I decided to write again, as one does during a global pandemic.
I decided that the weight could be shared instead of constantly tugging on my own insides.
I decided that we needed a place to put the Good and the Hard.
This morning we slept it. This morning we fought.
This morning we had to slice the PB&Js in half because there wasn’t enough bread defrosted. And we prayed for the families who have none thawing on the counter.
This morning we walked around the neighborhood, left messages of hope on that one garage with the magnetic alphabet, and followed the directions someone left for us in chalk on their sidewalk (“hop 5 times” “downward dog”). We picked small purple flowers to put in a vase near the large purple spray can of Lysol. Then we Lysoled, just a lil’.
I’m not going to edit these, because how can we edit our accounts of a new reality? To what could we compare this? Editing implies that there’s an exemplar rendition somewhere keeping watch.
Nothing but an email invite from Atticus’s room mom inviting us all to a Zoom chat during lunch so the kids felt less alone, and exhausted health care workers. Exhausted grocery store clerks. Exhausted…everyone.
Nothing but humanity, resting here in the blinding Rocky Mountain sun picking at our cuticles. While the dog chomps on a large branch. While the kids stagger down the stairs after naps. While we text our siblings and our soul mates and our bosses.
It’s become a nightly ritual for David and I, over the last two years, to dissect and inspect our faith—the Christian faith— as we tidy up the house before heading to bed.
“Did you hear about this?!” [insert vacuum rumbles]
“Did you know about…?” [folding kitchen towels]
“Could I read you something I read earlier?” [throwing mail away]
“How does this make you feel? Because it makes me want to murder…” [wiping down the table and counters aggressively]
What does the future look like for us? For our family? For religion and church and Church? We’ve all asked these questions. We are still asking them.
As many you know & have witnessed my journey home began five years ago when I sobered up. Phase I of recovery offers a survival training that prepares one for the ascent and thriving of Phase II. In Phase I you learn how not to hit your kids when you miss oxy or feel afraid. Phase II is more a manhandling of the soul.
Several years ago I began taking the steeper, less-travelled paths characteristic of Phase II with the assistance of my guides: my womb massage therapist and other body workers, Clarissa Pinkloa Estes, Riane Eisler, Xochiquetzal and Aphrodite to name a few.
Each path I wandered led me closer to my divinity, my inner Christ, my goddess. As the ground unsteadied and the charcoaled darkness descended I found that I missed the safety of Sunday worship and sermons with less ache. Melancholy slowly melted into joy.
Why? I wondered… But I already knew.
Such strenuous soul work caused the umbilical pulse of my divinity to quicken. Every one of Eisler’s paragraphs, every touch from a healer, each deep inhalation of forest and freedom strengthened the throb. How could I tolerate sitting in sanctuaries built by men (and more often than I can bear admitting— women) who benefit from the oppression of others?
How can I stand under this stained glass while listening to God referred to as a man most, if not all, of the time? God is not a man, I’ve met Her right here in my warm belly.
The more I learned about our cornerstones of patriarchy & dominator politics, and the more I witnessed how slowly we move to smash them, the less tolerant I became. I’ve no problem with prophets: Jesus and Buddha and Hafiz and Isaiah and Hershel and Capon and I are best friends. It’s the systems that began to tourniquet my joy.
Why can’t I sit in these chairs anymore? Because we were never meant for sitting. The healed man does not sit, he runs. The person given sight does not watch the birds fly through a stained glass window.
Since I’m currently enrolled in massage school, allow me to paint you a picture.
For 29 years the church and Christianity was a massage that increased circulation, relaxed & warmed tissues, created a safe space to heal. I owe my life to the Church and Christians and Christ. But two years ago I began to tell the Church and the Christians, “Hey, you know this part of the massage? The one where you use exclusively (or majority) male pronouns? This part of the massage hurts me. And it hurts other women too, even though they don’t know it yet. AND it hurts men even though they don’t know it yet, either.”
“Thank you!” They replied.
Months later nothing had changed.
“This still hurts.” I winced.
“We hear you, and we believe you; but this kind of change takes many years to enact. It would hurt our other clients if we adjusted the massage this way, this quickly. And frankly, you sound a little angry.”
We don’t have to go back, you know. We don’t have to keep hurting. She whispered.
But what about the kids? Who will cement those important stories to their spongy little minds?
You have a wisdom. You have guides. She points to the books stacked high on the coffee and bedside tables. You can walk your babies up and down the same paths you and David have walked together. Tell them all of the stories.
You are the wisdom.
The massage worked because it was supposed to. At those stages in our development we needed to be rubbed and worked in very specific, safer ways. And then—we didn’t. When the church, or massage therapist, couldn’t accommodate our changed anatomy, we left to find something new.
Jesus preferred wilderness, this is all over the gospels; he found his healing in the woods.
When somebody’s daughter needed resurrecting, when a blind man finally wanted sight, JC wandered along the overgrown trails, through the meadow, and entered the cobble stoned streets of the establishment. He worked his 12th step. “Having had a spiritual awakening… [He] tried to carry this message to [everyone], and to practice these principles in all [His] affairs.”
We’ll continue to trek back into the massage studio and we’ll watch the work being done, offering what we can when it’s asked of us. We’ll help heal and hold space and listen well, or as well as we can.
But when I see the twinkle in another’s eye, the one that says, I’m ready for more, I’ll wave that person over and whisper…
“Look, out there.” Pointing toward the ridge beyond the meadow.
“Just beyond those grasslands is a wilderness where you will find something new. Something that scares you shitless at first. Out there it will feel lonely and you will wonder where your people are. You will fear for the kids and the marriage. For community and bears. But stay close to the signs & don’t look away, keep reading and listening and don’t forget to dance. You will find the new healers, the ones who say the things that made their pastors and priests and rabbis and imams and good, old friends mad. Then, a little deeper into the trees you will see the faintest light—follow it. It will lead you to the campfire of those who have gone before and who have set up camp in these outer lands. They will smile widely at the sight of your haggard, eager face. Every so often you will feel the pull back toward the meadow and to the paved places beyond that. Listen to the breaths of those still enjoying and benefitting from the establishment. Go back and help. Heal. Listen more. Hold space. Honor. And when you see a spark in the eye of the woman whose belly is beating with the pulse of the female divine—pull her aside. Whisper the wisdom of the wilderness back to her and point her in the direction from which you came.”
We’ve come to love & require the chilly nights out here huddled around the embers. The kids and the marriage survived.
There’s something new, I promise, just over that ridge.
As Ellen neared the end of her life I made an oath. “When you wear one I wear one,” referring to the diapers she would soon require. The day came, and it was as horrible as you could imagine.
“I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this,” she slowly moan-mumbled.
My mom and I held her and cried with her; then we strapped the scratchy, absorbent nightmare onto her graying, atrophied, weary fourteen-year-old body.
I sat squarely in the Fuck You God camp, but Ellen still believed. Probably more so, because eternity was coming closer and she smelled like death topped with glory shavings. Her only fear was living away from Mama.
Abruptly, the sobbing stopped.
“Now it’s your turn Claire, oh Claire, oh Claire, oh Claire.” In an interesting turn of events her voice synthesized into a weepier version of Julia Child’s. She would get stuck like a skipping CD, moaning “oohhh” in front of certain words. “Claire” was one of them.
So I stepped into the same nightmare she did, and did my best supermodel impersonations up and down the hall for her, as any 5’10” sixteen-year-old would do. Then a little diaper dance.
Her slow Julia Child laughter barrels down the brightly lit hallway, still. I can see her bumpy head tilted back in that gray hospital bed. A human heart never felt bigger than in that moment. Our tears were transformed.
There’s this picture I took after one of the Malibu fires burned up the hills surrounding my neighborhood—charcoaled soil punctured by sharp green needles of grass. For a moment the charred ground that brain cancer and impending death left behind suddenly burst alive with love and laughter.
Each cackle and joyful boogery snort punctured the darkness, allowing the solemn scene to morph into a comedy of verdant life and love.
It was here, at this moment, that I decided my Fuck You God stance wasn’t going to serve me so well in the coming month. I knew I would die in some way, too. If she trusted Jesus with her bumpy life, maybe I could cling to the same Divine Love that Ellen knew so completely?
Could something be both Good and Hard at the same time? Can God exist as Good and Hard at the same time? Do Good and Hard even really exist? Does anything matter anymore? Because I’m about to watch my sister die in the back bedroom of my house and I want to pummel the pause button.
Oh Claire oh Claire oh Claire oh Claire. I can hear it still.