21.5.800 post talked about unfolding.
I got a postcard in the mail this week. It was folded in two and taped together. The return address was from my childhood church in Tennessee with my current address in California handwritten on the outside. I unfolded the postcard and found a notice to nonresident members for an out-of-town audit. There were two options on the card: check here if membership is still with this church or check here: I have transferred to ____ Church. I smiled when I opened this. This woman always finds my address – every other year, I find a newsletter in my mailbox. I moved away in 1995 when I went to college and moved to the West coast in 1999. It’s 2010.
When I went back a few years ago for my grandfather’s funeral, she found me in the reception and asked, “Do you want to move your membership to another church? When you do, let me know which church so I can transfer you.” I was in the middle of a packed room surrounded by my family, old neighbors, and people in the church who loved my grandfather. I remembered my grandmother saying, “Did you hear Mr. White died? He never went to church, but he was so nice. I wonder what happened to him. I would just hate for him not to go to heaven. I wish he had gone to church.”
I responded as honestly as I could: “I don’t really have a church.” She told me, “Then we’ll keep you here until you find a new church, you just let me know when you find one.”
I felt so silly. Though I felt fine about my spiritual path, I had a moment where I hesitated to out myself as a non-Christian in front of family and the church community. Didn’t they see me not say the Nicene Creed during the service? And, really, Emily, do you think they would care that much? Mr. White didn’t go to church and people still thought he was nice.
When I was a kid, I was at church two or three times a week. As a teen, though, I felt an unsettling call I could not ignore. I went on a retreat in North Carolina and took a night hike (hiking in the dark, no flashlight, no talking). I sat on a mountaintop listening to the wind in the pines and, though it was cold, felt an incredibly warm love surround me. Months later, I was missing this love and wondering where it had gone. God came to me in a very vivid moment and let go of my hand.
I stopped going to church, which did not go over well with my family. I was scared, angry, lonely, and stubborn for years. I hardened my heart and went into a protective mode. I collected inspiration and stories from different faiths, art, music, literature, poetry, to try to break the shell and find that love. I was lost and looking for the way home.
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.
– from The First Elegy, Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Stephen Mitchell
I finally came to a place of reconciliation and peace. Over the years, I had been stuffing a suitcase in my psyche with experiences, reactions, and teachings while wandering through the wilderness. I finally found a place in my heart to unpack and unfold all these things I had been carrying for so long. Some I could discard, others I had to clean, some I thought I had lost but were actually there all along, buried deep. I arranged them all and made a home.
Through disciplined yoga practice and further spiritual study, I felt my heart ripping open and discovered a deep emotional and spiritual surrender. One day in savasana, after about three months of regular practice of 3-5 times a week, I felt the presence of love that I felt on that mountaintop in the pines. It whispered in my ear: god is love.
Now I get it. God is Love.
In that moment, I knew that it never left me. Quite the opposite, God/Love let go of my hand so I would learn how to walk on my own. We’ve been walking together, side by side, all along. I felt tremendous relief and happiness upon that realization. I still stray off the path or and get distracted in the fog, but I have faith that love will always be there for me. All I have to do is reach out my hand or call out for help and love is there. My heart unfolds more each day.
This is by no means a unique story. Knowing it’s not unique is very comforting. What makes this ordinary story extraordinary is a foundation of a spiritual community.
When I unfolded that post card from church this week, it wasn’t just where I am on my spiritual path but something she wrote that made me smile and respond that she can finally take me off the mailing list.
“You will not find another [Church like this one], but as I like to say, “Bloom where you are planted.”
So let’s get planted, even if your physical address changes every other month. Let’s bloom. Let’s unfold together.