The secret heart of time is change and growth. Each new experience that awakens into adds to your soul and deepens your memory. The person is always a nomad, journeying from threshold to threshold into ever different experiences. In each new experience, another dimension of the soul unfolds. ~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara
Today I had a new experience – I was installed as an officer of one of the faith communities to which I belong. In my head, installation sounds like a painful affair involving screws and one of those weird little allen wrenches that always come packed in Ikea boxes. It also sounds like something that happens to clergy and not to me. Still, it’s not what had me nervous.
I have a weird relationship with religion. While I definitely have my own thoughts about relationship with deity, I’m traditionally not much of a joiner. It seems like our relationship with creation (whatever we believe that is) gets the most fucked up when we try to conform to other people’s ideas of what it should be. There are many things about church that make me uncomfortable.
Personally, my spiritual path is eclectic. I find value in many teachings. I am fascinated by Buddhism and teachers like the Dalai Lama. I can just as easily embrace the idea of a goddess as the God of Christianity. In fact, despite the good I see in Jesus’ teachings (seriously, I am a fan), I can in many ways better relate to a picture with an emphasis on nature and a balance of divine feminine and masculine, than I do to the bearded, old white man God and blonde Jesus of the West. And I certainly find it easy to believe in a Web of Life centered philosophy where nature and all acts of creation are a reflection of divine creation.
At the same time, I value the church community I belong to and find value in what is presented there. In the past, despite preferring to march to the beat of my own drum, I’ve had periods where I’ve been a pretty active member there. I find it painful to say no when there’s something someone needs that I am able to provide. As a result, I find myself doing impetuous things like helping strangers pay for expensive pet surgeries (despite having bills of my own to worry about), giving money and/or food to people I see on the street, and agreeing to sit on more committees than are probably good for me. And that’s how I somehow ended up agreeing to be Secretary of Bridgeport’s church council.
And that’s not a bad thing. It’s been my experience that when you give, you get back more than you ever imagined. It’s like that schlocky “Love is something if you give it away” song Mrs. Moore made us learn in elementary school. We’d sing it while she sat up at the front in all her 70’s polyester finery, leading the jam on her autoharp. And she was right. You really do end up having more. That’s not a reason to give. It just works out that way. And yet…
There’s also something about being officially on board and feeling like I could potentially let down people who are counting on me that tends to make me feel cornered and wanting to flee. It is is part of my own personal brand of crazy. It’s something I constantly have to work on in my relationships with people. But even that is not the whole of what had me nervous about this whole installation business. What had me feeling uncomfortable were four words in the program:
LAYING ON OF HANDS
Fair or not, in my head the concept conjures scenes of snake handling, glossolalia, and faith healing, none of which are part of my spiritual repertoire. My personal spiritual path may be eclectic, even a little hippie-dippy nature-filled and creativity-centered, but it’s also quiet and individual. Things like “laying on of hands” make me uncomfortable. Let’s face it, being surrounded by a bunch of people (even if they are well meaning) who want to make you the momentary center of the room while they touch you is a little overwhelming for an introvert.
I remember the first time I encountered the practice in real life. It was at the installation of a Minister of Music. Everyone in the church was asked to go to the front and touch her (or at least touch her through each other). I was one of the last people to go up to the front and, if I’m going to be honest, it felt weird and uncomfortable. Not wrong, mind you. Just not right for me. While I get the idea intellectually, it just didn’t connect for me on any kind of emotional or spiritual level. My main memory of the event was that it felt awkward. That memory was so strong that if I had known beforehand that it was going to be part of the installation ceremony, I might have found a way to weasel out of being there. That’s right, I said it. Weasel. Don’t judge me!
The thing is that, even if they’re cute (seriously, have you ever looked at a weasel? ADORABLE!), I am glad I didn’t free my inner mustalidae. Today’s experience did not feel weird or even awkward. In the end, it’s all about energy. I believe in energy. We raise it in ritual when, we sing, pray, or say the words that are part of any worship service. I don’t know that it’s something I’d want to do all the time, but I am glad that I didn’t give in to the urge to shove the pastor out of the way and flee, bounding over pews and people as I exited the building. In the end, it was warm, loving, and left me feeling at the same time humbled and filled with peace.
And peace is just the thing I need, if I don’t want to feel so cornered that I feel tempted to run away and join the Cirque du Soleil (although how cool would that be?). Sometimes you have to try something more than once to “get” it and sometimes you get just the present you need, even if it’s not packed in wrapping paper you might have picked.