Today I want to tell you a story about when I was a kid.
If you’re new here you might not know that I spent most of my childhood growing up in Japan, because my beloved parents were Christian missionaries for several decades. They are still the most devout and loving people of faith you will ever encounter, who still love me very much even though I’m now an outspoken queer feminist foulmouthed divorced pro-choice heathen mystic. (If you were also raised evangelical, you know how amazing and wonderful this kind of love is.)
We lived in Japan long before the internet, and I spent years at a time living in a bit of a vacuum, trying to understand why I had to have such terrible frizzy blonde hair that drew eyes to me everywhere I went, but also why everyone else in my entire missionary-kid world loved Jesus so much and felt so much joy in church, while I was experiencing– well, not those things. Other things. Troubling bouts of rage and grief, in fact.
I mean it was because I was so terrible and awful, obviously. Or so I believed at the time. Now I know that I simply didn’t FIT in that world, and I was feeling that mismatch, much like a goat raised by swans will find itself very much out of its element and wonder why it can’t just like the water like a good swan and stop eating paper which everyone knows is so embarrassing and hurry and fly already oh god.
It’s fascinating, looking back, to see that even when I was a lonely and scared kid, there were bits of loving magic (you might call it spirit, if you’re so inclined) still finding their way through to me. This is about one of those moments.
One year at the religious nutjob school (there really is no nicer way to put it), one of the teachers got an idea for a Christmas mural that we would all create together. (This was the same teacher who stopped taking her epilepsy medication after a faith healing and then kept having these distressing seizures during class. She just didn’t have enough faith, you see. We prayed for her.)
Anyhow, the art project involved great big panels of foamboard and an insane quantity of eggshells. For weeks we all came to school with our plastic bags of clean eggshells, and no matter how carefully we had scrubbed them at home with soap, trying not to crush them completely, the smell of sulfur was overwhelming. We were each instructed to sketch a scene from the Nativity story on our foamboard, then we were to glue eggshells on like mosaic tiles, and then paint the whole thing.
It would be very beautiful and sacred even though it would surely smell like flatulence.
My assigned scene in the montage was of Joseph and a very pregnant Mary traveling to Bethlehem. I sketched out a donkey, copying it from a Bible picture, and drew Joseph’s rough stocky figure in too. But when I started to draw Mary, an odd sensation started at my fingers and began to creep up my arms.
It reminded me of something– it was like I was little again. Sometimes when I was about five years old and wandering outside by myself, I could feel something golden and liquid come over me. The crooked pine trees seemed like they were talking to me, and I would sit in the grass and listen. A tiny buzzing part of my mind kept on worrying that a bug would crawl up my leg or that I was going to get in trouble for something, but the rest of me was utterly drunk. The bliss seemed to swoop between the trees, slide down the light, seep up through the flowers, and straight into me. Sometimes I would feel so full of the gold that I had to get up and do impromptu dances, and the air swirled through my fingers like a sleepy river.
By age 9, I hadn’t felt that golden feeling for a long time, but I felt it come over me again as I sketched in Mary’s gentle face, her hands folded meekly (easier to draw that way) and the sweet bulge of her belly. It was almost like there was music in my head; I felt like I was far away and didn’t want to come back.
I looked down at the drawing and hardly knew how I had drawn it so well. In a few soft gray strokes, my pencil had outlined a tired woman gazing down the road ahead, her body heavy but her expression serene. Next to her, the donkey and Joseph looked like crude toddler drawings. My body was still pulsing and pooling with the liquid light as I put down my pencil. I was blissfully, restfully happy, but something else too—I felt like I had done something that would last forever, as if no matter what happened to the drawing itself, it would always exist somewhere, maybe in that golden light. The teacher ended the art lesson and I was startled that an hour had gone by so quickly.
I wanted to go somewhere and cry; I wanted to hide in the bathroom and dance. I did neither of those things, but instead took my joy to the park with everyone else until it slowly faded.
Eventually I would obediently cover that holy drawing with crumbled eggshells, obscuring it. But when I thought about that moment, I could still feel a tiny little kernel of gold deep inside my heart.
Now obviously, friends, I knew that that precious little gold drop was a seed of wicked heathen joy. It was definitely something evil, I understood.
After all, everyone knew that God wasn’t about crazy good golden bliss; God was piercing and blood and shame and tears. Only the devil could feel that delicious, for the devil was always out to trick us. If it was beautiful, it was probably evil.
I knew this equation. I really did. That little gold kernel was something I should have apologized for.
But here was an odd thing: I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep it anyway.
At that moment, a tiny little missionary popped out of my mind in horror. “You want to keep it even if you know it’s the devil seducing you into heathen terrible dangerous evilness???” This part of me gesticulated, rolled her eyes with horror, and writhed on the ground. The rest of me watched her calmly.
Yes. That’s exactly what I want to do.
And so that little kernel stayed there in my heart, yet another secret. But this one was a delicious one.
The secret knowledge that I could half-close my eyes, let the world go into soft focus, and feel a golden haze illuminate everything. That even the dust motes in the air would shimmer with an iridescent language I could almost speak. Even though I knew this meant I was a castaway from the “true church” and the love of God, still, when the dust motes and the golden light on the leaves and petals and buildings spoke to me, I just didn’t care as much.
That gold feeling was almost worth going to hell for.
Oh, and dear reader, I did eventually go to hell and back. And it was absofuckinglutely worth it.
In fact, that gold feeling is what led me on the longest, scariest journey of my life– away from the church and everything I’d ever known, to find an authentic spirituality that is so much bigger and wilder than anything I ever learned in Sunday School. I didn’t have words for it then, and now I call it being a heathen mystic, but it all boils down to this: I believe you are loved. I believe I am loved. I believe you are so fucking loved.
So there you go, a beautiful sacred story for you, hold the eggshells, extra profanity.