I've known Amber for a couple years now. We first met when we were both still attached in one way or another to Christianity - me as So I Married a Youth Pastor, she as Beautiful Rubbish. I believe it was through the weekly link up, Five Minute Friday, where we met. Incidentally, if you want to connect with a community of Christian (mostly women) writers, FMF is a great place to start.
Although Amber and I had been emailing and commenting on each other's writing for some time, even voxing almost daily, our first face-to-face meeting was approached with hesitation. The truth is the thought of meeting face-to-face and tarnishing what we had - a completely safe, virtual relationship - to possibly create unrealistic expectations of our friendship, worried us. We were guarded, but we also really wanted to try. Meeting face-to-face proved a worthwhile venture as we revealed to each other our personal desires to detach from Christianity.
When you're intentionally removing yourself from a religion - or denomination - you've always known, wounds can surface that you didn't even recognize were there. It's like when you find blood somewhere on your body indicating you've scratched or poked or gouged or scraped your skin, but you didn't even notice. When you see the blood and begin to attend the wound, you experience the pain. It hurts. As Amber and I talked about leaving religion and seeking God outside of Christianity, we were equally relieved to find a safe, non-judgmental space with each other to share the truth of our wounds, and do so without the need to create elaborate filters or lengthy explanations. We gave each other room to vent and process and consider then re-consider. Being able to talk to someone about how you really feel and what you really believe about spirituality and religion is like seeing the daylight above you after choking on ocean water in the darkness. You finally surface, pulling in the deepest of breaths. You're reminded you're alive, and changing your mind - choosing your own path - isn't going to kill you.
Amber is a beautiful soul and a talented craftswoman of metaphors and word pictures. She's actually shared here before, anonymously, and unveiled her identity on her site as a brave admission. She is an animal lover, pet mother, and inspiring woman. She currently blogs at Kiss the Earth.
Responses by Amber Cadenas
What do you believe and why?
I find it much easier these days to define what I don't believe than what I do. Maybe because my own discovery process has been more of an unfolding revelation of how many of my experiences and indoctrination within Christianity have traumatized me. So, in stating what I don't believe, it is almost a reflexive response to the beliefs and culture that trigger pain for me. I'm more clear on what those beliefs are. What I'm not so clear on - yet - is what I choose to believe. I've known for years what beliefs I inherited (and genuinely thought I believed to be mine and mine alone). I'm just at the beginning of knowing what beliefs I choose to make my own.
But this is the beginning of a formation of new belief. I believe in God, who assumes many forms and is known by many names, yet can be found everywhere. I believe the Christian narrative, like any religious narrative, is too small to contain or fully explain this God; that we, as humans, must come to the table of religious conversation with a great deal of humility in our beliefs, with openness to hear and learn from each others' journeys without forcing the other to fit within our paradigm of God. I believe in seeking truth, in the wisdom and power of questions, in a faith that evolves, in the limitations of religion, in a God that transcends, in a God that seeks, in a God that loves to be found.
I believe I will never "arrive" as long as I live.
How did you discover your beliefs?
Like I said, the process of discovery has been closely bound with the process of healing from trauma. Through weekly counseling sessions and hours spent reading, writing, walking, praying, crying, questioning on my own outside of counseling. It began, in some ways, with my decision to leave church. And then, even harder, to leave Christianity. In leaving either, I've never left God. But I needed to distance myself from all the voices that for so many years have influenced what I believed and why, to degrees I wasn't aware, so I could know my own voice. I needed to know what really belonged to me, authentically, because I chose it. Not because this is what I grew up hearing and was afraid to question it. The process has involved hard conversations with friends, resulting in the loss of relationships. And ultimately, the process has been deeply liberating, because what beliefs and relationships remain intact throughout the losses I now know to be real.
How do you interact with your beliefs?
One of the biggest things I've been learning with regards to belief is the power of giving myself permission. Permission to feel. Permission to question. Permission to not know. Permission to use whatever language I need. Permission to be skeptical. Permission to let go. Permission to disagree. Permission to not please people. Permission to explore. Permission to be curious. Permission to choose. Permission to love myself for the first time ever. Permission to get to know God from scratch.
So how do I interact with my beliefs? I press into uncomfortable places until I find what I need to find, learn what I need to learn, see what I need to see - for as long as it takes to come to a place of peace within the tension. I do this best within the context of nature. Being out among the trees, the water, the woods, is where I feel most alive and most in tune with the spirit of God. It's where I find comfort in being small. And I interact with my beliefs in my practice of yoga, in my care of animals, in my art, in conversations with people in my life, in all the ways I daily show up with my whole self and live from that place of courage and authenticity. It's costly being real.
What do you do when you doubt your beliefs?
I'm not afraid of doubt, nor am I of the mindset that doubt is the nemesis of faith. I think my old reaction to doubt was fear, so I never allowed myself to sit with doubt or stare it in the face, and subsequently, I never learned why it was there. When doubt comes around now, I invite it in and find out if there's something it needs to tell me. As it often turns out, doubt may end up reinforcing and shaping my faith.
That said, I still experience self-doubt a lot more than I'd appreciate. And when that type of doubt shows up, I try to speak it aloud to myself, my counselor, or a trusted friend. I question it back. Because hearing it spoken out loud often makes it feel less powerful. And as I talk it out, I find my way back to solid ground.
To read more My Discovery Process submissions, you can find them here.