I am twenty-one. On the B43, a direct bus from my small, Baptist church to my small college campus. It’s a dreary ride with sharp turns that lately leave me carsick. I feel eight years old again. Eight, in the backseat of my father’s car, my sister and I sandwiching our brother. Eight and dreading the question that my father and mother will surely ask me after a torturous silence on our way home.
“How was church today?”
Today, at twenty-one, on the B43, I ask myself this question, and the answer shames me.
Week after stale week, I have made the nearly hour-long commute to this congregation. Week after week I have sat in the pews and mumbled the worship music and nodded at the sermons. I have listened, dubbing everything onto an overloaded cassette in my mind. Writing bible verses down mechanically, as if I’ll need to play them back when my father asks me on the ride home how church was. Lately, it seems, I’ve lost my thirst for God. Pews are wood, the cross is wood, I am flesh and it gets awfully hard to believe.
I am fourteen. Awake at 4AM to pray for the salvation of my classmates before I make like a true Proverbs 31 woman and put my hands to work. I am weeping. Weeping like John Hagee taught me to for my “lost generation.” Hillsong is playing in the background and I am naming them, my friends. Weeping for salvation. Praying because I feel that I’ve found something that everybody needs to get a taste of.
I am weeping, but I do not know that I, too, am lost. Lost inside myself, lost inside the walls of a church. I’m waiting for God to find me at the pews, but nothing seems to be happening. Maybe its a new sort of Passover and I smeared no blood on my heart’s doors. (But doesn’t he stand there and knock?)
I am eleven. A pastor at church, a stern-faced, stern-voiced, stern-mannered man, pulls my friend and I aside and tells us that our skirts are too short. We spend the rest of the day hiding among the leaves like Eve did and hoping that God does not find us and bear witness to our knees. We spend the rest of the day hoping that maybe they’ll cast us off this boat so the raging seas calm down for the sake of The Men.
I am eleven.
I am seventeen. My darling, septum-ringed, force of a friend comes out to me in her dorm room. I give no way to silence, perturbed as I am, and rush to tell her that I love her, knowing all the while that she senses the but that’s coming. Quickly, I recite this phrase that I’ve heard and seen and read- that I’m sorry, I love her, but I hate her sin. I watch her sloped shoulders collapse and she, never one to cower from speaking up, is quiet for a moment. I lift my hand and place it on her and she tenses up beneath my touch. I watch her eyes brim up and blink stubbornly, hear her throat clear quickly as she gathers herself, determined not to come undone in front of me.
It happens like this; my love for her, once wild, easy, and unbridled- is driven back home like a stray animal to be tamed and taught condition. I see her faith in me fall softly away, like the shedding of old skin that she’s outgrown. It is a banishing- a holy one in my mind. Justified.
She and I are never the same again. Often, after her coming out, we fight pointless, acerbic fights over Small Things that cut us deeply and which I later see for what they are. Proxies. Placeholders for the words she should have (rightly) hurled at me and the ones I should have said in return. That I was fearful. That I was taught that there were only two ways to love and this one involves rejection. That I couldn’t reconcile her- as true, as noble, as right, as pure, as lovely, as admirable as she was- with the sin I now saw her to be.
Our fights beget silences. Looming and pained. They fester like wounds and soon dry up, leaving horrific blemishes neither of us can undo. Soon, we conceal them with distance and we hardly ever speak again.
I am twelve, and I have signed a little document that pledges my body to a husband I will apparently meet one day if I pray enough. The sun is made to set on my girlhood. I am reminded that this is my body, broken for Him. That he must take and eat it in remembrance that I saved myself for him. I am 12 and urged not to tempt The Boys with the sight of my body and make it hard for them. I am told that my my body is a hindrance, an obstacle in their journey. As holy as it is, it is a stumbling block that I must keep out of their path.
I am eight and at a birthday party, sweating heavily inside my puffy, net-lined dress and wishing I could be indecent and wear small shorts to beat the heat.
I am sixteen. Peter asks me to prom. Peter is a boy that I have been mad over for years. A boy whose accidental touches and playful jabs and witty banter set off magnificent explosions in my belly. A boy whose smile snags at my soul and unravels me completely. I say no. As fierce as the fire he sets in me is, it isn’t righteous. My feelings for him are worthy of damnation.
I am maybe twelve, maybe thirteen. I am standing in the front of a packed-up auditorium, praying for the gift of tongues. “God,” I pray, “I have cut myself up and smeared my own blood on my doorpost, but do not pass me over with this gift you are giving.” Around me, a cacophony of Holy-Ghost-filled teenagers engulfs me in a tumultuous taunting. I am not seeking earnestly enough, it seems, for I leave with my tongue flaccid and prayerless.
I am maybe twenty-two. There is rum on my breath. I am laughing wildly, loving freely, dancing like nobody is in the room with me and the world is a beauteous sight. God is good.
Which means, to me, that in the midst of my sultry gyrations, God is here. In this taintless joy. This movement is part of a liturgy of of a loss and life and loving. An erection of a new, sturdy sanctuary. A rejection of violence and shame and love that’s taught condition. A resounding affirmation of those that love as they love, and not as they are instructed to.
This moment is an encounter with the glorious divine. God is good, and can be found here, in my questioning heart. Content with loving me in all my hurt and exploration. Delighted in my doubting. Decolonial. Feminist. Breaking bread with the tax-collectors, the nay-sayers, the foul-mouthed, long-haired, loose lipped women who loosen their hips and publicly unbridle themselves.
Maybe God will say God never knew me. But maybe God will say "This, my love, is who I always knew you to be."