coming out of the closet

| February 15, 2018

I’ve wrestled with this for years, but the time has finally come. I need to tell the truth about who I am and what I believe.

So here goes. I’m a Christian.

There. I’ve confessed. Now that I’m out of the closet, let me tell you more.

Many people have negative associations with Christianity. You probably know this. So I’ve avoided writing about Christianity because I want everyone to be able to resonate with what I write.

Also, my history with my mother faith is complicated.

 

Somewhere in my mid-20s, my faith adventure became more of a launching site than a landing pad. Since most people assume that Christianity means claiming Jesus’ importance above the importance of any other spiritual leader, it’s been hard for me to say I’m Christian. (Let me make a note here: I do believe in the Spirit of Christ as the preeminent power in the cosmos. Jesus and Christ are not synonymous.)

I have occasionally used the word God (the G-word, as I sometimes think of it) in this blog, but that doesn’t necessarily imply devout Christianity. But I’d call myself devout. My most sincere intention is to come into resonance with the power of Christ in this world.

A dear friend wrote to me recently,  “I’m not sure where you are with God, but I believe that He is near and loves you…”

I thought to myself, I don’t know where I am with God either, but I totally agree that S/he is near and loves me! I mean, who is God? I don’t expect to ever understand. Jewish tradition commonly uses Hashem, which literally means the Name, to name the divine mystery. Saying Hashem is like waiting to name a baby until you’ve gotten her home and hung out with her for a while. Only God doesn’t ever fully reveal him/herself to us.

In Jewish tradition, God’s true name is only spoken by the high priest once a year, on Yom Kippur. To me, the divine being is like that: someone/thing to be approached with awe and delight, with fear and trembling.

Thus these days, like many folks, I equate the word God with spirituality in general. You often hear people say, “I’m not religious. I’m spiritual.” This is an appealing sentiment, and I used it myself for years. For some reason, though, thinking of myself as spiritual is of limited value.

Over the past few years I’ve come to feel that claiming spirituality without religion is like saying you like vanilla ice cream best. Don’t get me wrong: I love vanilla ice cream, but I almost always want it with something: a companion ice cream flavor, or toppings, or-best of all-a hot brownie.

When someone tells me he’s spiritual but not religious, I want to know: do you just like vanilla ice cream? Or is there something more? Are you a secular Jew? Does Buddhism fascinate you? Do you appreciate the Quakers? Do you love Sufism? What about Hinduism or the Baha’i faith, Rastafarianism or Native American spirituality?

In my case, I could answer yes to basically all of those questions. I may not be Jewish, but on a secular level I love Judaism. My friend Jade and I can talk about her Buddhist beliefs for hours at a time. I attended Quaker meeting for a while: it’s where I first began to encounter the stillness at the center of worship. Rumi’s heart-scorching, soul-soothing poetry grounds me in Sufism. I once dated a wholehearted Krishna devotee. Laura, a dear longtime friend, grew up Baha’i. One of my best-ever chaplain conversations was with a Rastafarian. I turn to the wisdom of Native American storytelling to make sense of my own life story.

So I’m someone who likes a lot of toppings on my ice cream. But there is a belief system running deeply through me that I won’t ever shake. Christianity is my lineage and I come back to it no matter how far I roam. It’s like the hot brownie under the ice cream. It’s my foundation.

So let’s just say that I’m spiritual and I’m religious.

Lent is the time of year when I feel most attuned to Christian matters. This year, I aspire to write several blog posts about what Jesus means to me and what Christ means to me (keep in mind that Jesus and Christ are not synonymous).

So yes, it’s high time I came out of the closet. I’m a Christian.

 

Category: beauty, journey

About the Author ()

Hannah Lynn Mell grew up a missionary kid in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Now she lives in Rowley, Massachusetts with her exquisitely kind husband David, their plucky three-legged cat Thomas, and a needy-yet-lovable dachshund named Birdie. She's worked with singers since 1998 and loves to help people of all ages free their voices.

Comments (6)

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  1. Great post Hannah. I could easily say many of the same things myself.

    Of course the reason many are ambivalent about stating that “I am a ________” is sadly, way more often than not, the answer to that fill in the blank is used to Separate rather than Join. Sometimes the damage done by an intolerant religious foundation is so great that it cuts people off from even wanting any of it. That is the most tragic result of all, and I know quite a few that fit in that category. Luckily I didn’t have such a negative experience growing up, but in my adult life I needed more than what it could give me alone. So, not rejected so much as part of something larger.

    Jesus, The Buddha, and so many other visionary beings saw through and past boundaries and definitions. It was their central and most radical message! There is no “you, me or the other.” No God up “there, or out there,” or anything apart from continuous One. There is only the All. Yet… from the moment they ascended, their messages were used to do just the opposite. Make boundaries even higher, to further separate and attack that All in their names. Obviously our world has a long, long way to go before we accept our ultimate Reality.

    It’s also why all religions have their mystics; those who see beyond, who need to know the All regardless of whatever names they use. Maybe some of us fit more into that tradition? Which is of course why they usually end up being outcast, or set off up on a pedestal where they can be safely viewed at a distance by those who want things to remain as they always have been. Whether the Sufis or Hildegard Von Bingen, they are venerated sure, but as much feared as well.

  2. Catherine says:

    Hannah, one of the things I love about this post is that it’s something I’ve been wrestling with without even knowing it myself. I am almost afraid to write about the things I care most deeply about for fear of alienating, and like you say, I want my writing to be open to all. But being dishonest about who I am is the surest way to alienate ALL, not just those who have different views.

    Thank you, also, for admitting you don’t have all the answers. I think this is where we can all meet each other, really. At least, that’s what I’m most interested in reading.

    • Catherine, thank you so much for sharing your heart! It’s hard to be fully honest about our deepest struggles, isn’t it? I’m working on finding safe spaces to open myself up to challenge and debate…and this is one of those places! I’m pretty sure that the only people reading are people who care about me. 🙂

  3. Mama says:

    Hannah, I was happy to read this ‘coming out’ entry last month! I’m sorry its taken me so long to say so. I guess I didn’t have any spontaneous comment at the time.
    Are you going to explain more about why you feel that “Jesus & Christ are not synonymous”? My understanding from reading the Bible is that Jesus is the Christ…. meaning, the promised One who was to come to the Jewish people; Messiah.
    M
    Hopefully we can FaceTime soon. I miss seeing you.
    with much affection and admiration,
    your Mama

  4. Thanks, Mama! YES, I’d love to write about the terms Jesus and Christ. A lot of my understanding of that idea came from reading Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault. Stay tuned…