As a young girl, I was instructed to say my prayers before going to sleep. It was a nighttime ritual that goes back many generations. I can see myself kneeling in front of my bed and saying:
This poem goes back to The New England Primer, a publication rooted in the Episcopal Church and written by the Puritans. This poem dates back to the 18th century.
The religion of my upbringing taught both fear and love, and as a child instilled a lot of doubt about my place in this world. I was made to feel like I did something wrong because I wanted to speak the truth, and about the sexual abuse I’d experienced. Back then, we didn’t talk about many things. I was left to wander in the landscape of my own mind.
As an adult, I see the separation this poem perpetuated. That God was outside of me. That I had to be good in order for my soul to be accepted. What it did was instill a deep fear that I was going to hell.
I now understand why I was terrified of death. My young self was so incredibly afraid she’d be rejected deeply and thoroughly by God. As an adult, I just can’t wrap my head around telling anyone they’re born with sin, when in fact we’re all pure and perfect when we enter this world.
By the time I reached my teens, I’d fully stepped away from the Episcopal Church and religion all together. The church of my upbringing taught me to obey and implied that in order to be accepted, my life was to be lived by another’s rules. It’s no wonder why I see many continue to leave their church.
Brené Brown beautifully distinguishes the feelings of guilt and shame. Guilt is that I did something wrong, shame is that I am wrong. By the age of 8, I was already embroiled in both of these, and more so in the latter.
It’s incredibly poignant to be with the words of this poem and to see how deeply the energies of fear, rejection and shame played through my life. If I was good, I’d be accepted. In many ways, I put my own power in the hands of others.
God used to feel like a mountain, one that was always so high you could never reach the top. An impassible stone.
Back in Dec, 2018, when flying back to NJ from Sedona, while somewhere over Colorado, I looked out the left side of the plane and heard the whisper, “the mountains are calling.” They were calling for me to heal this relationship, with God and with myself.
So, while I’ve separated myself from the church of my upbringing, I’ve connected with a love so much bigger and deeper. One that accepts me as I am. A God who was always walking beside me, even when I felt so alone. Even when I called myself an atheist.
God isn’t a mountain. God is in everything in nature. In the rocks, the trees, the air we breathe, and in each other. We aren’t separate. We never were.
I’ve sat with my younger self. Imagining being with her, wrapping my arms around her, giving her big hugs, and filling her with love. And I welcome her back.
The God I speak of now is only benevolent. Some call it Spirit, the Universe, Source, Consciousness, Christ Consciousness. The faith I’ve put myself in the hands of isn’t tied to any specific church or religion. It is love.
I now know deep in my heart that I am loved by God no matter what, and that my soul is eternal. I don’t need to pray that if I die in my sleep for something outside of me to accept me because I’m already accepted, just as I am. My soul is already kept and held in the hands of God.
I rewrote the old poem.
This new version walks with me in all time, space and dimensions. It’s a poem filled with love. It took the journey of breast cancer to complete the circle.