"The story I am writing is about starting over to live my life without God." I declared this to my partner in an exercise at a writing workshop on an island off the coast of Washington.
It was June of 2006, only a month or two after writing my two poems about feeling shackled to God and burdened by God. I was trying to be faithful to what I thought those poems were telling me.
And I was far enough from home, from people who knew me as an Episcopal priest, many as their former priest, to feel a bit more free to be honest. Since I was in the Pacific Northwest, north of Seattle, I had imagined (in other words, I had assumed) that most of my workshop mates would applaud and embrace a kind of loosey-goosey, unconventional approach to religion and spirituality and that my talk of living my life without God wouldn't raise eyebrows or upset anyone and might even find a ready and sympathetic embrace. I guess you could say I was kind of hoping for that, maybe even counting on that.
And I guess you could say I had been a tad unrealistic. Actually, I'd been really seriously off base.
My story idea went over like a bad joke, and I, already feeling very tentative about it, was hyper-vigilant for any signs telling me I should reconsider and turn back from the brink. I already wondered if perhaps I wasn't yet ready to write this story, that perhaps I didn't have the requisite perspective and "distance" that time could provide. After all, I hadn't actually embarked very far along this journey of living my life "without God," whatever that might mean. But I was seriously thinking about it, imagining it, planning it. (But in order to write about it, I was really going to have to live it. Damn! I hadn't fully considered that.)
My partners in this exercise, three different people in sequence, were invited to listen to my proposed story line, then respond with questions for me, and I was to do the same for them. My three compadres, more or less randomly selected in the course of milling about the room, all seemed to react to my story in similar ways. Each one in turn posed questions that felt strained to me, unenthusiastic, even slanted in such a way as to suggest that this idea of living my life without God was misguided, dangerous, a temporary delusional detour from which they hoped I would eventually recover.
They seemed to want to talk me back into God, to reassure me that this dark time would pass. Almost as if they were worried about me, as if this talk of going godless signaled depression and despair, maybe a sign of mental illness (that would be my mental illness), some kind of breakdown, as if next would come talk of suicide and wanting to end it all.
But nothing could have been farther from the truth! What my companions didn't seem able to comprehend or to guess was that my wanting to live my life without God was a jailbreak, a life-or-death bid for freedom! It was my best hunch of what I needed to do to shed an immense burden and to become--perhaps for the first time since childhood, perhaps for the first time ever!--simply and joyfully myself, a human being alive and awake on this amazing planet. I wanted liberation, and the best I could figure it, that meant letting go of God.
I suppose I can understand and even appreciate their response. It's not as if sane people usually speak of going godless every day, with strangers! It's not generally considered a casual endeavor, like, say, going topless or braless (and even speaking of going topless might raise eyebrows).
I could have told them, if I had wanted to pursue this line of thought, that of course I know that if there really is a God of whatever shape or form who or which is everywhere in the universe, then my intention to live my life without this God was preposterous, ludicrous, impossible even! That I could, in my limited, misguided ego kind of way, imagine myself cast adrift and free of such a being/force/entity, but that in fact my very life and my every breath would still be dependent on it/her/him. In which case the joke would be on me!
But I really wasn't interested in that kind of thinking, so so familiar to me from my twenty-something years of theologizing, preaching, and fitting life into a particular religious worldview to be packaged up and delivered for the hoped-for good of others.
Maybe that's just it: I no longer wanted to have to think and write and speak about God at all. God had become (or at least thinking, writing, and speaking about God had become)--how shall I say it?--boring to me!
I wasn't depressed; I was energized, hopeful, yet also fearful, and I was trying to be brave. I wasn't trying to be offensive; I was trying to tell the truth. And the truth was, I was sick to death of God--fed up with god, with talking about God, thinking about God, shoring up other people's faith in God or ideas about God , trying to make God (the Judeo-Christian God? any and every God?) make sense, tired of being a spokesperson for God in any way, shape, or form.
After being ordained for twenty-two years, I wanted out. I was barely able to acknowledge that truth, even to myself, but this workshop on the other side of the continent had seemed like a good place to start.
By the conclusion of this exercise I wasn't so sure. I got scared; I retreated. I decided I wasn't ready to write that story and that, at least for the purposes of this writing workshop, I'd have to find another one.