The Feminist in the Room

Healing

This weekend my husband spoke at a marriage retreat. I swear speaking ideas to a crowd is his lifeblood. Me? I’d rather do a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g. else in the world, but he is so damn good at it. He’s known he was going to do this since some time last fall. I finally decided I was going about a week ago.

Before I decided, I set some stipulations: 1) I don’t have to decide until the last minute if I don’t want to. 2) I can change my mind at any time, even up to the point of pulling away 3) I don’t have to go to the sessions if I don’t want to.

I know it’s hard for people to understand why I would even consider going in the first place. It’s certainly hard for me to understand why I would put myself in harm’s way. I’m still very much working out my own spirituality, but sometimes, I miss experiencing it with people. I miss being excited about the potential of discovery that only happens in when ideas are shared. I don’t want what we used to have, but I don’t want to walk away from spirituality either.

It’s complicated.

Even though I had a big ball of anxiety in my stomach the first night, I was excited to hear Craig speak again. I am the reason he was pulled from the platform at our previous church. Apparently, if you can’t control your woman, you don’t get to do what you love, even if it’s to the detriment of the organization. In my head, I know this is some messed up bullshit, but in my feelings, I still wrestle with those emotional wounds.

Nervous or not, it was ok. I was doing ok until the question was asked, Can you imagine if there were feminists in the room listening to this right now? I know. I know it’s shocking except to me it isn’t. I am intimately acquainted with the ideology and language of church and believe me, Feminist might cause more raised eyebrows in a sanctuary than the actual F word ever will.

And there I was, the feminist in the room. The odd one out, again.

I started to go into a shame spiral just as I have for years when I realize I am the one who is wrong, broken, who doesn’t belong. And then I thought, NO! Nope. No. I don’t have to buy that steaming load anymore. Yes, this is hurtful, but it isn’t personal. Yes, it is generally exclusive, but it isn’t personally directed. And I don’t have to stay and be a target if I don’t want to.

So I didn’t.

And while I am desperately disappointed that I didn’t get to see my husband do what he does so very well, I took myself on a morning adventure. I meditated on the water. I watched all the water birds whose names I remember, and some I hadn’t met yet. I walked where Spanish moss trailed through my hair and stood with my eyes closed and face upturned to the sun. I breathed and laughed and petted random dogs and was fully my feminist, feminine self.

I didn’t go to another session the whole weekend, and I had a marvelous time. And I met delightful people who I don’t see eye to eye with theologically, and it’s ok because I don’t have to. I can know people and not agree with them. I can work with people without being a victim of conflicting worldviews. I can walk away if I no longer feel safe.

Maybe that all seems like practical common sense to you. It probably is to most people. But when you’ve been the subject of spiritual abuse and a controlling personality, you lose sight of these basic concepts. I experienced learned helplessness for so long it manifested as general anxiety and unpredictable panic attacks. I was not ok, and I could not escape.

This weekend I practiced a skill that I hadn’t felt free to practice before. I left a room where I felt unsafe without feeling shame about it. And I found ways to feel safe again without being less myself for it. If that’s the only spiritual stride I make in 2019, then I’ve already conquered ten thousand inner demons.

I’ll keep being the feminist in the room, thank you. I’ve had enough of pretending to be anything less than who I am.

Embody

Healing, Living

In November, I wrote about how 2018 was a year without a name. The concept of a word or theme for the year is fairly widespread (go ahead, google it if you need more information.), and I have taken part in the concept for years. Maybe you think it’s hokey or gimmicky, which is fine, your word for the year can be ‘cranky-pants’, but for me, it’s a deeply spiritual experience.

I listened for this year’s word for a long time. I knew it wouldn’t be anything related to church culture. I knew I wanted it to be self-centered (not in a selfish way, but in continuing to focus on self-love, self-healing, a generative and growing word.) I knew it needed to be feminine and empowering, fully accepting of where I am while allowing me to develop bigger dreams, bigger ideals, and bigger love.

One of the foundational tenets of most Christian theology centers on the depravity of humankind. We don’t just do bad things; we are bad, born inherently broken and unworthy of Love. To be indoctrinated with this message is to learn to hate your self. Hating your words and your actions is bad enough, but it can teach you to hate your very flesh. If you’re also a woman? Forget about it. You ate the fruit; you caused the fall, and the patriarchy has reminded you of it ever since. You are doubly damned.

I’ve lived this reality for a long time, even when I stopped believing it, I couldn’t escape a culture that was steeped in it. Breaking free of this destructive and decidedly unloving doctrine has been like picking sand out of jello. Just when you think you’ve removed it all, you find a little more crunching between your teeth. Believing this body I inhabit is inherently divine and capable of producing beautiful and miraculous things is a conscious act of will every day.

For a long time, I thought my word would be ‘Goddess’ honoring the process of coming to know the Divine Feminine. But ultimately, this word still places the emphasis outside my actual body, an outside being or force who acts upon me, which I think is a disempowering view of Divine Love.

Embody is a word which cannot be divided from the messy muscle, blood, and bone of humanity. It is flesh-bound even as it leaves the lips. And yet it is also deeply entwined with the spiritual. As we think in our hearts, so will our body behave. We will embody that which we believe, understand and feel, and we will be affected mentally and emotionally by what our bodies encounter, and how they perform. We are bound together, flesh and soul.

The Gospel of John begins with a beautiful poem: The Word became flesh and lived with us.

I often think of Jesus, His never-ending welcome to those who were considered outside the love of God and man, unworthy and dirty, wounded in body and soul. Religious men hated him for his welcoming spirit, his work of unbiased love and healing. People flocked to his touch and his message of invitation: All who are weary and heavy laden, come… Bring your wounds and your loneliness and receive restoration. Remember you are loved. You always have been.

Fundamentalism has lost this message somewhere in it’s striving to attain what it’s had all along: worthiness and welcome. I hope being embodied will remind me that this body, with its scars, its unshapely bulges, its stretch marks, and failures is that I have always been divinely inhabited by an overwhelming Love, perhaps wandering, but never lost. This humanity cannot be separated from Divinity any more than I can separate my soul from my skin and still exist.

Whatever it is I wish to see in the world, I must first be in the world. This one is perhaps the hardest for me. It is much easier to accept love than to be it, but the two are also impossible to separate. The more open we are to love in the world, the more readily we lavish it on others. Love isn’t merely what we feel or say (if I had a dollar for every time I heard my abuse was enacted “out of love” last year…), it’s what we birth from our bodies in the way we make caress the world as we move through it.

2019 will be a year in which I become what I believe, and so I must curiously explore and wisely choose who and what influences me, and I will practice creative love for myself, for humanity and for the earth.

Embody.