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.
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.
I haven't been writing here in a regular way for ages. Real life occupies my mind, time, and energy so much. Here's what I'm doing now:
The landlord raised my rent this summer and I needed help financially. So L moved back in with me and Little N. He's paying me rent to share a room with his son. It's an unconventional arrangement, though I hear it's not as uncommon as one might expect, and it's given my bank account a little breathing room. Much appreciated!
The new living arrangement also initiated some rearranging of the physical space. I've moved into the smaller bedroom and turned it into a bright cozy nest. My little sanctuary of self-care.
I've been away from this space for well over a year. It's been a full and challenging time. So much learning.
Learning the people of a new job. Learning to establish and hold healthy boundaries. Learning a new, much heavier, body. To love it. To take good care of it. To patiently change it into a more physically fit and cherished vessel. Learning to co-parent with L. To tend Little N with him, my most precious person with the person I least want to share my life with. And there's more that won't fit into one tidy post.
Old memories are rising - both painful recollections and wise encouragements from my past. The memories point to how I got here. Intimating the sources of deeply held beliefs. Recalling me to nurturing habits I once held sacred and practiced regularly. If I resume those old good habits they could carry me into and beyond this new phase of learning.
Back in November, I posted that Samhain to Imbolc would be a season of sitting still with the life that I live. Oh, but I am a wriggly little worm. Much of this dark season has been resisting the life that I live. So mundane. So uninspired. I've been looking ahead to a season of action on resolutions.
I came across the above image in my Facebook feed and it did inspire me a little. I'm thinking a lot about my health. About managing my weight, getting a grip on how I feel before reaching for food, about how I want to feel, and about the things that I enjoy, that feel meaningful, and that make me feel connected. This colorful image opens my lens on health to include all of those aspects and their interconnections. Plus, I read a quote (also in my FB feed) that basically said we overeat not because food gives us pleasure, but because it doesn't give us enough pleasure. I hunger, really, for pleasure, happiness, good relationships, a sense of the presence of the Divine, meaningful work. In the absence of these things I reach for a chai tea latte and a cheese danish and head back to my job.
This season of action prompts a long list of To Dos in order to reach for the full health that I want and need. Eating healthfully. Moving my body in a way that's enjoyable and repeatable. Playing with my son after work each night and reading to him before bed. Checking in with friends for Mama-dates and ritual. All things that I am capable of and have done before.
And - this season of action calls for discrete inactivity. Sitting. With my journal. With my life. Recalling and recounting my blessings. Perceiving the fissures in the mundane where the special and inspiring whisper through.
In addition to being a time to recall our Beloved Dead, Samhain is also referred to as the "Witches' New Year." This really works for me. I appreciate the cohesion of a year ending while the earth is going into a cold, fallow state. In fact, I see the time from Samhain to Imbolq as a period where the year is dying. When the light and the plants start to rebound in February, I perceive the new year beginning.
This year, I've approached Samhain with a mind of letting go. A whole dark cold season of letting go. A time to compost, mull, and brew. No resolutions for January 1 - they will wait for February's light.
I am letting go of my marriage as I complete final paperwork and prepare to stand before a judge for the final decree of dissolution. I've been preoccupied with doing the work of this process and the emotions have faded from my perception. In this dark season I will pause and say goodbye to married life. Lay it down, with all its expectations and disappointments. Let it rest.
I am loosing my desire to lose weight, right now!, and slowly surrendering to my emotions. I may need the entire dark season and the entire new year to learn this practice. Where in my body do I feel my feelings? How do I experience my emotions? Time to lay down the perfect body and inhabit the one I am today.
And somewhere in the back of my mind I'm wrestling with our culture's prescriptions for age and timing and worth. That by X years old one should have achieved, purchased, defined Y, Z, and Q. I'm 40. I have a job that is neither a career that defines me nor my heart's work. My job is low paid and my heart's work goes unpaid. I have a home that I rent. Purchasing a home is not in view, despite my age. I have no partner. I am mother to a young child with special needs. I am short and fat with greying hair and no make-up on my face. My life is out of sync with the culture's preferred order and significance. This year has surprised me with the realization of how much those guidelines mean to me despite how little I've consciously subscribed to them. I will lay these down, too, and sit with the life that I am living.
The promise of spring lingers in another segment of the Wheel of the Year. There will be a fresh season for incantations and invocations. Part of me very much wants to skip over the slow still dark and rush into the bustling of resolutions and new habits. But a deeper hunger rumbles, calling my attention to the value of this current season.
On Sunday afternoon my Pagan circle celebrated Mabon, the holiday of the Autumn Equinox. Mabon is the second harvest festival we recognize, this one for later crops like squash and apples. We gathered to give thanks for the light that has sustained us and the bounty of the land, and to prepare ourselves for the coming darkness and cold. Already we observe darker evenings and cooler temperatures.
This new season we are entering is referred to as the time of the Dark Mother. She is the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess. Marked by her sickle and scythe, she comes to reap what has been sown, in the land and in our lives. She has many names in many cultures including: Demeter, Inanna, Kali, Tiamet, Hecate, Nemesis, and Morrighan.
The story of Demeter and Persephone is particularly relevant to Mabon. Demeter, the goddess of grain and harvest, loses her lovely daughter Persephone to Hades, the god of the underworld. Either abducted or perhaps descending voluntarily, Persephone is resigned to six months of each year with Hades. Demeter grieves the absence of her daughter and the land is barren. That change, from lush to loss, begins at Mabon.
For our ritual, we decorated the altar with garden fresh vegetables and fruit. Bright Mums and Oak leaves stood out in a vase. We crafted candle holders from apples and placed them on the altar to note the four directions and god and goddess at the center. Our meditation focused on seasons of our lives – which season are you entering and how are you preparing for it? We used a Talking Circle to shape the individual sharing and later group discussion around our altar.
I’m entering a season of partner-less among the partnered. Now, more than ever, I feel like our culture places heavy expectations on us to have a partner. The expectation peppers our popular culture in music, television programs, and even commercials. The love-interest. The love unrequited. The love lost.
I started dating when I was 13, and while interspersed with solo phases, have usually had a partner or some love interest in my little sphere. Even in those times when there wasn’t a partner, and they were good for me once I adjusted to them, I assumed that there would be again. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve drawn some (a lot?) of my sense of worth from being partnered and possessing partner potential. Not so these days. Who wants to date an overweight, 40-year old, divorced mother of a child with special needs? The culture tells me the options aren’t good. So I look ahead and assume a long season of singleness. A season of belonging to myself. I’ve grown to like the idea. I’m choosing how to live in that season and claim it as my own.
I think it starts with treating myself as I would a good friend, in my thoughts, words, and actions. I tend my close friendships with time together, authenticity, listening, fun, sharing, patience… and so I will treat myself. It means developing personal practices for my body, mind, and spirit. It includes returning to my dreams for 2014: improved health and weight loss, feeling and expressing my emotions in healthy ways, hosting mini-retreats for women, cultivating a good divorce and co-parenting, and returning to my creativity – especially writing. It stretches to imagine new dreams of confidence, good work, and community.
So where I previously experienced loss and confusion, facing this season of living partner-less, I now feel excitement and anticipation. I am a true companion to myself. Composting the distractions, lies, and cultural hubbub, to tend something true, vibrant, and vitally my own. This is my season.
Note – The Fall Equinox has only recently been named Mabon. It received the name in the 1970s from Aidan Kelley as he wrote Crafting the Art of Magic. He deemed it a useful tool in helping modern Pagans to conceptualize Pagan religious ceremonies. This is interesting to me because it speaks to how contemporary Paganism is both an old religion of ancient myths and symbolism and a young religion that is still being created. I think about that seeming dichotomy a lot as I imagine all the little circles around the country, or around the world, gathering and recognizing the symbols and seasons of the year in their own unique ways, borrowing from the past and infusing it with their own personalities, creativity, and desires. I appreciate the malleability and personalization of this religion because it allows each person to honor Spirit in his or her life in his or her own ways.
Poor Little N. I signed him up for Summer Camp for his Summer child care. I talked to the director of the program and it sounded like a match. It's not. Kiddo hates it and cries and fusses every night and morning in anticipation of another day at camp.
Little N says it's too loud, even with his ear muffs on. His dad has witnessed the classroom and describes it as disorderly and undisciplined. All of kiddo's Autism triggers are being hit. Noise, chaos, unpredictable behavior. More than a challenging transition to something new, it's a full offense on his sensitivities.
Today, we're trying something new. Little N's dad went with him to drop off, as usual, but now is getting kiddo moved into a new classroom of slightly older kids. These children are kindergarten and first graders and are a little more mature. They already know how to behave in a classroom setting. Plus, this group has a teacher trained to work with children on the Spectrum. So far, this morning, Little N is participating, making friends, and playing with the group. He's still got his ear muffs on and his dad remains hovering in the background. But we're optimistic. Fingers crossed that Little N can do the same on Monday, when his dad drops him off and heads out.
Back in December I made a list of dreams for 2014. It's been a series of fits and starts as I make progress on these dreams. But this week, we are noticeably closer to two of them.
The other morning, Little N's dad signed the divorce papers and parenting plan so I am submitting them to the court tomorrow morning. It's one big step toward the Good Divorce that I'm dreaming of for our family. It's a formalizing with the legal and public world of what is already true in our private world. The marriage is over, but the family continues, albeit in an new form, but one equally committed to Little N's happiness and well being. Submitting the paperwork starts a 90-day waiting period before we go to court to finalize the divorce. And there are a couple classes to take in that time - one on Family Law and the other on Children and Divorce. So there are still steps to be made, but this submission to the court is a big one
On the path of another dream, I'm starting to lose the weight! Finally! The Kind Naturopaths gave me a terrific and challenging list of foods to eat to help me shed the stress pounds and support my adrenal function. It's working! I'm in my newest pair of jeans and I can put them on without unbuttoning them. And I had to tighten my belt. Little things that encourage me to hold this course of a healthy diet.
Back in April, I paused and considered the good work that I was doing toward my 2014 dreams. I still couldn't see any of the results. It was a dogged, baby-stepping, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other time. I found (and continue to find) encouragement in friends and family. Now I can look at the paperwork, and look at my own clothes, and be encouraged by the evidence I find there, too.
Oh and there's so much work still to do. I need to find a way to pay for Little N's Summer Camp, and fix my car, and change my school loan payments, and figure out new health insurance for Little N… and what about community and retreats and writing…. It could overwhelm me. But I'm doing the work and getting results. So I know can continue to do so.
Out of the Attic
This blog started in 2006
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Out of the Attic.
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