“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~ Rumi
When I started blogging and talking about the pain I have felt and continue to feel in my religious practice, the question that almost always, without fail, makes its way into the comments is, “if you don’t like it, why don’t you just leave?” Sometimes it’s used to be cutting, to suggest this is their penthouse and they don’t like me in it as an unorthodox believer. Others genuinely wonder why I would continue to allow myself to feel pain so deeply and not head for the hills. Each time the question comes, it’s hard to articulate why, but here’s an effort at explanation.
Almost ten years ago, I sat on the couch in my run-down basement apartment musing over what I should do next. In the year previous, I had taken a break from the church for emotional reasons which I talked about in my Ordain Women profile. I had been attending church on and off again for a couple months but usually returned home downtrodden and depressed. I wasn’t sure I could keep going. At one point, after a long cry session, my roommate took me by the shoulders and said, “Amy, you need to stop going. It is not healthy for you and it’s making you miserable.” She was right. I was miserable.
A few days later, Sunday morning, as I sat on that couch, looking at the clock and working up some sort of motivation to walk up the hill to church, I had a profound experience. As I battled back and forth in my head whether or not I should go back, both for the day and in the future, suddenly there was clarity.
“You need to go, Amy.”
“But, I’m miserable there.” I replied
“I know. But you need to do it. And you need to stay active all your life, not matter how hard or embarrassing or hurtful it may be.”
It was unmistakable to me that this was that Holy Spirit, that inner light, that was speaking to me. What before had been confusion and frustration became clear. And so, I made a covenant with God that day that I would do just that. That old couch became my altar and on it, I sacrificed a heart I knew would experience pain.
For a long while, my faith was easy, much easier than I had initially anticipated. Belief came without thinking, I “knew” things so I did them. But later there was the unsavory historical information, the discovery of legitimate challenges to the truth claims I had previously “known” so easily, and there was the pain in others’ faces and lives at the hands of the faith community I held so dear. They all collided and created the perfect storm for a major shift in faith. No longer did I “know,” no longer was I orthodox, and no longer did my most inner-held beliefs match up so easily with that of my faith community.
Truth is, I wake up most days wondering why on earth I continue. I don’t believe the same way that I used to, I certainly don’t fit in, and most of the time it seems as if the members of the church really would like me to just leave and take my unorthodox, heretical thoughts with me. But the reality is that I made a covenant that day on that old college couch to stay. And while all the stilts that were holding me to Mormon orthodoxy have crumbled, my faith in that voice and that clarity remains.
But it hurts. So much. And at times my heart cries out to God, “why must I keep this covenant? May I please be released from it? It wounds me so greatly.” And then, like another light from heaven, I came across this post on the wall of one of my former BYU professors,
Sometimes I go to Sunday School. Less often, I make a comment. Last Sunday I did both.
The class was discussing “how we can remember our covenants.” People mentioned everything from regular scripture study to posting notes on the refrigerator(!). After about ten minutes of collective checklisting of mnemonic devices for remembering covenants, I ventured the following:“I hesitate to take this in a harsher direction. But anciently, covenants typically involved some kind of wounding, some pain or scarring that made it impossible to forget the agreement being made. Circumcision is the perfect example. But there are other examples–mutual cutting in order to become blood brothers, for instance. Or the angel wounding Jacob’s thigh when they wrestled. Jacob limped for the rest of his life as a reminder of that divine encounter. Just so, Joseph Smith limped throughout his life and connected that disability to his refusal to take alcohol when his leg was operated on as a boy.
“The *spiritual* wounding that goes with a covenant we make with God is what he calls ‘a broken heart.’ That, as you know, is what he says he requires of us. Somewhere along the line, if you are going to make agreements with God, your heart will have to be chipped, or cracked, or even shattered. And when that happens there’s never a question of how to remember the covenant. Because you can never forget it. The evidence is always right there in view. That’s why the scriptures–from Jeremiah to the Apostle Paul–call this genuine sort of covenant the ‘circumcision of the heart.””
My faith may not look orthodox and for all our talk of the Gospel bringing us happiness, my participation in the Church has often been one of pain. For so many years, I have blamed myself, “Perhaps God really is displeased with me. Perhaps I really am unworthy to receive peace. Perhaps I’m doing this all wrong.” It never occurred to me that maybe pain is the sign of wounding, the sign of the covenant.Perhaps God is not through with me after all.