When I first tried to teach my nephew to swim, I wanted him to float on his back with my hand underneath holding him up. I envisioned him laying back, head in the water, and relaxing into my hand, trusting that I wouldn’t let him drown. I kept wanting for my nephew to experience the peace that I sometimes find floating in the water. My favorite image is when I worked in Timor-Leste, I would come back to my hotel in the evening and jump in the outdoor pool, having it all to myself in the dark. I’d finish my laps and then lay back, the water holding me up with little effort on my part, while I stared at the stars and the moon. In that moment, I knew everything was okay no matter what else may have taken place that day.
But I couldn’t get my nephew to trust me. No matter how many times I told him, “Trust me. I’ve got you. I won’t let you drown.” He’d twist and turn, hold his head out of the water and grab onto my swimsuit desperately looking for something to hold onto. I’m sure it was entertaining for the nearby fathers who got a flash of breast before I managed to straighten my suit back out.
Eventually, I succumbed to letting him use a flotation device when we swam. It wasn’t necessarily the fastest way to get him swimming on his own, but he needed to get used to trusting the water and to strengthen the muscles he’d use for swimming. Inevitably, the desire to keep up with the other kids outweighed his fear of drowning, he shed the floaties and began to learn to swim on his own.
Recently, I decided to take the confirmation class offered at the church I’ve been attending for the past year. Despite all my doubts and skepticism around Christianity, I was inspired by Nadia Bolz Weber’s journey from recovering alcoholic rebel to Lutheran Pastor and her story about attending her first Lutheran confirmation class. What she wrote about learning in that class was so different from what I remember learning growing up in the Lutheran church. I hoped I might find a similar experience in my new church and learn about Christianity with new ears.
As the date for the first class approached, however, I found myself struck by doubt. What was I doing? I don’t have a particular interest in being an Episcopalian so why not just keep going to church without confirmation? I also wondered if I “should” find a Lutheran church since I’m already confirmed there. Except I like my new church so much that it seemed silly to look for a Lutheran church just because it’s the tradition I grew up in.
In the days before the first class, my questioning intensified and I started wondering why I was even pursuing this whole God thing in the first place. My meditation and prayer practice and the guidance of my spiritual director these past couple years have been instrumental to discovering a new path in my life. But had it really? Perhaps I was just delusional. I simply couldn’t make sense out of the decision to do this class. In other words, instead of trusting the voice telling me that “it’s got me and to just lie back,” I struggled, lifted my head out of the water, and grabbed onto the universal swimsuit.
I decided to lay back and go to the class anyway, although I wasn’t exactly in a peaceful floating position. More like a timid head almost in the water, but not fully committed position. Jen Sincero in her You’re a Badass books inspired me. Sincero wrote about how when she finally decided she needed to make a change because she was tired of being broke all the time, she signed up for a workshop to help women start their businesses even though she didn’t yet have an idea for one. She thought she might get an idea there, but instead, she discovered that she was good at helping other people start their businesses and ended up asking the workshop leader for a job. Ultimately, it led her to becoming a life coach.
I talk about wanting to write about different faith traditions from an experiential perspective and I’ve been seeking convenient Jewish conversion classes and classes in Buddhism, but those close to my home haven’t started yet. This confirmation class though could be a good way to relearn about Christianity so why not start with it? If it didn’t feel right, I didn’t have to continue.
It turned out that I was the only student in the English speaking class so it ended up just being a conversation between the Priest, who worked in a different parish, and me. He grew up in Cuba where he became baptized a Presbyterian as a teenager and had been studying to be ordained in the Presbyterian church. Before he finished his studies, however, he moved to Washington, DC and came to St. Stephen’s, the church I was now attending. Eventually, he decided to continue with his pursuit of ordination, but rather than return to his Presbyterian roots, he became an Episcopalian. It all started when he took the same confirmation class I was now taking. When I asked why he made the switch, he said, “I don’t know. I can’t explain it. It just felt right.”
I told him my own experience of growing up Lutheran, falling away from the church, doing Catholic Ignatian spiritual retreats and how one of those retreats led me to St. Stephen’s so I could take communion. I told him how our Priest’s sermon at my first service hit me so hard I cried almost the entire way through it and proceeded to cry through almost every service for months after. I cried almost every time I took communion and the couple times I served it. I explained that I had no idea why I was crying or why I was even in this class now, except that it just felt right. “It was the same for me,” he told me. “I cried and cried, and I didn’t know why.”
Then the one Spanish speaking student arrived for his class. He turned out to be a guy I had met in my training to be a Eucharistic minister and he explained that he had moved to Washington, DC from Columbia. He was raised Catholic, but had decided to become Episcopalian. He too had found St. Stephen’s, even though he had a long drive to get there from the suburbs. When I asked why he wanted to change from Catholicism, he too didn’t know. But there was something so special about this church that he was willing to make the drive and he wanted to make this commitment to it.
I felt giddy when I left the meeting. I knew I had made the right decision to take the class. Once again I had shared my doubts and questions. Not only had no one judged me or told me I was wrong, but the two men seemed to be coming from a similar place despite our very different backgrounds. I’m still in awe of how none of us understood how we ended up drawn to that class, but we shared the sense of being seen and loved by that powerful universal presence I call God in this particular church. In our sharing and common story, I felt connected and at home.
What hit me as I biked home was how when I listen to that voice telling me to take steps that aren’t always comfortable and often don’t make sense to me, I keep finding myself in a place so much richer than when I succumb to my fear. I still don’t know where these steps are taking me and often I wish God would hurry up and let me know. Sometimes I probably need to wear floaties for a bit, though, until I get used to each new place in the journey.
This experience, however, confirmed yet again, that when I do trust that voice and lay back, I find myself in that relaxed floating place, looking up at the stars and realizing that maybe I didn’t need to make sense out of any of it. I’ll probably learn to swim a lot faster if I can stop struggling so much against that voice.
 I write about this experience in How Much Love Must I Receive to Believe I’m Loveable.