The evolution of a belief system is a funny thing to watch. For some, it shifts in details. For others, it’s completely upended. And who knows, really, what makes one person’s beliefs the way they are — or what makes one person’s convictions steadfast and, for another, a fluid concept.
I think about my early years. Sunday mornings, the ritual of getting ready for church. Jazz music playing from my dad’s truck and the smell of cold leather seats as we drove down the street. Sunday best, with bows and ribbons, bells and whistles. My little brother’s hair reluctantly combed to one side. A gentle & tender father-figure of a minister, someone I’d eventually approach in tears during my teenage years when attempting to make sense of an unfathomable tragedy. Being a Sunday School student before eventually becoming one of the teachers herself. Prayers every single night, and that silent understanding of a force greater than myself.
Then I think about my college years. About waking up one morning, sometime after my 20th birthday, and realizing that my belief system had fallen away from me. Like it was something that had been dislodged from my pocket and dropped along the road, without my knowledge, and I only became aware of it when it was far too late to retrieve it.
The bewildering shock of believing in nothing. Nada. Nada y nada y pues nada. Knowing it wasn’t as simple as retracing my steps, finding my trusted belief system under the shrubs or at the edge of a sidewalk. Knowing it wasn’t ever going to be that simple ever again.
And then I think about the years that followed, how belief returned back in piecemeal format. Slowly but surely, in its own time, on its own terms. Like the prodigal son, only returning back now with souvenirs from his travels. Bits and pieces gleaned and taken in to eventually make what now felt right in my heart look nothing like what I had when I was 6.
And then I finally think about the last year and a half. I’ve been hinting for that last year and half just how much of a mess my life had become. How much had unraveled and blown up. How many certainties were stripped away, or dislodged & lost alongside the road, unaware that they were gone in the first place until it was far too late. How sometimes it feels like I’m chained down to the past, with each individual fear of a different, potential future grabbing hold of a limb, slowly pulling me to shreds.
It would be easy to pin this unraveling on the passing of my father. And I want to. There’s a huge part of me that does. The death of a parent is clean. No one is going to argue the personal hell of a young woman who loses her dad. Especially a young woman who had as complicated of a relationship with her father as I did.
But life is messy. Undeniably messy. And the reality is that his death is one piece in something that is far bigger, broader, and more complex — resulting in an exhausting set of crossroads. A frightening level of uncertainty. The fears and the chains and being pulled limb from limb.
And I think about what I did as things blew up and unraveled. Dropping tasks by the wayside as anxiety hit, just to go on a walk or dance to a song. Turning up the volume when the right song came on the radio and getting irretrievably lost in the lyrics. Finding a comedian or funny video and laughing just a little too hard & for a little too long.
I think about how I’d take in the present moment as a sharp and vivid tableau. Moments when I’d look up to the moon and just stare until whatever ache or fear or anxiety or dread passed. Moments when I took in a slow, deep, beautiful breath as if it were the only possession I had in the world.
And then I think about something Chuck Lorre — the creator of Big Bang Theory & practically every comedy ever on CBS — once wrote, about comedy and communion with God. How, when we’re laughing, we have no choice but to be in the present moment. You can’t truly laugh and scan through your to-do list. You can’t laugh and make note of what annoys you. You can only laugh and be with what is making you laugh. And how, through making people laugh, Lorre is helping people be closer to God. Because, in short, what is God but the present moment. Yahweh – “I Am”.
And I think about what my definition of God is these days. The gentle and undeniable feeling that the unfathomably omnipresent & omniscient entity we understand as God comes into our lives through whatever avenues are going to work. Through whatever forms and formats can meld in this corporeal, three-dimensional, time-as-a-linear-construct world. The idea that we are spiritual beings bound by chemical makeup and societal limitations and psychological schemas and time. The idea that it’s all predestined and planned and perfect in the grand scheme of it all and that there are few things that will guide a ship quite like those deep-seated beliefs.
The belief that the entity we call God transcends pronouns, definitions, labels, any earthly understanding. The belief that God comes in mainstream religion, in New Age mumbo-jumbo, in quiet moments of reflection that make us go, “There’s a force higher than ourselves.” That God comes in the form of doubt and scientific fact and the realization that we’ve been clinging to the wrong fairy tales. That God comes in the form of that breath that is taken away when you’re at the base of a mountain, the edge of a waterfall, in the light of a full moon on a clear day.
The belief that God comes in the form of not believing in Him at all, and therefore believing that all we have is the here & now. The belief that, even with arms filled with theological texts and a heart filled with ironclad beliefs, we feel closest to whatever it is we believe in when the rest of life is dropped and we’re in that present moment, the here & now. That uncontrollable laughter. That uncontrollable crying. That moment when we take in that breath like it’s the only thing we have and temporarily sigh everything away.
And then I come back to me. I think about those walks, those song lyrics, dancing in my kitchen until I bump into something, going on runs that force me to care about only this current step & nothing more. Creating tableaus in lieu of an anxiety attack. The moments I shift stress into a vivid accounting of what is around me.
These beautiful, precious, sometimes painful, present moments.
These beautiful, precious, sometimes painful, communions with God.
And then I think about what this means in my ever-evolving contact with this unfathomable entity. What I sometimes call God, other times the Universe, other times no name at all. I’ve long abandoned prayer as a way to communicate. But in those high intensity moments, in those moments where all I want to do is get away or obliterate, what I do next is nothing more than an intricate and precious call to that higher up.
And it’s not a cry for help, or an angry decree. It’s not me begging for things to change or for me to be able to predict the future, even though my ego is asking for both.
It just is.
As I am.
Who would’ve thought I would’ve evolved to this type of prayer. That, through the trials and tribulations, I would not be escaping so much as I was entering. A moment within the moment. To laugh, to observe, to sink in. A chance to be.
That, through experiencing my own hell on earth, I’d be closer to God than I ever had before.