My Christian faith started evolving 25 years ago, but the kernel or promise of change was embedded in my heart since childhood. The catalyst for my transformation was the fire of grief, which cracked me open and left me exposed. Community, in the form of women’s friendship and wisdom, tended me, planted me deeply in cool soil, and gave me room to grow.
My father died when I was 18. I was in college at an Evangelical Christian school. In the following year, I attempted suicide. My family of origin slid into a state of alienation from each other. I was angry and bereft, rude and out of control. I struggled against everything and everyone.
Something essential in me prevailed and was witnessed. Other women saw it. I received compassion and insight from female professors at the college. They brought me to church, a woman-lead Episcopalian congregation. They taught me about feminism, new-to-me theologies, women’s perspectives and experiences conveyed by women authors in narratives and poetry. I learned about the entanglement of Christian religion with colonialism. I reached out and met other female students wrestling with the same ideas and stretching into their own awakenings. I prayed and played with God alongside the guidance of an eclectic and faithful spiritual director.
Among the many books I read, were Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. Those two books depict the life of Bertha, the first wife of Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester. He locked Bertha away as a madwoman, but before she met him she was free, roaming a lush paradise, beholden to no man and no other way of being. Ultimately, Jane Eyre tells us, Bertha burns down the house that is her prison, and her life ends in the flames.
This character captured my imagination as an icon for the divine. She was a depiction of God before and after men’s language and power structures locked the divine into dogma and authority. I started to perceive and honor the divine as the “Madwoman in the Attic.” I composed a story about hearing Her in the house made by men and sneaking up to her door.
After college, I struggled in the ways that many recent graduates do. Adjusting to the independence and responsibilities of an adult is challenging. The community that I’d known was gone, each woman to her own place and work and relationships. The books remained but a group that lived in response to those words, perspectives, and visions did not exist. There was no “there” there. I yielded to daily life. I found connection and fun with new friends. I misplaced the vitality and piercing perception of my early twenties. I harbored the icon of the Madwoman in my heart and lodged myself on the threshold of her room.
A few weeks before my thirtieth birthday I moved across the country to Seattle for graduate school. It was my fresh start, far from my family, my personal history, the church I grew up in, the politics I did not subscribe to. The Madwoman resurfaced in my graduate studies and occupied a central role in my thinking and writing. As I drafted my thesis I heard Her call. She did not reveal Herself to me in the upper room of the house, which I had hoped and expected. Rather, She bid me retrace my steps and meet Her in each person I met as I traveled back down through the house.
I had received a call. I had conviction and vocation. There was vitality and vision, again!
Within a month of receiving approval of my thesis, I married. Within a year of marrying, I gave birth to a son. Not long after that, I recognized that the marriage was over, but it was years before we separated and the divorce was finalized. Those were lean years of providing the single source of income for our family. Those were committed years of tending my mental health with therapy and medication. Those were learning years of finding spiritual community in a group of pagan women. I considered it a tentative descent from the Madwoman’s attic.
I am 45 years old. I’ve returned home to Seattle from Evolving Faith ‘19 and the Madwoman’s call is renewed boldly within me. Perhaps she is more precise, now, or perhaps my ears have cleared to hear. She says, “Perceive me in everyone you meet. Everywhere. Do not be bound by walls or ways or words. Burn down the house.”
I don’t believe that God is crazy. Nor do I believe that God is locked in conventional theology, dominant culture, or approved religious practices. Burning down the house does not threaten God, just like composing other narratives or engaging new-to-me theologies or participating in previously unfamiliar communities doesn’t threaten God. Burning down the house might set me free to meet God, newly; to honor God, newly; to meet and honor you.
There’s still no “there” there, for me. I don’t have a local community that I can simply join for resonance and support, teaching and service. I miss that. I understand, now, the best parts of a house of worship. Even so, I proceed. I am making it up as I go, one step at a time, down from Her attic and into the company of Her people, who are everywhere.
In a joyful ceremony, with friends and family, J and I were married.
We gave special attention to including young N in the ceremony. J made a commitment to N to love and support him as step-father and friend, with care not to replace L. We made promises as a family, in addition to our vows as a couple.
N also received a simple silver band as a symbol of the family the three of us make together.
Then the party! A picnic reception with plenty of food and cake for all.
Now is a good time and place for me.
Here are a few things that make Now so good:
In November 2016, my bestie G was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. We were relieved, in a way, to have a diagnosis for the disturbing symptoms that had been disrupting her mind, relationships, and daily life for months. But... cancer.
In an effort to cheer myself, and cast some hope into the future, I purchased some decorative papers to make a journal for her. But the days were so full of worry, fatigue, and challenge after challenge... my energy and inspiration pulled away. The book didn't get made.
Two years later, G is cancer-free! She is restored to her full and healthy self. Her family, work, and other relationships, all share in the gifts of her renewal. We are all relieved. We are reconnected. The tenuous thread of life, its preciousness, G's preciousness, made obvious by disease, remains close in our hearts and minds, even as we resume the usual and mundane of our day-to-day.
Finally, I am making her book. A token of love and celebration. For her birthday.
Our living situation isn't exactly something most American families would aspire to. A mom and her tween son living in a one-bedroom apartment?! It wasn't my first choice but it's what I can afford as the executive assistant at a non-profit. And, so, we moved into this tiny space back in December.
Then, a few weeks ago, J did something super special to help us out. He drove out to Ikea, bought us a loft bed for N and a loveseat, hauled it back to our place, and pretty much single-handedly assembled it for us.
Now we have space! Space to sit together during tv-time. Space to tuck all of N's precious things away under the loft. Space to walk through the living room without getting snagged on random pieces of tween-boy treasure.
So, still less than ideal, according to conventional standards. But it's working. And I am grateful.
Here is Little N with Slim and Brother Justin enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning.
It was such a leisurely Sunday morning that I got to sleep in until 8-ish. We stayed at J's Saturday night after a 4-hour playdate with G and her family. Pizza and a movie later and Little N was sound asleep. Only to rise early, with the cats, and then J, while I slept on. happy sigh.
Happy too, to note that N's behavior toward me improved a little after a call with his dad. N heard that he was going a little too far in his treatment of me and some of his classmates. He is still impatient and quick to anger, but he's eased up on his verbal abuse of me.
So we enjoyed a playdate with G's two boys. We enjoyed hanging out for the evening at J's. Little N put down the iPad and enjoyed imaginary games in J's house, which he wishes was ours. He enjoyed pizza, a raucous movie, sleeping in a big bed by himself, with maybe a cat or two. And I enjoyed my son.
It's a beginning. It's a sign, I hope, that we're in a change. I anticipate bumps. I'm seeking additional support in the form of a counselor for N. And I'm holding onto my hope of N learning how to manage big emotions, like anger, like reactions to change and loss. Holding onto my hope of knowing my son throughout this transition and continuing our relationship, on good terms, on the other side of this.
We are sicker than sick on this day of gratitude. The kitchen is a cluttered and unclean mess. The boy lays low in his tent, entertained by the screen. I'm under an afghan, nursing an earache, waiting to feel better. And we are home. That feels so good to me in a way that all this gooey achey irritating illness cannot touch. Our home. A tiny apartment that holds all of our worldly possessions and we're in it, held by it, resting and relating to each other in our home. I am grateful.
Ms. G and I have known each other since we were little girls back in Boston. This photo was taken 11 years ago on my wedding day (of my doomed marriage...). Since then we've had children, I've gotten divorced, she beat a rare blood cancer.... It's been months since we had a good long visit and Sunday night she came over and we caught up on everything. (sigh)
I'm grateful for my dear friend who has seen me at my best and worst, ordinary and ornery. I'm grateful for time with her on a given evening and the time she's been in my life. I am grateful.
My mother is visiting from North Carolina, so I thought we'd do a hike that's been on my list for a year. Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island. It was gorgeous! Totally worth it, to me. For mom... a little too strenuous and brisk. I'm sympathetic. I find that much of my life, these days, is a little too strenuous and brisk. My days are exhausting and I experience physical and emotional pain regularly. But on this hike - I felt free. Little N and I took the lead on a narrow, muddy trail along the bluff and down to the ocean. The views were bright and expansive. The air was fresh and blustery. The sun and sea gleamed. Sigh.
Out of the Attic
This blog started in 2006
on Blogger as
Out of the Attic.
I began posting here in April 2014. Please visit the original site for the rest of the story on topics like: