Sweaty, pulling up ivy and stubborn weeds, I tried to get to the bottom of the unease I’d felt all morning. Truthfully, I’ve been feeling this way for a long time. My answer when I don’t have answers is to do some manual labor in the garden. In another life, I would have made a good Zen monk, raking sand and fluffing up moss.
The garden is where I join God for my therapy sessions. I pulled out dead leaves by the handful, spreading fresh mulch under the massive boxwood near my front door. One sore, aching back later, the words surfaced:
I feel like an impostor.
Recently, I was accepted to Spiritual Direction program at the seminary where my husband is pursuing his M.Div. It is an intensive certificate program spanning two and half years I’m both excited and nervous about starting the program in the Fall. Without ever planning to, we have become a “seminary family,” that rare breed of crazy people led, kicking and screaming (if only in our own heads) toward a life of walking with God.
How did I end up here?
I know some people in my life, especially some in the arts community where I was active and maybe even a few family members, wonder the same thing. If it was somehow weird to them years ago that I meditated at a Zen meditation hall (zendo), it may even be weirder that church is now a regular part of my life. How does someone who was raised in a half Catholic, half Jewish home, who practices Reiki, and lists a trip to Japan to visit Buddhist and Shinto temples high on her bucket list end up deciding to do coursework at a Christian seminary?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Does this make me a “church person?” I don’t know what that means, exactly. As a teenager, I went to Mass sometimes with my grandmother, my heart caught by the beautiful, precise and eternal art of celebrating the Eucharist. And when I did zazen (sitting meditation) at the zendo, I loved the striking of the gong at the beginning and end of practice, group chanting of the Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra, and settling in for meditation. I adored spending several days sitting in the stalls with the monks at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, chanting the Psalter. My favorite times of the church year are Advent and Lent, periods of deep reflection, darkness and waiting. Most folks come for the sermon. I come for the rituals.
Sacred rituals help us to turn away, however briefly, from the incessant demands of the world and toward something far more enduring, vast and sustaining. This is what ultimately draws me to church. I can be somewhat disciplined on my own about prayer, meditation or other contemplative, sacred practices, but it helps to have others who can help me turn towards God when I’m feeling too hamstrung by the ordinary world.
So, why do I feel like an impostor? What I can tell you is that I’m a good sinner (I’ve had a lot of practice) who has been the unwitting recipient of God’s grace so many times it’s kind of embarrassing. Something about that has turned me inside out and has led me (sometimes kicking and screaming) down this path. But when I look at myself in the mirror, I wonder if I’m the kind of person other Christians would trust with their faith journey as their spiritual companion. Other than that random time someone asked me if I was an Episcopal priest, I don’t know that anyone would peg me as a “Christian.” I’m different than many I know: interfaith by rearing, New Age by interest and bordering on Zen by inclination. I’m the”spiritual but not religious” type who actually does show up for church.
I cringe at churchy language. I have a hard time saying, “I’ll pray for you” or “God is good” even if I will pray for you or that I do believe in God’s awesomeness. I don’t even like the phrase “faith journey” but have yet to find a better way to say it. If I were to name my faith journey, it would take its inspiration from Kierkegaard: “Fear and Stumbling.” Fear of me, fear of being exposed, fear of being ridiculed, of not measuring up. Fear of God saying, “Beloved daughter, nice try. Better luck next time.” Stumbling over my own two feet, stumbling past my ego and need to be cool, and stumbling toward God in the hopes of being completely, fully caught.
I often think of a story someone told me about her period of spiritual discernment. She was in her kitchen praying, and asked for a sign from Jesus. As she sat in silence, Jesus suddenly appeared before her. He stood there, looked at her, then shrugged his shoulders. I told her, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
But here’s the thing I cannot shake or deny. Long ago, when I was traversing a very dark valley, something unseen got hold of me and would not let go. And then it happened again.
The first time I walked up to my church, I was so intimidated I almost turned around and left. The bells had rung a couple of minutes before, and I was alone on the steps. Then I felt myself literally being pushed through the doors. I was in the midst of a divorce, and many things in my life were coming unglued. I needed something bigger than me to fit the pieces of my life back together. I found myself some nights, kneeling by the side of my bed, hands folded the way my mother taught me to pray, asking for help, relief, release, repair, wholeness, healing.
And so, here I am.
“I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place. We are a motley crew, distinguished not only by our inability to explain ourselves to those who are more certain of their beliefs than we are but in many cases by our distance from the centers of our faith communities as well.”
― Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith