On December 8, 2018, something broke.
The rosary that I have had with me since my early twenties finally gave out. The frayed rope snapped, and the circle was broken. I eulogized my rosary on Instagram, which might seem weird but it’s what you do for your friends. And the rosary was my friend. It had been with me through faith and falling away, through hurt and holiness, through contemplation and complacency. My hands had gone over its beads over and over, and the crucifix was the shape of my grounding. It was a tool I used in prayer and panic attacks. This rosery meant something to me.
Something else broke, something internal. That Saturday morning after the first Sunday of Advent, something inside me shifted. Hard and fast. It was totally unexpected, surprising me without warning. It was a drawback to my roots, back to my belief, back to church.
There was something birthed in me that day that had been dormant for years. Call it a desire for piety, only that’s not the right word. Call it hunger for religion, but that’s not right either. Call it a desire to rejoin the faith that had been handed down to me from my ancestors. Only, it wasn’t quite that either. See, this wasn’t a desire to get involved with evangelicalism again. This wasn’t a call back to where I’ve come from, from where I’ve left. This wasn’t a drawback to the tradition of Christianity that had so hurt me, where I had hurt so many people.
But it wasn’t simply a pullback towards Jesus either. I never left him. Jesus has been the one constant in my spiritual life, my north star out here in the post-evangelical wild. This was something more, something sacred, something that I couldn’t define at the time and am now barely getting a grasp on. On the day that something broke in me, I became hungry again for the incarnation.
The Word of god made flesh. The embodiment of divinity. The body and blood of Christ. Only now can I tell that’s what this draw has been towards. All advent long, I sing “O come, O come, Emanuel.” And here he came, close to me, breath upon breath, heartbeat upon heartbeat.
Being that close to Jesus does something wild in a wounded heart.
A few weeks later, I started attending this small, local Episcopal church. I’ve been going every Sunday for about a month now, even staying for coffee hour. There’s something about the Episcopal liturgy that has always pulled me towards it. Even from being an elementary school kid going to an Episcopal school. The liturgy and church calendar got in my blood, coming to the surface at different times.
Like in my early twenties when I bought the book of Common Prayer. I dreamed of fusing the liturgy with the evangelical services I was part of every week. I loved the collects, the prayers recited and woven into the fabric of our lives. I loved the idea of praying the hours, rhythmically slowing down the day to meditate on Jesus. The confession, the absolution, the blessings, and benediction. All these parts of the liturgy I have loved before I even knew it.
So, when I felt this call towards incarnation, it was natural that I find a congregation, people, flesh and blood to share Jesus with. After all, a hunger for tangible deity needs to be fulfilled in a tangible way. And I found this little Episcopal church where I don’t fit in. The congregation is mostly white-haired elders with a few families thrown in for good measure. They are a beautiful people, but not exactly my crowd. No one really my age. No one with my musical taste I dare say. I can’t really imagine any of them rocking out to post-punk, screamo. But here I am, in a local embodiment of the church invisible. Here I am, among flesh and blood people who incarnate the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
I don’t know the liturgy as well as I had convinced myself I did. I don’t know when to bow or when to cross myself. I don’t know the hymns at all. I don’t know the congregational responses. I’m learning, but it’s foreign to me. Again, another way I don’t fit in.
I don’t fit into this little Episcopal congregation, but I belong there. I belong there because there I found what was pulling at me. That piety, that religion, that faith, that incarnation; I found it in this little church building among these people with whom I feel so out of place. I found it in a specific place and time of the liturgy. I found it in the Eucharist.
One pew row at a time, we line up and all go to this rail that is set up in front of the table that holds the bread and the wine. There we kneel, and the priest comes to us with these little, round, flat, tasteless wafers. She places one in my hand and repeats the words everyone hears, “The body of Christ; the bread of heaven.” Then the acolyte (I think) comes down the line with this silver chalice holding some wine. They offer it to me and say, as to everyone, “The blood of Christ; the cup of salvation.”
You don’t get more real, more incarnate, than the body and the blood of Jesus given to you by people made in the image of god.
And this is what I’m desiring: incarnation. Earthy faith. Holy skin. Something I can touch and hold onto. Something that can touch and hold onto me. I’m tired of being alone in my spirituality, single in my grasping of divinity. I want a place, a physical place I belong, where I can go, that I can call home.
I’m finding it.
But it feels wrong somehow. In choosing to find a home, choosing to stay and belong, I feel, somehow, I am betraying my wounds and turning my back on the tribe I’ve found here in the spiritual wilderness. I don’t want to be some sort of traitor, devaluing the conversations I’ve had, the people I’ve come to value as friends, the journey away from evangelicalism. I don’t want to give up the people I love out here in the wide, wild, wilderness of faith. I don’t want to become rank and file Christian, good and nice. I still have issues, problems, critiques, hurts, wounds. I’m still bleeding.
Many of us are.
Maybe I have more scars than I realize though, wounds that have healed yet have permanently altered me. Maybe I’m beyond the need for triage. Maybe it’s about what I can give to others, the emergency care, the sitting in sorrow, all the things I wish I had had.
See, I’m learning, in so many areas, that what I have to offer is directly dependent on how I care for myself. It’s all about roots and fruits. When I tend to my roots, nourish myself, tend to my inner life, take care of my body, the natural result of that tending is fruit to offer other people. Good fruit. Fruit that nourishes them, feeds them, heals them. If I am going to be a blessing to other people, be a good incarnation of Christ in their lives, if I am going to love well my neighbor, I have to be healthy and thriving myself.
Jesus said you’ll know the nature of a tree by the fruit it produces: life-giving fruit points to a healthy tree; fruit that harms and brings death in any way comes from a dying tree. If I want to be a tree of life, I need to jealously guard my roots, nourish myself, do self-care, feed my soul, so I have a reserve, a well to draw from as I offer myself to other people.
Finding this little Episcopal church that I am out of place in is something that feeds my tree. Being here, present for the liturgy fills my soul. Taking part in the Eucharist with all the other beautiful humans is nourishing my body. Moving back into contemplative prayer practices is giving me what I need to produce fruit.
I don’t know what I’m ready to give, or even if I’m ready. But I’m willing. I’m willing to be a part of this spiritual home, to not just receive but to give, to be present if nothing else.
A good friend of mine repaired my rosary. I now carry it with me again, touching, holding, feeling it, reminding me of the breaking that happened in December and the healing that has happened as a result of listening to my soul.
Maybe this was the Holy Ghost pulling me back towards Christ my north star. Maybe it was my inner self telling my body and mind what I need for spiritual self-care. Maybe it was a combination of the two. Whatever sparked this thing, this season in me is doing a mystical thing. I get to experience Jesus in other people and in a sacrament, every week not only so I can be forgiven, but that I may be strengthened to borrow from the Eucharistic prayer. That I may be strengthened, emboldened, and ready to offer my fruit, myself, to those in my life that I can love.
Roots and fruits; this is the rhythm of love, of caring, of producing lifegiving things of value. Don’t be afraid if your season changes abruptly. Don’t be discouraged if your season is slow to change. In due time, you will bear fruit. Tend to your roots so the harvest doesn’t kill you again. But above all, look for incarnation, the touchable divine. Lay your hands on glory and see what comes to fruition.
When it is time, the right strings will break, and you will be freely drawn towards what you need. Follow that hunger. It is your heart telling you what you were made for.
You were made for life.