Hey, you know what I did Sunday? Besides go for a walk and hot chocolate with a beautiful opera singer and some laundry? Well, I went to Quaker meeting, for the first time in something like two years. Oh, and then I watched Saved! last night.
I stopped going to meeting because I have a deep love of sleeping in on Sundays and having pancakes for breakfast and also because I was beginning to feel sort of smugly self-righteous about the fact that I eschewed those pancakes twice a month and instead went to sit quietly in a room with people wearing sensible shoes. I’m not at the point in my life anymore where people actively ask me about my church attendance anymore, or where I am on my Christian walk, but I think inside me there’s still a very smug InterVarsity college student convinced that the more I go to fellowship meetings and Bible studies and the more I wave my hands in the air during worship, the more God will love me and the more my life will make sense. Somehow I extrapolated that to the whole Quaker meeting thing and I thought that because I was going twice a month and sitting silently and not rolling my eyes too much that that gave me some sort of Godly brownie points, or something. And to be honest, my heart wasn’t totally in it. I thought that self-righteousness probably wasn’t a very good reason to do anything and also that I really, really love pancakes. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make. It didn’t make much of a difference in my life.
It was fine, yesterday. I just got in the car and found parking and went inside. It was all very low-key, just the way I remembered it. A couple of people spoke (including one woman who asked the group to hold her boyfriend in the light because they were expecting a baby and he had a drug problem and I was almost in tears by the time she sat down) but mostly it was characteristically silent. I spent some time thinking about my upcoming trip to Trader Joe’s and about some pajama pants I hoped to purchase at Old Navy, as well as some time deep breathing and doing hippy stuff like thinking “Forgive” on the inbreath and “Forget” on the outbreath. I looked at some of the books and pamphlets on my way out but didn’t stay long. I mean, I had a Trader Joe’s trip scheduled, you know?
Anyway, I’d started thinking about maybe checking meeting out again after a really cool dinner with my friend S. I know S from the aforementioned InterVarsity days in college, when we were in “accountability group” and Bible study as freshmen and where we spent a lot of time trying to understand God’s will for us in college. S went on to be a student leader in the fellowship group and eventually work as full time staff on campus, and I went on to more sociology classes and increased skepticism about the whole thing, even as I was going to fellowship and even on a couple of summer mission trips and trying to fit in with everyone else. I was also living a big lie since I’d started sleeping over in a (non-Christian) boy’s dorm room semi-regularly and I felt ashamed to even acknowledge the relationship, such as it was, to any of my Christian friends.
By the time I graduated I was pretty much done with that type of Christianity, although I don’t think I knew it at the time. I was still somewhat involved with my home church (long distance) and I even considered moving home to Miami so I could be a part of it. I’d had some really bitter experiences…for a long time I couldn’t talk about them without shaking. It’s not like anyone forced me to handle snakes or baptized me against my will or was anything but nice and good and concerned about me, but you can always tell when you don’t really fit in somewhere. You can pray extra hard and you can try to silence what your heart is telling you but the cognitive dissonance is unbearable and it drives you crazy, very very slowly. It did me, anyway. I just stopped trying after a while and hung out with other friends and stopped talking about faith and religion and spirituality in general. The first time I went to Italy (with my dear friend Marah) I recall being stunned by how gorgeous the cathedrals were and we both lit candles in the Siena duomo and knelt for a while, but mostly I just stopped thinking about it in any other sense but sociological. I can still talk at length about the social value of organized religion and the function of ingroup-outgroup hierarchal structuring, not to mention the effects of behavioral strictures and the patriarchy inherent thereto.
But anyway, having dinner with S. I’d left college believing that S had it pretty much set and that she and I had nothing in common, spiritually or otherwise. I didn’t have a falling out with her or anything but I did associate her with some of the weirdness inherent to my time with the Christian fellowship in college, and I didn’t pursue friendship with her at all. And then I moved up here to Seattle, and heard she’d moved up here too, but I didn’t think I’d ever have cause to see her. I was so excited to see her when I ran into her at the SuperMall a couple of months ago, though. A lot of people are sort of coming out of the woodwork for me recently, it’s odd. Anyway, we had a great dinner and a great talk and she lent me a wonderful book and pretty much blew my mind with what she had to say about her own spiritual journey and her experiences in IV.
Turns out she felt she didn’t fit in either, turns out she’d been hurt, turns out she’s rethought the way she wants to do things. She was one of like four Catholics in our fellowship and it turns out that she’d felt really rejected because of that, and that she couldn’t follow the prescribed Christianity she was teaching on campus. She’s back in the Catholic church and told me all about it and how freeing it was to her and how she knew she was right where she’s supposed to be. She’s finding her own way and I was impressed at how she talked so candidly about her troubles with Catholicism and with Christianity in general, and what she’d decided to accept and what she’d decided to reject. I was like, “You’re allowed to do that, as a Catholic?” She said yes. If you had told me, eight or nine years ago, that I’d be having that conversation with her, I wouldn’t have believed you at all.
I don’t know where any of this leaves me, of course. I do know that I have no plans to do fundamentalist evangelical American Protestantism ever again. I don’t know if I’ll continue to go to Quaker meeting or if I’ll always be as sort of cynical about organized religion as I currently feel. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a spiritual group with which I feel I truly fit in…that’s sort of the story of my life lately, you know, so I won’t be surprised if I never do. I won’t be surprised if I stay in this wary state of being kind of interested in spiritual stuff but unwilling to make any practical decisions about it. I won’t be surprised if I consistently choose pancakes most Sundays.
I’ll be pleasantly surprised though, if I’m able to make any sort of sense of all this stuff, at any point in my life. I think that will be enough for me.