Every so often, in this life, we are privy to miracles that are as ordinary as the little sparrows that build a nest every spring in a wide pipe that connects my kitchen wall to the outside. For a few blessed weeks every year, I hear them chirping, as I cook the pasta and chop the vegetables right along side them. Every so often my children put their ear to the wall and I see, not surprise, but re-affirmation that the world really is full of magic. It’s strange that we never see the nest because the pipe is covered in such a way, and we can never pinpoint the exact day the birds become strong enough to wriggle through the little hole and fly away, but we know it happens because by June the bird voices are gone. We know then that the miracle is the flight, the willingness to venture beyond the pipe and into a different space.
In my own life, in the midst of sorrow and chaos surrounding the haven I’ve so long called my spiritual home, I was not only privy to quiet, almost imperceptible miracles that rippled across the landscape of my own heart, but I am, like those tiny birds, testing my wings cautiously, and then, with growing confidence, jumping into a new paradigm which is playing out differently than I had planned on Thursday.
I started my weekend with full intention to take a step away from the church for a time. I felt it was no longer difficult to walk away from something that had lost its familiarity. The decision did not come on a whim, as these decisions do not. For so many who have left, now, and in the past years, the walking away does not mean walking away from God, and my leaving would not have signaled that either.
Over the weekend though, I found myself in long conversations with friends from my ward, including a member of the bishopric, as we took a road trip to run in a half marathon. The content of our conversation hardly matters because while some of us in the car had great issue with the policy, some felt the impacts differently, and regardless we all felt sadness. I know we don’t all come from the same place in terms of the short wave issues, but the overwhelming feeling I felt throughout was that on the longer wave issue of love, we all cared deeply and in our own ways. We talked through possible solutions to make our ward a kinder place, a safer haven for those who feel lost or lonely, a more deliberate vessel of service, a place where more voices can be heard. By the end of the car ride I had committed myself, and eagerly so, to be in charge of the service aspect of our ward Christmas party, to give a five-minute talk on gratitude, and to be a part of the committee that makes sure new people are watched over.
I was fully aware of my equally as real commitment to leave this church as I said I would do these things, but something in me said, “It is not your time to go.” And so, the surprising sentiment that slowly over this past week for me will not be manifest in my stepping away, but rather, me stepping in.
I know that this is not the path for everyone, and I don’t expect it to be. I’m not a better person because I have chosen it. I am continually, and often maddeningly so, pulled back to Mormonsim. I’ve often mistaken this coming back, or rather, not leaving in the first place for lack of courage, for fear, out of cowardice or even laziness and I am certainly not immune to staying for those reasons at times. But this week, I understood that call to stay came from a different place. Fear and cowardice are not brewed in the same pot as the invitation I felt. I understood it was an invitation to bring my best self to the table and work harder and more authentically in a context that is familiar to me.
In one post, an ex-Mormon, gay friend, in an eloquent calling out of progressive Mormons, much of which is warranted and does speak truth, asks a question which is meant to be the final point on why we should leave, but has left me thinking for days. This friend says if you decide to stay, then ask yourself why, really ask yourself why stay in a church that is making policies like the one last week. It is a vital question and one that we are all in the business of asking ourselves. The answers vary.
My reasons for now are these:
-I feel a responsibility to the woman I work with in nursery who is pregnant and sick and new.
-I love the 85 year old woman we visit once a month so she can read my children stories.
-My selfish spirit needs that moment when I take the sacrament and truly ask myself if I am willing to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.
-The idea that I can organize a service project at a ward Christmas party to help do the work of teaching our children that service is not a side ship of Christ’s mission, but in fact the only one.
-I believe in the power of a divine feminine voice and presence within a community, and I believe that when we bring her here, many hearts will be healed—I believe I can be a small part of that.
-I stay because as a good friend said much better than I could in an email, “For myself, the principles I have learned at the feet of this faith tradition invite me to be transformed, and to develop the kind of true and abiding compassion (in the etymological sense of that word) that works transformations in the world around me.”
-I stay because I love Christ and I have found Him here often.
-I stay because my 4-year old recounted to me the good Samaritan story after church one day, and although many of our current policies do not shadow that story, I believe that we as individual members can daily.
-I stay because I was so moved when I took an institute class called Christ and the emancipation of women, and I find this community a place to connect with women in need of emancipation, whether from themselves, or false ideas, or oppressive traditions.
-I stay because of our friend who quit his job so he can get certified to teach high school science in underprivileged schools and with whom my husband spends time studying so that he can pass all the qualifying exams.
-I stay because of my friend who navigates the hollow halls of depression and I want to be someone in her life who cares.
-I stay because I, time and time again, have been recipient of unspeakable kindnesses within my church experience.
-I stay because I am so so imperfect and so many times the core principles of this gospel have reminded me what is important.
-I stay because I need correction, and humility, and a place to practice acceptance and kindness, and that is why the policy makes me sad.
Yes, there are many, many, who should also find peace in this fold, and it is more than a shame that they are not here, and now, may never be. I have no answer or justification for that. I hope we continue to talk and work as a community until nothing but love and acceptance is offered by our people. Not just on this issue, but so many others that make us different from one another. I also know that criticisms will come for my position and reasoning, and criticize if you need to. I will tell you this, I have two young children, I work a part time job, we are poor students in an affluent area and the odds that I will wield much influence in the communities around me right now are not so good, if only from a purely logistical standpoint. For me, right now, the decision is between leaving to work mostly alone, or stay and offer up what I can. That is not everyone’s scenario, I understand. For me, the fact is that if I leave this community, I do not have access to the intimate emotional needs of so many because I simply would not cross paths with them and they would not have access to mine. The simple bridge to so many people with the purpose of serving and being kind, coupled with a theology that can cause tectonic shifts within a heart so inexperienced as mine, means I will stay, and I will work hard to build a neighborhood of Zion in a wild and beautiful world that is also trying to do the same.
Like the sparrows in the wall in my kitchen, the territory of trying once more feels new. It feels scary and vulnerable and unknown, but like those birds, I also believe in miracles and I believe we are the ones that enact them.