You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

– Mary Oliver

In the dusky twilight of Alaska, my faith grew in the arms of my father’s faith. I remember the ritual of the words we said every night, Now I lay me/down to sleep/I pray the Lord/my soul to keep, the brightly colored illustrations inside the blue Bible story books, and the tales of angels intervening in everyday life. Childhood was full of comfort and peace and magic. I loved going to church and I was a true believer in every sense of the word. I tried to do everything right, to be a wise child, to love God, to be good and to obey my parents.

Image used with permission.

Fast forward to middle and high school: we had moved to Oregon in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I was home-schooled before attending a private Christian school beginning at age 13. I really credit Christian school with helping me to be more accepting of different forms of spirituality. I had classmates from very charismatic churches, more mainline denominations, Quakers, and Mennonites. I had some intense spiritual experiences during worship times and at youth retreats that were very positive.
One of the downsides of this time is that my parents and church community were saturated in purity culture; my family was enamored with Bill Gothard’s teaching through the Institute of Basic Life Principles. The more rigid, high control group teachings influenced me in a negative way and made my experience of Christianity more complicated.

My deconstruction journey really started in my early thirties after getting married young and having four children. My husband and I had been very involved in the Nazarene church, a denomination born out of the holiness/Wesleyan movements. We had led small groups and taught Sunday school, he was on the church board and I had been on the church worship team. Our children were attending a Christian and home-school hybrid school and I was in a Christian moms group at the school. A book was given to me by a prayer partner called Prayer by Richard Foster, a Quaker. I started incorporating meditation into my prayer life. I had done yoga since my early twenties and prayerful meditation felt so right. Those were beautiful times. I was reading all the Christian mystics and getting so much comfort and joy out of their words and experiences. Meanwhile at our church, I was encouraged to read some books by NT Wright and found Nomad through one of his interviews.

I kept reading, I kept meditating, I kept listening to Nomad. I found a group of fellow heretics at a United Methodist Church where we read Nadia Bolz Weber, Rachel Held Evans and Richard Rohr. After years of practicing lent, I did the decentering practice Atheism for Lent through Peter Rollins and it was life changing. It gave me this very real break from all of the trappings of Christianity. I now held my beliefs much more lightly than before.

This last year, I went through a life altering experience. During most of my adult life, I had dealt with periods of depression. Mental illness runs in my family, so I was very proactive in getting help. I had done a lot of therapy and had been on an antidepressant for several years. But this last spring, a few stressors converged at the same time and I began to act erratically. At 43, I was diagnosed with Bipolar after having a psychotic break which included hallucinations and delusions. Some of my delusions had religious features, but I was in control enough at the time to keep some of my delusions to myself, so no one really knew…

I was hospitalized for three weeks. I was very weak when I was discharged and my life was in shambles. I couldn’t function and I spent the better part of three months being cared for by my father at the family farm. Although the realities of living with a diagnosis like this have been jarringly difficult to accept, I’ve started to feel more at peace with my spirituality again. I’m so thankful for modern psychiatry, the medications that I am on, as well as individual and group therapy that keep my mood within normal bounds and me out of the hospital. Ten years ago, I would have thought I was demon possessed and I would have sought a spiritual explanation for my delusions, hallucinatory experiences and the behavior that followed. I am so thankful that my faith has changed.

I’ve always been a very spiritual person and I’ve missed that part of myself over the last few months. It was hard for me to open up spiritually again after such a dramatic experience. I’ve always enjoyed reading about, discussing, and participating in the Christian faith. I’m cultivating that part of my life more purposefully again. I’ve started listening to a daily Bible devotional before bed called Lectio 365. I’ve also allowed myself to explore different forms of spirituality and found comfort in yoga, hikes, sound baths, singing in a choir, meditation, dance, and massage. It has started to come back slowly, in little spurts, rather than a steady stream.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe the way my brain is wired has affected my spiritual life. I am almost certain that it has. I have an openness to new experiences and an evolving faith that may come not just from my personality, but from my disorder. Would I change it? No, because I have led a rich and full spiritual life so far and I look forward to more of the journey.

– Alissa Rose

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