I don't know how to believe, anymore.
Growing up in the church, it never occurred to me that I could do anything other than believe, that there was any choice other than religion. As I got older, I threw myself into Anglicanism and, at the same time, into my own versions of paganism and the undefinable mystical which was so much a part of my bipolar disorder. I believed; I believed in everything, from ghosts to reincarnation to sacred callings and the crucifixion. It all made sense to me - my mania was like having a direct line to God, and I never doubted for one moment that He/She/They were there, listening.
As I have gotten older, I've realized that it isn't that easy.
First - my disorder is well-managed at this point, and consequently mania is unattainable, for better or for worse. That deep connection I had with faith, with the divine, is harder to reach - chemicals and habits and processes in my brain have changed, and I am not the same person I once was.
Second - growing up means looking at yourself in a new way, and sometimes you find flaws under the surface of memories and perception. What I remembered of church started to degrade; it held less meaning as I thought about all of the ways in which the church failed me. I felt as if that religion I clung to as a child, the rules and liturgy and fancy clothes, was suddenly a mockery of faith, an excuse to make lies, the trappings of an entrenched and deeply misguided denomination concerned with appearances rather than ministry.
And experiences in my own life pushed me more and more into that dismay, that disappointment. When I went to college and was diagnosed I had, maybe still have, an immediate and unsettling feeling of being abandoned by God. My Grandpere's illness and death, unavoidable and just plain sad, was another facet in my already faltering faith. I had the questions we all have: how could a just, loving God do this? Why me, why us? Why can't you, the eternal creator and caretaker of the universe, fix this? Fix me? Fix the people I love?
These are questions I still have. Marking my life in measures of mental health, frequently feeling abnormal or broken, missing my Grandpere - that is my context. This is how I approach God.
Third, and most on my mind of late - other people who call themselves Christian, who live by hatred and bigotry and stubborn, deliberate, myopic misreading of ancient words, make me want to deny my religion. I don't want to be like that, like those people who use snippets of text to justify their fear and unChrist-like behavior; I don't want anyone to call me Christian when these people have hijacked the name as a banner for what is, to me, truly sinful speech and action.
These are the people who deny love - what my mother taught me was God's greatest gift.
These are the people who deny Christ's sacrifice - taking away the power of what humanity can do when faced with the worst of circumstances, with the ultimate price, with the "greater love hath no man."
These are the people who deny women's rights - they hide behind the word, life, a beautiful word, misused to subjugate women and children in a world without choices.
These are the people who protest funerals.
These are the people who throw bricks at clinics.
These are the people who disgust me, and who shame me into forgoing the faith of my childhood in favor of an amorphous atheism which feels empty, but mercifully without that hatred used in Christ's name.
I don't know how to believe. I don't know how to reconcile that part of me which finds beauty in the divinity of creation - that part of me which still needs God - with the part of me which feels abandoned, dismayed, shamed, disgusted. Some days I have faith; some days, reading the news, adjusting my life to fit into a slot of normality, missing my grandfather, I do not.
Sometimes I think, very clearly, that I do not believe in God.
I still pray. I pray at night when I need guidance. I pray when I am grateful for simple things, like beautiful weather and blossoming trees.
And, every once in a while, I pray to a God I'm not sure is there to prove to me that He is.
I want my faith back. But right now - do not call me a Christian.
I'm going to keep looking for the God I once knew. But I don't think He lives in religion.
I'm hoping He lives in me.