What Happened on the Bench

I remember sitting on that bench, salty from sweat, salty from crying in my terror. I remember the smell of the fresh-cut grass, the traffic from Beechmont Avenue, the sound of traffic and birds.

I remember so precisely, so clearly because something happened.

Nothing changed in the day – no sudden break in clouds above me with the sun pouring through [it was already a bright day], no choir of angels, no breeze picked up my hair and twirled it around. Nothing changed.

Nothing changed but the something that happened inside of me. Inside, a feeling of calm warmth slowly seeped into my body. Warm and cooling against my panic, calm and full of movement. Seeped into and through me. I was there a long time, in that seeping and then, in the aftermath. Of knowing.

It was not that I had prayed. It was not that I had beseeched Mary. All I had done was come to the place where I had felt connection. In this place, I had let myself weep.

In the aftermath, I knew, was completely sure, that my brother was fine. That he would be home and soon.

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Writing about “predatorial grooming” in relationship to the church and to all organized religions is tender for me because what I loved about the church, and organized religions, is what I loved back then and what I still love.

Unabashedness in finding connection to the divine – an unabashedness in the people. The ones who sat near me in the pews, who shook my hand, offering peace.

The ones at synagogue, the ones in the zendo, the ones on prayer mats in the mosque, the ones in their temples, the ones in circles with trees and standing stones. People who are devout in their practices and what it means to them and their lives, their loves, their inner lives.

What it means as they weather the pandemic. What it means as they cook in the kitchen, clean the bathroom. What it means when they are doing academic work or helping their kids with school. What it means as they fight to be seen in their culture because they are not seen as “normative”. What it means when they are getting food.

Whether we are Buddhist, Jewish, Druid, Hindi, Christian, Muslim, Pagan, Sikh, Agnostic. Whether we label our spirituality with a name or practice. Whether we participate in an organization or not. No matter our beliefs.

What I love is the devotion of people, in their hearts and inner-most places, to be with their spiritual path.

Which is why I also still have anger with religious organizations.

Organizations who tell people what being committed to their spiritual path should look like – people who come to the organization for guidance and help.

The parts of the organization that tells us exactly how to live, how to love, who to love, how to look, how to pray. That says, for example, it is not in “god’s teaching” to bless a union between two people of the same-sex because they are of the same-sex. [Fun fact: in a 2019 Pew Research Study, 60% of catholics in the U.S. reported supporting gay marriage and 76% reported supporting the acceptance of LGBTQ people. The other percentage of people believe the church because the church is “the” church.]

The parts of the organization that tells me I could never be a priest because I am a woman. Arguing that their teacher, their Christ, chose twelve men as disciples and therefore, the church is “bound” by that decision to only ordain men as priests. [They do not acknowledge the presence of Mary Magdalene as a disciple – the church worked this narrative to turn her into a prostitute instead.]

That takes the narrative of most of the teachings and twists it to gain, hold and use power. My church says, “God is Love.” But then, in the doctrine and in practice, they teach hate and intolerance.

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Which is why I so love dreaming.

I love dreaming because our dreams do not dictate “the right way” to find connection with our own, very personal, sacred path.

Instead, they work with us to find and work through all that blocks us from our spirituality and deep inner connections so that we can find what it means for us. They work with us through trauma, through doubt, through fear, through joy and discovery.

They work with us and they walk with us. The dreams and the archetypes/guides/teachers in our dreams. They walk with us as we discover our path.

But they do not dictate.

I have worked with dreamers with many different faiths – from muslim to jewish to druid to catholic to zen buddhist to wicca to new age to atheist to agnostic. I have worked with dreamers and witnessed how dreams work within a person’s faith and way of being in their spiritualities. From being orthodox in their religion to being “loose” in their religion, the way I had been.

I have found that our dreams work with our beliefs, work with us in how we believe around our spiritual path, in beautiful and profound and even funny ways.

Such devotion and longing and connection I have witnessed in my work.

Are there challenges presented by the dreams around faith and practices? Do our dreams ask us to ask questions and question our assumptions? Do our dreams challenge us to make our own determinations? Of course. Is there tenderness and honoring of a soul’s chosen way to be on the sacred path? Of course.

But there is no “right way”. Only the way that sings and feels true for the dreamer.

Our dreams work with each of us to find those moments of grace, like the moment for me on that bench in front of the mass-produced image of Mary. To open the way for us, no matter the way.

To show us there is grace everywhere, even in the difficult. There is grace open to us, that does not need to be bestowed on us from some outside entity.

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When I was young and flush with newfound anger at the injustices, I was finally allowing myself to witness [something I had not “needed” to do, something I was “taught” not to do because of being a white woman in a system of white supremacy and systemic racism], I remember how good it felt to be angry, to have the anger clarify me and wake me up. I felt righteous.

I am no longer young nor flush with that kind of anger.

My anger now is woven with grief and tenderness. Just as we, as individuals, do terrible things because we believe them necessary for survival, we believe them necessary based on irrational fear, we believe them necessary to maintain power and control [which we believe necessary to survive], so then we build organizations based on those beliefs and fears and desires to control. At any cost.

Grief and sadness. How the teachings of extraordinary beings are taken and turned into “doctrine”. My original teacher, the Christ of the gospels I read, never organized a church or built a building or dictated what things meant or did not mean. We do not know exactly what he said, since the “gospels” were written well after his death, since the “gospels” were written by people who wanted to consolidate their new religion. Since the “gospels” considered “canonical” to my church were written with intentions of their time – like making another group of people bad. Like trying to convince other groups of people through their own ways of thinking, i.e., laying new religion rituals over the old religion rituals.

I think of survival and the drive for control and power. How fear driven. How, when fear driven, the unabashedness I so love can be used to be unabashedly prejudice and violent and harmful.

How fear driven a church is when it unabashedly states it cannot offer “grace” to something it cannot control, like people’s sexuality. How fear driven an organization is when it unabashedly cannot recognize or allow the grace of all people to grace the organization. How fear driven when an organization drives its people unabashedly to condemn others.

Grief and sadness. Anger, still, yes. But not condemnation. When I lay on that marble bench as a teenager and felt touched by grace, felt reassured in my terror, felt heard, felt seen, felt held – part of what had opened the door for me to receive came from this church, came from the teachings I heard on Sundays.

Came, primarily, from that place of unabashedness.

I am still learning this particularly challenging lesson. To be unabashed. No longer toward doctrine, nor violence, nor hatred wrapped in the veil of devotion. But unabashed in curiosity of grace, of love, of magic. Unabashed in knowing that it is all interwoven – the grace with the trauma, the love with the grief, the magic with terror.  

Next: The In Between