Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Anthem – by Leonard Cohen
Going on four years ago now I started up this site. I was the church girl who had found myself stranded on the side of the road terrified to admit that the faith I had built my life on was breaking to pieces.
Protestant, conservative Christianity in its many forms had fueled and shaped my life for so long –and yet there I was feeling utterly helpless to do anything but watch it all slip through my hands.
Everything in me screamed that I had failed. I was convinced that choosing to go down a path of admitted doubt would lead me not only to my own eternal damnation, but also hurt so many I loved with an irreparable breach.
The choice before me seemed impossible. Continue to deny the truth or deny everything I believed in.
How had they ever become so opposed?
Above, I posted the chorus to the song Anthem by Leonard Cohen. Cohen later wrote this beautiful explanation of his song.
The future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself and your job and your love. “Ring the bells that still can ring”: they’re few and far between but you can find them.
This situation does not admit of solution or perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect.
And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together: Physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return is, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.
These years of wandering have brought numbers of needed, hard conversations with many I know and love.
The brokenness of things in my faith was actually just a new beginning. Click To Tweet
With the increased level of personal introspection came a constant, emotional and spiritual turmoil that often made me nostalgic for the simplicity of my past faith.
Uncertainty, doubt, skepticism, and questions settled in like new, unpredictable roommates.
At their worst they overwhelmed me with life’s bleakness, and at their best they surprised me with their inability to prevent hope, meaning, faith, kindness, goodness, and awe from still finding me.
Going through my own faith deconstruction has been a painful, but needed humbling.
For someone who had faith and religion all figured out at such a young age, humility soon came in amidst the brokenness of things to show me that actually practicing any faith in a way that touches others with love, peace, and kindness happens by all kinds of people in all kinds of ways around the world.
Perhaps the most beautiful and surprising place kindness and faith showed up for me though was in a part of the larger Christian church I never even knew to look for it in.
The Catholic Church.
Being quiet, except to a cherished few, about this part of my life has been very intentional for the past few years.
Having gone public with how my faith fell apart and knowing my own lifelong struggle with people pleasing—it was very important to me that any faith reconstruction work I did was honest, true, and solely mine.
Finding a way to put the pieces back together has been messy, deeply personal work for me.
It may be surprisingly simple, but I have found so much freedom in learning that my spiritual path is just that – my path to walk.
Figuring out why faith still matters to me and how to go about practicing it in a meaningful and genuine way, is something only I can do.
Sorting through the brokenness of things is my work to do. Click To Tweet
It is not work I should rely on others to tell me how to do or to do for me, and it is not work I ever intend again, to claim to know how to do for other people.
And it is that work that I am finally ready to share about today.
For me, my spiritual work of constructing a genuine faith practice finally included trying church again, in the spring of 2016.
For my husband and I, the birth of our son and the move to a permanent base for the foreseeable future coincided with a renewed interest in finding a church community that would truly work for our family.
Perhaps nothing humbled me more than watching my husband love me through this rollercoaster. Click To Tweet
From day one he graciously followed me into all kinds of Protestant churches during our early marriage. This included loving me through much of my own spiritual arrogance.
I look back now and see where I spent many hours pushing spiritual activities, church, Christian books, prayer time, tithing, and all kinds of biblical teaching and Protestant practices on him as I tried to make us fit into the only faith practice I knew.
Somehow he always knew how to give me grace and love, even in the midst of my religiously fueled pride and fear.
He also was my biggest supporter when everything fell apart.
So when I was ready to discuss trying again his main request was for something more traditional. He also asked me to consider the Catholic Church in our new search attempts, and I was more than happy to as all I cared about now was finding a place where we both truly felt at home.
When we first moved to Arizona, my husband had to report to Arkansas for three months of training while I closed on our new house, moved in, and prepared for the birth of our son throughout my third trimester. We agreed on our way down that I should do some church hopping to see if I could find anything that might suit us both.
At first all of my church hopping occurred on my laptop from the hotel couch, as I scoured church websites to review their vision statements, beliefs, practices, ministries, sermons, and any online reviews.
My scarred heart was terrified of finding myself drawn to a place that would pull me back into the performance-driven, critical, fear-fueled faith practices I had spent so much time undoing.
It was during my google searches that I stumbled upon the Catholic Parish we now attend, our beloved St. Pius X.
My first time attending was not to a mass, but actually to a small Tuesday night class called Faith Interrupted.
I saw the class advertised on their website, claiming to be for people who had been out of church for a long time. Given my experience with church meant a lifetime of weekly attendance, my four year break from church made me feel more than qualified to check yes to that box.
I showed up to that class and waddled in 8 months pregnant, bored enough from living in a hotel with a dog and cat to ignore all my mental excuses to not go and try it out.
I am sure I looked just a bit crazy, but somehow I managed to walk into a room of people waiting just for me.
These people loved me and continue to love my family in more ways than I could ever express.
Some might call it fate, others God, and yet all I know is that love and kindness surprised me. Click To Tweet
Soon my husband returned, our son was born, and St. Pius became a new home that kept surprising us with its love, its community outreach, and its grace for our inconsistent attendance as we navigated life with a newborn.
So this past fall, it felt right for the first time in a long time to sign up for a church membership class.
For the Catholic Church this is no small thing.
It meant signing up for RCIA, which stands for the Rite of Christian Adult Initiation.
At first my ever-waiting, people-pleasing shoulder pest raised its head to remind me of all the ways I might hurt people I love with this choice.
The door in front of me felt so right for the first time in a long time, but it also felt like I was closing a door on my protestant past like I was somehow abandoning it.
Having the courage to have some hard conversations with my parents actually proved to help me more than anything else. Having watched me go through the past several years, to see me speak of feeling at peace and drawn to God and a church community again to them I believe, felt like an answered prayer.
I had anticipated the worst, and as a testament to the loving and grace-filled parents that they are all they could do was welcome my timid announcement with love, celebration, and stories of all the various Catholic Christians who had graced their life over the years.
Instead of seeing it as an unexpected or unwanted growth to the seeds of faith they had sown in my life–they rejoiced with me that the dawn of spring had brought something to the surface after a long, hard winter.
The next big step for joining this class included finding a Catholic, non-family member to sponsor you through the nine-month initiation process.
My first call was to my best friend and Catholic neighbor from Japan. She also, more than most, had watched my faith life fall apart, and there was no one else in the world I would want to walk me through this even if it had to be long distance.
Suddenly, life found a new, but familiar routine. Church on Sundays and class on Wednesday nights. How the merry-go-round had spun.
Someday I will find the words to describe what this class taught me; how the people in this class loved me and changed me, but right now it feels impossible.
I learned from day one in this class that no one had a list of doctrinal positions for me to learn, memorize, or master.
No one expected me to have only certain, rehearsed answers to questions of faith.
No one was ever scared of my questions, in fact they only ever encouraged us to look deeper and ask even better ones.
I learned that my faith could be less about one prayer or one moment of conversion, and rather a lifetime journey of embracing conversion.
Conversion that speaks not of an instantly changed heart or mind, but rather a soul reminded daily to choose courage in the face of any brokenness, any loss, or any struggle life brings me.
For me it is the meaningful knowledge that Christ’s presence still draws me and can act as a guide to find hope, to find and extend forgiveness, to find renewal even in waiting.
Slowly I have realized, that for me living a life of faith has nothing to do with religious perfection, instead it is a lifetime choice even when everything is a mess to continually orient myself towards the love, peace, and compassion Christ’s life exemplifies.
The initiation class culminated this spring during Easter week.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the Catholic Church to me is its rich, liturgical traditions.
Catholicism helped me to experience this season of Lent and Easter in a way I never have before.
On Ash Wednesday the fire and ashes taught me about the beauty of surrender and mercy.
Lenten practices of mindfulness, sacrifice, and prayer challenged me with how beautiful and needed ordinary, daily spiritual practices are.
Good Friday gave me a bittersweet reminder of how death is a painfully real, part of life. It reminds us that death’s work whether physical or spiritual is often dark and hopeless. However, Good Friday also stands as a day of hope, because Christ’s death is not the end of the story.
Holy Saturday was perhaps the most meaningful day for me. It’s the day of waiting. The day in between Christ’s death and resurrection.
On Holy Saturday, our class went through a baptism and confirmation three-hour ceremony.
The first hour included one of the most beautiful church rituals I have ever participated in—a storytelling.
The entire congregation journeyed outside of the church to a beautifully lit, firepit to witness each RCIA member share their story of why they were joining the Catholic Church.
This was followed by a beautiful mass, where some of us were baptized and others like myself were confirmed.
Finally we have Easter – Resurrection Sunday. A day where new life is celebrated.
I want to close by sharing a portion of my story I shared on Holy Saturday:
I don’t have many answers these days, but I think I am finally finding my way back to a new closeness with God again. Sifting through all the pieces of my faith took me on a journey of learning about numerous other tenets of Christianity and other religions I had never deemed worthy of listening to before.
On many days I wondered if I should just give up all together.
However long the road though, it was the historical person of Christ that I could not so easily walk away from. All my time in the Scriptures had taught me to know his story and person so well, that even I knew amidst all my doubts that he was nothing like the church or the harmful aspects of Christianity I was running from.
This morning I woke to read this beautiful quote about today, and I think it perfectly describes where I am at:
Holy Saturday. This day between the dying and the rising. This day that calls us to hold our anguish and our hope in the same hand.
Catholicism has invited me out of the anguish that spiritual death brought in my life and given me hope for a breathtaking resurrection.
I know the Catholic Church and faith are no more perfect or lacking in faults then the next Protestant church down the road – but it has drawn me in because it’s gotten faith out of my ego and placed it in my heart and hands.
Instead of being a fixed set of beliefs I need to constantly prove to myself and everyone else, Catholicism is teaching me how to simply be more like Christ.
It weekly reminds me to open myself to Christ’s presence all around me.
Christ present in the touch and laugh of my beautiful son.
Christ’s mercy and forgiveness given to me in ways I once arrogantly assumed I would never need.
Christ’s presence in the bread and wine we taste and give to each other every week.
Christ’s presence in nature around me.
Christ’s presence in the homeless, the immigrant, the refugee, the poor, the voiceless, and the vulnerable I daily pass by too easily.
Catholicism doesn’t ask me to check my intelligence or my belief in science at the door—but instead it just asks me to show up.
This is where I am now.
Standing here, looking back at the brokenness of things and marveling, because now I know that’s how the light gets in.