I have always been a seeker. My therapist called me this once and I swear it was better than any other strategy she used. I immediately felt better. I don't know why it sometimes takes an outside perspective to notice, but it made me realize that being a seeker is my most defining characteristic. Even when I was kid, I followed my mom around asking, "Why?" I assume that seems cute to her now, but I can't imagine having to answer a five-year-old-meaning-fiend who is demanding to know the reason for life. (I do actually remember asking about that very subject after seeing a commercial for The Church of Latter Day Saints. I had questions that needed answers.) Being a seeker has gotten me into trouble over the years. Chasing after the whole story has meant large batches of frustration when I haven't caught it. It's forced me to push for answers when there weren't any. It's put pressure on me to know where I'm going and how I will get there and at what cost. It has made me uneasy at following bad directions and it always takes a bit of coercion for me to loosen up. But on my good days, it also gives me hope. A lot of hope.
This is the first year I haven't really been sure of my Christmas tradition. I was raised Methodist and would have said in the past that I was Christian. My family (both biological and legal) celebrate in that tradition. But I went through a crisis of faith last year. Things were falling apart around me. I was depressed. After only three years of marriage, Husband and I were on shaky ground. We were both in incredible amounts of pain. My guarantees were stripped away. My normal trappings of denial and defensiveness crumbled as I waited to see if my life was going to shift forever. In other words, everything I had taken for granted was disintegrating before my eyes.
So as the borders around my thought castles fell brick by brick, my religious tradition and even my idea of one true religion in general dissembled. I didn't know what I believed. I didn't want to call myself an Atheist because things like sunsets and baby laughs and forgiveness always made me feel a benevolent presence. Agnostic sounded too wishy-washy; I was still on the hunt to find out. And I didn't want to simply trade one religion for another. My problem wasn't necessarily with the fact that there might be a bigger meaning to the universe, but rather with any institution capitalizing on our need to seek that meaning. As I got shaken up last year, I found those institutions to be too reductive. How could just one be right? And why did we see everything in black and white, right and wrong, when everything in life points to its incalculable vastness?
Last year's radical perspective shift caused me to repurpose the leftover parts of myself. For all the damage, there was also a lot of emerging good. And two of those emerging good parts, my joyfulness and my seeking, commingled into a different kind of spirituality for me. When Husband and I made it through the madness, there was so much joy. I found that I had been seeking the wrong things. I had been out for answers when I needed to be out for trust and compassion and forgiveness and delight. I found so much joy in those things and the good news was that those things extended past buildings and traditions. I found them everywhere.
Trust, compassion, forgiveness, and delight connect us to each other and to this world. In all our brokenness, those things connect us. In all our tragedies, those things heal us. In all our mistakes, those things make us whole.
That joy came from one shift: letting go of my need to know the Final Answer and being comfortable with uncertainty.
When it all fell apart, I was forced to let go of absolutes. As Leonard Cohen wrote, "There is a crack in everything - that's how the light gets in." Certainty sealed the cracks for me and stopped me from catching a whiff of the unknown. And when the unknown is sealed away, life plods. We get stuck. We forget the essence of things. The moment my life opened up again was the moment I allowed myself to say, "I don't know."
I don't know if I'll celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense this year, but I know that letting go of tradition has let a lot in. The emerging good has been overwhelming and soul-warming more than a few times. I let go of absolute understanding. I let the mystery lead me where it would. I found joy gets into the bloodstream that way.
So instead of intensely hunting for the answer of answers, I joyfully seek the emerging good: trust, compassion, forgiveness, and delight. And if my instincts are right and there is an ultimate benevolent source either in the great beyond or up close in our own hearts, I can't think of anything more pleasing to It than that.