In the last days of pregnancy with Moses, my blood pressure starting rising, which meant I was no longer allowed to have my baby in the birth centre. Arriving at the hospital in the final stages of labour, I was therefore ushered into a small examination room to wait for a birthing room (we later found out that one was being used by a doctor trying to get some sleep). In between intense contractions a cannula was inserted into and taped onto my hand, in case everything suddenly went pear-shaped. My body was telling me to push my baby out; my midwife was telling me to wait. She wanted to check that I actually was ready (and she was the expert on birth, after all; I’d never done it before), and she couldn’t do that until we were set up in the right room. Finally on the proper bed in the proper room, my midwife gave me the go-ahead; I knelt on the floor, and Moses was born soon afterwards.
Sarah, Sonia and I have been talking about faith recently on Ms Sundays, and this interval in my labour came to mind as I pondered the distinction between what’s happened with faith and what’s happened with church for me over the last couple of years. I’ve been treating them as though they’re all wrapped up together, but actually they’re two separate things. For many years I’ve had questions and doubts about the theology I’ve grown up with, as evidenced by various blog posts processing things I felt I needed to either let go of, or make more sense of, such as my church’s teaching on women and the doctrine of God’s providence. Throughout this journey, my shifting views have worried me only as much as they’ve worried the church I was in at each stage. Reading back over my blog now I can see how desperately I wanted to be able to embrace my increasingly-greying views while still remaining part of very black-and-white churches; I loved those people, and I wanted so much to belong among them. When we left our church at the end of 2013, I assumed my faith had undergone a massive shift, but I see now that my discoveries that year were no bigger than the ones that had reshaped my faith in the years leading up to that point.
And since that time I’ve assumed that I’ve been grieving some kind of fundamental change in how I understand God, but I think now that I’ve actually been grieving my break up with a much-loved church/denomination. And though I know that it was the right decision to call it off, it hurt – still hurts! – and there have been many moments I’ve wished I could go back to pretending we were a good match just for one more snuggle and the possibility of hearing it say, “We respect you!” and “Maybe we could make it work!” (this would never happen, but a girl can daydream). It makes sense now that starting to date a different denomination soon after we moved was too painful and didn’t work out; I wasn’t yet ready to move on.
So. A church shift, rather than a faith shift, caused the disruption. I see now that it was only my social identity feeling loss and confusion; my spirit remains hale and hearty. And my faith’s evolution has only been uncomfortable and scary because I was always in churches where I was told that my questions and doubts were to be feared, where the leaders prepared for the worst and told me, “Hold it back! Stop pushing! This isn’t the right place for that!” and I trusted them rather than my gut. I lived in the interval for too long, naively believing that my church would change, and that I had the patience to wait until she was ready to join me on my journey. Turns out I couldn't wait, and she was never really interested in coming along anyway. And now I’m free. My faith can continue to morph, just as it’s always been doing, and from these pangs something beautiful and new can be born.