I’ve written about some of my experience with the Episcopal Church on this blog. I’m still wrestling with some things that may or may not be of interest to anyone attempting to come to terms with matters of faith.
About three months ago I was writing in my room in the country house I’ve shared with a friend for a number of years. I was wearing my advocacy hat, having just urged him to stand up to the neighbors over an easement issue and having spent days, weeks, steeping myself in land use statutes and property rights.
I looked over at the Cross on my wall. It was actually, a crucifix I bought at the Good Will one day when I was making my way back to Christian faith and my Episcopalian roots.
I had paid close attention to the Christian story in Sunday School. I believed what I was taught–that terrible things had happened to my and our God. As for the matter of rising from the dead– that to me, is beyond a child’s comprehension and in many respects if we are honest, beyond an adult’s.
As I journaled, I realized that I had experienced deep grief over the Crucifixion, and that in essence, I was still trapped at the foot of the Cross, bound somehow to Christ’s suffering. No one had come to help me with my grief, or shown me how to move through grief to the other side.
Imagine the impact of the crucifixion in all its gore and drama upon a little girl. It ranks right up there with a pet being killed in front of you on a busy street. It is traumatic.
Later I was to see two movies that brought this all back to me: Ben Hur and King of Kings. I cried at these too.
My association with the Church became linked to sorrow and darkness, and self-depriving, mute and conforming people in black, while priests in white said from the pulpit, “Jesus Died for YOU” because you are a sinner, you are bad.” You are a very bad little girl, I heard.
To me one of the the biggest crimes the Church commits is to instill shame in children in this manner. We are taught that we are doomed to hell if we don’t profess Jesus.
It’s no wonder that I was trapped in this grief. There was no one to talk to about it, and so it compacted itself into the sedmiment in my child’s pysche.
As a young intellectual, I found other theories of human spiritual life more palatable, such as Carl Jung’s collective unconscious. I shied away from existentialism; I am a poet, after all, who finds meaning and beauty in many things.
In recent years, when at my lowest, I reasoned my way back into the Christian story, imbuing my Crucifix with a living identity. I returned, open-hearted, to the Church. I needed to be part of something bigger than me, to believe that Someone and Something was in charge of our chaotic world, my chaotic world and that there is some sort of immense and unfathomable spiritual equation by which human suffering and the vagaries of nature are resolved.
After the experience of all of that grief I was left with confusion. Therefore, having devalued my intellect when it came to matters of faith, I turned to it to help me.
I realized that not only had I martyred my own happiness and freedom to the suffering of Christ, but to that of my broken family and my own brokenness. I felt guilty moving on in my own life when I had been surrounded by people who didn’t make it, who believed that they had been born into sin and needed to be saved, and who refused to save themselves.
The Family Hero carries a huge burden. No need to add to it, when one’s faith is meant to be a source of comfort, not shame.