We moved eight times before my seventh birthday. Chapel Hill was the pin on the map my mother pressed into concrete, telling my father Switzerland and Singapore were perfectly commute-able for him, but her children had friends, and so did she, and that was the end of her moving.
Still, i’d spent hours in the stratosphere, legs dangling over the seat and nose pressed to the oval windows of airplanes. I thought if i looked hard enough, i could see angels in the clouds.
(i was convinced flight was a dip into actual heaven)
I thought God was a bit like the gold tinsel i wore in my hair in the Saint Anne’s Christmas pageant – that was still when we lived in California – and i thought God was a lot like the white-wood crucifix that hung over the altar in Saint Thomas Moore – that was in Chapel Hill.
And i thought God was a warm bosom. Like when i curled in my mother’s lap and she’d say to my brothers and i: I have two legs and one lap, three spots for my three children – that was everywhere we lived.
Right before our First Communion my best friend Becca declared authoritatively that Jesus would be pockmarked with circular bites because we were eating His Body. Like a Ken doll, i thought, smooth with skin, just with little Swiss cheese holes.
I also thought angels were like the dolls in A Little Princess. Like they came alive and chatted when i left the room, but stayed visibly dormant when i was in it.
I remember the moment i un-learned predestination. I was eleven or twelve and we’d been learning about the Holocaust, and i was trying to puzzle through the age-old why-do-bad-things-happen if-God-is-good. And i was knee-deep into reading the entire Public Library collection of teen science fiction, so i was pontificating about where i’d go and what i’d do if i could travel in time, and i said i wouldn’t change the Holocaust because how would we learn from genocide?
My mother’s eyes were almost orange. She sat me right down and said that was not how God worked, that there was a push and a pull and things weren’t so set in stone and God doesn’t intervene in history the way we think but that doesn’t make Her less real.
For our first year of seminary, we’re required to meet Tuesday mornings with a group of other first years and a spiritual director. They call it “spiritual formation,” which is as expansive and exasperating and exhilarating as it sounds. Last week, we were asked to answer: What do you believe about God differently now than when you were a child?
I’ve done this one in a million and one workshops. Usually, i write some version of how i always challenged male-god-talk as much as i internalized it. How that question really got traction sometime between meeting Jesus in Uganda and reading Marilyn Frye’s “The Birdcage” in sophomore English class.
This time, though, i thought i’d focus less on what’s changed and more on what has stayed constant.
Seminary is trying. It’s this turning upside down of your whole-life knapsack, wiggling out the bent-up paper clips and folded notes and trying to sort through what is, what isn’t, what needs to be thrown away, what ought to be replaced. My temptation is always bitterness, that dance between activist fatigue and holy hell-raising, humility and feminism, faithful rebellion and rebellious outrage.
For lent, i’m trying to focus on what is good. And i’m trying to learn to allow myself to see good without qualifying it, not because there aren’t a million and one ways to apply critical race theory or feminism or queer theology, but because i don’t want my desire to do right (to acknowledge my privileges whilst also asserting my worth) to turn into the burn-out of Never Enough.
(even as i write, i want to say i know of course “it” is never enough, that the horizon of feminism/ecumenical humanism/the coming kingdom is the tension of here and not yet. it’s the knowledge of what saint Dorothy Day said: “What we do is so little that we may seem to be constantly failing . . . And why must we see the results of our giving? Our work is to sow – another generation will be reaping the harvest.” but then i remember saint Day took sabbath and contemplation even in the worker house.)
Even as i learn which chapters are which Isaiah, and how Sylvia Wynter problematizes humanism, i’m trying to retain that sense of wonder. Of the simple, joyful curiosity that looked for angels in the clouds – no matter how many transitions were taking flight that year.