God speaks in mysterious ways
This has been a tough, tough week. The sky is gray and it is cold outside. As much as I love the snow, I find that I don't have the desire I once did to play in it - hopefully that will change as Parker grows up a little. Right now it is something to trudge through on my way to the barn. But much worse is my loss of faith in the institutions that I once trusted to represent our best selves - the church and the government. They were always human institutions that were fallible and had their faults, but this week my faith in them is gone. I am wandering in the wilderness trying to figure out what to do, think and say next.
So this week I am going to tell you a story. This is a story about a time when I heard God speaking to me, in a most unusual (to me) way.
When we lived in Virginia, I was the lay leader in our little church. The laity, or lay people, are everyone who is not ordained clergy. So I held a position of influence and trust.
I was also an elementary school librarian, working in a school where I was very unhappy. I wasn't allowed to use my creativity or given time to teach the skills I knew I could teach. I was covering teacher planning time, and didn't have the resources or space to do any more than read to the kids and let them check out books. Third graders studied ancient Greece, so I was reading Greek myths to them. I found myself wondering if some day Christianity (see lay leader, above) would be discredited and considered quaint, as the Greek myths are today. This was really troubling me, and I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that I was having a crisis of faith.
I was also reading a book titled Feminist Mysticism and Images of God by Dr. Jennie Knight. Dr. Knight explored some of the mystics and feminine imagery of the divine, to include the black Madonna and the goddess of Wicca.
That is the back story. Also that I am relatively shy and unassuming, and rarely insert myself into a situation where I perceive that I might not be welcome. I know some of you might argue with me on that point.
Anyway, it was out of character for me to invite myself along on a trip. We were visiting the farm where our alpacas lived, and my friends Jenny and Margaret (I have changed their names because I didn't ask their permission to include them, but they are integral to my story) were talking about a fiber seminar that they were planning to attend. The seminar was at an alpaca farm in Ohio and would feature some big names in spinning, weaving and dying. I was shocked to hear myself ask if I could go too.
They welcomed my company. The plan was to take Jenny's RV and camp on the farm. There were hookups for water and electric - this was a big farm. So on the appointed day off we went.
We arrived in Ohio and set up the camp site - the seminar would start the next morning. Some other participants who were also camping came over to say hello and introduce themselves, and we broke out the wine (silly me - I brought a bottle) and had quite a hilarious time.
At some point, Jenny brought out the book she was writing about her life, and asked me to take a look at it. She had suffered tremendous abuse as a child, and I knew that she had rejected organized religion, but she considered herself to be a spiritual person. The conversation led to me talking about this great book I was reading and how it was really opening my eyes to a lot of faith stuff (maybe I should go back and read it again), and that the part I was reading then was about Wicca and I didn't pretend to know anything about Wicca ...
And I saw a look pass between Jenny and Margaret, and I said, "What? Are you Wicca?" Jenny nodded and asked if I still wanted to stay there with her. Well, sure, "Why wouldn't I?"
"Because you're Methodist."
Well, somehow I, or someone, had given her the impression that I considered her evil, which couldn't have been further from the truth. I thought she was someone who had experienced evil and the image of a male deity, a Father God, was just too dangerous to her. I understood that from reading what she had written and from reading the Feminist Mysticism book.
So the chatter began - what is Wicca? Who is the divine? What do you believe? I learned that Wiccans don't "worship the devil." Their divine being is the Goddess.
So I went to sleep amazed and a little bewildered.
The next morning the seminar started, and there was another woman there - I'll call her Linda - who said she was a librarian. When we had a little break I made my way over to her - a fellow librarian after all - and introduced myself. I asked the questions all librarians ask when they meet each other, "What are you reading these days?" She said she didn't really have time to read much because she was the pastor at a church. Really?!? I was the lay leader at my church.
"Which denomination are you?" I asked
"Unitarian," she answered.
This wasn't the answer I expected, but I said, "Oh! I don't really know much about Unitarians."
"Well, she said, we see God as sort of like a tree. We don't worship the tree, but we believe that God looks different to each of us, based on where we are standing around the tree."
Interesting. We were called back to our seminar and the talk was all fiber and alpacas until dinner. I sought out Linda again and I don't remember much of the conversation, except that I confessed to her that I was having a crisis of faith. I didn't know if I believed any more, and how could I go to my church and admit that? I actually cried. She listened and said, "Well, I think you should ...
... pray about it." Pray about it. Not that I hadn't been, but here was a new perspective, and her advice to pray certainly wasn't outside my realm of understanding, and didn't violate my belief system or put me in danger. Yes, I could do that.
We were supposed to have free time after dinner, but we got word that the person who was sort of the keynote speaker for the weekend had been in a car accident on her way to the airport in Denver. She wasn't hurt, but thought the person in the other car might have been. Her spinning wheel was ruined and she missed her flight, so wouldn't be coming. She was supposed to be teaching us some artistic ways of spinning yarn, and one of the techniques is called core spinning. You take a hank of yarn and wrap the good fiber, in this case alpaca, around it. The thing is you have to take your core yarn and untwist it so the finished yarn doesn't have too much twist. The speaker was supposed to be bringing this untwisted yarn with her, so now we needed to do it. We got out a bunch of spinning wheels and got to work and in fairly short order had the core yarn ready for the next morning. The leader of the seminar suggested that we have a prayer for the people in Denver, and it was then that I realized that most if not all of the other women there were Wicca.
And now I was being invited to join a Wicca prayer circle. So now I really did pray - what should I do? I didn't want to be arrogant and condemn someone else's faith tradition because, well, I was a Methodist after all. I also didn't want to pray to an idol or a deity other than God, because God hates that. So the answer that I got was to join the prayer circle, but to not do anything that made me uncomfortable or that I thought might go against my belief in God. As I write this I realize the irony of being in a faith crisis and clinging to my faith, but that's God for you!
So Jenny was asked to lead the prayer. She asked for healing for the people involved in the accident. She gave thanks for the opportunity for us to gather. At the end we sort of threw our hands up in the air in a gesture of sending positive energy and healing vibes to the injured. NOTHING in that prayer circle violated my understanding of God or made me feel uncomfortable.
Have you ever had an experience that takes you so far outside yourself that you just want to get away to mull it over, but you also just want to talk about it and talk about it and talk about it? This was one of those experiences for me.
I clearly heard God saying to me that there is more than one way to get to God. Jenny had rejected the Father figure because she suffered abuse at the hands of her stepfather. She found God in the feminine divine. Linda understood that from where we stand God will look different - if we are born to a Christian family in the US God will look very different that if we are born to a Hindu family in India, or a Muslim family in Saudi Arabia, or to a Native family in Alaska. God will find us where we are, and God is big enough to accept us where we are able to find God.
I believe that none of this was coincidence - not the trip, not the book I was reading, not being with Jenny (poor Margaret I think wondered when I would EVER shut up on our trip home), not Linda's presence at the same conference, and not being in a Wicca prayer circle. God spoke to me and I have never again believed that I, or my religion, have all the answers.
I know that there are those of you who will find this disturbing, and who will quote scriptures that say that in order to have eternal life we must accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. I have accepted Jesus - more than once. And I am ok with not understanding exactly what those passages mean. Jesus came that all might have eternal life (John 3:16), but then says that those who have heard and not believed in the Son of God are already condemned (John 3:18). I don't understand this paradox, except to say that when John said that he was speaking to a specific group of people who had heard, and seen, with their own eyes. Will we meet Jesus somewhere along the road we travel? Perhaps as we are dying? Maybe that is an answer. Two of the disciples were walking away from Jerusalem, grieving the loss of Jesus and wondering what it meant that the women had told them he had risen from the dead, when a man joined them. He interpreted all that the Old Testament had to say about the Messiah for them, but it wasn't until they sat down to eat and the man broke the bread that they recognized Jesus. Is Jesus appearing to us in forms that we can recognize? I'm OK if you haven't accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior - because who am I to say what is right for you? I think what is most important is that you (WE) are looking for a relationship with God.
I can't explain why or how the events of that weekend unfolded, only that I was changed by what I heard God saying to me. I can't explain the paradoxes in the scriptures - only to say that more learned minds than mine have tried. Some say it is clear as day, but I say that if the scriptures are clear as day too many people are left out and I don't think that can be right.
I believe that wherever you are standing around the tree that is a metaphor for God, God is showing you what you should see. I don't see what you see because we aren't standing in the same space. I might see an ant while you see a squirrel. You might see a scar while I see breaks in the bark. Maybe there are branches on your side. Maybe there are pinecones or acorns on mine. We see God, but we see God differently, and I think God can handle that just fine.
This picture of Julia was taken at Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California when we visited in 2017.