[Originally posted here.]
I don’t apologize for being me. I don’t apologize for my weight, my fashion sense, my politics, or my culinary tastes. And although I am not comfortable with a lot of my past, I don’t feel a need to apologize for most of the road that has led me where I am today. After all, most of it wasn’t my choice. But lately I find I am embarrassed by my spiritual past. And I am embarrassed about being embarrassed.
Maybe hindsight is 20/20 but I look back on some of my choices and they look really stupid now. Did I really think I would find spiritual fulfillment in witchcraft? As much as I find to admire in the Pagan movement, I am fundamentally at odds with most of that culture, practice, and theology. I beat my head against a wall for 15 years, and tried so hard to find a place I belonged in that set of communities that I left a palpable mark on them. The virtues I seek are not ones the Pagan community champions, and sometimes are entirely at odds with them.
I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately. I am not a very forgiving person. My past has left me a little bitter, and it is difficult to forgive the unrepentant. I read Scripture extolling the power of love and as much as I think I understand it, I am reminded that forgiveness is part of love. What shape should forgiveness take? Can you forgive someone but still exile them from your life? Can you forgive someone who behaves maliciously? Can you forgive others without also forgiving yourself?
I am embarrassed by my Pagan past, even though I understand it was full of as much love and joy and understanding as most things in life. I think maybe my embarrassment isn’t so much to do with those religions and the culture sprung up around them, but in my own flailing in incompatible waters for years.
I lost a lot when I converted to Paganism in 1999, and as I make way back to Christ I am once again aware of loss. Some things aren’t so bad. Losing festival or Pagan ritual is no hardship for me. I miss the people, but not that context of interaction. Yet, we do know people in particular contexts, and friendship doesn’t always survive outside the box you found it in. I am losing people. That hurts, and it is embarrassing. You don’t ask someone if they stopped calling, texting, or hanging out just because you started singing hymns on Sunday mornings. I like to think I am the same person I was before, and that others are somehow shallow for not seeing that. The truth is, I am the one who broke the social contract when I began the conversion process again.
Maybe part of the embarrassment comes from being unable to express the journey. I find it hard to write about, and worry about being unkind. I’m not anti-Pagan. I’m not anti-anyone, but I am making a judgement call in my own life. I am deciding one thing doesn’t have what I need. I am rejecting Paganism. That knowledge causes me pain, and I know it has to cause pain for my friends. Looking back, this has been a long time coming, and should have been no surprise to me or anyone else.
There is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube. My spiritual past cannot be changed or hidden. It is irreversibly public record, warts and all. It embarrasses me, and that embarrassment disturbs me. I want to claim all of my past and gather it into myself with compassion and forgiveness and acceptance. This is my life. But as much as I like to think that I am constant despite my faith, the truth is Christianity is changing me as surely as Paganism changed me. Moving from one to the other isn’t entirely comfortable. I look at my past and wince. I look at my future and worry. I want to change into someone more loving, more forgiving, and more vulnerable, but, as much as I am at peace in my current faith, I have no guarantee that I won’t be embarrassed again looking back on these months.
Maybe no all who wander are lost, but those who wander do often appear foolish in their aimless ramblings.
Here is the Scripture I have found comforting and challenging this week:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love – 1 Corinthians 13