It was about 8:30pm on a Friday night.
The wooden stage at the front of the church hall was lined with white votive candles. Beneath the candles, hanging over the edge of the stage, was a white sheet, with red hibiscus flowers sewn into the fabric.
Glare from the parking lot lights was coming through a few windows. Otherwise, the room was dark.
From the two black speakers on either end of the stage, a hymn was playing loudly. Something about the Holy Spirit coming down to Earth.
100 feet away from the stage were the rows of plastic chairs where I was sitting. I was 12 years old.
I was watching the younger kids play tag, thinking how this youth conference thing was so lame, when it happened.
Out of sheer boredom, I trailed my eyes across the rows of shadows in the folds of the black curtain hanging at the back of the stage. It wasn’t anything special – just a regular stage curtain.
I’ve never been able to find words to describe it – everything I’ve tried seems insufficient. This is the best I’ve got for now:
I was bathed in grief and immense joy, simultaneously. I could see everything all at once, and it brought me despair and a shocking fullness of gratitude.
It was my first and most profound embodied experience of the Divine.
But that’s not actually the reason I’m telling you all this. I’m writing this because I want to tell you about what happened next.
At this point, I’d started wailing. The friends who were sitting on either side of me slowly got up and…
They walked away.
No one touched me. No one spoke to me. My friends took one look at (and listen to) me and promptly departed.
Then my two favorite nuns and one of the especially gungho Sunday School teachers came over. They removed all the chairs closeby and stood around me in a circle, rubbing my back and shoulders.
I remember them saying things like, “Hush, darling. Hush.” and “Alright now. Settle down. Take a deep breath.”
Our polite Catholic masses did not include those kinds of sobbing states of disarray. The kids and most of the adults had probably never seen anyone (other than a tantrumming toddler) behave like this – and certainly not within a religious context. They were freaked out. I get it.
And yet, for all the compassion I feel for their various reactions, I am not going to side step the reality of that night:
I was isolated. My voice was shushed. My trembling body was barricaded from view, until my parents arrived to take me home.
The message was loud and clear: the fullness of my holy moment was “too much”.
No one asked me what I was feeling, or what prompted the tears. No one asked me anything. In fact, no one ever talked about it with me. Ever.
When they saw me at church 2 days later, everything appeared to be exactly the same as it had been the Sunday before. It was as if my wail-a-thon at the youth conference had never happened.
THIS is why I write on this site and interview people on The Sacred Podcast.
I do it for the people who are sick and tired of being told that the way they experience their Higher Self, the Divine, God (whatever you wanna call it) is too noisy, too quiet, too feminine, too woo-woo, too anything. I am one of those people.
I do it for the girls who were never told that God isn’t a boy. God is them.
Instead of repeatedly criticizing and complaining about how our childhood upbringings did it wrong, I want to help forge a new way forward. I want to add to the momentum that’s creating a new definition of spirituality and a greater openness and love for all the different ways we will each express it.
Instead of looking backwards and sobbing in regret, I want to look forward, knowing this:
You do not have to earn the spiritual connection you crave.
You are worthy of it NOW.