There is no date set in stone here. While my ecstatic adolescent diaries noted every reaffirmation of faith, every rededicating of my life, every hearing of a call to serve God that rocked my young life, I never wrote down “today I stopped believing.” Belief for me had been cataclysmic, always full of emotional wrangling and release. Nonbelief was gradual, like the erosion by wind and water that lays bare the granite hearts of mountains.
So perhaps I should start on a bald patch of Precambrian rock, somewhere along the Hudson River near Nyack College, a staunchly Evangelical school where I spent two years being a square peg pretending to fit into a round hole. Professor Ault, a wise volcano-loving geologist, took us on a fossil gathering trip that lead eventually to me standing on the most ancient of bedrocks. Rocks fascinate me. I go to the mineral and gem exhibitions at natural history museums and skip the gems. At any given time, there are small pebbles stored away in jewelry boxes in my dresser drawers. So meeting the grandmother of all rocks, standing on her old round shoulders perhaps changed something in my mind. I felt the depth of her age, and oddly for me at the time, I felt the inherent feminine that all ancient peoples recognized in the Earth.
The feminine. To be a woman, to hear as a woman, to speak as a woman, all within a religion based at its core upon a creation myth that denigrates a woman. By being raised within a fundamentalist church, I was burdened with the whole text of the Old Testament, and required to take the stories as truth not merely metaphor. But increasingly I found trouble with parts of the New Testament as well, particularly in some of Paul’s letters to the rowdy new churches where women were taking active roles. I remember a particularly heated Sunday School class where I decided I didn’t accept the analogy of Christ being the head of the church as a husband was the head of his wife. I asked the person leading the discussion if we unmarried women were then headless. And the best answer came back that women would be wise to look to their fathers or other men of authority. I never went to Sunday School again.
But I still believed. I made excuses for the texts, and dismissed Paul as a deeply closeted homosexual who distrusted both his own nature and the nature of women. I became more Anglican in my approach to the ancient myths. Misogyny in Genesis reflected more of the character of the particular nomadic peoples that created the tales than on the nature of God. Notice how neatly that explains away the disturbing unfairness that is exhibited over and over in the stories! Abel clearly was not chosen of God because he grew plants, and nomads hated agriculturists. Certain stable settlements who fought with the nomads worshipped female deities represented by snakes: bingo! Eve was off the hook! It was only important to take the broader message of the myths, and not the pesky details. We humans had always fallen short of God’s plans for us, and required redemption and forgiveness. I borrowed from one of my saints at the time, C. S. Lewis: the story of Jesus was the myth that came true, the one that all the other myths had pointed to repeatedly through millennia.
How amazing the strength of those little dribbles of water working down through the thin lines in the rock. How persistent the cold winters, that swell those veins with ice and pop flecks of dust off once smooth faces. To be a woman, to hear as a woman, to speak as a woman, I read as a woman. I distrusted texts, pulled them apart, lifted the covers to find what cobwebs might be between the sheets. I examined belief itself, as I found it in me. Clearly the emotional ecstasy of my early years had a sexual component. Catholics were not the only Christian sect with a “bride of Christ” problem. Could I rework my beliefs to contain all that was becoming clear to me, to manage to keep God but change the story around him to make belief possible? I still believed somehow, but could no longer put the words into any context that had foundations. I clung to the mystical.
And then I didn’t.
The Earth is old, and older still the expanse of our Universe. Unlike Abraham and Moses, our eyes have seen the images of galaxies scattered like grains of sand at distances almost beyond human comprehension. And in seeing them, we have looked through the vastness of time itself, we would-be god makers. Nothing out there points toward or away from god. Nothing out there indicates that one species on our breath-taking, beautiful little world represents an image of god any more than any other species. In fact, in this Universe, all worlds are significant and insignificant; we are, and we are not. Dark matter and energy trumps our little rocky planet, and all the other bits of gas and matter. If there is a god there, then it would perhaps be better not to meet.
So I continue on this exploration of what it means to be a woman, to hear as a woman, to speak as a woman. When I stand in the dark Pennsylvania woods, listening to the sound that wind makes in the boughs of trees, I hear the music and sense the joy that my heart feels, not because of any god, but because this is home. The only sacred place, this home, does not require the existence of a god to be sacred. I feel this is a piece of feminine wisdom that I can trust, a foundational truth, that I first sensed standing on a worn, deeply metamorphosed outcropping overlooking the Hudson River.