It might seem odd to write a piece about what I miss about being Christian on the heels of my first post over at Polytheist.com. It might seem odd that I am thrown into fits of nostalgia just from seeing a dude carrying a guitar walk out from a church. Occasionally I’ll pass a beautiful church and wonder when services are, as if I might go (I never do). Sometimes I miss getting lost in a beautiful liturgy, feeling elevated by the chants or singing and the incense. Sometimes I miss the order, the stilted certainty with which people live when they just know they are right.
Of course, my twenty odd years in Christianity were never comfortable. It’s an ill-fitting nostalgia that I’m feeling. I was always translating that “shared vocabulary” to fit my meaning. I was often the odd girl out in community – too feminist, too lesbian, too unbaptized, too theological, too mystical. I never seemed to know the songs. I never liked most modern Christian music or books. I never liked the complicated intertwining of culture and theology that happens all too often in American Christianity. I never felt comfortable. I found the hypermasculinity and prescribed femininity confining and, frankly, gross. I felt put off by the mall-like megachurches with coffee stands, concert-style lights and the power point presentations.
Several years ago I happily and confidently walked away from monotheism and I haven’t looked back. Leaving monotheism behind has been nothing but a positive step for me spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. But sometimes I do miss…. something about it.
There are two aspects I think I’m missing. Mostly I miss the beauty and mystery of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Sadly, there isn’t an Orthodox church near me. I would love to attend a service. Ideally I’d be able to participate in chanting. I miss the rhythm and flow of the services, the prayers and incense and kindness of the people I met there. I miss the mysticism and the centrality of the Theotokos.
Part of what comes with established liturgy is that I don’t have to drive the experience myself. Being a solitary practitioner means that I have to devise, organize and maintain my practice. Even when I gather with others for Pagan ritual there is still an expectation that I will participate, that I will contribute my energies; I cannot be passive. Sometimes I just want to inhale beauty and reverence; I don’t want any responsibility.
I suspect that much of this relates to being a parent. I am in charge, organized, and ON basically 24/7. My personality skews this way naturally, but as a parent I have to make sure we’re on time, with appropriate snacks, and did you remember to pee before you left the house? Even at home I’m thinking two days ahead, so put that snack back, that’s needed for dinner tomorrow, stop hitting your sister, and by the way, it’s time for bed. So yeah: sitting back and letting someone else be in charge of something once in a while is a really nice idea.
Did I mention how beautiful liturgy can be? It’s different from my altar, which I clean once a month. It’s different because my altar shares space with shoes and bags of outgrown baby clothes waiting to be donated to Goodwill. It’s different because sometimes when I’m chanting in a Christian liturgy I can feel the weight of two millenia of believers chanting with me. Only occasionally in my Hindu practices do I feel something similar.
The other aspect I miss is a falsehood. Here is where I shamefacedly admit that every so often I miss the cultural ease of being white, straight, middle class, and Christian. No trying to figure out how to live in concert with Land and non-human others. No holidays that aren’t state sanctioned. No stressing about race, class, gender, or sexuality issues. Knowing one’s place is much more straightforward. There’s a bible study for me at every age and stage at the local Christian bookstore. Here is where I admit that sometimes I don’t want to be rowing against the stream; I don’t want to have to find new answers to modern living. I don’t want to have to figure out how to integrate what the gods are telling me with the daily requirements of my life.
But this last part is nostalgia and longing for something that never was. I hated this aspect of my Christian experience. It was hollow then and I can only image how ill fitting it would be now! I would last all of five minutes before the rock band worship, cultural hegemony, weak-ass theology, and bland preaching would make my brain explode. Last Christmas my family went with my in-laws to their big Baptist megachurch for a Christmas carol service and it ended with one of us in tears and one of us angry because the theology was so bad (not to mention the awful music).
(Not all the music is awful.)
At the core of this misplaced nostalgia is a longing for spiritual community. I want to be around others who are also asking the Big Questions. I want to be around others who also desire to tap into Spirit, the Gods, Something Greater, and/or Something Other Than Human. I want to be around other people who want a shot of beauty and the divine on a regular basis. With a new infant and two other small children I am in no place to spearhead any sort of community or group, nor do I want to drive very far to reach out.
But, oh. Oh, do I long for beauty and community. And some aspects of Christianity were once able to provide that just that.