Wednesday, May 30, 2007

pan-blog #1 Jacob Wrestles with God

Describe your most formative religious experience. I am assuming that most of us are, or have been, some form of a Christian (probably born-again), so what I have in mind is that sort of testimonial-type of event in your past that led you to, or closer to, God. If you are no longer a Christian, describe how you feel about that experience now.

Names have been omitted to protect identities.

Jacob Wrestles with God: Was it Jacob? It's been so long, I barely remember the details of Bible stories anymore.... Details are faaading....

We were out on our Tuesday date. I think it was Tuesday. We loved going out on Tuesday nights. She'd drive, I'd ride, bound inside our bodies and out by the conversationlessness of incredible music through the backroad cornfield country; darkness heavy as ink except for an occasional yellow lace-framed window streaming by or a flashing red light signalling a dangerous obsolete intersection. On our way to Muncie. Muncie was the closest thing we had to a city without we had to drive all the way into Indy. When we did Indy, it was an event. Fancy clothes tossed piles in the bedroom makeup scattered on sinks, anticipation and excitement brewing for the Big City. Muncie was our regular city. Walmart, restaurants that weren't cheap or small or sameold or Ivanhoes or Chinese buffets, parks bigger than backyards, people that weren't necessarily of the homogeneous make-up of our school, upper middle class midwestern.

When we made it out to Tuesdays in Muncie, we always did only two things. We stopped first at the Salvation Army thrift store and played our hands through forgotten, found, once-loved, worn, mildewy household items and clothes in search of treasures. And, after satisfying our thing lusts, we ate. We crossed the parking lot to Stake 'n Shake, where we both always got the same thing: Frisco Melts, fries, soda. Every time the same. Frisco melts top the list of foods I enjoyed most during my years at TU. But the best part of it all was our conversation. We always talked deep into the marrows of our lives. The heavy stuff, the deep stuff, the best stuff. She was the first person I told a lot of embarrassing things to. Things I thought maybe I should be ashamed of but wasn't sure. Things I feared, things I loved and things I hated about myself. And we always talked religion and spirituality. Religion had been the most important, the center, the beating heart, the fulcrum on which my life teetered for as long as I could think.

One Tuesday, I remember her telling me something that was painful for her but I don't remember details anymore (not that I'd tell you). Something heavy with sadness. I remember a moment, I was staring right into her soult. That's what it felt like. It was a quiet moment, like that exhausted staring into space effortless comfortable when you know there are people trying to communicate around you, but you can't bring yourself to focus your eyes or come forward into the present to acknowledge them and you don't care. In that moment, I heard words coming out of her chest that weren't the same as the ones coming out of her mouth. They sounded desperate; like they were asking for help. To God. To me to god. Or something. It wasn't rational or normal, I couldn't sort it out or explain it really. Intense and surreal. I don't know what I said back to her, but for the rest of our evening, I was quiet and brooding. And I knew what I had to do.

We got back to our dorms and I immediately ran up to my room and put on eleven more layers of clothes. It was probably February. Definitely winter, with snow on the ground, in Indiana, which, if you haven't experienced it, is frigid, icy, wet ripping through all your layers, unforgiving, windy. Plus it was already late at night. Maybe ten or eleven oclock by the time we got home and I was ready.

This was my first senior year. I still lived in the dorm. At this point in my spiritual journey, I was a  desperately clinging but dedicated born-again. I spent hours alone every morning in the cafeteria, at a quiet sunlit table near the windows facing T Lake, praying and reading the Bible and searching for clues, calling for Jesus to show me himself. I spent several evenings a week with my liberal cohorts, trying to call on tongues or at least little shivers, maybe? I searched for the extra super natural in my daily life. I longed for the God and the Jesus and the Holy Spirit I thought I had known in my youth. I made a lot of A's in my classes, writing and presenting topics on the Holy Spirit that year. I understood exactly who he should be to me but never found him. The harder I looked, the less satisfied I became. So this evening, this night, maybe, was a big test, I think. I was going to go all out. Maybe what I saw in her was my own reflection.

So, that night, I went down to T. Lake with my Bible in hand, wrapped in many s-waddling clothes, with the intention of staying up all night and calling on God and wrestling demons for my friend. I would change her life by the skin of my teeth that night. I honestly believed, on my walk through the thin, crunchy snow, that I would face the devil in the next six or seven hours.

I sat by a dimly lit shed and cursed the busy-ness of this newmoon night. Apparently two or three other students had had the same idea, I couldn't believe it. I wanted to be alone in this battle. I sang hymns but couldn't remember very many. I tried to make up my own but they didn't sound very eloquent or meaningful, not like David's lyrics or Solomon's. I read passages I thought were appropriate over and over but couldn't hold the water. I begged God to come to me or at least open my eyes to the spiritual war going on around me and this whole university, the war I knew about from everything I had learned, good angels and God and saved people fighting demons, demons demons demons. I prayed and prayed. I tried to force emotion and maybe catch the window to the spiritual that way, I tried to cry but I couldn't so I forced out strange sounds from my throat. I hoped the cold would at least make me go a little insane, so I froze my ass for as long as I could stand it. Around three or four, I was finally alone. And fully miserable. I'd seen no angels, no demons, hadn't felt Jesus, hadn't felt God. Hadn't heard anything or sensed anything. Was being a failure at everything I tried. I was a failure. This was stupid.

What the hell was I doing? What a f%$ing stupid idea? Who the hell am I to think I can save someone. I hate this place. I hate this religion. I don't hate God but I sure as hell feel hatred. I hate. And then, silently, a little black and white kitten snuggled up against my limp cold hand. Of all the animals in the world, to me there is none as special as a cat. Kittens, we don't even have to talk about kittens. (Growing up, with the everyday confusions of living in a foreign country and in a big, passionate family, our cats were always our emotional bean bags or blankies or shag rugs, the animals on whom we relied for unconditional love. We also found so so so much humor in their shenanigans and personalities. We found much relief in the connecting place of laughter as a family.)

So, little oreo-kitty and I hung out. I got up and wandered around. Paced. I walked half the perimeter of the lake and came back. I walked in circles in the little woods. I made my way to the prayer deck where I didn't pray. And, if you were standing on the hill above the lake and there was even a sliver of a moon, you would have seen a tiny black and white shadow following me, leading me, asking me to rescue it when it climbed too high. Dancing around me. Bringing me solace and distraction and a jab of happy. We hung out for the next few hours together, me and oreo-kitty. I gave her a name but don't remember it anymore. We eventually settled back by the shed. I really wanted something spiritual to come of this. I really wanted it. 

Kitty eventually fell asleep in my lap, snuggling her teeny paws slightly shivering between my belly and my jacket. I was much warmer now. This was probably around five thirty in the morning by now. I couldn't do it, though. I couldn't stay awake any longer. I had to go to bed. I had to go get warm. Dammit, dammit dammit. Why didn't you let me do what I came to do, God? Why didn't you let me wrestle you? I want to help. I want to truly, wholly be a follower. I'm willing. Where the hell are you? My eyes got sleepy. I had to go in.

Then, I saw a man sitting in front of me, as if in a dream. His profile facing me. Detailless. Just the shape of a man. And I heard distinctly in my brain, "This is not yours to carry. Let it go. I will take care of her. I love her. She is mine."


That was Jesus. I knew it. Beyond the shadow of a doubt. A test, maybe, for me. I never really placed it. Because it wasn't long after, a few months, a year at the most, that I walked away from the religion and from the Trinity as I'd understood it for good. But on my way out, I told him something like this, "I'm not throwing you away because of hurt or pain or confusion, not entirely anyway. I'm just done with what I've been doing. It's not working for me. I can't chase after you because I've never truly felt you on the other side. I've felt sad and inadequate and not enough for as long as I can remember and it's all tied in to my identity which has till now been all tied in to the religious aspects of being Christian. It feels so completely confining to me right now. And I feel inauthentic too often to speak. And I hate that feeling. So here I go, off to find out who I am outside of this frame. If you want me, if you are everything so many people tell me you are, then you will come and take me, hold me in your arms so tight that even if I fight and scream and swear, you won't let go and eventually I'll fall asleep, exhausted, and I will be yours. If not, that's okay."

That was a really intense night. That was the most intense searching I ever did, completely alone, with no goal of an audience or a story (teehee). I thought that I needed to fight with the supernatural world. And I suppose I did.

One thing I know, four years and going since I posted my challenge to the heavens, I don't really regret my days as a born-again Christian. They helped me to value my spiritual journey, to hear smaller voices. Anyway, they made me who I am. Christianity provided a very distinct frame for my childhood and my relationships and my youth, up to the age of 22. Christianity, in some form, is a deep part of my roots and my inheritance. I'm glad for all I went through. I came out a bit off-balance with some embarrassing habits, damaged a few friendships along the way (inside or out) but I might have done that anyway. But I'm more often than not at peace with it all these days. (Still see red sometimes, though, but I think that might last the rest of this life.)


whatyoudream said...

I envy your memory so much. Maybe the richness of your experiences makes them more memorable, or maybe you are the kind that replays things so many times they're burned into your brain. Either way, where I only recall these feelings from the pit of my stomach and the back of my mind and even there only a little, you can still feel the wonder, anger, awe, love, cold, kitten fur. Maybe your faith was so different from mine, so real in a (pardon this analogy but it is the closest I can come) Frank Peretti sort of way, because of the places you've lived in and your eyes and voice which are so unique.

forrest said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
whatyoudream said...

I laughed out loud just now, remembering being so frustrated when you would talk about not liking a movie because your food wasn't digesting right or you were having a fight with the person you were with (okay, these are exaggerations).

Still I envy your experiences, which seem so much richer and more colorful than I'll ever have.