Recently, a friend expressed annoyance that I said in a blog post that I wanted to be a saint. In that post, I focused on wanting to let go of attachments. Since her comment, I’ve been thinking more about what I meant. As I continue on this prayer journey, however, my understanding of what wanting to emulate a “saint” means has grown. Because it is not seeking perfection — or at least not an idea of perfection extrinsic to being myself. It is also not about becoming an ascetic and giving up all of my worldly possessions.
Instead, what I seek and am finding, especially the more I pray, is freedom. Freedom from fear that comes from believing in a Creator with greater power than me. Freedom in believing that I am Creator’s beloved and very good creation. The freedom to live fully into who I am created to be without fear of what others might think or expect from me. The freedom to trust that when I follow a path I am beckoned down, even a terrifying one, that Creator will see me through it.
Part of what started me down this road was Al Anon, the twelve-step group for people in relationships with alcoholics and addicts. I’m firmly convinced that everyone should work the twelve steps. The first three steps involve admitting our powerlessness, believing that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, and making a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of that Power.
I spent much of my life believing that I should be able to control and fix everything and everyone. It made me miserable. Of course, I couldn’t control the world around me; I couldn’t even control myself much of the time. Not surprisingly, I eventually hit a wall of anger that I wrote about here and here. Sometimes this came out when I thought the world should be some way other than it is. I was trying hard to be perfect and resented that few others seemed to be making the same effort. Other times it came out as nihilism and feeling like a failure that I hadn’t fixed the world yet. So much of my life, I felt worthless, not “enough.”
I had not planned on returning to a Christian church, at the feet of which I placed much of my constant sense of shame and failure. One of Al Anon’s best features is that it does not require adherence to any one idea of what or who that Power greater than ourselves is. Many of us who follow the twelve-steps, however, find that greater healing comes when we dive deeper into a spiritual tradition. I tried delving into Buddhism. As life-giving as it was, and I learned tools that I continue to use, for me it was missing something.
Sweeping past much of my journey, I arrived at an Episcopal church with a Priest whose sermon felt like God was talking to me through him. To the tears that came unbidden when I took the Eucharist. He helped me to start understanding Scripture in life giving ways. Completely different from lessons I learned growing up that filled me with shame and had me worrying I was going to hell. I’ve written a bit about this journey here, here, and here.
As I’ve traveled this road, I’ve often found it difficult to admit to friends what I was discovering for fear they would judge me. I continue to struggle with this fear and this blog is a part of confronting it. Very few of my friends are Christians. I would be far more comfortable telling them I was becoming a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Wiccan.
I understand why they might be resistant. Christianity has a tarnished legacy, often stemming from its tethering to Empire. As my friend and theologian Ray Aldred has described in An Indigenous Reinterpretation of Repentance, the western “Church” has often tied sin to anything that wasn’t culturally or physically associated with a certain type of white, male Christian. Repentance in that context, Aldred points out, requires the rest of us to hate ourselves. Enlightenment thinking has caused further damage by convincing many that the only way to read Scripture is as concrete historic fact and a rule book rather than as spiritual food. So I understand why some might judge my choice. I understand why I keep grappling with it.
Humans make up the Church, this living Body made up of those who follow Christ. And we humans get a lot wrong, sometimes horribly so. Which is why I’m inclined not to call myself a Christian. Instead, I follow the lead of my indigenous friends in saying I follow the Jesus Way — the phrase used by the earliest of Jesus’ followers. Because Jesus’ message, when torn away from the trappings of empire and privilege, is about freedom in love. That even the most marginalized is made in the image of God and contains God’s breath.
Regardless of what I call it, the deeper I go into my prayer life, while also studying about God and my tradition, the more I find myself transformed and the freer I become (which is not to say I don’t continue to battle my many demons, because I do). My journey is not anyone else’s journey. My desire to become a chaplain stems from wanting to help others find their path toward healing their spiritual grief and trauma that I believe so many of us are carrying around. I understand my friend’s anger toward Christianity and her resistance to my saying I want to be a saint. But for me, it is another way of saying that I am seeking freedom and I’m finding it on this prayer journey and following the Jesus way.