Atheistic Conversations with God

I am an atheist. I was born and raised Catholic (mostly in paperwork only), but turned away from religion in high school and never turned back. Eventually I decided that the form of spirituality I believe in is universal energy – energy that swirls all around us, to which we contribute either positively or negatively with the energy we exude.

And then last week I had conversations with God.

I was driving on a snow-covered road in Iceland, absolutely terrified I was going to die. I was sleep deprived, the weather was terrible, the rental car was tiny, the landscape was unidentifiable, the winds were bullying and the road was almost impassable. I had been gripping the wheel so tightly for hours that my wrist was seizing up. And that’s when I started talking to God.

I didn’t try bargaining for my safety – I wasn’t going to be one of those people. I was very open and upfront. I told him (“him” because for me, God is a male energy) that I wasn’t even sure I believed he existed, but I could acknowledge that I didn’t actually know. (I suppose that makes me more agnostic than atheist.)

I told him I didn’t want to die in Iceland because I didn’t feel like I was done with my life yet. I’ve been learning and growing so much, I feel like there’s more left for me to do and I’d like the chance to do it.

I told him if I did get to live, I still wouldn’t be going to church or praying because those things just don’t fit into my belief system. But I would keep trying to be a good person who does good in the world because that does fit with who I am and who I try to be and, at the end of the day, I believe being a good person is what really matters.

I talked to him until eventually the road cleared up and, after a 6.5 hour drive, I finally arrived safely at my destination – shaken, exhausted, and a little bit changed on the inside.

IMG_6083On the last night of my trip, I arrived at my final guesthouse which happened to be across the street from the famous landmark Lutheran church, Hallgrimskirkja, in Reykjavik. Since ascending the church tower was on my list of things to do, I went straight over and checked it out. It really was a lovely view! I decided to check out the inside of the church as well and, before I knew it, I was sitting in a pew head down in another conversation with God, crying. That was unexpected!

I shook it off, pulled myself together and hit the town for a nice stroll, crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc and the best catfish I’ve ever had. As I wound my way through the streets back to my apartment, I thought about what an emotional roller coaster this trip had been. I passed the church and noticed it was still open. I puzzled again about my breakdown earlier that day. Before I knew it, I had passed my apartment, circled the block and was sitting in the church again, crying again.

I remember in that conversation asking God to have my back. I told him I wasn’t asking for help and that I was fine with doing all the hard work to get through my life, I just wanted to feel like he was looking out for me. There was no answer. I wondered what I was doing there. I wondered why I didn’t want to leave.

I wasn’t having any great religious revelations, but it was starting to feel comfortable to be in church. There were no priests or pastors, no benches for kneeling, not even a Jesus on a cross to remind us of our evil ways. This church didn’t feel full of punishment and judgement; it felt like a gentle space to be in, a safe place to be vulnerable.

IMG_6102The next day, first thing in the morning, I strolled down to the waterfront to see the famous sculpture, Solfas. Throughout almost the entire duration of my trip to Iceland, it had been cloudy and/or rainy. As I arrived at Solfas, the sun broke through the clouds and lit up the sculpture in the most beautiful way. Nobody else was in sight, I had this perfect beauty all to myself.

As I started walking away, still revelling in the gift of that precious moment of sun at such a perfect time, a light rain began to drizzle. I turned back for one last look at Solfas – a beautiful rainbow segment had appeared in the sky behind it. It lasted maybe a minute, each colour band in the arc so clearly defined like I’d never seen before. The world felt so perfect, my soul felt so still.

At that moment, I felt the universe – “God” perhaps – was answering back, a quiet acknowledgement letting me know he was there with me. No big promises, no great revelations, no demands – just a peaceful presence, like two old friends sitting side by side on the sofa in silence. I smiled and said thank you.

Best conversation I’ve had in a long time.

My Secret Life as a 15 Year Old

Do you ever feel like you have a secret life? Maybe it’s a side of you your coworkers would never expect, or a secret hobby your best friend knows nothing about, or a way of thinking your family would never identify as being yours. Regardless of what it is, it’s something you keep secret because somehow it just feels safer than putting it out there for the judgement of others.

This morning, I realized one of my secret selves is a 15 year old girl. When I woke up today, I saw a post that my favourite band had finally – finally! – released a new song and video, and the new album is finally – finally! – being released in May, and they’re going on tour in the Fall! My heart immediately started racing and I wasted not a second as I pressed play on the video link. Then I watched it again on the official band website, and then again on YouTube where I read the comments and started to notice some of the subtleties in the video.

At this point I should have been doing grown up things like my morning yoga, making a healthy breakfast and showering, but instead I checked Twitter to see what everyone was saying about the song, posted my own excitement about the release, checked the singer’s Twitter feed, then the drummer’s, and then the official Twitter feed for the band.

I eagerly soaked up everyone’s perspectives and, after watching the video five more times, I finally came to my own understanding of the lyrics and the excitement and anticipation for the new album began to explode inside me. I haven’t felt this excited about (perhaps even addicted to) a band in at least twenty one years. It’s a fun and weird place to be as a 40 year old woman.

Yesterday at work we had talked about age and life stages, and this experience has reminded me just how much my life stages are out of order. I had a baby when I was a teenager, so I lived two decades of serious adulthood and responsibility at a time when my friends were partying and exploring and self-discovering. Now, when society dictates I should be responsible and mature, I feel like I’m going back to finish that interrupted experience of adolescence.

Officially, to outsider eyes, I’m too old to be feeling this way and behaving this way. But really can you give me any good reason why? We’re all looking for something to relate to in life and, with all the crazy censorship and stigma around certain topics, if music is saying something I can connect to then of course I’m going to gravitate towards it. The messages in these songs have so much more authenticity and meaning than 90% of the conversations I engage in with the people around me on a day to day basis. Something about adulthood makes us feel like we need to be “fine” and “have it all together” or “fake it til we make it” – we stop having honest interactions; we learn to suppress and endure.

At some point I’d like to work up the courage to foster absolute authenticity in my real adult life, but I’m still figuring things out and not quite ready to fuse the fragments of my self into one coherent, public identity. I can’t help but wonder, though, how many of us actually have that soundly formed identity and how many of us are living secret lives just pretending we’ve got it all figured out. I wonder if anyone else I know has a secret teenager inside that comes out when they’re alone.

I wish I knew, I wish we talked about that, because I think it would be pretty cool for our teenagers to hang out sometime.

Hot Air Balloons

Hot Air BalloonSome days, you feel like you’re floating in a hot air balloon, high up in the sky where everything seems beautiful, manageable, serene.

Other days, you feel like you’re on the ground in your basket, ropes tangled in a mess all around you, fabric lying limp on the ground with no hope of rising.

What makes the difference? How do you get from one state to another, sometimes in the blink of an eye?

I am in my head a lot. It’s a curse. I can take any situation and find a really good way of looking at it, or a really bad way of looking at it. People talk about the yin and yang of life and they’re right – it’s all there, all the time, the good and the bad, the easy and the hard. We choose how to see it, how to perceive it, how to respond.

When I am gliding along happily in my balloon, I forget to work hard. I let the wind carry me and I don’t worry much about setting my own course. It’s a very enjoyable time. I get to be lazy, and I like that because life is so busy so much of the time, being lazy is a wonderful luxury.

The problem is, when I’m mindlessly gliding along, any little gust of wind can change my direction. Sometimes it happens so subtly that I don’t even realize it’s happened until I’m completely off-course, fighting a storm that’s threatening to throw my balloon to the ground. It’s disorienting, and terrifying.

Afterwards, I inevitably need a period of time to find my bearings and to remind myself that if I just invested a little energy into navigating continuously, I would be better able to avoid being tossed around by sudden gusts of wind in the future.

Life requires discipline. Sometimes I don’t like that but I’m beginning to realize it’s a non-negotiable reality. I must take responsibility for my direction. I must not sit back lazily drifting in the air currents. I must not forget to navigate my own life. Today, and every day from this point forward, I will try my best to set my own course lest some new gust of wind push in to set it for me.

Sometimes it’s OK to Run Away From Your Problems

If you’re sitting at home inhaling one chocolate after another until you’re surrounded by empty wrappers, lamenting how much work it’s going to be to get up and get a garbage bag from all the way over there…

Or, if you’re drowning your sorrows in one bottle after another, hoping nobody stops by your house before you’ve had a chance to clear out the towers of empties…

It’s time to put on your shoes and start running away from your problems. Seriously. Put on your shoes and go!

I started running just over two months ago. Why? Because I was doing all of the above, daily (and more). I didn’t think I’d actually be able to run, but anything had to be better than sitting around the house wallowing. Even if running meant that I would look like an uncoordinated walrus lopping down the sidewalk, it would still be better than being the chocolate-covered, teary-eyed, all-day-pyjama-wearing mess I was at home.

So one day I threw on some running shoes, left the house under the cover of darkness (to avoid reports of walrus sightings), and started running. I didn’t get very far those first few times but I did immediately notice that every time I came back from running, I felt better than I had before I left. Even more surprising was that when I left the house feeling especially bad, my runs were even better – faster, longer, easier. I  realized: I was literally running away from my problems! Every thought of anger or frustration or dissatisfaction was propelling me forward until I arrived at home panting, then stretching, then wondering why I had been feeling so miserable earlier.

As the weeks went on and I strove for faster and longer runs, I found myself wishing something would upset me so that I could better my run time that day. How crazy is that? I had gone from wallowing in misery every day to seeking out problems to try to feel sad or angry about. Now that’s the kind of crazy life magic people tell you about but you don’t believe until you see for yourself that it’s really real.

So today, after a couple of difficult short runs to get back into shape after the holidays, I am celebrating running my first 5k of 2013. I’m back, baby! What had I been feeling so sad about for the last two weeks? I can’t even remember. Somewhere along those five kilometres I ran tonight lie invisible scraps of all the problems I left behind. This year is going to be my year. 10k here I come!