Sunday, 15 February 2009

Good morning, and further background.

I have a bit of extra time this morning, and I'm still feeling carried along by the enthusiasm of starting a new project and by the warm acceptance I've found here.

It's been reassuring to find out there are so many of you who are, like me, struggling with some aspects of belief, whether specifically Christian or more general. And it has been interesting to see some of the varied (but not conflicting) advice I've had from different people!

A bit more background is probably in order. This might get a bit long, and I might have to split it into parts because I have to go and teach this morning.

I was baptised as a baby, so I don't remember it. That would have been in the United Church of Canada.

I was confirmed when I was around ten or eleven years old. That was also United Church of Canada. Oddly, I remember very little of the confirmation classes I went to beforehand. I remember being asked to memorise the order of the books of the Bible, which doesn't seem like a whole lot of use now. I don't remember anything else even though most of my memories of education from around that time are quite vivid. There must have been more to it than that! In any case, for a number of reasons I don't think I was in a position at the time to ask the sort of questions I needed to ask, or to make the sort of commitment that I associate with confirmation. I don't know where that leaves me now, morally. Confirmation is something that seems to be interpreted very widely within the church.

I can't remember not believing in God. As far as I can tell, I've always believed that the world is/was created, though I've had to modify the details over time. (Conversely, I can't remember ever believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy: these were always Games To Play With Grown-Ups. I may have wanted to believe they were real, but I knew they weren't.)

I always had trouble relating to the concept of Jesus as God. This may date back to when I was three years old and thought, when I heard, "This is my body, broken for you," that they actually had a guy up on the altar and we were going to eat him, seemed a bit gruesome at the time. It may be because I have a very difficult time with things that don't make logical sense, and the whole Three-In-One thing never really took. It may be because I believe all people are divine in the sense of all being part of God's creation, and the idea of Jesus being more Godly than the rest of us just doesn't seem fair. It may be because all the arguments for the divinity of Jesus seem to be based on a text that I don't necessarily accept as the true and unsullied Word of God. I'm not sure. I'm just very aware that while I agree with some of the things Jesus allegedly taught, I remain unconvinced that Jesus was God Incarnate.

I also struggle hugely to see the Bible as being somehow specially divine, specially holy, compared to other books. Part of this is a tendency, on my part, to try to hold it to rational post-Enlightenment standards, when (I now think) it was written as a narrative... inspirational material rather than dictatorial, in most cases. So much of what everyone told me was right and true boiled down to "because the Bible said so," and that just doesn't wash with me. Doing something because the Bible tells me to is a bit like doing something because the moon tells me to. I'm sure both can be sources of inspiration, I know both are beautiful in their way, but why one and not the other? Why this particular set of books?

I struggled with these things throughout my teenage years but didn't find any answers on my own and wasn't in a position where I felt I could ask anyone else about them. I was also quite depressed for much of this time.

Judaism seemed like a good logical next step. The story of the Exodus was always one that spoke to me, one with which I somehow felt I could identify. When I moved to London, I moved into an Orthodox Jewish household. I had started keeping kosher already, but now I modified my dress and started keeping Shabbat, right down to light-switches and not carrying things (and there was no eruv back then), and attending Jewish services. Judaism is principally a religion of things done or undone, not a religion of belief, so I figured my beliefs didn't matter so much. I thought maybe the structure of religious observance could keep me away from the worst of depression. I stayed involved in the community for a few years and fully intended to undergo Orthodox conversion... this meant I did a fair amount of conforming for the sake of conforming, for the road of gerut is not an easy one in the Orthodox world. But first, I wanted to go away to university.

What I found soon after going away to uni is that Judaism doesn't work very well in a vacuum. The small institution I attend doesn't have a Jewish society and I wasn't going to start one. The area I was now living in didn't have a Jewish community I could get to on foot. I was working all day on Sundays, teaching my (mostly Jewish) students in their homes, and doing some performance work during the week as well as my classes, and still struggling with depression. I got to every Friday night absolutely exhausted, far too exhausted to cook the elaborate Friday night dinners I had used to make for friends, far too exhausted to do much more than collapse into bed with a book. Without a community around me for communal worship my prayer life fell in on itself until I wasn't really praying at all. Gradually, it all began to slip, and I realised it was silly to keep these laws, silly to live this life, based on a book that I do not acknowledge as infallibly true.

It took a few years to disentangle myself from Judaism. Eventually, I got help for the depression. I also was diagnosed with some other medical problems, some of which will affect me for the rest of my life and some of which we're not quite sure about. I started dressing more like I always have, started doing things on Saturdays again, eventually even stopped keeping kosher. But living a secular life wasn't enough. Now I had two sets of holidays where I felt bereft and alone, the Christian ones and the Jewish ones, and nothing that I could really quite call my own. I was finally breaking free of depression, finally coming to terms with other medical issues, finally starting to live life instead of just surviving it, but I had a very strong sense that this was not enough, would not be enough, and that if I ignored my spiritual yearnings everything would fall in on me again. I did start to pray again at some point, albeit mostly in a very unstructured way.

I'm out of time now, but that takes me to about a year ago. I've changed a lot since this time last year.

4 comments:

8thdayplanner said...

Thanks for posting and sharing your faith journey. And thanks for including me on your blogroll, although I'm not sure why I'm there in the company of so many religous types.

Grandmère Mimi said...

First things first, Song. I'll add you to my blogroll, for what it's worth.

...but I had a very strong sense that this was not enough, would not be enough, and that if I ignored my spiritual yearnings everything would fall in on me again.

I know what you mean. My faith is the reason that I survive, day by day. "Are you saved?" Yes. I'm rescued every single day.

I'm looking forward to the next part of your story. I wrote a four-parter in my first blogging days. That was two years ago. It's rather excruciating to go back and read those posts now. In fact, I can't really do it.

Song in my Heart said...

Grandmère Mimi,

Thank you for adding me to your blogroll. It's a bit strange, stepping into this online community and finding such a warm welcome, but I'm glad of it.

I read those posts. It was a bit puzzling for me, I could never understand why people treat homosexuals differently, and I still don't after reading your account. But it wasn't excruciating for me: who you are now isn't who you were then. We all have to start somewhere, and we all have a long way to go yet, no matter how far we might have come.

I'm rescued every single day.

Hear hear!

Not in my bow do I trust, nor does my sword bring me victory.

Jan said...

You're going on my blogroll, too, though I don't have as extensive a following as Grandmere Mimi. I totally understand the struggle with Jesus; I'm still doubting, believing, wondering, struggling. Just read a great book that is helping me--"The Wisdom Jesus" by Cynthia Bourgeault. If you go to my blog and look up Faith Story in the labels, you can read bout my faith journey. I am very interested in yours!