When you grow up steeped in religion, attending church every Sunday, knowing Bible stories better than fairytales and hymns better than pop songs, it is difficult to extract yourself from such. I find it nearly impossible to hear words like Sacred, Spiritual, even God (let alone the concept, recognition, and experience of such) in any ways other than how they’ve been taught. I find it nearly impossible to not feel twisted, pulled, and confused; so deep the current of doctrine and dogma that flows within my mind and heart.
More times than not I want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Though this example is probably too strong, it’s like having been a member of Jim Jones’ congregation, drinking the Kool-Aid, and surviving. From that point forward your radar is off the charts around beverages. You have a hard time trusting that any liquid poured is safe, not a trick, and holds no ulterior motive whatsoever. You know that was a particular period of time, a particular set of circumstances, a particular world from which you walked away; but still, it haunts you – so inherent the lessons learned, the beliefs swallowed. It’s made even more complicated by the fact that there is such goodness within. (I’m not talking about Jim Jones anymore.) Relationships. Community. Tenets and beliefs that actually do make a difference. And stories. So many stories. A sea of them in which to float, be supported and strengthened by, to trust. I dare not throw it all out.
But what is the baby and what is the bathwater? How do I sift through years and years of belief that feel as though they’re part of my genetic coding, keep what I love and let go of the rest?
Here’s just one tiny example. God. It is difficult to hear that word, no matter how much intellectual and academic work I’ve done, in any ways other than my earliest understandings.
You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? The white bearded man in the sky who is able to create the world, destroy the world, plague a nation, part the seas, walk on water, bring the dead back to life, and an infinite host of other things. You don’t want to mess with him. You want to keep him happy. You want to make sure that you are following all of his rules, keeping all of his commands, and staying ever in his favor because when you do you can be assured goodness in the here and now and the sweet by-and-by. When you don’t? Well, that isn’t what you want to talk about, is it?
Though this paragraph sounds caustic, I don’t mean it that way. These are centuries old understandings that have served generations.
This God – believed in, known, and completely committed to – has offered and provided profound respite, perseverance, and strength. Miracles have occurred. People have changed. Worlds have changed. Truth-be-told, I have known miracles. I have been changed. My world has changed. You see? Baby and bathwater…
This is why I wrestle – endlessly and always. This is the tension. This is not merely my writing, my passion, my work; but my life’s journey. And there is no easy way out. Because even if I could let go of the God, I cannot let go of the women…
Or maybe it’s that they will not let go of me.
Eve. I become enraged, yet again, by shame’s hold. And I become profoundly determined, yet again, to pursue my desire no matter the risk or consequence.
Hagar. I become aware, yet again, of just want it costs to be a woman in a patriarchal world. And I am reminded, yet again, of what courage looks like, how the divine shows up, and that I will yet find water in my deserts.
The Woman at the Well. I become conscious, yet again, of how powerful shame’s hold can be. (Have I mentioned this?) And I am given carte blanche permission, even mandate, yet again, to honor my intellect, my wit, and the sacred (even god) who loves and honors this about me above all else.
The Woman in Revelation 12. I acknowledge, yet again, just how scary it is to create, to birth something/anything precious into this world, and to face the dragons (within and without) that threaten to consume and destroy. And I am reminded, yet again, of who I most truly am – even in the midst of my fear: powerful, regal, and magnificent – crowned with the sun, the moon at my feet.
And so many, many more…
These women, part of a text that is umbilically tied to (and tangled up with) religion, are the baby. I dare not throw them out. If it means I have to survive a little bathwater, I will.
More, the idea that these women and their stories do get thrown out (disregarded, ignored, misunderstood, misaligned), breaks my heart. I cannot bear it. I’ll drink the damn bathwater (and the Kool-Aid) if I must in order to help them remain alive, known, heard, valued.
It’s possible you’ve already thrown out the bathwater and the baby. You’ve deliberately, even defiantly walked away from the religion of your youth – or even adulthood. Or you’ve always sensed that the Kool-Aid was a ruse and have avoided it at all costs. I get this, believe me. And I respect you, deeply. So, it’s with great awareness of the dissonance created that I still and always invite you, even ask you to get wet. To trust that in even the most brackish of stuff there are stories worth saving. To believe that through the most unlikely of ways and the most unlikely of women that your story might be saved. And if nothing else, to believe me when I tell you that you are not alone.
Understand and experience it as you will, the fact remains that you are intimately companioned by the most amazing of women. Their blood flows in yours, their heart beats in yours, their voice is the one you hear within – that know-that-you know-that-you-know wisdom you dare not doubt, that sometimes whispers and often shouts. They are that real, that alive, and yes, that Sacred, that Spiritual, that Holy.
It is only when we reimagine and redeem the stories of women that we can reimagine and redeem our own. More, it’s the only way in which we can reimagine and redeem our world.
May it be so.
And come on in, the (bath)water’s fine. I promise.