During the Eucharist, my thoughts wandered to 9/11, the widows and widowers, the families, lovers, and friends, and what this liturgical season may mean for them.
I realized that my closest friends are a hodgepodge of atheists and agnostics. Our friendship has never hinged on my faith matching up with their beliefs. Our commonality is our mutual appreciation for each other.
I never set out to be a Christian. My parents introduced me to the Episcopal Church early on, so perhaps it wove itself into my DNA before I had a chance to resist. Actually, I did resist. I resisted the dresses I had to wear and the head rush of kneeling and standing. One day I found myself signed up for the children’s choir. Besides inclusion in the procession, my most vivid memory is the choir room where we vested with the adult choir members. The swooshing of white and red fabric, the ting of the wire hangers on the rod, the laughter, the gossip – I was creatively engaged and never treated as if I were a child. I no longer felt the temptation to hang my leg over the pew in an act of irreverent boredom.
But even later, in my 20s when I was unsure, when I did not consider myself a Christian, Jesus kept sneaking into my life, unbidden. As a hypnagogic dreamer, I often saw him in the room, on the roof, sometimes hiding in the closet.
The truth is, I have never felt alone. I don’t know if it’s God, my great grandmother, Gaia, or an unnamed transcendental energy. Even in the darkest hours, I have felt a presence. This Presence does not talk to me or give advice. It’s there like a friend who sits beside you in silence.
In this sense, my faith aligns with my experience of living, my intuitive spirituality, something I think we are all born with. Perhaps what I mean is Wonder. To lose wonder is a loss of gratitude and connecting with the present.
Sometimes I encounter a person who does not know me well though knows I attend church, and they search for subtle ways to put me down, assuming that I do not believe in science and evolution or that my faith is the reason for stupidity in the world, for violence and oppression, or that I do not have the ability to think for myself, that I am brainwashed or pleasantly delusional. I’ve received that condescending look that says, “I’m sorry you believe in God.” It is a wonderless moment. A greater irony is when I observe the same person celebrating Christian holidays. And then I remember I only know a fraction of the journey others are on.
Here’s the deal: I don’t care what you believe in. I don’t care if you’re atheist, agnostic, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, or Hindu. I don’t care if you’re EpiscoPagan, BuddhaJew, or Calvinist. Maybe Christ of the Ozarks rings your bell. Maybe you prefer Mother Nature as your sacred space. At the heart of respect is love. Maya Angelou writes, “If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.”
When I hear the snarky tone of an acquaintance, I am confused by the projections. I try to connect while they unwittingly knock a bridge down. Even more challenging is coming up with words to describe how and why my faith matters to me, but I dare not attempt such a defense. Their sarcasm feels like a stick in my heart. In those moments, I lean on a practice Jesus was an exemplar of: self-differentiation. I bid farewell, say my Om, return to my messy house full of books ranging from the Divine Feminine to the Politics of Place. I may watch my favorite television series, The Sopranos, and I may cook rich, bacon and butter-laden food with my husband who once said, “An atheist is just someone who hasn’t experienced the grace of God.”
I don’t try to change my friends, and they don’t try to change me. We grow in our friendship through compassion and being true to ourselves. How mundane it would be to curate friends based on religion or non-beliefs. In the meantime, God keeps chasing after me, whether I like it or not.
I only know one person who lost someone on 9/11. They were close friends. The loss left a mark on my friend, and it seems she is imbued with an unseeable depth. Maybe this is a projection. Maybe not.
To those who embrace this liturgical season, I wish you a holy and joyous Easter.