In an online group I’m in, the topic came up of our religious/spiritual history, & how it integrates or doesn’t integrate with our sexual orientation as lesbians.
Here’s the short version, as written there (with some emendations).
I was raised in the Episcopal Church (the American version of the Anglican Church), but sometime during the summer after sixth grade I found a sort of emptiness inside of myself that I knew had to do with the god thing. My sister came back from a music camp where some Jesus people stuff had been going on, & next thing you know she & I were the only two Jesus freaks in Columbia Falls, Montana. I used to read anything I could get my hands on about the Rapture, & speaking in tongues, & all kinds of evangelical stuff. I even have a picture to illustrate this — which I usually entitle “Junior high Jesus freak.”
I don’t know how I reconciled this with being a Trekkie — I was a bigtime fan of the original, & at that time only, series.)
first I was a Jesus freak
& then I turned the other cheek
Which is to say, I started questioning some of the things that the evangelical Christians were saying. For example, if homosexuality was a sin, why did I see in Time magazine that some denominations were ordaining gay ministers? This was long before I came out, too. I also remember reading an article in a Jesus People newspaper from Spokane called The Truth that attempted to explain why Abraham’s wife Sarah let her husband take the kid (Isaac) up the mountain to sacrifice hiim like a goat: being a good wife, the story went, she accepted his decision because he was The Man & women always obeyed Their Man. And I thought (but in far less profane language), Fuck that shit! I’d kill Abraham before I let him kill my kid!
But the biggest question was raised by the popular Christian slogan One Way, as in, there is but one way to God, & Christianity is It. The stuff I was reading told me that if a person was a really good caring loving person who treated other people with care & respect & compassion, that person would still go to hell & suffer eternal damnation simply if she or he hadn’t accepted Jesus as her/his personal savior.
I decided that a god who would set up things this way was an immoral god, & so by the time I completed junior high, I had ceased being a Christian.
But I never ceased believing in God. Over time this became lower case g: god. Over time, after flirtations with Zen Buddhism, feminist witchcraft, Unitarian Universalism — not to mention getting a B.A. in Religion (1981) — my “confession of faith” gradually became “god is the universe & everything in it.”
I have been afflicted all my life with depression & despair, & it is what has probably shaped my spiritual journey more than anything. That’s what the hole I felt in my gut at the beginning of my “Jesus freak” period was about. My coming out & acceptance of myself as a lesbian at age 19 when I was in college was the first strong spiritual foundation that I had to deal with that: because I was accepting Who I Am, & beginning to live according to my own integrity, instead of according to arbitrary rules & regulations foisted on me by other people.
The picture here takes its name from what my sister-in-law termed the aha! experience — a profound spiritual experience I underwent in August 1984, when I stopped hating myself, stopped living continually at the edge of or inside the pit of despair. It happened like this:
I had a long long battle in from about 6th grade to about age 25 with depression & despair. Thought about suicide a lot. Never did attempt it, but that’s mostly because I knew it wouldn’t be just an attempt. And because I couldn’t do that to my family. About age 25, had a spiritual experience (nothing to do with any organized religions though) that put the end to most of the self-hate, though I’ve never been completely free of the despair or occasional, & sometimes very debilitating, bouts of depression. And still, being a dyke is one of those things which gives me the greatest strength to get through it….
I had been doing a lot of stuff that year (1984) trying to deal w/ my depression/despair stuff. One thing was to get involved for a time w/ a 12-Step group (similar to AA) called Emotions Anonymous. I did a lot of writing about the first three steps, & most crucial was the stuff about “Came to believe in a power greater than ourselves that could restore our sanity” (or however that goes) & “Made a decision to turn our lives & our will over to the care of god as we understood god.”
My problem was, how can I turn my life & my will over to the care of someone I don’t flat fucking trust? Mind you, I had by that time a B.A. in Religion, knew craploads about a whole big variety of religions, was an adherent of none of them because much as I believed in god (lower-case g), which I define as “the universe & everything in it,” I didn’t trust any of the Gods that various religions put up as who I should be kowtowing to.
When they told me who to put on the throne
I said no, I will not be ruled
the gods they showed me were tyrants
who displeased me with their judgments,
their injustice, yes, their cruelty.
— from “Mielikki”
So, in short, I made up my own self-defined “religion.” I reckoned that the universe & everything in it (god) is awfully damn hard to develop a personal relationship w/, so I had to whittle it down somehow, so I “invented” a sort of big sister/helping spirit/personal guide type of “imaginary” being to act as my personal connection to the “all of the above” that is god.
I named her Mielikki, after the Finnish spirit of woodland. The name comes from the Finnish word mieli which means mind or heart or desire, plus the suffix of endearment -kki. It’s sometimes translated as darling but to me her name means my dearest desire. She is an “imaginary” being who is bigger than myself, while at once she is a part of me… like my gut feelings (which have always been more accurate than my conscious brain-thoughts about how to live life). So her “will” is the same a mine: what is best for me, to be most fully me. If that makes sense.
That was February/March of that year that I did that work. Fast forward to August: I was spending about 20 minutes each night before falling asleep doing a sort of meditation breathing in & out to the phrase “Thou art / with me” (a borrowing w/ slight rewrite of part of the 23rd Psalm). Although some things were changing, I was still pretty messed up, still self-hating, & still going a lot into deep ugly pits of suicidal ideation. And then I was fired from my job.
My job was at a bookstore, one of several in a large Alaska-owned chain called the Book Cache, & the reason I was fired made no sense. I got confirmation later that I was fired for being a lesbian. But the important point is that as I was leaving the mall, in a matter of just a few steps down that hallway by the phone booth, a whole bunch of thoughts went like at-tat-tat-tat through my brain:
“This doesn’t make sense. Why me? I should just give up. First last night” [a particularly nasty evening in the pit] “& now this. I’ll never be free of this depression. I should just kill myself…. ” blah blah blah.
And then: “Thou art / with me.”
And with that thought, it all just… changed. I knew my brother & sister-in-law & friends wouldn’t let me die in the gutter. I knew I’d get through this, & would find another job. I knew I would be okay. (And I also knew that even if she was just a made up figment of my imagination, Mielikki was right there.)
And I went & got on the bus & went over to my brother’s & sister-in-law’s house to tell them about it.
Although I’ve had my bouts in the pit since then, I’ve never hated myself since, & have generally known that I could get through whatever hard times I have. Well, usually. Mielikki is still here — one of, & the most central of, what I now refer to as my “household gods.”
I call this belief in something I can’t prove, & even made up, but which is beneficial to me & nonharming to anyone, intentional belief. It works pretty well.
(Mielikki is also the title character in one of my eternally-forthcoming novels, Mistress of Woodland.)