There was a time I was a huge Mercy Me fan. For those unfamiliar with them, they are one of the most popular contemporary Christian rock bands whose popularity soared with their hit “Word of God Speak.” This song crossed music genres and was continually played on pop-rock to country music stations across the nation.
At the height of my adoration of this group, I would travel a tri-state area to experience one of their concerts, which was part entertainment and part worship. In the early years of deconstruction from my religious heritage, one note from their songs could send me spiraling into an emotional abyss, where I longed for the time when my spirituality was deeply entrenched in devotion.
What I didn’t realize during my Mercy Me fangirl phase was that my commitment to Christianity was on a collision course with my personal beliefs. Looking back, I can clearly see the places where I was struggling to push out of the small, suffocating, religious box that was gatekeeping God from the rest of the world. During this phase of leaving church (although I didn’t know it at the time that this was the “first phase”), I began to reject these highly emotional contemporary Christians songs, seeing for the first time the role they played in keeping me blindly obedient. This inner conflict wouldn’t subside, and it was what finally gave me the courage to walk out the church doors and never return.
Ask anyone who has made that same decision. Those first days, which at the time I referred to as “the deep abyss of questioning,” are incredibly unsettling and challenging. Emotions ebb and flow between a sense of peace and freedom one minute, only to come crashing over you with a wave of guilt and a longing to return to the comfort and belonging that organized religion provided.
The data will tell you that the former — the power discovered in the peace and freedom after leaving church for good — wins the battle. It also reveals that we are not an anomaly, but part of a growing movement of spiritual but not religious people who are now the majority in this country. That is a profound and revealing statistic, because for the first time, we are no longer a religious nation.
It would be a grave mistake, however, to assume that those of us who are walking out are also rejecting God. We are not. We are rejecting Christianity’s version that places God inside a small box that demands we contort ourselves to fit inside. It also requires us to judge others on how they look, whom they love, where they were born, where they live and how they vote.
Once a person is freed from the harm of organized religion, they discover that climbing out of that small box doesn’t mean leaving God behind. It also doesn’t mean that their heart and soul no longer desire to seek God. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Many of us accept the invitation to release our previous understanding of God and begin to walk into the spiritual wilderness to delight in the mystery of the Divine.
It is here that we can truly see the many ways God moves through the world. We marvel at world traditions, both inside and outside the construct of religion and are humbled at how our own traditions demonized other people’s experiences of God.
And if we continue to trust this journey of discovery and mystery, we finally let go of the remaining vestiges of who, or even what, God is.
Truth be told, this final “letting go” comes at a high price for some. There is no returning to the sense of routine and comfort that religion provided. There is no going back to sleep and pretending that our awareness isn’t real. There is no denying what we know.
There is only that moment when you step up to the abyss, a once dark and foreboding place, stare into the darkness, inch closer to the edge ...
and dive in.
Because that space which once held fear now holds the true mysteries — mysteries that may never be answered.
And the peace that surpasses all understanding invites you to delve deeper into the sacred unknown, where the unanswerable was once something to fear — now gently envelops you in love.
This is God.
*This blog is inspired by the words of Rev. Dr. José Román and Rev. Arda, where “this yearning for God within us” beckons us to continue our work for a kinder, more compassionate world.
As a child, I always looked forward to the first day of fall. My reasons were entirely selfish, as I eagerly anticipated the arrival of my early October birthday.The withering flowers, the turning leaves, the slightest scent of decaying foliage wafting through the air and of course all things apples intensified my excitement as the day of my birth edged closer.
I imagine President Lincoln hunched over his desk, penning his inauguration speech that he would deliver to an extremely divided nation. As he wrote, he must have contemplated the importance of his words in fending off the threat of civil war and appeasing the fears of the people.