Saturday, April 20, 2013

Faith's Menopausal Moments

CAUTION: Men may find this post offensive or confusing or possibly enlightening. Consult an older woman if counsel or education is needed.

I haven't picked up a feminine pad for a long time. I am so happy to be done with that aspect of womanhood.

During perimenopause my husband bravely accompanied me to see Menopause the Musical: Celebrating Women and The Change so that he could be better prepared to survive this stage of my life. We both got more information than we wanted.

As it turned out, compared to other women who have gone through menopause, I really had an easy time with "The Change." But I did have my moments of hormonal craziness. Unfortunately it landed during a time of spiritual craziness too. Not a good combination. It created a lot of bad memories, deep hurts and an unreconciled relationship.

But recently, because I love metaphors, I was able to reconcile menopause with spirituality.

I've been reading My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman just released earlier this month. Wiman wrote this after being diagnosed with an incurable blood disease at age 39. Last fall he received a bone marrow transplant. (You can read a CT interview with Wiman here.)

Since I am currently doing caregiving for my sister who just went through a bone marrow transplant, I was curious about how his faith fared in this crisis. I'm not done with the book yet but I have been touched deeply by his transcendent and life-giving words even as he was "standing at a cliff." Wiman poetically makes sense of faith even while we are insensitive to its latent presence.

I love this paragraph in the first chapter:
In fact, there is no way to "return to the faith of your childhood," not really, not unless you've just woken from a decades-long and absolutely literal coma. Faith is not some half-remembered country into which you come like a long-exiled king, dispensing the old wisdom, casting out the radical, insurrectionist aspects of yourself by which you'd been betrayed. No. Life is not an error, even when it is. That is to say, whatever faith you emerge with at the end of your life is going to be not simply affected by that life but intimately dependent upon it, for faith in God is, in the deepest sense, faith in life--which means that even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change. It follows that if you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived---or have denied the reality of your life.
I am in my fifties and I definitely do not believe now what I believed at fifteen which is about when I first responded to the gospel.

I have always loved change. And I have loved the process of growing and changing in my faith, my understanding of God, my spiritual perceptions and biblical knowledge.

What I haven't loved is the connection between pain and growing, between challenges and changes. (Insight into my weird brain: Immediately I saw the "lle" inside the word "challenge"  which, when removed, becomes "change." Then I started thinking of words that begin with those letters to further the connection. I came up with life and love emerge. I am so nerdy.)

At first I wanted to forget and move on from those painful, challenging events. But it didn't work. The more I tried to forget, the more the memories haunted me and the anger resurfaced like the bubbling of a backed-up sewer line in the basement.

Eventually I realized that forgetting was a form of denial and it was keeping me from moving on. So I quit calling them memories and referred to those experiences as stories, stories to remember, to tell and to submit to the healing presence of Christ.

My past stories have contributed to my "story in the middle" but this middle keeps changing because I haven't lived all my stories. I will keep changing as long as I continue to have faith in Christ and as Wiman points out, faith in life. I am on the other side of the middle of my years, but when it comes to faith, I am always in the middle.

Wiman used a masculine metaphor to describe what living a life of faith is not and the impossibility of going back to a childhood faith if you are really living and not in a coma. I couldn't help but think of a feminine metaphor to describe what living a life of faith is. At least in my experience as a woman.

Enter Menopause the Moment.

For me, experiencing change includes one or more of the following:

  • a shift in my universe (most of them are smaller than that, but some have been pretty darn hard)
  • imbalance (spiritual, not hormonal...or maybe both)
  • times when I feel like I'm going crazy (or I want to believe everyone else is)
  • anger (can I call them spiritual hot flashes?)
  • depression (I know I'm not alone here)
  • sleeplessness (I have my most significant conversations in my head at 3 a.m.)
  • irritability (this is an external sign that I am wrestling with God internally)
  • mental fuzziness (amazing how biblical knowledge, including a BA in Bible and an MDiv in theology escapes the synapses in my brain)
The more significant the change required, the longer the menopausal moment. The more significant the developing story, the longer it takes for me to process its place in my imaginary memoir.

But then the change happens. Sometimes it happens slowly. Sometimes it's instant. Almost always it involves an encounter with God. 

And the shift in my universe becomes a shift towards Christ. Towards repentance. Towards knowing I am beloved. Towards knowing others are beloved. Towards trust. Towards life. 

Each spiritual menopausal moment is an opportunity to move on and deeper into the life God intends for me.

Eventually the moment becomes a memory and the memory a story and the story a chapter in the memoir of my faith in God. My faith in life.

(If you think this metaphor was rather lame, wait until I write about "senior moments.")

1 comment:

  1. Harriet,
    I could so relate to the menopause metaphor, and I loved the image of anger as a spiritual hotflash! ;)
    I am so glad you're writing and posting again! I'm reading backwards so will read your post on patriarchy next.
    Miss you, friend!