It would be dishonest to say that this unexpected theological journey came out of nowhere. They don’t. But how I got here from there is, well, as they say on Facebook, “It’s Complicated.”

As of six months ago I was cheerfully self-describing as an “atheist witch church lady” and this was almost entirely accurate with the added bonus that at least three of those four words are directly observed to cause twitching in unsuspecting bystanders and the juxtaposition is good for a chuckle. (Let there be mirth and reverence, She says.) I say almost accurate because “atheist” was always a bit strong; I’d settled into a this-world focused strong agnosticism with a healthy dose of “and why are we even asking that question when we don’t agree on the answer and it isn’t really relevant anyway?” I had, in a sense, quit hanging onto a vague theistic spiritual security-blanket as I’d come to rest in and trust in a beloved human community.

This is one of the beautiful things I’ve found in Unitarian Universalism – people are surprisingly and delightfully welcoming of all sorts of theological heresies, so long as the heretics in question behave according to community standards. We joke occasionally that this is New England, where everybody goes to church on Sunday mornings because there’s nothing else to do, and this tradition is so very well established that there’s even a church for the heretics, atheists, pagans, free-thinkers and everyone else who can’t stand church. We are accused, occasionally, of not believing anything; this is not accurate. We do believe things, a great variety of things — we just don’t all believe exactly the same thing. This is not a bug, it’s a feature. YMMV.

The difficulty, however, with letting go of one’s spiritual security-blanket and moving on, is that it gives the Great Mystery an opportunity to sneak up from behind and tap you on the back.

To which the only reasonable reaction is “Oh sh-t. Not You again. Go away. Go away…. Ohsh-t…”

You make bargains with the Divine, and sooner or later the Divine shows up to collect. It helps to remember this. I’d… forgotten a lot of things. I’m not sure how I’d forgotten that one; then again, forgetting was (I think) part of the bargain.

In retrospect, I had a sense that something was coming. Back in the late spring, I was having a casual conversation with my minister, looping through some unrelated territory on its way back to the search process, and immediately after saying some thing (I don’t now recall exactly what) I thought, “Why did I say that? I don’t say things like that. Narrative necessity dictates that when characters say things like that, the Universe shows up and proves them wrong. That’s why I don’t say things like that. I am in so much trouble… Ohsh-t.”

I had a similar moment a few weeks later – like foreshocks before the big earthquake of the soul. (I was asked a question that I should, by anything I knew at the time, have answered No. I wasn’t paying attention, and answered Not Yet. This has turned out to be true.)

Oh, and the bargain that I’d forgotten about until just a week or so ago? The one that had me laughing at the clouds and saying, okay, fine, You win?

“I am done with this ministry thing! I tried. I can’t do this for free and then go out there and support myself in my spare time. I need stability. I need a partner who’s not financially dependent on me. I need a community that’s not made of drama. I need a place to live where I can quit worrying about the rent. I need a job that pays a living wage. I need health insurance for pity’s sake! Do You hear me? I quit!”

That was eight or nine years ago.

Seven years ago, I moved cross-country to Maine in pursuit of a nerd I met on the internet, and ended up moving in together. Five years ago, I investigated the UU church here in town and was recruited into the choir on day one; a few months after that, my series of temp jobs landed me in a state governmental office. I married my net.nerd three years ago; and late last year, the series of agency temp and contingency hire positions finally developed into regular, permanent, full time work for the State of Maine. With benefits. Including darn good health insurance.

And then, in due course of time, a tap from behind and a still small voice whispering, “You. Now. This.

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4 Responses to Perspective

  1. Lioness Elise says:

    Oh, man. Yeah, it does sound like Somebody’s come round to collect, eh?

    I spent a bunch of time in some UU places. Excellent people, and very good company. (I wound up there because I asked somebody, “Where does a nice pagan girl go to sing Christmas carols, anyway?” Seriously. And they pointed me to one of the local UU churches.)

    There are very interesting ways in which a non-creedal church makes a person look deeply at their own spiritual values and connections, I found. I’m glad for the time I spent there.

    • C. says:

      It’s been an -interesting- year so far, that’s for sure…

      Non-creedal churches are an interesting bunch. A lot of the congregational-model protestant churches are technically non-creedal in the sense that they don’t use a specific text, like the Apostles’ Creed or similar, as a profession of faith. (Baptists of all flavors are notoriously stubborn about this.) What’s probably unique about the UU’s is that we don’t require profession of faith either, and that’s where it starts getting theologically weird. How do you have a church without a central unifying statement of belief? And yet, somehow, we do, and it works.

      I tend to describe UU as a religious practice, at least on the outside – and yet for me there’s something internal going on as well.

      • Lioness Elise says:

        I like the Seven Principles a lot. Especially the acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth.

      • C. says:

        I’ve grown to appreciate them myself, even if I am imperfect in practice. And that’s the thing: these are not statements of what one has to believe to be “in the club” – which was my experience of profession of faith in my childhood church – but rather an expression of “this is how we behave, and if you really object to doing it this way, er, explain again why you wanted to be here? Not that we wouldn’t welcome you anyway, of course, but…”

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