“Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean.” – Jesus Christ
2015 was a significant year for me. During the end of 2014 and heading into 2015, I had hit an all time low, the circumstances of which are omitted for personal reasons. Essentially, I was angry, restless, hurting, and my faith was unraveling. I felt divided, conflicted, limited and frustrated. But in the midst of this deep emotional pain, I decided that 2015 was going to be a “year of soul-rest”. I had just finished reading “Soul Keeping” by John Ortberg and vowed that I didn’t need the hustle and the grind. What I needed was rest and a new way of being, of living in the “unforced rhythms of grace”. I was sick of American Christianity, Biblicalism, and happy clappy Pentecostalism that was useless for anything save for taking up all your volunteer hours and extra money.
In 2015, I decided to follow my heart. I decided to not care what people thought about it. I traveled the world and went on road trips. I spent all my extra time reading, writing, walking in the woods, and swimming at my local pool. I left my church and started doing yoga, meditating, and generally taking care of me and putting my own needs first. I called it “soul care”. And I refused to have any guilt about it.
I’ve heard plenty about sin, selfishness, rebellion, and backsliding. And I’ve had quite enough of it. I’ve come a long way from where I was, but I’m not completely healed from the wounds inflicted by controlling, fear-mongering religious tribalism. And those topics simply trigger traumatic memories for me. If you’re not where I am, that’s okay. I’m not saying you should be. I respect your position. I only ask that you respect mine.
Truthfully, this was not the first time I found myself in a dark place. It was familiar because I had been there before. Only this time, I was older, wiser, and more experienced. I was able to shift from simply an intuitive sense that something was wrong, to having the experience and the language to tell my story and hold my own. I didn’t have to succumb to people’s interpretations about the status of my relationship with God, and their pious admonishments to “pray about it”.
Most significantly for me, I entered a period of deconstruction. I took apart my faith, piece by piece, statute and tenet, and stared the thing down to try and see it for what it was. I asked myself why I believed as I did. And whether it was producing good fruit in my life, or just more anxiety and depression. Were my beliefs leading me to become more like Jesus? Or was I becoming more rigid, close minded, resentful, un-loving, and un-forgiving? But more than all that, did all this stuff that I supposedly believed even make any sense? Because Christians were starting to become the very people I wanted to stay as far away from as possible. The hate, the mean-spiritedness, the self-righteousness, and the Bible-thumping, it was all too much.
In this process of deconstructing faith, I started having more questions than answers. My views on everything were starting to change. Or I guess I should say they had changed, and I was finally accepting it. This was scary and exciting all at the same time. I became fearful about how the people close to me would take it. And yet I felt relieved because the questions felt lighter than the weight I had carried around for so long thinking that it was “my cross to bear”.
I found Brennan Manning, Dallas Willard, Sarah Bessey, The Liturgists, Science Mike, Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Gungor, and Brian Zhand to name a few. These amazing Christian people who I never knew existed helped me put words to what I was thinking, feeling, and experiencing. It was comforting to know that others had been in my shoes and shared some of my views, but my faith was clearly coming apart at the seams. Everything that I previously thought settled, was up for debate. And yet in the midst of all of it, the world was becoming a beautiful place again.
I distinctly remember one day when I was on one of my walks along a trail I regularly took. On this particular day, I left the trail to get close to the water. As I approached the stream that ran through the park, I watched as the water gushed past and the rock face on the far side stared back in all its majesty, juxtaposed to my smallness in such a grand space. For most of my life, in moments like these, my first thought is to pray and thank God for His Creation. I started to gather my thoughts, but could not do it. Because in that moment, I wasn’t sure what the meaning of prayer was anymore. I wasn’t sure if there was any Being on the other end listening to my deepest cries. I wasn’t sure if I even cared. In fact, I had no desire to involve God or the idea of God. I slowly came to realize that I wasn’t sure God even existed. And the mental gymnastics required to make it all make sense was silenced.
I thought it would be scary to lose God. But standing there at the water’s edge, breathing in the glorious Canadian air, I realized that it really didn’t matter. Because this earth was beautiful. This stream was life-giving. The rock face was gorgeous. The universe was fascinating. And my body is literally made of stardust and cosmos. How lucky am I to be alive and to be a part of it all, even if only for a fleeting moment, a tiny micro-blip of existence in the larger timeline! In all my thirty-one years of living, I had never doubted the existence of God. And yet, that moment of doubt was remarkably peaceful. The earth didn’t swallow me up. The sky was still as blue as ever. There was no fear. The simplicity of the moment was disarming. And I felt the weight of thirty one years of evangelical charismatic bible-thumping Christianity fall off my shoulders for the first time. I felt free.
Free to be authentically me. Free to think my own thoughts and not somebody’s interpretation of what “God’s Word says”. Free from the crushing weight of “trust and obey”, original sin, eternal death, literal hell, the B-I-B-L-E, God’s wrath, missing the mark, missing the rapture, and even fear itself. I could let go of all the toxicity that was slowly killing me. I threw out all my ideas of “sin” and decided that I don’t want to keep seeing myself as intrinsically bad or depraved or evil or fallen. I stopped seeing myself as a “sinner” or even “saved by grace”, and started seeing myself as a human, perfectly imperfect, and figuring it out as I go along. Whatever I hadn’t already dropped along my journey, fell to the wayside now. Mostly, I stopped trying so hard to believe something I couldn’t even palate anymore. Nothing was certain, and that was okay. Because everything was left to be discovered and that was far more exciting.
The Universe Washed My Feet
Religion didn’t matter. God didn’t matter. Spirituality didn’t matter. Everyone’s opinions and ideas didn’t matter. The Book with all its translations and interpretations didn’t matter. It was just me, the sky, the trees, the clouds, the rock face, the flowers, the stream. I breathed deep of freedom and responded to the urge to slip off my sneakers and wade into the water. The rocks were slippery beneath my feet and the cool stream water washed over me, cleansing, purifying, and healing my soul. The moment was nothing short of ordinary and miraculous all at the same time. And strangely enough, I don’t see that as ironic. The old was washed away and I was made new, alive, whole, and free. I felt at one with myself and one with nature. The very breath of life was breathing in me.
I lost God. And the universe washed my feet. Because God was not lost.
God has always been there. And now, I no longer have to confine Him to the box of one subset of a subset of a faith tradition that has gone off the rails in recent years. God is bigger, more expansive, more awesome, more marvelous than my mind can contain and I discover Him daily.
Furthermore, I am open to learning about other faith traditions. I do not think myself to have the monopoly on truth. I am not here to convert anyone, which allows me to be genuinely interested in people and their stories without an ulterior motive. I’m here to engage dialogue. If you like who I am and how I live, you are welcome to join my journey. I do my best to love, respect and value people simply because we are all part of the human family, and not because we think the same and believe the same. We’re all here together on God’s pale blue dot, and we’re all figuring out this life together. So let’s be kinder to each other. Let’s forgive and show mercy. Let’s lift up and encourage each other. Let’s be more like the Jesus we claim to serve.
I am no longer cautious about saying that I am for justice and social progress. I affirm the LGBTQ+ community. I support marriage equality. I am excited about scientific discovery and progress. I consider evolution as the natural, scientifically verifiable method by which we are all here today. I view the Bible as a collection of personal stories of people and their experiences with the Almighty. And as such, I see the God of the Bible as ever always inclined to draw near to His children. In the life of Jesus Christ, I see the very image of God made human. In Jesus I see mercy triumph over judgment. I see acceptance and kindness. I see authenticity and truth. I see the purest form of Love that lays its life down for people. In Jesus, I see God.
I lost God. And the universe washed my feet. Because God was not lost. He is bigger than my being able to lose Him. He is present in the questions. He is faithful in the doubt. Because I don’t know what I don’t know. Neither can I pretend to know it. And that’s okay. Because even when I lost God, God was not lost. He had the universe wash my feet.