Don't Fence Me In: Writing, Reluctance, and Faith

Last June, I was invited to submit a couple of pieces of short, reflective writing for inclusion in an edited collection focused on women's life experiences and faith.  A colleague of Anne's had read this blog, and liked my writing, and contacted me about participating in the project.  I was delighted to be asked, though my inner critic assured me that the invitation wasn't really that big of a deal, since it came through personal connections.  Oh, that lovely inner critic.  Just can't let no joy be.

Anyway, the book came out in April, and I've been strangely reluctant to tell people about it.  At first I pretended to myself that I didn't want to spoil the surprise, as I planned on giving a copy to my mom for Mother's Day.  So I kept it hush hush until then.  But now it's been another couple of weeks, and I have to face the fact that I've been avoiding the topic.  Thinking a bit about about it, I suppose it's because the book is about faith, and I'm still so uncomfortable, even nervous about being constrained within a religious framework.  "But I'm not like that," I want to protest...

What is this about?  I've long known that I dread being perceived as belonging to any one group.  I can trace this back to high school, at least, when I would worry a great deal about which hallway I would choose my locker from, because location=identity, and I didn't want to be trapped.  There was "jock hall," and "rat hall" (for the metal-heads), and "band hall," and "honors hall," and "theater hall," and so many others.  I didn't want to be any one thing.  I wanted to be many, many things.  I never wanted to be nailed down, fixed in one place, defined by one group.  This driving desire affected my relationships, as I jumped from social group to social group each year, and even each semester, throughout college.

And now I see this drive again, in this moment, as I uncomfortably announce that some of my writing is in this book.  That should be a cause for celebration, right?!  And yet I watch myself trying to hold back a flood of caveats.  

How about some context, rather than a caveat?  

What I'll say is this:  I have found it difficult to write about my spirituality.  I am hyper-conscious of not wanting to offend people with all my gripes about religion.  I am reluctant to use overtly religious language, but I want to be honest about how such language has moved me.  I am sensitive about the risk of pushing people away by talking about my spirituality, a subject that exposes me as earnest and quiveringly full of hope (there go my witty, ironic friends).

And once I get started talking about my spirituality, which is mostly about being in love with the universe and in awe of life, I betray the fact that I'm not really in line with the vast majority of mainstream religious thought (there go my church-going friends).  My writing in this book was an attempt to speak honestly about my experience of faith, without alienating anyone.  

Today, an old friend posted a link to an essay that finally motivated me to write this blogpost.  The essay was written by a young man, paralyzed from the neck down, whose mother fiercely fought for him to survive his illness and to have every opportunity to achieve success.  The young man wrote that writers need to fight for their ideas in the same way, to bring them fully into being, to breathe life into their words.  I suppose I'm guilty of abandoning my ideas, too afraid to talk much about my conception and experience of faith, fearful of upsetting others, of being simplified and categorized, of being alone.  But it's time to claim the terrain that I'm traveling.

So there you go.  My first published non-academic writing is in a book called Wisdom Found: Stories of Women Transfigured by Faith.  You can take a look at samples of the book here (one of my pieces is the fourth sample down the page), and buy a copy of it online here.  (PLEASE NOTE: I don't receive any money from the sale of the book, FYI.) 

I hope someday to be less discomfited by the whole identity thing.  To care less if people mis-recognize me, to keep my caveats to myself.  Maybe it gets easier in the second forty years?  If I can get quiet enough to feel the thrum of creation, if I can slow down enough to marvel at the unfolding of a fern, I know it doesn't matter in the least.

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
Gaze at the moon until I lose my senses...

"Don't Fence Me In," lyrics by Cole Porter