Holy Holy Holy
Grieving the Religion I Lost
Grief arrived today, wrapped up in the words of a song that I hadn’t heard in years. A song that at one time in my life, I played during prayer time. If I was dealing with a tense situation or just needed a reminder that “all things worked for the glory of God,” I would press repeat and listen to it while journaling. And when I was preparing to be in community with my church family for some project or event, I would listen to it to remind myself of the sacredness of gathering to “work for the Lord.”
The song was tucked neatly into a playlist of music that rarely gets played these days. But today, on our way to see my mother-in-law, it came on when my husband’s phone connected to the car’s bluetooth. I’ll admit I was immediately triggered when I recognized the first few chords. Even the name, “Revelation Song,” could be enough to invoke an emotional response from those of us who grew up listening to lyrics like, “praise to the king of kings”, and who now live beyond the religious heritage that embrace those words as truth.
Here I was, 11 years after leaving church, having an emotional response to a song from my religious past. How could this be? What could possibly be triggering about this moment? I felt blind-sided and strangely vulnerable as the song continued to play. Soon, my angst shifted to awareness as I began to understand that I was being invited to pause, get present and move closer to what was asking for light.
This is what I refer to as soulwork — taking the deep dive within to release those things that no longer serve our highest good and move us closer to who we truly are. It is referred to as work for good reason - it is some of the most difficult work I have ever done in my life. My deconstruction journey was filled with the challenges that oftentimes left me so raw, I would reconsider its value.
It was in those moments that I would be reminded that nothing in life that restores and empowers us is magically handed over on a silver platter. It is earned by committing to do what’s necessary to heal. The more soulwork I did, the more I came to accept, and eventually embrace, that it is integral to our spirituality.
For years, I believed my spirituality was contingent upon my Christianity and the work I did on its behalf. In other words, spirituality was more about what I did than who I was. This mindset serves organized religion well. It is how churches get members to commit to endless hours of volunteer work for them. Church leaders are often transparent in their recruitment of unpaid labor — “God will bless you for the work you do for the church.” Guilt is a powerful spiritual weapon as well, evidenced by my own pastor who actually said, “If you have time for video games, you have time to work at the church,” as if her judgment on our personal time was a reflection of what God thought of our choices.
Reality check: it wasn’t.
Breaking free from that kind of indoctrination can leave one feeling wobbly. Many people who have left church have asked for the “how-to be spiritual” guide to help them navigate the uncomfortable feeling of “I’m not being spiritual if I’m not doing something.”
Reality check: you are spiritual just by existing.
This is why deconstructing, or peeling away these indoctrinated beliefs equating your value as a human being to how much you give or how hard you work is so important. Living with a lack of self-worth will have you perpetually seeking the very thing you left – an institution that will affirm you if you give and work sacrificially for its perpetuation.
Now, sitting in the car listening to the words of that song, years after I had broken free from those harmful ideologies, my feelings of anger and bitterness caught me off-guard. After all, I had done the work and found peace with my spiritual journey which brought me to where I am today.
Instead of reacting to my unexpected emotions and turning the music off, I took a breath and accepted the invitation to lean in and find the sacred wisdom in the moment. I began by reminding myself that I was safe and no harm could come to me by listening to a song that once was so dear to me. Pausing, I recalled how I used to sink into a deep, reflective time of worship. I would be enveloped in peace and an affirming love that would carry me through the most challenging of situations.
I recalled how that Affirming Love, that Divine Presence, had not deserted me even when I was sitting in the church pews and feeling as if I no longer belonged there. It hadn’t rejected me when I finally found the courage to walk out of church, knowing I wasn’t returning.
That Affirming Love had not betrayed me when I struggled to find my way once I was in the spiritual wilderness, when I had no idea where I was going – if I wasn’t who the church said I was – who was I? It was that Affirming Love that arrived in the quiet moments of solitude to gently tap me on the shoulder and remind me that “all is well.” I cannot explain these moments to you, where there is no path, yet you know you are exactly right where you need to be. Once I recognized this paradox as sacred wisdom, I released my need to define the unknown, unfamiliar space, trusting that what I needed would arrive just in time.
Sure enough, what arrived was that same Affirming Love I had experienced in my religious heritage. I discovered that the Holy is not bound by the restrictions that religion often tries to place around it. Divine Presence is not conditional based on our worship, prayer or meditation style, or our beliefs. It is universally available and pours out for all of humanity with no conditions attached.
As I sat there listening to the words, my beliefs now millions of miles from the statements of faith expressed in each stanza, I arrived at yet another paradox. I found myself swaying to the song’s melody as a sense of melancholy fell over me. There was something powerful in this moment that had begun with anger and was ending with sadness.
The anger had been a defense mechanism – my ego protecting me from potential harm. If I had acted upon it, I would have missed the opportunity to honor the path I had journeyed that brought me to who I am today.
And who I am today is who I was always meant to be.
As the song finished, I kept my eyes closed. Memories of my friends who were no longer in my life, the work I had done in all the churches I had attended, the spiritual maturity and enlightenment I had been gifted with every experience – even the hard ones – all came flooding back.
That is the precious gift that grief offers us – we can mourn what was while holding onto the path that points us to our highest selves and greatest good.
I would have missed all of it had I remained in my anger.
May you be open to the gift of Affirming Love and Divine Presence and find the sacred wisdom hiding right in front of you – this very day.
Pause, be present and move closer to what is asking for light.
It is all Holy.