Sunday morning was a known and predictable entity for me while growing up; a thing in and of itself. No question ever considered, we would be in church. All five of us. Everyone in the car. Everyone in the pew. Everyone paying attention. Everyone being respectful. Everyone singing the songs. Everyone following the rules. At a certain point in the service, I would be excused to Sunday School. I have few memories of these rooms: small chairs, big tables, flannelgraphs, bible stories, right answers, wrong ones, a craft project, songs sung, maybe a snack. Afterward, the Fellowship Hall. Finding my parents. Waiting for obligatory conversations to end. Getting back in the car. Heading home.
As I reflect, I see that weekly ritual as a mirage: Sunday morning became the façade we maintained the rest of the week: all of us in our right places, paying attention, being respectful, following the rules. A command performance – though we didn’t realize it. We would be – come hell or highwater – a family that worshipped together, prayed together, and yes, stayed together. Only we didn’t.
Years later, while in seminary and studying aspects of “church” of all things, I would ask my (now ex-) husband, the pastor, what he thought about making Sunday morning a space and experience that invited honest, vulnerable, and real conversation; a place in which the mirage and façade could be broken; a place in which authenticity was welcomed, invited, and above all else, safe. (That conversation never went anywhere. I think he believed that was happening.)
I’d dress my daughters in their darling outfits. The three of us would sit on the very front pew. Perfect. Pretty. Well behaved. At the expected cue, the two of them would leave my side, walk down the center aisle, and head off to Sunday School – toddlers with shiny shoes and bouncy curls. And in expected required fashion – smiling, stoic, and barely sane – I stayed. Until I didn’t.
I left that pew – the one of the distant past and more recent – thinking that in so doing, I left behind the veneer. But the smell of it still lingers: the plasticky desire for a perfect Sunday morning, a perfect family, perfect relationships, a perfect life. And I can feel my highly-honed proclivity to pretend that it is. Except it isn’t.
My life is messy. My relationships are messy. My family is messy. My Sunday’s are too (thankfully): sleeping in, drinking coffee, reading Brain Pickings Weekly, braving Costco and Target and the grocery store, doing laundry, and sometimes – if my daughters’ schedules permit (and the stars align) a movie together.
And my soul is messy. The days of a Bible verse to satisfy every doubt or disappointment, definitive solutions to life’s most difficult questions, a pre-determined god, a 3-point sermon, and less-than-fresh cookies after the service are long gone.
In their place are questions and wonderings and looking within and finding my own answers and long conversations with amazing women over wine – not to mention writing (and writing and writing).
I’m learning to allow for this ongoing, twisty, often-directionless-but-incredible and did I mention (?) messy journey; this life that’s mine.
That hardly means it’s easy. The mess (though completely understood and even chosen) remains hard for me to tolerate and allow. The tendency is high to nail everything down, to find some system that works, to hammer away at my flaws, to sublimate my intuition, to think that if I just try harder… I’ve learned to color in the lines, to never get angry or be moody or say how I really feel, to bury my emotions, to keep a stiff upper lip, to be disciplined, to be the responsible one, to hold it all together, to smile politely, to sit, to stay. Except I can’t.
These days, the problems inherent in my Sunday morning reality overwhelm and sadden me. The least disruption is huge. One crayon mark on the wall is fatal. One unmet expectation is seen as a betrayal. There’s little bandwidth for ambivalence or confusion or, god forbid, grief. Desire and naming and truth-telling feel dangerous.
Because they are.
So I’m experimenting (metaphorically) with scribbling on walls in permanent marker. I’m choosing to scream and yell and rage and weep (mostly on the pages of my journal or multiple documents on my Mac). I’m wondering what it would feel like to actually be connected to my body, to the earth, and consequently-really passionately, to the Feminine.
I’m learning (again and again and again) to tell the truth – first and foremost to myself. I’m throwing stuff away. I got my nose pierced. I’m toying with the idea of a tattoo. And I constantly fantasize about buying a TinyHouse and moving to Costa Rica or Southern Italy or Carmel or Vashon Island or anywhere, really.
I’ve given up nearly all of my Sunday morning beliefs. New ones, graciously and gratefully, have taken their place, including this:
Messy is preferable – to pretending, to dogmatism, to being disingenuous, to denial.
The Sacred shows up in undeniable and impossible-to-ignore ways when we acknowledge just how far we are from perfection, when we trust that know-that-we-know-that-we-know voice within, when we actually invite the mess to coexist with the miracles.
Not just on Sunday morning, but every day, all day, and in all ways.
May it be so.