God Father and the prevalence of the masculine God made me choke and stumble over my words, even a church that frequently acknowledged God as the Father and Mother of us all. Even saying Hail Marys on a regular basis didn’t seem like enough anymore.
I longed for something to express the feminine in a Divine that some days I no longer believed in at all.
So, seeking for the Divine, for something, I started to read what pagans had to say about their craft. I wanted that and I feared it, this something that was anathema in the religion I was reared in. But it drew me in and I longed to take that next step, to at least explore this part of me that I had pushed away all these years. So I found myself in a shop, picking up a piece of citrine.
In that moment, and in many moments thereafter, I was afraid. The goddess who calls me isn’t the god I knew as a child. She encourages me to reach for the things that were forbidden, because perhaps they are not so wrong as I was told. It’s an old fear, the one I’m experiencing as I deliberately step out of the safe circle I know so well. A child’s fear. It’s the fear that I’m stepping out of bounds. I’m breaking the rules. I might get in trouble. And what’s even more terrifying is that it feels like this is my path, rules or no.
Faith is a journey, not a fixed point, like I once believed. It cannot be forced, nor should it. And when the journey pulls you down an unfamiliar path, it might be wise to take a deep breath, and follow where it leads.