About Me

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I write, mostly to keep my head from exploding. It threatens to do that a lot. My blog is the pixelated version of all the voices in my head. I tend to dive into what connects me to God, my community, my family and my doubt. I do a lot of searching, not as much finding. I’m good with that. I have learned, finally, to live comfortably in the gray. In the meantime, I wrestle with God, and my doubt and my joy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Redemption, with a touch of Grace

I have a couple issues with God.

Anyone who's known me longer than, say, 5 minutes, can pretty much figure that out. I wanted to change my relationship status on Facebook to show that I'm in a relationship with God and "it's complicated." I have run the gamut from at-one-with-the-All, sitting in virtual lotus on top of my virtual mountain, at peace and in love with God and all of God's wondrous works, to being convinced that my Higher Power is God's evil twin brother whose sole Divine Purpose is to mess with me and my life. I struggle with God's blessings and God's capriciousness.

My journey with God has been rocky at best. At thirteen, I announced my intention to become a rabbi. This had less to do with a belief in God and more to do with being a Jew. As I saw it then, if I had to take God along with being a good Jewish rabbi, so be it. As my parents saw it, this was not a good career move for a nice Jewish girl. They were quite sure that I would never make enough money as a rabbi to keep me living in the style to which they would have liked for me to become accustomed. They laughed, I caved, but maintained my love for Judaism (and by extension, God).

By fifteen, I declared my apostasy: God was a lie. Or dead. Or an opiate of the bourgeoisie masses. Take your pick. It was two weeks before confirmation, and I was a teenager, filled with anger and fueled by existential angst. Simmering with contempt, I announced that I no longer believed in God and that to become confirmed would be hypocritical. I refused to participate (and did a secret little happy dance of joy to see the light dim just a little bit in the eyes of my parents).

And so, although I did not know it then, began The Great Quest. I had a God-sized hole in the middle of me, and it ached to be filled. I filled it with anything handy. Sarcasm. Contempt. Cynicism. As I got older, sex. Intellectualism. Throw them all in there--- anything that would make me not feel quite so empty, quite so lost. Anger was good. If I stayed angry enough, pointed enough fingers, sneered with just the right curl of the lip, I did not have to feel. Anger was almost enough to fill in the empty spaces, almost enough to wrap around me like a shield, protect me from my fear. After anger came alcohol. Emergency spirituality in liquid form. I loved drinking. I loved feeling that wet fire trail down my throat and nestle in my stomach. I loved the way it made my fingertips buzz, an electric pulse that made me want to dance and move and breathe. The noise in my head got quiet and I could think. I could float, bathed in that clear, clean sharp liquid that made me feel beautiful and connected and almost (but not quite) human.

Anger and alcohol--- my constant companions for years. They kept my demons at bay. They blurred the outlines of that god-sized hole, and if I stayed angry enough, drank enough, I could almost believe that they filled that hole, filled me. I could tell myself that they were enough, and that I was enough. And that tiny little whisper that skittered and skipped in the dark corners of my head? The one that never quite believed those lies that I told myself, those lies I so desperately wanted to believe? Those whispers were all but drowned out by the crushing tide of my drinking.

And then I got sober, for a whole host of reasons, not least of which was the fact that the anger and the alcohol stopped working. I couldn't get to that floaty, breathy place anymore. Couldn't find God, or at least what I thought passed for God. Couldn't find any quiet space. All that was left was this deafening white noise and a brittle coating of despair.

So I got sober, and all those shiny happy people sitting in those shiny happy AA rooms, where the smoke hung in grey-blue wisps and the coffee could peel paint (unless it was more just brownish warmed water with a hint of caffeine) and the smell of ammonia masked the stale sweat and salted tears and the free floating anxiety that bordered on fear of the masses of people who laughed and cried and wondered and wandered and quested and questioned--- all those people insisted that if I find a God.

Great. Give me a task that I have been failing at for decades. I'll get right on that.

And strangely enough, I did get right on that. I started my quest for God in earnest. I had my eyes peeled for The Answer, that sublimely written piece of prose that would explain away all my doubt, all my cynicism, all my uncertainty, leaving me glowing with the light of God and giving me comfort and relief and calm. And I looked, and I read, and I looked some more. I sweated and struggled and stamped my foot. And everything I read confirmed my belief that God was a little hinky. Or maybe the wrong religion. Certainly capricious and inconsistent. God was messy and vindictive and totally missing.

And the more I looked, the more I struggled, the more desperate I became to find that source of solace. I saw my friends get it. I saw them, sitting comfortably in their own skins, whole (for the most part), healing (for the most part). Recovering (for the most part). And I wasn't getting it. I was just as far away from God as when I was fifteen. God may be real for everyone else--- and I was genuinely happy for all those people, really; but God would never be real for me.

I remember one Saturday, going to synagogue with one of my friends. I figured that as long as i was supposed to look for God, i may as well look inside God's house. As I sat in the sanctuary, soothed by the beauty of the stained glass, uplifted by its (you should excuse the expression) cathedral ceilings, comforted by the familiar heft of the prayerbook, I listened to the choir as it sang out some hymn of praise, some psalm offered up to God. And I wept. I was so close! I could hear their joy; I could! I wanted to reach out and grab it, hold onto it, connect with it. They were all so sure. They rested in the palm of God's hands, carried across the chaos of their doubts, the noise and tumult of the universe. They got it, all of it. And as much as I knew that, I knew that I never would get that gift. I knew that I would forever be denied that peace. How could I not weep in the face of that?

I told myself it didn't matter really. Told myself I didn't care, and that God and redemption and grace were fine for other people, but really, I certainly didn't need them. I was doing just fine, thank you. So what if I was a little raw, felt a little exposed? So what if I had created an invisible hard candy coating that kept me safe and separate and disconnected? So what if despair coiled around my ankles and drifted upwards, soft and smooth as lies, threatening to choke me? So what if all I wanted to do was drink?

So I planned it. I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't sleep anymore. Stopped going to meetings, mostly. Couldn't bear to listen to those shiny happy people who had found God--- my God, their God, a God: some higher power who carried them and loved them and healed them and redeemed them. I needed to drown out the little voice in my head that insisted, in its silken and seductive and smoky voice, the one that said that I had not rejected God so many years before, but that God had rejected me, and the only thing powerful enough to drown it out, keep God out, was a drink.

There I sat: Queen of the Dramatic Gesture, in my darkened living room, candles flickering and casting macabre shadows on the walls, a cat tangling between my feet, my heart sounding a loud tattoo of determination and fear and wistfulness. I sat in the darkness, planning to drink. I wanted it. Wanted the sweet burn and liquid fire. Wanted the thirty seconds (at best) of absolute release that alcohol gave me. My fingers curled around the neck of that bottle, the glass cool against my palm, calm acceptance settling over me.

And I sank to my knees. I had every intention of drinking. I could taste it, for God's sake! I wanted it, wanted the release and the blankness and the tingle. And yet I sank to my knees. And I cried out from the sere desert of my soul "I give. I can't do this anymore. I can't be so alone. Please help."

That was my prayer. The only prayer I could offer. And I sat on my knees, hands still cradling that damned bottle, and I didn't drink. There were no angels to dance on the head of a pin. There was no clap of thunder or heavenly choir to sing out "Hosanna!" But I did not drink. I did not drink, even though I wanted to, even though every fiber of my being ached to drink. I did not. And I slept--- the whole night through. For the first time in months, I slept, not like a baby (up every two hours, hungering for something, cranky and whiny), but like the dead--- deep and uninterrupted.

Redemption. I have no doubt that I was offered this glorious gift, along with a small touch of grace. And in that instant, with no angels dancing, no thunderous chorus, I lay down my struggle with God, for God, found God. I was redeemed, at last. The miracle was for me, at last. And I slept.

And now, it's more than a decade later. Through the grace of God, I have still not taken that drink. I have found a faith that gives me comfort, that carries me through those long dark nights of the soul.

I still have them. Still tend to box with God and demand that God be accountable for divine (in)action, just as God demands that I am accountable for mine. We are locked in an eternal embrace, God and me--- a lover's embrace, intimite, profoundly connected, bound together as blithely as light, as strong as love. I struggle with the idea of God still. I struggle still with God; after all, I am a true Daughter of Israel. Sometimes it is daily, sometimes not. I rail at God and demand to be comforted, to be carried, to be loved. To be enough (for me, for God). And I am still given grace, because I know that when I ask, I am redeemed. When I love, I am enough. And, wrapped in that blanket of grace, I sleep.