Deep Water, New Waves: A Plea for Practicing Faith Honestly
Pardon me - I’ve been gone for a little while. While I was wandering – In a dream God came to me as a whale bursting through deep water.
Last year - I came out of a chaplaincy year that wrecked my idea of what I thought I wanted for my ministry.
But what do they say – make plans and God laughs.
God laughs and I get whiplash.
If you know me – you might know you can’t touch my neck.
Don’t come near me with that turtleneck bullshit.
It’s a tricky mix of ticklishness and trauma that makes the front of my neck a no – go.
The idea of the collar – ministry’s ultimate fashion accessory - seems a little too close, too tight.
As a chaplain – I got to walk with some amazing people and families. I was there for the worst days of people’s lives and then again on the day after.
I was honored to see and share in moments that opened me to the very core of life.
But I also felt the pressure to be sweet, to give someone a prayer book and a blessing and think that was it, to tell them that everything was going to be alright, to smile pretty and go on my merry way, to somehow mention the 23rd Psalm.
I got used to the Disney eyes of people thinking my ministry was cute, the demands for prayers that strong armed God and the pleas that I keep my faith dull and muted and preferably over there in the corner.
Many nights when I would take off my itchy slacks – I felt like I was shedding a costume.
The longer the year went on – the harder it was to remember what parts of me were me and what parts were the role I was playing.
I was starting to believe all my white lies.
I have swum in too many formal and informal covens, gaggles, circles, and safe spaces that are
thick with the terror and shrapnel of living,
AND excited by the plot twists and secret passageways of our journeys
AND enthralled by the simple beauty of a kiss or a new life
to mess with the shallows of a thin faith.
Yet I forgot somehow and woke up thirsty.
My mother was the one who taught me to pray. Every night we would draw a giant
bubble around all the people and things we loved. We’d start with us and our house and move out – to the neighborhood, to the animals (especially dolphins) – drawing big bubbles of love with our fingers around them. This went on until after we had finally gotten to all the children in the world and then the world itself.
Prayer was for pajamas first and church clothes later.
This was the best gift I have ever been given. Snuggled next to my mother’s chest, wrapped in her arms – making fake bubbles to send out real love and cast out fear and to know that this was prayer.
My mother speaks about God unashamedly. It was not always kind. It was always honest.
I went to church where women preached regularly or were pastors.
But even here – there was a whispering.
A performativity of niceness – a tap dance of respectability.
We didn’t talk about the rapes that happened at parties.
We didn’t talk about eating disorders.
We didn’t talk about the prescriptions.
The realities of girlhood. We hid those for our therapists.
When I worked with the brave women that I wanted to be:
The rape crisis workers, the activists
The women who talked about everything.
laughed about everything
women who wore their hard earned power with pride.
I learned that
there we whispered about God.
There is a place between.
A realm of naked presence.
The grace of deep water.
The dark, fearful and tragic mixed with the joy, exploration and surrender that comes with learning how to breathe under water.
A grace that demands the bravery it provides.
Now, women are not especially equipped with this – but many of us have found it. Taking solace in the spaces that we have created out of
and wanting more.
Representation is not enough. Women in the pulpit is a step but it is not the end of the road.
We have to take women’s and girl’s wisdom and weariness seriously.
We have to let women lead from their experiences and their dreams.
We have to let their leadership be vibrant and buzzing with integrity.
This third wave – this deep wave:
Our sermons are about sex
About inexplicable loss
They gently approach ambiguity and anxiety.
Our prayers know panic.
They speak back to internalized oppressions.
They Hallelujah birth control and lament miscarriage.
They can balance ambition and anxiety.
They speak to suicide and autonomy.
They hold desire and addictions.
They cry for justice and challenge.
Our rituals crave tenderness.
They are poetry and pop.
They laugh at themselves. Loudly.
They aren’t afraid to talk about money or systems.
Well. They may be afraid – but they admit it.
The church is changing – faith is changing – we don’t need women to play old and tired roles.
Those costumes don’t fit anymore. The collars are too tight.
I’m not here to perform faith leader. I only want to practice it.
In this last year – I took it all off – the names, the titles, the words about God that I said because they were the easiest to swallow.
I’ve been healing and walking and eating and exploring.
I’m coming back to the kid who isn’t afraid to pray by painting bubbles, by snuggling close, by letting myself hold and be held.
But you will know my faith not from my collar
You will know my faith from my fins
That dive me deep and let myself be…well me.
This girl/woman/human/weirdo – where I first encountered the warmth of God is ultimately the same person who is supposed to talk about God and Her saving/surviving/surprising grace.
I am ticklish and traumatized.
I am distracted and devoted.
I am bawdy and beloved.
I am fearful and faithful.
My desire for God betrays and wrecks me – and this is my gift.
All of me - wrecked and ready - for all that is.
Rachel Kinney received her M.DIV from Vanderbilt Divinity School and currently serves as the Executive Director of Better Decisions - a non-profit working with women in prison. She lives in Nashville, TN and is not so secretly a lioness.