Image credit: 'hold my hand' by fromcollettewithlove, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.
I was thirteen the first time a boy asked me to go steady.
He was a fellow ninth-grader in my church's youth group, but we went to different schools, so our "dating" relationship consisted of sitting next to each other when we would see each other at church a couple of times a week and holding hands.
In a world where the not-so-cool kids like me were outsiders to be routinely picked on or ignored, someone publicly choosing me and be willing to be seen holding my hand by other kids was a very, very big deal.
My mom and step-dad were considerably less enthused. I remember getting interrogated repeatedly about the exact meaning of what "going steady" meant to me. They wanted me to be able to define precisely (and to their satisfaction) what it meant, how long it would last, what it meant to the young man in question, and what it might develop into.
I was much less interested in defining the parameters of the relationship than I was in the simple experience of having someone hold my hand.
This meant that I was never able to answer any of their questions—at least not in any way that satisfied them. I knew it wasn't a romance of a lifetime, and I was too young and inexperienced to be able to define it as any more than that we thought each other special enough to hold the other's hand in public ... and that neither of us would be holding anyone else's hand while we were still going steady.
That seemed straightforward enough to me, but it didn't satisfy them. As their questioning and attempts to deconstruct my relationship with this young man continued, it slowly ripped apart what had once been a special moment in my life that had made me feel valued by at least one person and left it (and me) in shards of not-enoughness on the ground.
My inability to adequately define it felt to me like a betrayal of this young man and my relationship with him, and that left me ashamed.
It was a short-lived romance.
I'm reminded sometimes of that experience in my spiritual life.
We tend to place a high premium on determining the validity of someone's relationship with God by how well they can define it and whether their definition meets our own satisfactorily. There was a time when I could supply all the "right" answers, ones that satisfied the important people in my life and that placed me securely in a religious tradition.
It was a very safe and very sterile place to be, and I never could stay there. I wanted something more than a God small enough for me to be able to fully define and categorize and tuck into a neatly shaped box.
I wanted to experience the reality of the Divine wherever it appeared. I wanted to come face to face with what is really Real and True and More than I can comprehend, so I set off out of the safe confines of the carefully defined God I'd been taught to find what I longed for.
In the process of discovering this More, I've lost the words to define it. This More is bigger and more beautiful than my ability to understand or explain and yet somehow more simple at heart than any word can adequately capture.
Once again, I find myself unable to adequately define and describe and articulate the boundaries of this relationship. This time it's not because it's as small as hand holding (which didn't make sense to people with sex on their minds), but rather because it's too big and glorious and wild and passionate and mysterious to fit into language.
Once again, in those moments I find myself arguing for its validity and worth, it cheapens that which is immeasurably precious and life-giving into shards of not-enoughness left lying on the ground. I am once again thirteen and ashamed at my inability to explain to parents who saw me as bad to the core how someone could possibly think I was special enough to want to hold my hand.
How can I claim to have a relationship with a Divine that I can't define? How can it be a meaningful relationship to me if I can't describe this Divine in ways that meet other people's demands? It leaves me ashamed and doubting my own experience. And that is not helpful.
This is why I'd rather read the memoirs of adventurers who went seeking Divine in their own lives than a book of theology. It's why I prefer to speak of the Divine than use the word God, which comes with so much baggage of preconceived meanings. It's why I'm more interested in finding practices that help me stay attentive to the Divine presence that surrounds me every moment than I am in maintaining allegiance to orthodox creeds or fundamentals.
It's why I'm not even interested in the debate.
I want More. And I'd rather experience that More than understand it. For me, that means laying down any obligation to define this More and my relationship with it to myself or to any other.
Laying down that burden gives me more energy for the adventure of seeking the More where it will be found.
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