Making peace with my body helped me make peace with religion. To be clearer, it helped me find peace when I broke up with religion.
I am in love with the Divine. I talk to them daily. I listen. I feel guided, supported, and cared for. I wholeheartedly believe in a higher power. But I no longer believe in institutional religion.
My Religious Roots
I was born into Church-of-God evangelical Christianity. “Jesus Loves Me” was paired with hellfire and brimstone sermons meant to save me from Satan. God seemed vengeful and angry and oh so far away. I was “saved” when I was five because I was terrified that one of my mess-ups was going to land me in the lake of fire, burning for eternity. My vivid imagination would plunk my little body in a dark, scary underground cave, and I’d try to envision how hot it would be. How painful, although I’d never been burned so I really couldn’t fathom it. I just knew I was scared.
As I grew, I began to silently question some of the teachings being rammed down my throat on Sunday mornings. My grandmother’s favorite TV preachers, the ones skilled at asking their flock to send in lots of money, fell from grace. But I made sure to get myself baptized (twice in case the first one didn’t take) and to repent and to rededicate myself regularly because I was a sinner and that fiery pit terrorized me.
The First Breakup
It’s hard to live with terror long-term, so I ended up rejecting God completely. When I asked a trusted youth pastor what would happen to all the people who had never been exposed to Jesus before they died, he told me that they’d go to hell. Through no fault of their own, mind you. But if they didn’t know Jesus, then they couldn’t know heaven. That messaging felt so gross and wrong, and when combined with the upheaval of my early teen years, I walked away.
I still believed I was a sinner, but I didn’t want any part of a God who seemed to hate so many. It felt like I was playing a game of I’ll reject you before you can reject me. And I often missed . . . something. Something I couldn’t quite name.
I grew into adulthood and met my love. Since we were embarking into the land of grown-ups, it felt right to start going to church again. Isn’t that something a real grown-up does? It was important to me that we went to church together, and it was important to him that we went to a Catholic church, so we found a Sunday mass that didn’t make me feel like a pariah for not being Catholic.
We made friends. We volunteered. We tithed. And eventually, I decided to fully embrace Catholicism and receive the sacrament of confirmation.
There’s a vast canyon between Church-of-God Christians and Catholic Christians. One speaks in tongues when the Holy Spirit is moving, and the other offers the body and blood of Christ through orderly ritual. Both give each other side eye.
As different as the experiences are, I have felt electric chills surge through my body as I connected to God in both types of worship. I’ve also felt the heavy weight of disappointment settle in my chest when the proscribed teachings didn’t align with what my bones knew to be right.
The Unanswerable Questions
When my daughter asked why she had to cover her shoulders during her first communion ceremony, I felt my own shoulders creep toward my ears. Did God not like her shoulders? And when she asked why she could be an altar girl but no women could be priests, I felt the fiery anger surge, the anger that stays banked in my core, continually fed by the patriarchy. No, women don’t have penises. How does that discount them from leadership roles at church?
And covering all of this was the slimy coating of shame that my continued membership in Christianity was upholding all the worst parts of the religion, from the televangelist sex scandals and the devastating repercussions of purity teachings to the evil culture of sexual assault on children that was allowed to thrive in the Catholic church. Of course, I know that most Christians don’t condone these behaviors. Jesus certainly doesn’t. And lots of folks are committed to creating change from within, which I appreciate.
But when I checked within myself, it was abundantly clear that all organized religion did for me was separate me from God. So I revoked my membership. And I gave myself permission to pursue a relationship with God that allowed me to feel connected and expansive, that aligned with my soul’s truth.
That checking in with myself was the critical piece. For years, my wise body had pointed me toward experiences that drew me closer to God and steered me away from the experiences that left me disconnected. But because I’d been so indoctrinated to believe that there was a fiery hellpit waiting on me, I couldn’t listen to myself. I was made to doubt my body’s guidance because the Bible said the flesh was weak. Making peace with my body, relearning her language, trusting her guidance, finally freed me from believing that I had to be a Christian in order to be in a relationship with God.
I want to stress that I’m only speaking from my own experiences. I know many folks, from many different religious faiths, who are right where they want and need to be, including Christians. If you’re a Christian who finds fulfillment in your church community, I’m happy for you. Truly. Just as I hope you’ll be happy for me that I’ve found fulfillment outside the traditional church structure.