If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that we humans make life so much more complicated and difficult than it needs to be. Is there anything more basic to life than waking up with the sun, eating, and observing life around us?
As I write this, I’m taking advantage of (probably) seasonal spring-ish weather in the Mid-Atlantic – 50* on a random day between Christmas and New Year’s. Just a week ago we were anticipating a torrential rainstorm followed by a hefty shift in the temperature. The result of this warmer weather is that I’m on my porch with a hot cup of coffee, noticing that the sun’s angle is behind me (I’m facing east) and maybe just a little bit higher than it was only a week ago on the Solstice. I can see the Susquehanna River, its waters a little lower than a few days ago. No speed boats, no tug boats – just a wide swath of blue.
Peaceful. Just sitting and observing is peaceful. And simple. But necessary. Do we really need to sit with a screen in front of us upwards of 8, or maybe 12, hours a day? I know the science is out there – that can’t be good for our brains. It certainly isn’t for me.
To take a wider view, my week-to-week activities BC (before corona) were busy. So busy. So many activities, driving here and there, so many long-term commitments that I didn’t sleep on before agreeing to. Sure, my mind says, Oh, that will only take an hour each week… without adding up the time driving to and from, prepping for said activity, and alllll the mental space that said activity would take up.
I’ve realized a lot about myself this year, and one huge realization is that I really can’t focus on so many things at once. When I’m involved in so many “people-y” activities, I not only spend time doing all the things I mentioned previously, but then add on replaying many interpersonal interactions in my head later… while brushing my teeth, while getting ready for bed, while laying awake in the middle of the night.
At the core of its economy, being so busy and so committed is inefficient. I don’t get the return on investment most of the time. I end up being tired, worn out, and on the brink of throwing in the towel. That’s not good for getting returns on other things that really matter: the work I do every day for a living, close relationships with family and friends, things that keep my life moving forward like cooking and cleaning and maintaining our house.
I want a simpler life in 2021. This does include keeping so much off of my calendar… and actually, it would be nice to not be involved in so many things that I actually don’t need to reference my calendar that often. I have to make transition time in my day – time to grocery shop, time to eat, time to cook, time to clean up, time to relax and unwind…. really relax and unwind, preferably without a screen.
This means that I might fully give myself over to books. My mind, a fragrant offering, if you will. Reading is something I love to do, and more than that, I love the conversations and new ideas that transpire as a result. I love transporting myself to new worlds and new lands, meet characters I never knew existed. And understand myself and my fellow humans more than I did than when I initially opened the cover.
In January, I wrote this post about saying no, my theme for this year. It came off the coattails of the Year of Being Honest. I haven’t picked a personal theme for 2021 yet, but thought I would recap and expound on the list of things I wanted to do for 2020.
Reading. Lots and lots of it. Mostly in front of my YouTube fireplace. With a dog. And a blankie. Because 10-year-old Elizabeth is resurfacing. My current goal is to read 40 books this year.
I have read 65 books as of December 25, 2020. Most were fiction, fantasy to be exact. 29 out of the 65 were nonfiction, a bit surprising as I counted them up. I read a couple of series and trilogies that blew me away and kept me coming back for more. Currently, I’m starting a re-read on A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas since 1) my sister gifted me the hardcovers of this series and 2) the new book comes out in February.
Spiritual introspection and discipline. Continuing to find new ways of approaching my Christian faith in a way that edifies myself and the Church.
This one I didn’t dive too deep into, honestly. Church has been weird this year with the pandemic, and I found myself more often than not not tuning into the virtual services and instead enjoying my Sunday morning like the rest of the world. Does that sound bad? I don’t know. I do know that I’ve needed a break because I’ve been doing the Sunday-morning-Church-thing for 30 years of my life. As far as exploring my own spirituality and having discipline, I would say regular therapy sessions and the books I read (yes, the fiction too!) have helped me immensely in that area.
I’ve also been focusing this year on uniting my body and my spirit/mind this year. After years of infertility and in general kind of hating my body at different times for different reasons, it was high time to relearn how I can love myself instead of look in the mirror with disdain. Which brings me to…
Exercise that isn’t running. Gasp. Hold the damn phone. I know. This year I think might be a running sabbatical.
Most of 2020 was a running sabbatical I had a few races lined up, and completed two. In December I attempted a 5K a day but for about a week and a half I’ve been nursing runner’s knee in my right knee. I hope to get back out there in the beginning of 2021. After a break from regular training, I realize how integral running has been in my life, and how there is a magic that happens. I run, I feel better. It’s amazing.
Making good food in my beautiful kitchen.
This was an easy one to hit with the pandemic. I would call my cooking style “Bougie Midwestern comfort food”… all the things I loved growing up like shepherd’s pie, roast, corn chowder, pizza.. but with higher quality ingredients and more that’s homemade. We also began buying veggies from a local CSA and in 2021 we will be subscribers to the CSA on a weekly basis. I think we’ve eaten at a restaurant a handful of times in the past 9 months, and gotten delivery on average once every 10 days or so. I tried my hand at sourdough, which was kind of a failure, but I found a new recipe for a starter so I will try that and see how it goes. I’ve gotten really good at using up leftovers and veggies about to go bad. In this area, 2020 has been a HUGE success.
Drinking less caffeine. Also on the list of things that don’t make sense.
Hmm. Well. This did not happen. Ha! However, since the end of May, the number of alcoholic drinks I’ve had I can count on one hand. THAT is a huge feat for me, and I really don’t see alcohol playing a role, if at all, in my 2021 plans. It’s all a part of saying no to the things that don’t serve me anymore.
Being honest about who I am and what I want out of life. Approaching my weirdness with a curiosity rather than contempt.
This has not been easy, and I’m still not there yet. With some work changes, I have pinned down some criteria for how I want to continue in my job. Teaching is not easy right now, and with big changes on the horizon with a new Secretary of Ed, budget cuts, and virtual learning, it’s good to have some boundaries and expectations for my own career. I’ve thought a lot about switching careers or finding a new teaching job, but I haven’t made any hard decisions about it. I’m content where I am.
Connecting with family and friends.
This has been a constant in my life, mostly because we live far away from all family and most friends. I don’t have Facebook or Instagram anymore, so that can make it difficult though not impossible to keep in touch. The video chatting app Marco Polo has been the real MVP here – especially with keeping in touch through time zones.
Reflecting and revising my teaching practice.
This has happened naturally with the changes brought about by the pandemic. I have always been computer and tech savvy, and I brought that into my work more this year. I’ve finally cracked the code (for me) on how to make lesson planning easier to do. I’ve become a Google Slides hero. And overall, I would say with the changes this year (new school, new grade level) things are going well. It feels good to have tenure and several years in K-12 ESOL behind me. That’s definitely a first for me in my career. AND I love being back in high school.
Making the bed every day (???)
We do this. We make the bed every work day. And it’s a habit I won’t ever stop because it starts the day off right.
Here we are, another day, another post about reading. I’ve never really regularly written about my reading… ever. I think when I was younger, I was so unsure of myself as a reader, and trying to pretend I loved reading when it was all I could do to pay attention, read the Cliff Notes (for some books), and regurgitate information in class.
I was actually in the high-level English classes in high school, but I think it was because I was a really good test-taker. If I were to be asked to provide exposition about a particular book, I’d fall flat on my face. I relied on my smart classmates to provide that for me so I could jot it down in my notes for the eventual test.
To be honest, I’m not sure what all has changed in the past few years that I’ve been so interested and devouring books, especially this year. Maybe I’ll do a post soon about my 2020 stats. I’m still balls-deep in the Mistborn trilogy. Today is my first day of winter break (perks of being a teacher!) so I will definitely spend a chunk of time reading. I have so many thoughts…
Besides perhaps being more mature, one thing that has helped immensely in my rekindled love of reading is that people are out there talking about books. Some of our Maryland friends are huge readers and so they talk about things they read. I have discovered BookTube. My husband has been reading fantasy since he was a wee lad. My immediate family are big readers, too. So I have a lot of great influence and accountability, if I want it.
So… 2021. What’s on tap? With a gift card I received for Christmas I’ve ordered The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and Ship of Magic. These are all well-regarded books in the adult fantasy genre, ones that I’ve heard mentioned over and over. I generally don’t buy books, especially hardcovers, when I’m not sure if I will like it or not. A house project we have coming up is to install better bookshelves in the front room – so, of course more beautiful books to fill them won’t be a bad thing.
With the books I mentioned, I will delve into the writing of three new-to-me authors: V. E. Schwab, Scott Lynch, and Robin Hobb. I don’t know much about V. E. Schwab other than her books are lit. Scott Lynch wrote the introduction to a book I read recently for book club (Dragon Waiting by the late John M. Ford), and I won’t lie: I was so excited about his writing style that I wished the actual book had been written by him! I have also heard nothing but great things about Robin Hobb, a female author. Maybe I will also read the Farseer trilogy that she wrote.
I have also preordered the new Sarah J. Maas book that I think will be released in February, A Court of Silver Flames. This is the fourth book in the Court of Thorns and Roses series that I absolutely devoured end of 2019 through the beginning of 2020. Naturally, because it will have been a year since I completed those books, I should reread them, not only to have the events and characters in my mind, but also because they are such fun books to read.
I anticipate that I will read much more fantasy. Who knows.. maybe I’ll get into more of the Cosmere and read Way of Kings et al. I will be beginning two series with the Scott Lynch and Robin Hobb books, so I’ll have a natural TBR set up if I like those. I might continue with the Outlander series since I’ve had the fourth book on my monthly TBR for, well, months.
And then, of course, is the book club I belong to where we read award-winning fantasy and sci-fi. The first book of 2021 will be A Memory Called Empire, a space opera with indigenous Mexican vibes. I’m here for it. Never thought I’d say that about a fantasy or sci-fi book, but here we are. I will probably get started on it soon after I finish Mistborn.
As far as a number of books to read, I’m unsure about this goal. In 2020, my goal was 40 books, which for me at the time was realistic but still pushing it. So far, as of December 23, I’ve read 64 books. What. The. Heck. That’s more than a book a week. Even if I don’t include my DNF’s, that’s still more than a book a week. I guess 2020 was made for reading.
In 2021, I will also aim to discover more about why the genre of fantasy has appealed to me so much outside of the fact that it’s a convenient and fun escape from the current world we live in. It’s certainly not the only reason, though. Stay tuned!
We are approaching the longest night and shortest day of the year. I always focus on the night part.
Winter twilight produces some of the weirdest light. Night comes on fast, especially if it’s a day like today where skies have been gray and heavy with frozen precipitation. At one point, there is still some light, and it gradually wanes until it’s completely dark. So dark, so quickly, that it doesn’t even let you remember when exactly became dark. But at the same time you know the exact moment.
Twilight, and more specifically winter twilight, is a liminal space. It’s a no-man’s-land, and in-between, maybe even an upside-down. There have been many times in my life that I would characterize as liminal spaces, where the edges and boundaries are blurred and it’s just me trying to find my way.
It makes sense that one would feel uncomfortable in such a space. Some would call it a time when you’re on the edge of a new beginning, but not quite there. Some religions might call it purgatory.
For the majority of my life, I’ve seen these spaces as purgatory, or even at times a special place in hell. Times where I was completely unsure of myself, questioning all of my life decisions and circumstances that have brought me to this singular point.
As humans, we wait very poorly. We are magnificently impatient. We want to hear the chord at the end of the song that resolves the melody. We think that somehow that will bring us peace.
But the growth happens in the liminal space. I think it’s probably near impossible as a well-adjusted human to become completely comfortable in the liminal space… though some can be very efficient and even enjoy long-term experiences in the liminal space.
Is it possible to see the liminal space extend before you and not be afraid of it? To not be rushing for the door on the other side of the room? To actually look at the things in the Room of Liminal Space and appreciate them? I think it is, but you have to get past the itching and biting of the discomfort.
I think after awhile in that Room, the fog lifts and the eyes adjust to a different kind of light. There still exists an awareness of an escape, the door that will release us across the threshold into the destination we have craved for so long.
That is to say, I think these times of uncertainty and perhaps purgatory may not be as bad as we think they will be. Take winter, for instance. In just a few days, the Northern Hemisphere will experience the shortest amount of daylight for the entire year. Where I am that amounts to 9 hours and 22 minutes of daylight. That is actually much more than other locations which may experience next to no daylight. If we look at this phenomenon through an asset-based lens, we see that there are then 15-some-odd hours of darkness.
Can we embrace the darkness? The lack of light that encourages us to hibernate and see inside ourselves? Twilight offers a road back into the cave of our inner selves. Of books and ideas and time without screens and technological distractions. Of cups of coffee over heart-to-hearts and journal entries and just thinking while falling asleep. Of prayer and contemplation and meditation. I think after this year, we could all use some of that no matter our place on the spectrum of intro/extroversion.
It seems that some fuel their writing by the constant stream of events in their lives. Each big event is a story in itself, with its own plot twists and story arcs.
Mine was like that for awhile, with stories of dating long distance, marriage, Army life, grad school, trying to have a baby, moving across the country and becoming a civilian family once again…
What’s next? I ask myself less frequently, but frequently nonetheless.
Honestly, I have no idea.
That is, unless termite + water damage creates a giant hole near the kitchen door and we have exactly thismuch leftover hardwood to fix it. Or unless we move three tons of crushed gravel, sand, and paving stones to build a patio. Or unless…. you name it. Funerals, trips, work changes, blowing my reading goal out of the water. Pandemics…
One thing is for sure, and that is that our life story and path is unique. Really, everyone’s is, but everyone just wants to see themselves reflected in others’ stories. It feels safer, more manageable. When you don’t see your reflection, others’ stories can become unrecognizable.
What about, instead of turning away and putting our attention elsewhere when we don’t see our reflection, we don curiosity? Wouldn’t that be something?
What about, instead of continuing to align ourselves with people just like us (I get it, it’s a biological human survival imperative), we seek to make new alliances?
2020 has really done us dirty as a society, and as a human race.We could easily turn away from the mirror and say, Fuck you, COVID. Fuck you, pandemic and economic hardship and people on the other side of the political line. Screw you, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Everyone’s stories are all kind of front and center right now. The injustices are plain. The inequities cannot be ignored unless you 1) live under a rock or 2) let yourself become willfully ignorant. Never have we been so connected during a time of physical distance.
For me, and I can speak only for myself, my focus on “the next big thing” has shifted to just getting through. To making an effort to see the other side. To enjoying the journey because we don’t really know what the final stop will be.
As we near the end of 2020, this is the time I can look back and catalog in my mind my experience with reading this year. Without a doubt, a pandemic will naturally give some more time to read, and that’s what happened to me. We are not super extroverted social people in the first place, and generally do spend a lot of time at home, but a pandemic helped us solidify that more as we opted to stay inside. In addition, for the majority of the past 9.5 months, I have not had a commute, which saves not only the 50 minutes driving to and from work, but the time I spend packing a lunch, getting my bags (yes, multiple) together, et cetera.
I could have chosen to do many other things with my extra time. I could have done more yoga, gone to the gym (when it was open), I could have made lavish breakfasts, learned new makeup application techniques, spent more time in my craft room. But instead, I decided to read.
When I was younger and looked at the way other members of my family devoured books, I remember thinking about how they would just spend so much time with… themselves. In a world that may or may not really exist with a story that is not true. In my mind, that was a waste of time. Why would you keep your nose in a book so often when you could do other things?
I think some of my motivation to not read was from guilt and fear. I felt guilty, sitting on my butt reading for hours on end. Surely there were chores to do! Things to cook! And then when I became old enough for a job, there were hours I could work. So work I did, and for probably at least 8 years of my formative years, I did not spend them reading in my spare time.
I also felt fear. The good ole FOMO existed before social media, and already I had some tenuous relationships with friends. If I didn’t pounce on an invitation to hang out, would I have said friends for long? (My tenuous relationships mainly resulted from my own actions… I was part drama queen, part Stage 5 clinger).
I could go on about how these two states of being – fear and guilt – have dominated my life since I can remember.
So here we are. It’s the end of 2020 and I’m almost 35. I’ve read or DNF’d 62 books. My goal was 40. What happened, besides having more time?
I became motivated to read more because of a few things:
1. Numbers. I like crunching data and seeing progress. Goodreads provides a perfect place to track my reading and even get more recommendations. I forget things easily (maybe adult ADD? Who knows…) so Goodreads helps me remember a good book I saw or heard about.
2. Booktube. Yes, this year I finally bought a one-way ticket for a ride down the worm hole to Booktube. Some of my favorites are Peruse Project, Jen Campbell, Reading With Moe, and Elliot Brooks. One of the motivations for any activity that we humans have is community – not feeling left out. I love watching these women talk about the books they love, don’t love, and even about books they’ve written.
3. Conversations I have can have with others. I mentioned in an earlier post about how when you read, you have so much to talk about with other people! Even if you’re just talking about a genre that the other person doesn’t like, there’s bound to be something to connect about. Aaron and I have even opened up new conversations between us because now that I read fantasy, I know more of his “language” when it comes to books. Book clubs are fun, too!
4. Personal insight. Usually in every therapy session, my therapist asks what I’ve been reading. We talk about it, she gives me recommendations, and I’m left to think about a particular book’s influence on my life. Sometimes I surprise myself with the things that annoy me in a character, but then realize that those are also the same traits I dislike about myself. Or, I see a type of character in a new light, like a villain who had some sort of trauma that made them the way they are, and it sparks compassion. When we practice compassion or understanding with fictional characters, we can then transfer those attributes to real people in the real world.
5. Exposure to new ideas. A world where there is a magic system based on metals? (Allomancy in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn) A world where the guy who is hired to kill monsters is actually the most well-adjusted character? (The Witcher) A space suit made by and for humans? (Jack Glass) A memoir that discussed the possibilities of cultivating an urban garden? (Farm City) An epic love story where a woman travels through strange stones? (Outlander) These are all new ideas that are worth pondering and exploring more, at least for me. My world is expanded, even from sitting on my couch under x blankets, wishing for a pandemic to end.
I have no idea what 2021 will look like as far as reading is concerned. As demonstrated in my November reading posts, I am awful at planning what I will read besides the book club I’m in. I don’t want to the emotions of fear or guilt to spur me to read any book. I will be bringing in the new year with our local library’s winter reading challenge, which this year is accompanied by my other favorite activity – running. What’s better than that? Reading and then a run to either listen to a book or think about what I read? You decide.
In every story, there’s a baddie. A villain. And in an epic fantasy story, it’s a “dark one” or “evil one” who’s been around for a long time. They’re usually thousands of years old and have a secret to immortality.
No one thinks that the villian can ever be overthrown, or overpowered, or killed, or stopped. So society continues for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, under this assumption and eventually becomes complacent.
And then there’s this person who comes along, the “chosen one” trope we know too well. And this person has the power somewhere deep down to overthrow the villian. We hope that they will, and we follow their epic perhaps through seven, ten, or fourteen volumes. We see their struggles, their trauma, their friendships and sometimes romances.
We see ourselves. And this is why epic fantasy is epic.
It speaks to the parts of us that have become complacent in our lives, under the “regime” of our mind. Our assumptions about ourselves. No, we aren’t enslaved by an evil dictator, at least not outwardly. But what about inwardly? Who really has control of your thoughts, feelings, and eventual actions?
I think it’s human nature to want someone else to come along as the chosen one to eradicate the bad guy. But let’s be real – it’s us that has to kill the villain.
For a book club that reads award-winning sci-fi and fantasy, I’m going to be reading Greenglass House, pictured above. It’s about an orphan who has been adopted by innkeepers and must figure out secrets of the inn. It’s set during winter, which is a perfect pick. I anticipate that it will be a fun read: it’s a seasonal one, and considered a middle grades book.
Now, about Sanderson. WOW. I finished Mistborn last night and tried to process some of it… but wow. I can’t wait to read Well of Ascension, for which I bit the bullet and ordered the hardcover. (I may or may not have already also ordered hard copies of The Final Empire and Hero of Ages.) I actually read most of this book via audiobook from my local library. I’ve been trying to get into audiobooks more. I generally was never a podcast or talk radio person, but being someone who likes to multitask (and do more crafting because of the season), I thought it was no skin off my back to listen. I also have taken to listening to books while I walk, and even while I run. The narrator of the Mistborn book, Michael Kramer, is fantastic. He does a great job of giving slightly different voices to the characters without going overboard. I usually speed it up… mostly it was at 1.25x, and last night when shit was REALLY hitting the fan, I sped it up to 1.5x.
Besides Greenglass House and the Well of Ascension, another series I want to get back into is Outlander. I’m due to read the fourth book, Drums of Autumn, which has been on my TBR for honestly months now. Part of me is terrified of the length of the book – some 900 pages – and part of me is terrified of getting my heart broken. But this is why we come back to the series we love, right? Because we have a stake in the characters’ fate. Because we see ourselves. That’s why I come back, at least.
As for the rest of my December reading, well, we’ll have to see. I have winter break at the end of the month, and obviously hope to spend much of that time reading in addition to dog cuddling, cooking, and crafting. Who knows… I may be into Stormlight Archive by 2021…
If I were to choose a playlist of songs to make up the soundtrack to my biography, at the very top of the list tied for first place there would be classic rock and Methodist hymns. The top artists would be Heart and Charles Wesley. The former as a nod to the music I was raised and the latter as a testament to the music that played over and over in my head after church on Sundays. Both formed my spirituality.
I owe so much of my literacy development and my mad sight reading skills to having to read out of a hymnal in church. From the tender age of five I was singing along to hymns in church accompanied usually by the organ. We sat in the third row towards the center, so I generally wasn’t within the proper angle to see the organist plugging away at her work, but I was mesmerized nonetheless. If I remember correctly, I sat between my grandma and my mom. Or sometimes between my grandma and my sisters. If I remember correctly. But for sure I knew that my grandma was on my left, at the ready with Mentos or Winterfresh gum.
We would mark the hymns ahead of time with little ribbons by looking through the bulletin. I remember the anticipation of singing a hymn I loved. I adore hymns for so many reasons, only one of which is how beautifully the chords move through their progressions and carry a swelling and then fading melody. Then of course how many verses rhyme. I especially love the way that it’s easy to harmonize – the only question for me is which note I start on. To find this I hum along while the introduction is played and that usually sets me straight. I love to be a sole chorus of altos in a sea of sopranos and tenors and basses. I love hymns so much that I may have swiped a hymnal from the church I grew up in, and still have it on my shelf to this day. Truthfully, I probably borrowed it to practice songs on the piano and then forgot to give it back.
Hymns were my prayers, and some 30 years after beginning my formal journey in organized religion, I realize that. In the fine print below each hymn, you can see from where and when the words and music originated. My favorites are the ones where the words come from a translation of Latin from the 9th century (like “O Come O Come Emmanuel”) or when a hymn was written during a pivotal moment in history like the Civil War. But it doesn’t have to say “written during the Civil War”; I know that the years of 1861 through 1865 bear significance. It meant a lot to me that I was also singing the same choruses as my spiritual predecessors from ages ago.
I often committed words and music of hymns to memory. This will happen after you sing something so many times. Not only does repetition play a huge part, but so does the context in which you sing the hymn. We know from modern brain science that the body remembers first – whether an event was traumatic or not. It makes pathways from sights and smells, warmth and cold. This is how I made memories with hymns. I know that “For the Beauty of the Earth” is usually sung in the spring, with spring banners and colors adorning the church, trying to decide if I would wear a raincoat to cross the alley to church or just run for it. Memories of Christmas Eve hymns like “Silent Night” are laced with the scent of tiny candles blown out, and during the late service my belly would be full from a dinner with family.
Just like Scripture I’ve memorized (which by the way, isn’t much: I kind of suck at memorizing just words out of context), hymns will come back to the forefront of my mind at different times. During this time of Advent, the song “O Come O Come Emmanuel” plays in my head over and over. I find myself searching for the newest renditions by artists like Piano Guys and Gungor. I listen, and satisfy that craving for a comfort that’s enveloped in a minor key, Thys and Thous, and a predictable rhythm. I also find nuances I’d never noticed before and appreciate the song through fresh ears.
Many years after my first foray into church, I decided to begin attending a new church of a very different denomination than the one I grew up in. This church did not sing many hymns during their worship services, and if they did it was accompanied by drums and lights and not a lot of harmonies. To my knowledge, the only organ was a small one that hid in the corner of the platform, collecting dust.
In that tradition I learned many different types of music and worship that were much more “extroverted,” or so it seemed. Hands raised, voices crying out, sometimes even with non-English and non-other-known-language utterances. Lots of repetition of the same phrase became a very emotional thing, and as a teenager who had always been moved by music (apparently I was rocking to the beat by 8 months old) I took it all in.
However, it was odd to me at first. I never felt so much emotional while singing in church before, not unless it was at a funeral. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t emotional about God, however, or didn’t care as much or wasn’t as “saved” as my new fellow congregants. I know that now.
I slowly picked up on the culture of the new church – one of valuing extroversion, that revered people’s willingness to pray out loud in front of people. We held hands, and I learned to pray out loud very long prayers. With lots of Lords and Gods and Jesuses. I think I prayed like that because to some extent I was being authentic and I wasn’t afraid to do it, especially if I felt comfortable with the group. It was my way of being like the leader I’d been in my Sunday School classes, being the teacher’s pet.
But I also think I prayed like that because it’s what was valued and seen as “real” prayer. For some reason I began to think that all the praying I’d done before wasn’t good enough, or sincere enough. And God surely would answer prayers were I was bold enough to speak out loud to a group. Apparently praying in my head just wasn’t enough anymore, and that was the beginning of my turning away from what I grew up with into a new denomination that would dominate my ways of thinking and being and interacting for about a decade.
What if people were invited to come tell what they already know of God instead of to learn what they are supposed to believe?
I have since returned to the tradition I grew up in. When we moved cross-country and returned to civilian life, I needed something different. I have a lot, lot more to say about my experiences in right-wing evangelical church. It turns out many people do But in unpacking the hurt and shame and uncertainty and division of my spirit and my body, I have found that the prayer I have felt comfortable doing is the right prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer prayed out loud with my church family is the right prayer. The Apostle’s Creed recited aloud is the right prayer. The brief silent prayer after communion is the right prayer. The “graces” we pray before meals in my house are the right prayers. The prayers I follow along with during a virtual service while also cross-stitching or crocheting are the right prayers.
I have also realized that the hymns I sang and memorized were prayers. I was actually praying so much when I was singing. And if part of meditation is sitting on a line or song or idea for awhile, then I was meditating too.
I’m sad that for many years I taught myself to reject the faith and mode of worship I developed as a child into adolescence, that I inherited from both sides of my family, that I celebrated in basements of country churches. I learned to look down my nose at my supposedly unenlightened friends and family who just didn’t have enough of the Holy Spirit… yet. I told myself I was better than they were because I prayed out loud and sang loud songs with drums and electric guitars and listened to sermons that were 45 minutes, not 15. And I had extreme guilt if I couldn’t “convert” my friends and family, who had a faith and belief of their own, to my new way of thinking. However, as Rachel Held Evans writes in Faith Unraveled, “We are saved by a restored relationship with God, which might look a little different from person to person, culture to culture, time to time.”
I’m also kind of angry at the leaders and people in those churches (yes, I attended more than one) for encouraging the elitism, whether they knew it or not. They preached that their version of Jesus is the only Way, and also that the way we worship Him is the only Way. If you disagree with the sermon or theology presented, or think about Jesus in multiple historical contexts and perspectives, there’s probably something you need to be sorry for during that really emotional song that’s played after communion.
When I rejected my original mode of faith I also had to grieve it in context. I missed old creaky pews and hazy sunlight streaming through stained glass. I missed old hymnals and pipe organs. I definitely missed short sermons and the simplicity of a hymn, which if you study them, you will find that so many are much more theologically sound and linguistically complex than they are given credit for.
What a comfort to know that this loving and merciful God will not be disappointed, that his word falls over the earth like rain, covers it like snow, and nourishes it for an abundant harvest. What a comfort to know that God is a poet.
I don’t think everyone gets the chance in their lives to “come home” to the faith they had as a child. I think many people didn’t have a faith home to begin with, which is fine, or their home was unstable and emotionally manipulative or even abusive. But I had a really great home of faith and religion in my formative years. I had many healthy experiences that taught me about the Bible but also about being in community with others. In the process, I gained a large understanding of literacy and musicality. I was taught so much by loving and reliable Sunday School teachers.
Fortunately I was able to come “home,” and it was the right choice for many reasons. I wasn’t sure what I would find among creaky pews and old-church-building smell and the organ and hymns and robes and seasons like Lent and Advent, but I knew it was a good place to start.