When I left the church, I was gifted with a story. The story was of a child leaving her beloved playground and heading, alone, toward the river. The metaphor was rich and one that has continued to unfold with new meaning over time. Not surprisingly I have avoided the two most salient pieces: river, alone.
In fairness, all I had known for all of my adult life was church. It was my family, my social circle, my profession, my meal ticket. Church was life. And walking away from church was the most painful (and graceless) thing I have ever done in my life.
A year ago, a dear friend challenged me to start a new church. I held the call, felt it’s familiarity. For a full year I have looked at this call, prayed, talked with others, wondered aloud, started, faltered, prayed more. Recently I met with another friend who suggest that I spend a month in prayer (the infamous 40 days). I fancied Nehemiah’s writing of the vision and imagined that I would emerge with my own.
As the 40 days came round and I found myself still empty handed I felt cheated. And then I saw what was sitting inside me all along. The story. The story given to me, almost five years ago now, was the story of leaving the playground and heading to the river alone. Not building a new playground. Not replacing my old cohort with a new one. But going to the river, the source itself, by myself.
As I look back over the past four years, I realize that I left the playground and at times ventured to the edge of the water. Most of the time, though, I have sat in the woods and sulked. Transitions suck. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Holding the challenge from my friends pushed me from lethargy; either build a new playground or return to the story. The more I avoided the story, the more I worked on a new playground, the more befuddled I felt.
What I knew to be true as I first left the playground is that the playground is faux. The river and the forest that surrounds it comes from the earth itself, it is real and sustainable. And harsh. People die. The evil that we wonder about and script on the playground plays out with harsh abandon at the river’s edge. Also true is the intoxicating power of fresh air. The source of life itself is nowhere more apparent than at the water’s edge.
As I gulped in this fresh air, I began to see that as religion functions to interpret experience of the sacred it unwittingly provides a veil. Life lived far from the playground is unveiled, there is slight protection from the elements. PTSD is real for those who pray with their feet. The lure of the playground, it’s safety and conformity, is understandable.
But the river beckons.
What I know to be true as I stand against the rough bark of the tree is that I can’t go back and, at long last, I think I am ready to go forward. My life is now is here, at the river’s edge. Without benefit of clergy, liturgy, institution, or external validation save the sound of the creation itself. This is my call, this is my truth.
And I feel as if the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders.
Maybe because it has.