Zelophehad’s Daughters

The Summons that Abides

Posted by Eve

He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust:
His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;
Nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
Nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

–Psalm 91:4-6

The last couple of years have been a hard time for my life in the Church; the last several months, particularly hard. A few weeks ago, to my own surprise, I came to the edge of my ability to go on. I broke with certain of my conceptions about the relationship between the norms of the human community and the will of God, telephoned my stake president, and asked to be released from my calling.

Although almost no one there even knows about my current trials with the Church, somehow I just haven’t been able to face my own ward. The first week after my break, I stayed home. But I always miss church when I don’t go, so the next week, I drove across town to attend a ward where I could be relatively anonymous. I sat in the foyer, which is where I like to sit at church, and I sat alone, which is is how I like to be at church. I went mostly to take the sacrament, which wasn’t brought out. I almost left. But I couldn’t bring myself to walk out and drive the twenty minutes back home without anything to show for my pains.

The talks were all on the Great Apostasy. There were the liberal quotations from Bruce R. McConkie, the rhapsodies to Luther and Tyndall and Wyclif, and an extended analysis of the Catholic Church’s various doctrinal failings. I all but groaned aloud. The casual demolishment of Catholicism’s nonsensicalities, the unqualified veneration of the Reformation, the equally unqualified denigration of the dark Dark Ages–it seemed all the evidence that I needed to prove to myself, yet again, that the church is not for me.

At times over the past few months, and especially this past month, when everything connected with church has been so hard, when the endless Relief Society announcements in my inbox look like they came from the Mars of Babyshower Land written in the Greek of Motherese, it’s been like watching myself crash down a well whose bottom I cannot see, periodically clanking against the sides as I hurtle into the dark. How far will I go? I’ve find myself picking up cheddar-beer soup in the grocery store or looking at the array of coffees standing in line for hot chocolate at school and thinking, in self-pity and exhaustion, why not? Who cares? My husband’s long gone from the church. I have no children to set an example for. What difference does it make what I do? Why should I try to keep living and living this strange and hopeless Christian life, why should I observe these bizarre customs–the alcohol and coffee prohibitions, the seemingly endless activities and service projects, the funny underwear?

Sitting there in the foyer by myself on that bleak February afternoon, listening to talks I couldn’t decide if I believed a word of, I felt the strangest, most unaccountable sense of mercy. There were no answers to the complexities of the Great Apostasy, or to the more pressing, personal complexities of how on earth it is that I am to go on in this Church. There was no sense of clarity about what to do or even what to think. There was just a sense of not being alone in my aloneness, as if some divine, compassionate hand had brushed the tears from my cheek. There were no answers. Only grace.

At moments like that, I recall the scriptures that claim for the quiet voice of God an endurance beyond the heavens and the earth created by its still power, and I remember the voice that calls me, that never ceases to call me beneath the tumult of the world and my daily cares and sins and sorrows, that calls me in the name of Christ. I want to kneel and press my ear to the earth to hear the voice that never ceases beneath it, that indeed founded it, the voice the speaks with the unwavering constancy of song, of a single note sustained and sustained, too deep and piercing for human words. I want to hear that voice with such resolution, such devotion that I cannot waver in any other consideration. I have been so foolish and so wrong. I have mistaken the voices of well-meaning human men and women for the voice of God.

As I try to rebuild my spiritual life from yet another of these inevitable minor crises that constitute a human one, I want to cast away the last shreds of my concerns with what others think of me, with their praise or blame, with the conformity to expectations and the dishonest consent to which I have wrongly believed God has called me. I want to hear true, the truth of God and the truth of my own life with an entirety that disallows every hint of polite and empty lies, of false and timorous conformity. I want to fill my ears with nothing but that voice of fierce truth as it resounds and resounds in my own quailing, human heart.

16 Responses to “The Summons that Abides”

  1. 1.

    Eve:

    I am in a season of peace rather than crisis. And yet even my toenails ache in empathy and understanding — both of the pain and the grace. Once, when I wondered to my journal about my path (STAY!!! or GO!!!), my Inner Voice said, quiet clearly: You, Deborah, are maddeningly absolute. There is an enormous amount of Me between Heaven and Hell. You’ve only just begun to explore God. Start in your corner of the universe.

  2. 2.

    There is a Catholic hymn that I love, The Summons. An old Celtic tune (midis are all over the internet, if you want to Google).

    “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?”

    When we choose to follow God, we don’t usually know where it will take us. That you were able to find such a feeling in the Foyer shows me that God can “move and live and grow in you, and you in Him.”

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  3. 3.

    Grace and the Great Apostasy — what a strange association of personal and institutional concepts. Perhaps next week will bring a nicer selection of topics from the pulpit … although I generally choose my own topic for the meeting by bringing a good book.

  4. 4.

    For the record, Eve, there should be quotes around everything after the colon — I’m not lecturing you in the last two lines; I’m lecturing me :)

  5. 5.

    Eve, I don’t think I’ve read anything as moving and powerful as your post since I read Kiskilili’s Journey to Apostacy.
    I have heard you comment here and at fMh about the difficulties you feel in your ward. I’m sorry are going through this crisis right now. I understand why you asked to be released (what was your calling?) I’ve recently realized that my calling has much to do with my view of the church. It’s not the way things should be, but as my calling changed from administrative to service, my heart changed a lot, too. It’s the first time I really felt like my calling was from God, and I’m grateful to be serving in my calling (that’s the first time I’ve ever felt that way).
    I wish I could say as well as you do how much your honesty means to me. It is so hard to find someone who struggles so openly (and perhaps you would say that your open struggle is also an anonymous struggle) with issues that many of us are afraid to admit and explore.
    I especially echo the part about rejecting the “polite and empty lies” that make church more of a social club than a place of worship. As I think more about it, I wonder what I have done to contribute to the social club and to detract from worshipping.
    Your post holds so much raw self-awareness that is very refreshing. I am so glad that you feel God’s presence in the Earth. That is very moving to me.
    Thank you for your post. It means a lot to me.

  6. 6.

    I all but groaned aloud. The casual demolishment of Catholicism’s nonsensicalities, the unqualified veneration of the Reformation, the equally unqualified denigration of the dark Dark Ages–

    *nods approvingly*

  7. 7.

    Ah, Eve, this is heartwrenchingly lovely. I appreciate your willingness to express the wringings of your soul–I wish I had your way with words to adequately explain how you have soothed me today. I ache with you and for you and yet feel gratitude for the glimpses beyond the abyss. Thank you.

  8. 8.

    Eve, thanks for this. How paradoxical! Your effort to write in words, to rationally express, the ineffable, unreasonable voice of God in your heart. And how contradictory! My praise of your resolution to disregard others’ praise.

    As for the way attending empty meetings fills a need, I wonder if perhaps for some of us alienation and boredom are a sacrament, an alternate channel for the voice of God.

  9. 9.

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I feel you.

  10. 10.

    Beautiful post, Eve. You’ve got a wonderful Melvin-esque rhythm going:

    Call me Eve. When everything connected with church has been so hard; when the endless Relief Society announcements in my inbox look like they came from the Mars of Babyshower Land written in the Greek of Motherese; when it’s been like watching myself crash down a well whose bottom I cannot see, periodically clanking against the sides as I hurtle into the dark; and especially, when I find myself picking up cheddar-beer soup in the grocery store or looking at the array of coffees standing in line for hot chocolate at school and thinking, in self-pity and exhaustion, why not? Who cares? – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

    I hope that you don’t start methodically knocking the hats off of people you pass in the street. :P

    As to your substance – damn. It’s a hard post to read, not least because I keep getting stuck on the terrible beauty of the cheddar-beer-soup paragraph.

    I’m smiling, happy that you felt peace and grace. I loved your description, and it resonated with me: no answers, only grace. Sometimes that’s enough to get us by, as our brains slowly figure out the answers, whatever they are.

    And why during the talks about the Great Apostasy? (Awesome timing!) All I can say is that my own experiences like this have shown similar lack of rhyme or reason. Your sister reminded me, once, of the verse that the Spirit “bloweth where it listeth.” That’s been true for my own life — I can’t really control or summon (or in many ways, even understand) these experiences, I can just savor them when they happen.

    I’m glad that the Spirit listed in your direction, Eve. Answers and analysis may come later, if ever. The presence or absence of mentally satisfying answers, whether or not they ever come, doesn’t change the peace and beauty and grace of those moments when we really connect to the divine.

  11. 11.

    Thanks to everyone for taking the time to comment, for all of your kind words.

    Deborah, I appreciate your perspective, particularly your point about the vast number of possibilities between narrow absolutes (and no worries; you’ve always struck me as very kind and level-headed. I don’t think you could lecture obnoxiously if you tried!).

    Ann, thanks for the link, and for your points about the often unexpected ways the summons of God can take us.

    Dave, great suggestion about the book. Sometimes having a book with me in church has saved my life. When I’m close to a total meltdown, I’ve often found Wendell Berry’s poetry extremely grounding.

    Jessawhy, thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you found my post useful. For what it’s worth, one of the realizations I’ve had repeatedly, forcefully during the last few weeks is just how thoroughly dishonest I’ve been at church, with myself, with God, with everyone else. Somewhere I got mixed up and started thinking that God was calling me to be polite and mealy-mouthed, to be nice without being good. Somewhere I got the voice of God and the expectations of the community all mixed up. I’m trying now to do some severe untangling.

    I was (actually, officially still am!) in the stake Relief Society presidency, the enrichment counselor. What a disaster. I never should have said yes. But that’s one of the things I’ve learned from this whole fiasco–I’ll never say yes to a calling like that again without (a) a clear idea of what I’m getting into and (b) a clear confirmation that it’s the will of God I get into it.

    Brad, thanks for stopping by. I never like to hear any other religion critiqued over the pulpit. Somehow it seems so inconsistent with what I understand to be the spirit of Christianity. (And we Mormons have got weird doctrine and unanswered questions o’ plenty–doesn’t seem like we should go around looking in other faiths’ eyes for motes).

    Idahospud, thanks. Sometimes I get those glimpses beyond the abyss, those moments of sheer joy or peace beyond understanding, and I so wish I could keep them in a box for the long, dark stretches we all face from time to time.

    RT, I’m intrigued by your suggestion that boredom and alienation can be a sacrament. I think for so long I’ve thought of alienation as something miserable I’ll eventually get past (me, pouting: if God really loved me I wouldn’t have to put up with this! Isn’t church supposed to be pleasant??? Don’t all those investigators in the Ensign stories walk into the chapel and get enveloped by a cloud of instapermajoy?). But your perspective gives me a new way to think about it. Maybe I won’t ever stop feeling alienated, like Jacob and Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) who speak of being strangers on the earth. Maybe I need to learn to keep finding the voice of God in my alienation.

    Tatiana, thanks. I always enjoy reading what you have to say. When I make up my imaginary Bloggernacle ward, you’re always someone I imagine sitting in the next pew over. (I recently did this with Lynnette. We decided, I think, that either Wilfred or Jim F. should be the bishop, and I think annegb was RS president. The entire blog of Faith-Promoting Rumor, recently combined with Urban Mormonism, was going to be the Sunday school curriculum committee. They would design and teach all classes. I can’t remember where went after that, but Lynnette did nominate me for ward ranter. I told her I’d have stiff competition from the likes of DKL.)

    Kaimi, I am laughing so hard tears are pouring down my cheeks. I’m fighting the temptation to print out your version, take it to church tomorrow, march up to the pulpit during testimony meeting, and read it aloud to the startled congregants.

    I really liked your post at T&S about finding unexpected peace after a difficult time. Nice to know I’m not alone in this. Thanks for linking to it.

  12. 12.

    I really identify with this post. I’ve been having such a hard time with church lately because I feel like I’m just not a part of that little world that has been artificially constructed around “church”. I feel guilty that finances, self-esteem, and severe depression are making our family struggle spiritually, and then I get angry for feeling guilty about that. I get angry that I can’t go to church without feeling resentful of everyone using fast and testimony meeting to tell about the wonderful new house, new car, new baby, new job, that everyone has, and then can’t understand why I don’t have time to come to Enrichment and sit around and listen to more of that, because I’m working two jobs.

    *sigh*

  13. 13.

    Thanks for this Eve. My choice to stay or go fluctuates often, and the times when I feel in ‘crisis’ are emotionally and physically draining. I love the times when I can feel peace. I wish that for all, whose struggles I can so readily indentify with.

    Thanks again.

  14. 14.

    beautifully written. I wish you well in your journey. I find your comments about preferring to attend sacrament meeting in the foyer quite telling. It’s as if you are agreeing to go, physically and mentally, on the loosest of standards. There’s something other than what’s inside the “chapel” that’s keeping you in the “building”.

  15. 15.

    There was just a sense of not being alone in my aloneness, as if some divine, compassionate hand had brushed the tears from my cheek. There were no answers. Only grace.

    Yes. I know that feeling well–although you articulated it better in this post than I ever have.

    I wish I lived close to you so we could chat in person, Eve. You are clearly remarkable.

  16. 16.

    Needless Thinker, your situation sounds really hard–much harder than mine, quite frankly. I find that Church can be especially tough when I feel so depleted of the very things in which others seem so abundant, so rich. Two jobs, financial problems, depression–ugh. You have my deepest sympathy.

    Rebecca–thanks. I’m glad to know that others struggle through these crises as well.

    Dando, I appreciate your observations about the foyer and the chapel. It is deeply significant, I’m afraid, and I’ve been thinking again lately about what it means that I am such a determinedly foyer Mormon. It says some things about me that I’m not very proud of.

    Janet, you’re so kind, as always. I don’t think I’m particularly remarkable–but I’d very much like to chat with you in person someday!

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