I lit a candle in my heart one day.
I didn’t ask for much. I didn’t know how to ask. You didn’t know the people I did, but maybe you knew people like them, who turned church into a place to hear how foul you were. Maybe you knew people who stood between you and God without even realizing it.
They called themselves my friends while trying to beat God into me. A, I had a belief system at the time, and B, they weren’t exactly living their church. All I could see was hypocrisy. I needed them to help me and they turned their backs. It didn’t help that I’d turned into a giant hellbitch (I have the journal entries to prove it).
I swung very low before I swung up again. I went to college — I left college. I went to a different college — I left, then I went back to it because it was the first truly nurturing environment I had known. I met Ann there. Ann was the first therapist who taught me things worth knowing. She showed me how to take charge of who I was and make me my own again. I met Maria and she gave me my voice back by teaching me to be a voice for others.
Years still passed before I reached out to my friend Allison and begged her to come pray with me. To my surprise, she came in the middle of snow, at night. After she left I trembled with anxiety: what was this? She said God will find me and change me, but what if I’m not ready? Only as that candle inside me began to burn more steadily did I learn that I had to be ready in order to change. When the time came, I welcomed the changes in myself because they represented growth.
I met my pastor this time last year, more or less.
I was baptized Catholic, lo these many moons ago. There’s photographic proof, and my christening gown still hangs in my mother’s closet. Yet my mother and I could not find solace in Mass anymore. She’s been fed up with Rome for years; I saw a stripping of the altars, a craven retreat from ritual in an attempt to win young, fresh souls. And we both wondered: is this it? Where is God in this building? So we drove one town over one Sunday to this tiny congregation of Episcopalians.
I wish I could play you the memory of a smallish woman in her collar and robes, her hair neatly pixied. I wish you could hear the choir doing the old classics that had been cast aside. To a woman raised on those classics, on classical in general, to hear something beautiful again was literally a religious experience.
(Which isn’t to say I’m totally opposed to modern music with a spiritual bent. But make it good music.)
I wish you could hear her say, “This is the Lord’s table and all are welcome.” And mean it. Even me, even the girl who independent-studied her way through faith to the point of never making a big-deal First Communion. Even I am welcome. So one Sunday, without telling anyone beforehand, I tasted my first consecrated wafer and wine.
Now my church is discussing outreach, and how to connect with the masses of unchurched young adults. People like you, who are spiritual, but who don’t assemble to worship — what? And vegan lunches just won’t be food enough for your souls. I feel that most keenly. If someone, even two years ago, had suggested that to me, I would have side-eyed them so hard.
I want to build you a place of peace.
I want you to feel safe, that nobody will take advantage of your youth or confusion. Or your sadness. Or, when you experience it, your joy. I want you never to hear that God doesn’t love you for something that is inherently you. God created all of me, long after he sent his son to fulfill the law. God created me in context. God gave me a heart to love and a mind to think. I like to think I am nothing special in this regard.
The divine spark lights us all. We were made equal, set next to one another in the hope that we would be good to each other. We were made to live our mission and our truth. So I will never pray for you to find a church. I will pray for you to be who you were made to be.
I will keep my candle lit in the darkness and hope that it is part of what guides you to whatever you eventually call home.