Not a Crisis of Faith

In the year since our road trip through Norway with my husband and two small children, a moment, so brief I almost wonder if it really happened, comes floating back to me often.  It was early morning and we were driving on the high planes beyond the fjords.  The lighting was hazy and pink, as if the sun knew it hadn't had a proper rest, and I felt much the same way.  I looked up and out the window at one point just in time to see two moose with heads bent to the ground, the morning fog tucked softly around them. Their largeness, otherworldliness and serenity shocked me.   The image passed too quickly to even form words to tell my husband, but still, I cannot shake it.  I've wondered why the memory, even at the time, felt so significant, except that I knew my accompanying emotion at the time was panic.  Internal panic at what I perceived to be the pinnacle of a spiritual crisis--A crisis of faith.

Earlier that day, staring into the thick, wise turquoise water of the fjords, I had felt so small, so rough and lazy in my knowledge and so presumptuous in truly believing that I knew much of anything.  I felt anxiety over feeling trapped in the gospel I had once felt entirely comfortable in. I pulled over and asked my husband to drive.  The expansiveness and beauty of the world I was experiencing could not equate to me saying that I knew anything for sure, let alone the truths and solved mysteries I believed the doctrines of the church were asking me to claim.  When I think back to that week in the back country of Norway, my heart jumps across the chasm of two different camps--one of complete awe and joy at the world around me and one, a culminating and complete crisis of faith.  In the time since though, I've also asked myself this: What if it weren't a crisis?  What if I had merely chosen different language to sculpt my experience?  Would the chasm have lessened? Would I realize that both camps were actually not so different?  What if when we entered the inevitable time when we must take our faith out of the pack on our back to really examine it were just that, an examination, a curiosity, a responsibility, a hope to better understand?

Selje, Norway
In poetry, at least good poetry, each word that stands guard like a soldier to wiser thought is carefully recruited.  A superfluous, or worse yet, an ill-chosen word can be the hinge that sends the reader right out of the poem.  The poet is responsible for etymologies, context, sounds, cadences and ancestries of each word used.  Words carry weight and baggage and the poet cannot ask the reader to simply brush those aside.  In a similar way, we are the poets of our own spirituality and we must take accountability for phrases like "crisis of faith".  It seems that often we wave the phrase 'crisis of faith' like a flag of bravery or martyrdom.  We use it as a demarcation between those who are thinking and those who are following blindly.  We tout it under our belt as if it were an event that came and went, and we either stayed in the church, or we left.  I want to propose that our language can dictate a more positive experience for us, whether we choose to stay in the church or not.  What if we simply put some phrases given to us to rest? What if we took greater responsibility for our language and cast aside some phrases that have simply been passed onto us?  What if we refused to denote some of our most real and mature spiritual thinking as a crisis and instead gave it a phrase that moved us from victimhood to powerful players in our own spiritual journeys? Take a moment, just as a test, to re-name your ‘crisis of faith’. 

I've done some experimenting with alternative phrases to 'crisis of faith', just to see how it does change our experience.  In an art show, I asked people to come up with their own alternative phrase and write them on the wall next to a big banner that said, 'crisis of faith'.  I also provided a list of words from the New Testament that they could use as prompts, because, as it turns out, Christ, even in scenarios that legitimately could be classified as crises, never used the term.  Here are some of the phrases people came up with: Wonderful wilderness; questioning to gain knowledge; hidden growth; look for better feelings; seeking more light; rest heart be full; finding new shores; journey for truth; standing in motion; looking higher; learning who we really are; opportunity to build a more genuine relationship with God; teaching out of love.  These are valuable phrases to me because they set me up to be a seeker, a searcher, a climber. They are phrases that dictate to me change without fear, searching without guilt and genuine love between myself and deity.

 There is something about a crisis that puts one in a rather helpless place.  A crisis might be an earthquake or disaster, in which the one experiencing the crisis is also, by default, the victim of circumstances beyond their control.  A crisis puts one into fight or flight mode because survival is the main objective.  In a crisis there is little time, or even reason to stop and meditate, be thoughtful or even pray.  For me, when I think of my questions in the gospel as a 'crisis of faith', I am set at odds with God, almost as if He is the one who created the disaster that I am fighting to get free from. There were times when I became the victim of my spirituality, rather than the explorer. When I feel at most in the midst of a spiritual crisis, when I am tired of wrestling my thoughts, I become quiet.   When I allow myself the liberty to think beyond the phrase crisis, I realize that I am not at odds with God, but rather, my searching can be cause for beautiful communion.  When I am in crisis mode, I am stuck in a valley scrambling for understanding, but what I would rather be is an explorer setting out for greater heights and views and I’ve realized that often I am the only one that can choose which place I will be in. 
Selje, Norway

About ten years ago, about after my mission, there was a metaphorical set of doors that I opened slowly in my spiritual life, and inside those doors, everything felt turned upside down.  My spiritual life was swept up in the whirlwind of the thousands of words I read on the internet, the long nights of discussion with friends and a lot of internal strife. Inside this space, my spiritual life did feel like a crisis because I couldn't gain traction. There was little to grasp onto by way of definite truth or certain understanding.  For a few years I stayed inside these walls, with colored wires running every which way, some of them sparking at the ends, and me, feeling a little panicked at how to organize these wires into something functional.
Throughout those ten years I’ve hardly missed a Sunday and have continued to find much peace and joy in the gospel, but the thing I never considered was that my two experiences, my crisis and my faith could be intertwined to the extent that they were both pushing me on to the same higher spiritual plains.  There was also something exhilarating about the space of chaos for a time, something exciting about saying that I am the one who is different, who is brighter for my questions. At a certain point though, being inside those walls was not sustainable.  I had children, a husband, work to do, and I needed energy.  Feeling like I was in a crisis was no longer an option.  
I saw another set of doors, not the same set I had come through originally, but a set that led me out of this place of chaos.  A set built upon the idea that what I was experiencing did not have to be a crisis and did not actually put me at odds with God. I had to make a choice, I made it several times. I decided for a time to leave the crisis behind, not that I was without question, and nothing got “put on the shelf”, but I had to make a choice to re-define my spiritual journey. It couldn’t be a crisis anymore.  These new doors took some humbling to push open and walk out into the other side, but what I found when they were open was a beautiful meadow singing with possibility. Expansive space that suggested to me that my spirituality was not confined to a set of rules or expectations, but rather, my spirituality and even my attempted spirituality is sacred, holy and cherished by God.  The meadow offered me exploration and possibility. In this place I shed myself of the phrase 'a crisis of faith' because my questions no longer seemed like a crisis, my confusion at church doctrine or church history seemed pale in comparison with what lay in front of me.  I am learning to turn chaos into my own kind of order, which seems the most God-like quality I can attempt for now.  I am using words like 'learning', experimenting, exploration, faith, compassion, journey, trust and love as vanguards in my spiritual wanderings.            I am still an active Mormon, and while there are times that that phrase begins to creep to cynicism, frustration, and confusion, but there are more times when I am so grateful for a context to help me seek Heavenly parents and spiritual enlightenment. There are often times when I would not find what I am hoping to be elsewhere.  The word crisis is no longer allowed as part of my spiritual vocabulary because while it may have served me for a time, I cannot climb to higher peaks with it atop my shoulders.  

Fjords in Norway
As I’ve thought back to the peaceful set of moose standing silent and sacred up in the wilderness of Norway, I think I’ve come to better understand the reason they’ve come back to me so often.  At the time I saw in them something I so wanted for myself, an unaffected confidence at their place in the world.  I envied their simplicity.  I wanted to stand with grace and assurance in my place.  The spiritual turmoil I felt at the time would not allow me that kind of peace or confidence.  For a time I thought it meant I must leave the church, but I think over the past year, those serene and peaceful moose have become a symbol of what I might become within the church.  A beloved creature, not at odds with God, but cared for deeply.  A creature not in crisis, but one standing peacefully, eager for what the rising day might bring.


Lightning Storm

Tonight as my son ran down a rocky trail at a frantic pace, slipping on loose rocks and skidding across his small, hardly firm knees, crying "I want to go home," I hurried behind, helpless with calls to calm him.  I carried Thea in a pack on my chest because she refuses to walk anywhere, and how can I mind because she still lays her head against my heart while we hike.   By the time I made it to the bottom of the trail, Remy was in the car seat, buckles strapped across his heaving and tiny chest. He had thick, wet streaks stamped across his red cheeks.  I told him to take some deep breaths and I struggled to unhook the baby carrier across my back and rain ran at me as I ducked into the car.  There was no lighting.  There had been no lighting all day and there were no signs of lightning in the for the evening.  Just a reprieve from the heat and grey crops of clouds that had turned quickly to rain while we were hiking.  Remy's intense and almost abnormal fear of lightning I believe came from our summer in Sweden.  We were at a beach one morning when a terrific storm blew across the water and over us in a matter of minutes.  The thunder shook the trees and we ran through the forest to the nearest bus stop, but the bus didn't come for 40 minutes and Remy wailed under the feigned refuge of a tree branch the whole time we waited.  A sincere fear overtook his three-year old body and he wept until that bus came.  And even then, the bus driver was outraged that we needed to fit six strollers onto the bus (you do not break rules in Sweden) and so there were Swedish curse words and a man who fought with the bus driver.  And then we made it home and I'd accidentally left the upstairs window open and water flooded the spiral wooden staircase, and then I wept because I was so tired of making needless mistakes.  So, I suppose Remy's fear of lightning is somewhat founded, but it is still surprising to see the fear drive him so powerfully.

As we drove away from the trail today though, I thought of myself.  I thought about how although I don't literally run down trails screaming about what I believe will crush me, I often metaphorically do.  Over the last years I have done the work of unbinding my heart.  Unraveling the threads that I thought it needed to stay good.  I spent years in fear of where my heart might go if I untethered it.  Fear that it would run from holiness and God and sacred things if I simply let it wander and explore.  Fear that it might question itself beyond retention, or lose grip on awe.  Looking back, I can see myself running recklessly away from what I thought would be my demise--a true walk into the darkness, away from pretense, away from cultural spirituality, away from rules and checklists and should's and shouldn't's.  Steps that I originally thought were headed away from a God and away from my spiritual self, but were in fact, giving me wings to fly nearer to them.

The other night I drove in the backseat of my sister's car during a 10 p.m. lightning storm.  We were out by the lake and the lightning glinted out from under the thick clouds.  The clouds reminded me of a comfortable white dress a mother would wear and the lightning, without order or apology lit up the sturdy mountains that surround the valley like stalwarts ancestors.

Remy, this is what I wish you could have seen.  This is the beauty I wanted to explain on the drive home today:  that yes, lightning is to be feared at times, but do not run from all things that offer the possibility of hardship.  There is a time to run home, back to the familiar, back to the safety of all that is known, but there is also a time to untether your heart and let it go, even far, in search of the God you want to know. If you listen to the steady and most familiar beat of your heart closely, it will not misguide you.  There is so much beauty in the God you thought you had understood but you realize is so much more. There is beauty in being surrounded by the darkness as you understand that what you really know is so small, a strike of light in an expansive sky, and still your effort is loved.  The lightning strike far to the southwest that lights up a mountain face you realize you've lived so close to all your life, but have never gone to.  Go there, is what I want to tell you, Remy, go there and come back often to tell me what you discover, I will be gathering what I can as well.    


Putting Your Hand to the Glass

A couple of weeks ago, in a Jack-in-the-box parking lot, I stood back and felt like I was watching a scene as a spectator at an underwater tank at Sea World.  My son, an elegant little Orca dove and tumbled through long minutes of waves awash with thunderous emotion.  Every now and again, particularly in the afternoon, and especially after naps, Remy goes to a place that takes hours to recover from.  He cries and screams, shakes and cannot be calmed.  We were on a road trip, and he had slept and awoken in one of these eerily familiar fits.  I kept my calm, as did Carl.  We know now not to match his emotion with our own.  Instead, even against what my hot emotions prompted me, I held him close and with purpose.  Like one might do when they put their hand to the glass of the whale tank and only sense that you are part of something much larger.   I may never know what it's like to be in the water with those whales, no matter how I crane my neck around, I may never see or understand that dark part of the tank that certainly they must know so well. But, for those moments, when a whale swims past and you think, 'surely, this amounts to something, someday more moments will collide with this one, and then I will have a story worth telling'.

As I held my crying boy in that parking lot, people parked their cars, pushed open the grimy doors to eat their grimy food, then left again, and still he cried and hollered.  At points he stopped long enough to stroke the back of my hair and in those moments I had the distinct sense that he was at the bottom of something and was trying so hard to come up and out of it.  His subtle movements to grab onto me, I later understood to be wild and desperate graspings and pleadings to stay with him until he could pull himself out.  At the time, I knew that I wanted to write about the experience.  It seemed like a bright color in the past months of living, but I hadn't known why I would find occasion to write about it until recently.

We are that boy.  All of us are capable of being that boy.  As a condition of the human state, we are required to hold a basket of sadness and a basket of happiness within us.  Sometimes we reach our hand into the one and feel around and through whatever we find, and sometimes we dip into both baskets, even at the same time.  However, the revelation of happiness and sadness as a human condition did not seem revelatory, but rather, I keep going back to my son's subtle movements in the midst of his total breakdown.  How often are we watching for those movements, those simple requests, in others?

The bottom line is that we are not the only ones to feel lonely, to feel unease, to feel left out.  We are not the only ones working through a tangle of necklaces, pulling painstaking bead apart at a time.  We are not the only ones to have had our entire delicate tower crumble well into our lives.  And we are not the only ones who have to have to pull ourselves out of it.  My son did not need me to talk him through, reason him through, deliver or rescue him from.  All he needed was to reach around and feel my hair long enough to know that someone would be waiting when he came up on the other side.

Loneliness seems an epidemic, at least for so many of the people I've talked to recently.  Maybe we can do better for each other.  Maybe we can stop every so often and picture ourselves like the kid at the whale tank.  The people around us gliding quietly and gracefully to their quiet corners.  Give them the awe they deserve, then go to them.  Put your hand up, a subtle gesture, but deliberate enough so they know you are there.  Picture yourself swimming next to them, a big blue world enveloping you both, feel the sun on your back and remember to celebrate.

After my son finished crying in great heaves and effort on his part, we went as a family into the restaurant and ordered some grimy chicken nuggets and an oreo shake.  We didn't speak of his sadness, though we knew it was possibly still lurking nearby.  We all shared the thick ice cream and it felt like a holy celebration across the speckled plastic table.


Parenthetical Parenting

Our life is punctuated by parentheses.  Spaces and moments that are not the main point, not the absolute essential and rarely end with an exclamation mark.  Pieces that are inserted right in the middle of things, causing us pause, sometimes asking us to reconsider what was said before and after. The thing all these instances have in common is the encapsulating round lines on either side.  I think of these as the safe walls intentionally put up amid routine and chaos.  I think of myself as the author.  The creator of these moments for my children who do not yet know the grammar and rules.  The little babes who rely on intuition and the whirring wings inside their little bodies. 

Tonight, on a car ride home from a friends house, I decided that what matters to me more than my own cynicism is softness.  A soft heart is what I want.  I put on some choral music and we drove our suburban route back home.  The moon was round and layered in a quilt of clouds.  Remy had gotten his shirt muddy, so he was bare-chested and in his black and white striped pants and in the rearview mirror I could see his round face looking back at him against the dark window.  Thea moved her arms in slow circles.  We drove for a while without talking, and then I sensed that Remy wanted to say something.  I turned down the music and he said, "Mom, Jesus is close by here.  He is in my mind telling me to do good things and I'm listening."  All I could muster from the front seat was, 'that's nice, Remy.'  Writing the exchange now seems to undo some of the relevance and peace that accompanied the moment, but I guess this is precisely my point.   

I stumble over my words.  I don't know how to voice the complexities of both my faith and doubt to my four year old with my limited language, and so, often, I say nothing at all.  I've spent a lot of time worrying that I am doing him a disservice or will do him a disservice in the future by not articulating every nuance of my belief and un-belief, but tonight I understood that my words will always be secondary to what he can learn to hear himself.  

Tonight I felt that it is my job to create pockets of safety and peace in which my children can nestle into themselves and listen.  It is not my job to tell them what to hear or understand there, but rather to simply trust it.  I think of our car ride home as a brief parenthetical moment in our day.  That is my job, to every now and then listen carefully enough to know when a sentence needs pause, and to be brave enough to put up the proper grammar, that rounded wall,  a deliberate sacred space.  The world is full of run-on sentences, of exclamation marks and words that are not well thought out.  The world will not offer my children that space to pause and breath, to look at their reflection in the window, with the moon high above, and believe (because what else are they made of?) that Jesus is in their head, telling them to do the best things.  


A Piece of My Spiritual Heart

This is a very short little piece of my spiritual heart at the moment.  My friend asked me to get up in church and share it and I'm so mad that because I am just an emotionally vulnerable person, my darn voice gets shaky and I have to pause and cry throughout the whole thing.  It makes me so mad because I want to speak these words with clarity and looking out at everyone with ease.  I guess that's why writing is so well suited for folks like myself, the words do the talking, not my shaky little heart.

I wish I could stand and say that I know with certainly more things than I actually feel I do.  There is safety and peace in knowing some things, or lots of things, and so, although many of the things that seemed so certain to me at other points in my life now simply reside in the hopes and beliefs part of my heart, I have not given up the search and wrestle for knowing more.

In that vulnerable, frightening and exhilarating place where you realize you are so small and how could you really know anything? In that space, where everything feels stripped away, I've realized that when I put my mind and spirit to the task, I do know how to listen, and what I'm hearing so often is a voice that is far more noble, loving and selfless than I know how to be.  I heard a voice that told me to run to Thea when she'd snuck up a wooden staircase and was about to fall.  I heard a voice that encouraged me to look for a job on craigslist one night (which I never have done before or after), and found and got my dream job teaching art to low-income children.

I believe these are guidances from Heavenly parents, who both love me very much, even in my undeserved state. The most lovely Beings who certainly must know the inner workings of my greatest happiness.  I know that the love I have been endowed with for the tiny nursery children I teach each week is something greater than myself, and so for now, that is enough.  That joy is a privilege and it keeps me believing.  Believing and hoping for what, I'm not even sure.  It turns out that surety, absolute certainty can be a dull place to linger at times.  I am interested in the ups and downs, in the extremities of a spiritual life.  Some people have colloquially referred to my state as a 'crisis of faith', and indeed there are times in my myopic life that it does seem that way, but the deeper I get into knowing hardly anything for sure, the more vibrant those moments of spiritual affirmations become.  It is a good place to be, and I wouldn't exchange my experience.


On Heavenly Mother

At the bend, where the dirt path met the meadow and followed a horse pasture with three passive, but graceful horses, their wide necks bowed to the wet earth, we felt the sun on our faces for the first time in days.  The horses must have felt the light too. The slow un-shadowing of clouds left arcs of sun across their broad and speckled bodies.  They lifted their heads and treaded the soft ground, moving nearer us, as if to say, "You feel it too?"  We were far up a path in our rain gear because the showers showed no signs of slowing when we left the flat on the third floor just after lunch.  We had to get outside though, rainy or not.  The days were too long, slow and alone with just the steady rain beat to keep our time.

Motherhood can sometimes be so alone, and not even in a sad way, just matter of fact alone, with a hundred thoughts circling, but rarely time to address any one properly.  I imagine it must feel this way when you are a child too, and thus is parenting, a few steps across that shaky bridge between a bigger person and a smaller person, and sometimes a full, and emboldened sprint to the other side where we meet each other like perfect and old friends.  A fully imperfect attempt to say, we are one because you are my child and I am your parent. This afternoon of rain, after many afternoons of rain and Carl out of town with field work, even the worms searching for a little refuge on the sidewalks seemed welcome companions.  

Remy, Thea and I moved like wet flowers in our bright rain gear.  Up the unfamiliar Swedish road past the white church on the hill.  We moved through the cemetery, names I could not pronounce and hardly could fathom the idea that they lived in this foreign place their whole lives.  I knew somewhere at the end of the wide expanse of grass and rounded stones was a path to a forest, I just didn't know quite where.  And so we weaved, making parent and child talk.  I was loving my babies and their infinite earnestness so much that day.  In Swedish cemeteries, they have little stations with watering cans, clippers, and wheelbarrows and because time was far from the issue, we stopped at one.  The rain had let up some.  Remy filled the green watering can with the slender spout by pressing his foot to the silver pedal on the ground.  He moved deliberately to the flowers at the heads of gravestones and watered them, and I thought, 'please let my boy always find his work in this world.'   Because I'd spent many of the last months feeling useless to the society and helpless in this new place, I thought the least I could do was offer up some meager, and I do mean meager, service.  I took the clippers and starting snipping the long grass that had grown up around several of the headstones.  It seemed obvious that visitors had long since stopped coming to these particular sites because behind the forest of unruly grass strands was a name, still important somewhere I presume.  I don't remember any of the names I set free with my borrowed clippers, but I let myself believe it was a sort of service to them.  A hardly brave, but necessary service in one of my more humble hours.  Thea tottered, gathering wet grass and clover to her pants.  

We moved on through the cemetery and when we got near the outskirt, the part where the gates open to a few parking spots and a gravel road, we saw a grey old man.  From a far he looked tiny and prim, and when we got closer, he was still small and prim, but not so grey.  He was standing at the crossing of a path and looked as if he were torn between waiting up for this unlikely trio coming through the glum day toward him, and another direction, which we later found out to be the headstone of his wife.  He opted for us, because turns out that being a mother isn't the only time you find yourself quite alone.  Like most Swedes, he was terribly polite and spoke perfect english.  Remy held up the snail in his palm and the man said, 'that is snegel in Swedish' (now numbered among the dozen Swedish words I can recall.)  A pretty useless word, really, but the fact that someone took the time to teach it to us, to say it over several times until we got it and Remy held the snail up to his eyes and said, 'Snegel', means I will cherish that word as a passed on treasure probably until I am old and forget all my words.  The man, of course, was surprised to find Americans out on his island, much less in a cemetery, in the rain, but he was kind and almost a century old and did not question our running into him here.  We made small talk, which felt far more significant to all of us than any of the words actually spoken.  He did say my children were beautiful though, which I remembered and teared up right on the spot for because no stranger says that about your children in Sweden, and all we knew were strangers.  We kept walking, turning back to wave a few times until we saw him stop at a spot and even then, he looked up to wave one last time.  

In the forest we hiked up, the path slightly slick with mud, but mostly shaded by dense fir trees over us.  The rain had turned to a pasty-skied leak, but the light stayed the color of rainy days.  I loved to see my children climb over rocks and stop to pick up sticks.  It makes me more proud than the act really warrants, but along with the aloneness of parenting, there is no one to limit your pleasure and glee at the mere typical acts of a human being.  These moments are yours, because who else is going to delight in their child-ness?  Who else is going to record each movement on a watching and vulnerable heart, but a parent?   

On we hiked and Remy kept saying to me, 'mom, I know this place, we are going to the place where there is food.' I was confused because this forest looked rather like most forests that Remy, Thea and I had spent copious amounts of time in.  Also, I couldn't imagine how this far away path at the edge of the cemetery would lead to food, but he insisted he knew it.  

This is the part where we came to the pasture with the horses.  The part where the sun finally, and in a sincerely surprising way, came out from the clouds.  Didn't just come out, but pushed them all away until we were standing at the one-wired fence and the horses were moving slowly and curiously toward us, and the sun was beaming on all our eager faces, as if the rain had not been coming down in sheets at lunchtime.  

The horses did not ever come near enough for us to pet their noses, too wild, too Swedish.  But we took our raincoats off and hiked over a hill and into a ravine.  The wild blueberries springing up from their low bushes like confetti.  The sunlight coming through the trees like trailing streamers.  The spiderwebs, still wet, strung miraculously between tree trunks.  The birds making their noises again, filling the forest with sound.  To think, just hours before, I had been desolate, desperate, even hopeless inside the quiet flat with my two children.  

Remy insisted again that this all felt familiar, and then i remembered that Carl had taken them on a hike months before.  He had mentioned it was near the cemetery and that deep into the path, they'd found a little cafe run by a community of farming people.   Remy was right in remembering.  And then I stopped and realized that to me,  this all felt familiar as well.  Though in a very different way.  This sense of being okay, of being protected and watched over, of helping me to know how to take care of my children, it felt like a mother's love.  An ancient love that flowered deep inside the furthest recesses of my mind and heart and moved through all of me to that very spot where I stood, and watched my son and my daughter, and I felt that rare gift of being completely understood.  Being in this forest felt like remembering, felt like the song of welcoming.  Felt like a mother I've always known.


Looking Up

Today as we played in a park near our house, I told Remy it was almost time to go inside.  He said, "But mom! The clouds are broken!  We can stay out!"  It took me a minute to understand what he was trying to tell me, but then I realized that he was so excited because the clouds had indeed broken up their grey ominous position above us, pulled apart like two damp cotton balls,  and the familiar blue of sky came through. We could stay out.

There are so many words from the whole spectrum of Mormon folks in the last week, and partly I feel apologetic for adding any more. Metaphor is fairly abundant these days.  I am a poet, and so they are like warm toast before bed to me, but lately, even I feel tired of them.  Perhaps then, I was so moved by Remy's thought about the broken clouds because it was a simple and honest observational statement. Nothing more. The word broken-which so often implies the necessity for fixing back to an original state before it is good again--was turned on it's head by my three-year old son who saw the brokenness as a means for great hope.

And so, metaphor I guess it is, we cling to what helps us make sense.  Or simply, I am looking around, in a state of mother-ness, in a state of prayer, in a state of too little patience, in the state of a child who knows so little, and I do see clouds threatening torrential downpours, but I also see the places where the clouds are shifting and behind it all is that earthy, comfortable blue sky, or in this case, hope.

In regards to this religion that grew me, and grew along with me, I am grateful for the context it provides in which the sacred still resides. The heart, I believe, needs a quiet space to be required of it, and the mind--a good tension to grow, the spirit--a reminder of what it can be, and the body--consistency and sacrifice.  When being a Mormon is difficult, those are perhaps the times when these elements come together best.  When I start the journey inward through unmapped territory, it is terrifying and exhilarating and I try my best to use the spirit of God as my guide. The journey is altogether necessary if I am to become anything better. Isn't that our main premise?

 I don't like the word "doubts", because it has come to mean so little within the Mormon context, like, "oh, you're one of those who have doubts" and "crisis of faith" hardly seems appropriate because it is not a crisis and my faith is like a lone, steady hiker up a mountain who will not suddenly tumble back down the whole course because the light changes.   The questions and unfinished answers feel like paradigm shifts that expand me. And sometimes, I am wrong, and the journey back to 'once was' is not easy, and even upon arrival there, the landscape has shifted.   It wouldn't be honest or authentic to leap back entirely to what I was ten years ago, five years ago, a year ago, though there is always something to be learned from our former selves, those small selves are, after all, the people who have carried us so far in this life.  I don't ever want to discredit or belittle their knowledge, or beliefs or understandings. We evolve into a hundred new people over our life, and that is beautiful.

Maybe I'm beating around the bush now because I don't want to get into specific points of doctrine within the Mormon church, mostly because I feel it is not necessary for what I want to say. I hope these ideas move beyond the bounds of Mormonism. For me, I love the Mormon faith and teachings. Not everybody has to.  I'm working through things as I think we probably all are. I am saddened at times, my pendulum swings from complete devotion to confused exhaustion and all the stops in between, but I do believe in a tender God throughout it all.  I realize I don't understand everything, duh, how could any of us?  Sometimes, for periods of time, it is the thought of my children that keep me going, but most often it is much, much more. Something intrinsic and indescribable, a spirit that is confident in me, raising banners in anticipation of my following, and I am no one special.

To quote from a 2013 interview with John Dehlin,

Be willing not to engage the world purely with your intellect, but be willing to say that emotion matters as much as intellect, and that the spirit matters as much as emotion and intellect and love and listening and connection matters as much as intellect and integrity.  You can find and discover depths of emotional intimacy and connection and love and fulfillment that you would have not thought was not possible where you were.  I just want to let listeners know that that is possible.  And the price you have to pay is to take the intellectual down, raise up the emotional and the spiritual and the family and the community connections and start experiencing life from a multi-dimensional standpoint where integrity and your truth intellectually that you suppose is legitimate and incredible are all that matters, are of primal importance.  Be willing to say there's a spiritual truth that is also important, a spiritual whispering and influence and nurturing that also must be listened to and it is a different language than the intellect, there is an emotional language. We are often willing to throw out our emotional care and investment in others because we've got our truth and our certainty and our own pain and anguish.  If we can plug into our own emotions and develop a relationship of love and trust, and you start frankly caring more about people than ideas and doctrine and theology and history, it can transform your life.  

And so, this is a hard time for many of us within the Mormon context on all sides of the equation, but also an exciting and happy time as we go forward. As a feminist and gay rights supporter, I hope that things in the church will evolve as we as a people evolve, and if it doesn't, I will pray for peace and guidance again and again. We don't entirely know what to do, but we know the conversations that John and Kate have helped start will go on, and thank goodness.  Silence will get us nowhere.  On Sunday, I went to church like I do every Sunday, and it was lovely, and the people hugged me, and held my children while I played the piano and today when Remy was so excited about the broken clouds, I felt a wide swath of hope and optimism brush across me, like often it does. It's not the worst thing, nor an ending, to be broken.


In Light

The day the missionaries came to our house in 1988 a rainbow fell across the sky in our neighborhood on the hill.  I stood on the ledge of the bathtub and curled my fingers on the windowsill to pull my scrawny body up to see.  I could hear their voices, fresh as orange juice, through the open window.  The way I see it now, the rainbow is brighter than any rainbow I’ve seen since.  The sky more orange and small. The fresh puddles on asphalt reflect two shimmering missionaries, pressed shirts and black pants, my mom, my dad, my little white haired brother between them, and somewhere in the background, me, watching it all.  Documenting the magic, cataloguing it for some future time.  Surely they all came in to eat dinner then, and I reached up on tiptoes and pulled down my best dress, because I always did when the missionaries came, and we must have all celebrated my mom. After so long, she’d decided to be baptized.

The other image that has come back to me recently, and replayed itself like a marionette show, or a little puppet on a string moving forward across the stage, then backwards to start again is this:  I am running to the church two blocks away and across a street.  My grandparents, who pulled an RV full of poker cards and whiskey into our driveway, were visiting Provo, Utah for the week. They had no idea where they’d come to.  My mom said I didn’t need to go to church that week, that it was okay, but as I stood at the front window watching my neighbors click past in heels, swinging scripture bags, something compelled my whole body to the church building.  I don’t know if I told my parents, or at this point, how much of this story is actually true, but I remember so distinctly the feeling of running a few minutes behind everyone to get where I was supposed to be.  I picture my dress to be yellow.  And so I am forever running with blonde hair and a yellow dress. A miniature body housing a gigantic child heart that just wanted to do the right.  Whether I stopped to put on my shoes in the hurry to love God is something I can’t remember.  I am still compelled to love God in this inexplicable, even irrational way.

It makes even the thought of leaving then, a heavy, sorrowful weight. 

The most difficult words to write are the ones that are my compass.  For so long they have been the direction, the movement, however subtle, I trusted.  So what to do when you have to step back and articulate north? 

I go to church every Sunday because I love the people and I love the things I grew up knowing.  So much of my heart believes what Mormons believe. I practice it.  I am awed by it. I am faithful in almost every sense and duty.  I love the unintentional community that brings me lasagna when I have a baby and watches my children when I am sick.  I love that I can do the same for them.  I started to tell my son about Joseph Smith and then stopped at least a dozen times because I didn’t know how to rectify the contradictions in my head into a story for a 3-year old.  I felt that I should though, not rectify, but tell my son as I could.  I did tell him the story of Joseph Smith, as much as he needed to know.  I told him because I believe that he deserves a space in this wild world where he can ask for miracles and know they are his for the taking.  I will tell my daughter the same. 

Leaving the church I grew up in is almost an indigestible thought, it gets caught up somewhere in the space between my ribs and stays there heavy. I don’t want to go, and I don't plan to. I love this gospel.  Not because I believe everything detail within the Mormon context, and I don’t believe with every fiber of my being, or beyond a shadow of a doubt, but my children, my children, my children.  If you were sitting next to me, those words would accompany near tears glistening on the rims of my tired mother eyes.  If I did leave, I'd miss it terribly.  I would feel sorrow because I believe in promises between myself and a God that I cannot un-know. But I'd find my place because I have thirty years to build from. But my children, how will they know the sacred space that belongs only to a form of consecration,  the belief in the impractical and spiritual that serves one so well in all other things,  the specialness that comes from a concrete God who knows you, a prayer on your knees in the deep night, the chance to be obedient because you love someone more than yourself.  I know these things surely exist in similar forms elsewhere, but I’m too old, and not sure where to find them. 

As a 21-year-old missionary in Uruguay, for 18 months I was positive that every family I saw on the street, or in a front yard, or on a bus, was the golden family I’d been called to Uruguay to teach the gospel to.  So I stopped them, doggedly, and asked if we could come over and share a message, or cut their lawn, or anything, please.  I never converted a family to the church and most often they gave me a wrong house number or pretended they didn’t hear me.  For so long I wondered why I’d felt strongly to talk to each of them, partially looking nothing more than a naive child for a year and a half, but the more I look back on it, the more I realize what a glorious thing to have the chance to love and love and love again with a heart maybe more pure and hopeful than I’ll ever have again. 

In Sweden we ride the subway, and then the train an hour across town to get to the church.  We are greeted by old men with firm handshakes warbling around the lobby.  Some of them pull my husband aside later and ask how he reconciles his work as a geologist with the fact that the earth is only 7,000 years old.  Absurd stories are sometimes told at testimony meeting and once, in Uruguay, a woman got so worked up, she fainted and fell backwards into the arms of the bishop who’d jumped up to catch her.  I am tired of the mystification of motherhood and the priesthood and I want to talk about Heavenly Mother. I think there is room for improvement in the way we live the gospel.  But none of these things seem to matter much when I see my little boy perched on his metal folding chair near the window in his primary class.  He is beaming and his legs are swinging and Jesus is there. 

When I find him again he has drawn a picture of me, dad, him and Thea and one figure I don’t know.  We have tall lines for legs, big round heads and more circles for ears.  At the top of the page his teacher has written, I have an eternal family.  And so this world is rife with contradictions of the heart and mind.  I am out, then I am in, and so on for weeks, months and now years.  Though I never speak much of this to anyone but my husband because I love these people, and I love singing hymns together, and playing the prelude music in relief society.  I love the missionaries coming for dinner and the deep rich space for divine thought.  I’m so grateful to these people I would cry if I stood up to talk about it.

It is very real, and most honest, this well of feeling and thought from which I pull both glorious senses about this world and what lies beyond, and things I once felt sure of but no longer do.  I know, this is no surprise for organized religion, we all go through our dismantling, our terrifying and liberating deconstruction, but then things become real, and people are leaving, and asking if you will stay.  And you are left standing in a beautiful meadow, staring at your children, praying what is it you would have me do?  And then a warm rain starts to fall and you stand still because you remember vibrant rainbows from so long ago.  You believe in them still, that they were so bright.  And the rain falls down your hair, and into your eyes until the whole world shimmers and dances.  You stand, thinking of your children and waiting for an answer.