Thursday, November 29, 2007

An Immigrant's Song

My spiritual cup and Christmas Spirit flask seem to contain only dregs, leftovers from years past. I've only been what you might call a practicing Christian for about 13 years. I wasn't born to it; I chose it.

I was lucky to run into the right people at the right time as well as the wrong people at the right time. My initiation into the faith was dramatic; I experienced full submersion baptism at a Baptist Church in front of a thousand people. But by the time they were ragging on my slacks for being "clothes made for a man" and scorning my lack of femininity, I made my escape.

I went to college and met Elizabeth who impressed me with her quiet and steady faith. Her knowledge of the Bible combined well with her shrewd judgement. She was the first person who sold me on Christianity without selling it to me. For that, she earned her place at the heavenly banquet.

I left college and went to an episcopal church with my Mom. We went through the catechism process together. I joined the choir and the organ committee. The priest was a converted Jew and a ph.d. His sermons were deep, memorized, delivered among the congregation. I learned how to get forgiveness and stop kicking myself.

When I married Doc, I had found a home church: wherever it was we were together. We prayed together before meals. I prayed every night before dropping off to sleep listening to the frogs chirruping or the frost crackling on the roof, depending on the season. If I listened hard enough, I could almost hear the creek.

Then we fled the countryside; having children changed our life beyond what we could have imagined, just like everyone said it would. In the city we were alone, but we had each other. Our time there contained the snowiest April in recorded history. Knee deep in the urban plight, I clung to my faith and took the first train out of there.

Now, we have a manageable house, we are close to family, we have a great neighborhood, and the children are out of diapers. It's the result of several well-laid plans that were designed with the help of prayer and good council. I should sigh a sigh of relief and rev up to soak up the season.

But I was feeling kind of empty and detached. Doc and I are ships passing in the night most evenings. We aren't sharing many meals, therefore we aren't praying much. I was feeling kind of sorry for myself, like maybe I was wrong to latch my wagon up to this particular fairy tale. After all, if God was loving and kind, why are all these people dying before their time? And why are people dumb enough to say things like, "It's all part of God's plan."? These are questions I am forced to consider daily, thanks to my pal, Hot Lemon.

After awhile, I ran out of reasons. I stood on the brink of kissing the whole idea of God goodbye. And I was granted a minor miracle: a few minutes alone with solitaire and iTunes. Getting time alone is a rare gift these days and I enjoy a good few games of solitaire; it puts me in a contemplative move. I turned on iTunes; I needed to hear some Dolly.

Love is in the water
Love is in the air
Show me where to go
Tell me will love be there ( love be there )
Teach me how to speak
Teach me how to share
Teach me where to go
Tell me will love be there ( love be there )


And then I heard this:

Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother,
and in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his holy name.

I bowed my head, humbled. This was my Grandma's favorite Christmas carol. I didn't know her very well; she emmigrated to Canada when I was very young. I remember very vividly sitting in a food court in a mall in Ottawa when I went to see her in 1994. We had gone shopping and we were breaking for lunch. Her husband Peter, was fetching napkins and Grandma and I had just settled into our seats.

O Holy Night began to float over our heads and my Grandma inhaled deeply. "This is my favorite Christmas song...'fall on your knees!' Isn't it wonderful?" She asked me breathlessly. She was a died in the wool Anglican and had a real joy around her faith. I was surprised by the simple happiness she shared with me. Often, when people talk about faith, they are trying to either convince you to join them or they have some other not so hidden agendas. This was either a moment purely lacking hidden agenda or my Grandma was one fine actress. I'll tell you, I'm not really sure to this day which it is, but I hope it's the former.

But the verse I quoted above, about being brothers to slaves I was reminded about what I really dig about Jesus: Righteousness, goodness. And why I chose the path I did, why I chose to believe. I received a reminder to fall on my knees and my cup and flask began to runneth over. I could blame Hot Lemon for this recent hot funk. Afterall, he is constantly questioning God and His existance. And like I said, I've run out of rebuttals. But he's done me a favor: he made me think about God, seriously, like I did when I was on the run.

I glanced into the abyss that is the universe and thought, I'll never understand, but I'd like to know for sure: Are you there God? I think I got my answer.

So I will kick off my holiday season believing again. I will keep asking how to speak, where to go, and will I find love. If you need me, I'll be out breaking chains.


  1. A well written piece... Funny, though, my own story is almost exactly 180 degrees -- born into a religious family and then opted out.

  2. My mom did her best to raise my sister and I Catholic like she was. I tried to believe in all they said, but there were too many unanswered questions for me.

    I would describe myself as spiritual now, instead of religious. I pray still, but to what or who, I really don't know.

    This was a beautiful story Flan, as are most of your posts.

  3. Lovely!

    Don't forget, you helped me back on the right path after I wandered away. You're my rock!

  4. OK, first, don't forget to LINK TO ME when you talk about my hott phunk!!

    Secondly, may-jah kudos to Elizabeth th' Strong Hearted who recently, in a comment on one of my religious posts, said "well, sometimes God is an asshole. After all, we're made in His image." That wuz th' most wonnerful thing I've heard in ages and it neatly glossed over a whole TON of crabby shit I was gonna say, but now don't need to. I'm glad U met her and I did too thru U.

    NEXT: one of th' best Christmas songs ever is "Christmas Bells" sung by John Gorka. It's based on the poem by Longfellow. The bestest lyrics in there?

    "then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
    God is not dead, nor doth he sleep
    for the wrong shall fail
    and the right prevail
    with peace on earth, good will towards men."

    Of course, that's bullshit because every year there IS no peace on earth, but it's a beautiful sentiment to hold on to.

    FINALLY: as noted here, I've converted to Pastafarianism today, so now I've got a whole NEW buncha shit to throw atcha!!

    Merry ☧-mas!!

  5. Do you see what I have to deal with, people?

  6. w/regard to the last few sentences or so, you're not going to start talking about finding god's fingerprints in the wings of a butterfly, is you? Cuz if you ARE, then I see your butterfly and raise you a a bubonic plague.

  7. oh, and if you need ME, I'll be out breaking wind.


  8. I'm not going to let you get me down. You can suck it.

  9. My horoscope for today: A friend might judge you today. You must kindly explain that you're your own person.

    Hot Lemon, I'm my own person. Sorry about the suck it comment.

  10. Going with God isn't the popular point of view, but I am with you Flannery.

  11. (Beavis)Huh huh huhhuhhuhhuhhuh.

    You said "organ committee".

    Huh huh.(/Beavis)

    Just for the record, "I'm not going to let you get me down. You can suck it," is going to be my new motto.

  12. It's my blog and I'll censor if I want to.


  14. somebody be puttin' some MAY-JAH chains on my 1st Ammendment Rights!! Yarr, but that's a plank-walkin' offense in me book! Aye!

  15. I was watching the Democratic Presidentail debates a few months back and a question was asked about faith. It was "Do you believe that having faith prevents bad things from happening in the world or to the individual?"

    As we all know politicians like to dance around questions and all but two of them did, with lengthy explanations about how faith is very personal and etc. The two who didn't were Joe Biden and John Edwards. All Edwards said was "No, faith does not prevent bad things from happening to anyone." Biden answered "No, faith doesn't prevent bad things from happening, it's there more to help you get through when bad things do happen."

    Both are solid answers, no wavering, no dancing. These guys truly understand their own faith; they know exactly what they believe in, because both have had their faith tested in the most horrible ways you can imagine. Edwards lost a 17-year-old son in a car accident about 8-9 years ago, and Biden's wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident back in the '70's. None of the other candidates have experienced this kind of tragedy, and none of them had the confidence and certainty to answer a simple "yes/no" question about it. I just happened to know that information about Biden and Edwards prior to having seen the debate and the light bulb went off when I heard all the candidates' ansers.

    Only advice I'll offer since you didn't ask for it is that you don't lose what your baptism was for you. Obviously the Baptist Chruch isn't your thing and those people are a bunch of wackjobs, but you remember how close you felt to God that day and what all that meant to'll want to keep that and merge it with what you know and feel now.

    That's all. Shutting up now.

    Luv you.

  16. Hot Lemon,

    I'm happy to know you, too. I try to explain faith in a way that each person can appreciate. Of course, sometimes I have to tell people the way I see it even it's not going to make them happy. I can't please everybody. God doesn't try to please everybody. He does what he feels is best and that's that.


    Edwards and Biden are strong people. I'm glad they have the life experience to understand truth. They're perfect examples of why we have to go through tragedy. Tragedy brings wisdom, if we let it.

  17. Thanks, Flannery. I think because there are so many poor examples of Christians out there, it's hard to hang on to it. I second so many of the sentiments you shared so eloquently. I've been through the same struggles and come up with the same answers.