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My world has expanded. I am seeing a bigger picture now. There is so much is out there, out in the real world. My focus used to be so narrow!
Those are some of the phrases that I catch myself thinking and saying nowadays, as “post-Christian Tania” who has settled more into this life and is continuing to let go of the bits of religion that linger. Chances are, there will always be some things that I miss about the lengthy chapter of my “churched” life, but I’m moving on. As time goes on, I am appreciating the expansion of my world. There’s the freedom to question, to explore, to totally turn things on their heads and see them in a new light.
The thing I remember most clearly about summer of 2011 — the year of the start of my deconversion — is curling up on my fake leather couch in my basement suite and reading, reading, reading. Unable to find satisfying answers to my “big questions” by reading books written by religious (mostly Christian) authors, I decided to…yes, carefully, hesitantly, a bit guiltily…read books written by agnostics, atheists, skeptics, and non-religious or “backslidden” people. To my surprise, a lot of the books made sense. I “got” them. The authors frankly discussed matters that I used to think were “bad” — they tossed around the concept that God might not be real, or that the Bible might be written soley by people, or that Jesus might have been less than the saviour the of the world. I spent much of that summer on my couch, and at the library, and on websites that I never would have glanced at the year before. Early one morning, around 2am, I sat at my kitchen table and I realized that God was no longer real to me. My world seemingly shattered. And my world got bigger.
I’ve often heard that for many people who deconvert from their religion, there is a period of about two years early on in the deconversion that are the most intense. There are challenges and changes that happen for years afterwards, but this two-year period is an especially intense roller-coaster ride. It is a time of letting go of many things, and a time of letting in new ways of being and doing. During that period of my life, a few other big life events also took place. In the winter of 2012, I moved to a new town, started a job at a funeral home, and became involved in an unhealthy relationship with a man who eventually became my fiance (and then, not much later, my ex). Those four circumstances quickly led to what I call my “Summerland chapter,” and it was not fun. There were numerous times when I thought, I can’t do this anymore; every single tiny task seems so monumental; why bother with anything? And yet, looking back now, I see that my world was made bigger. I saw a lot. I felt a lot. My mind entered places that I never imagined. Luckily, eventually, I emerged.
For quite a long time, I tried to maintain some of the routines of a Christian’s life; but as time went on, I necessarily dropped them. My church attendance became more sporadic. I struggled with praying…then I gave it a break for a while…then I forgot to pray… then eventually I realized that I just couldn’t do it anymore. My Bible stayed on the shelf. I decided to attend the Centre for Spiritual Living instead of regular church. There, I had permission to believe or not believe. I was encouraged to let go of the things that no longer serve me. I was reminded that if something does not resonate with me, I do not have to go along with it. These were new concepts to me. Some Sunday mornings, I decided to not attend any type of service anywhere. I slept in. I went to coffee shops and the art gallery, and I walked by the lake. I saw how other people did Sunday mornings.
As my Christian beliefs and routines began to crumble, so did my connection with my Christian circle. I no longer had much in common with the church people. I felt out of place, awkward, upset. I wanted to hold on to the community, but I felt torn — should I just fake it and keep things the same, or should I be true to myself? I reminded myself that even though church was where I most “belonged,” I did have some good friends at work; in fact, sometimes I felt just as comfortable with them as I did with all the Christians.
Of course, loss and rebuilding happen in many areas of life, and often in areas where we least expect it. Around the time of the “peak” of my deconversion — and for reasons mostly unrelated to it — I lost a good friend. No, I lost one of my closest friends, someone I definitely thought I’d be friends with for forever. I never really believed in “best friends,” but if I would have had to pick one at that time, it was her. The story of us was good, at least as far as I knew. It was easy and fun. We saw each other often, talked on the phone quite frequently, spent hours in pleasant silence. We went on road trips, watched movies, went to the fall fair together almost every year for years. A problem arose, and it never was resolved. Overnight, almost, things changed; and no amount of attempts to correct it seemed to be enough. Looking back on the past ten years or so, I did eventually see the red flags in our relationship, but still…still, it was a shock, and it took me a long time to recover. Gradually, I learned to allow other friendships to develop to the depth that I’d had with my old friend. As I waited for her and also for the church people to ask “What’s going on? How are you?” and to come running after me, I felt the emptiness when that didn’t happen… and as I reached out to other people and they reached out to me, I slowly began to see that maybe, just maybe, the potential for friendship and closeness exists even outside of my old friend and “the family of God.” My eyes were opened a bit more to the rest of the human population.
One of my favourites quotes is by Bertrand Russell: “Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cozy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a spendor of their own.” When we allow ourselves to see more of the world, it can feel wrong sometimes. However, if we can manage to push aside the obstacles — our fears, or the rules we grew up with, perhaps — it can be a wonderful thing to see all of creation in a new light.
Since that summer of countless hours of reading on my fake leather couch, I’ve become more curious, more fascinated, more free. I definitely want to keep exploring.