Due to unusual circumstances, I am deep in church again. Not because I had a renewed heart for Christ, or because church appealed to me again, and not because I was depressed and lonely.
I married a pastor.
The one that got away. He was the guy in college I spent a lifetime regretting not giving a real chance to. After I thought through a life of mastering the pot luck at church get-togethers, it couldn’t compete with Gloria Steinem and the possibility of my own career and success. Especially when my own 54 year old father had just died of a sudden heart attack leaving my mom to care for 3 kids with only receptionist skills - forcing me to quit college midstream. I couldn’t risk the chance of not making a difference in the world. I desperately wanted to be of value. Plus, I had no dream of the white picket fence and 2.5 kids. It just wasn’t my picture. Mine included dirt floors, backpacks, and love. Lots of love.
I was so naive.
Some lessons take longer than others to learn.
Like the fact that I love to cook. Pot lucks might not have been so bad. And making a real difference in life doesn’t always mean you have to travel far from home. Or poor and hungry people aren’t the only ones starving. These are lessons we all learn along the way - through our own experience or observing it in others. The human condition doesn’t change much from one place to another. We're all in need of something. And what we often pity or where we see need may not be that at all. Perception is a mighty force that doesn't always speak the truth.
I learned that people who sleep on dirt floors can be very happy on dirt floors, and Formica and Pergot aren’t what every home needs. People with dirt floors or cardboard shacks are happy not because they’re ignorant, but for other reasons altogether. A dirt floor is actually a pretty great floor in the right environment. I’d pick it too in certain places. Now that I understand better.
What I’ve learned in these travels is that language matters more than we understand, and it’s the heart - how it shows up and travels with us in our experiences and lessons learned that shapes our life.
Our experiences are our story and our reality. At least on a conscious level. Many of them cannot be communicated with words, and it is only through the understanding of the heart that we can see them in one another. This is an important path to understanding that we easily forget or leave behind when we’re not paying attention.
Going back to church and opening my heart to a culture I’d left behind long ago has opened my eyes to many things - religion being the last of them.
For one, language shapes our understanding on so many levels, conscious and unconsciously - particularly as it relates to our relationships. If we don’t have a clear shared language, there is not shared experience, shared vision, or shared understanding. What we think, feel, and understand is only affirmed through shared agreement through words. They are agreements. Not more, not less. That said, it's no guarantee we'll we both see or understand the same thing because we say the same words.
Last week, my husband and I were incredibly sick with the flu. Enough to have us worried and swear we’ll get a flu shot next year. We had fevers, aches and pains, and vomiting. When he called his employer and the church to get a Sunday replacement, he said, “I can’t be there tomorrow because I’m fighting this bug.” I laughed and asked why he didn’t want them to know how sick he was when he was calling in sick. Wouldn’t it be better to communicate the awful truth?, I asked laughing. He insisted that he had. You see, to him, ‘fighting a bug’, means he is in the thick of it, in the fight! This was so surprising. I thought everyone understood the same meaning for something that simple - and they don’t.
Imagine how many other statements and interpretations are lost in translation…even when we think we speak the same language.
This extends to the idea there are many experiences beyond language, and beyond the ability to explain or conceptualize. There is a human tendency to sometimes minimize, dismiss, or ridicule these experiences as invalid simply because we don’t have shared agreement about words for them. I hope we can learn to be more respectful and curious about the beliefs and practices of others, instead of denigrating or fearing them. As long as it is in the light, and its movement is towards good, why wouldn’t we?
Although raised Lutheran and a committed, confirmed, convicted, and converted Sunday School teacher, I did renew my faith in a Harlem revival tent at 17. This second conversion was the kind movies are made of, and it’s remained with me through all my adventures and spiritual seeking. Instead of living in fear of outside influences to my Christian life, I dove in head first to the mystery all around me from the start, and Jesus met me there. He didn’t show up in that religious, fear based way. He was just part of who I was, and he always had been. Like a role model and inspirer and mirror along for the ride. When the Holy Spirit wanted to show up, it was even better. They were the best of traveling companions. I’d always thought we’d go to Africa together to work in the Peace Corps., but that didn’t pan out, and I ended up in the rural Rocky Mountain west instead.