• Sandy Reynolds

From Sunday School to Samhain Celebrations

Reflections on the slow spiritual healing or life after Evangelicalism.

Today is my 63rd birthday, and in honour of it, I wanted to give you a little glimpse of where I am spiritually at this stage of my life. I no longer consider myself an evangelical Christian. I know that may be disappointing for some of my community, but I've spent enough of my life worrying about how other people feel. Going along with things I didn't believe with my whole heart is part of what kept me (and a lot of people) in the system. We stay even when we have doubts because our family and friends are there. What would happen if we spoke our truth?

Stepping out of that world was difficult. It was like breaking up with a boyfriend I cared about but no longer loved. There was a point when I could no longer avoid the doubts and questions I had about evangelical Christianity. I picture myself at that time standing in a lake holding balls underwater as they tried to push their way to the surface. Each ball represented an issue I was avoiding. I had spent a lot of energy over the years keeping them from surfacing. Over the years, the number and size of the balls increased.

In my story, like so many stories, there was a moment when all the balls got loose at once, and I could no longer hold them under the water. For me, the final ball was tossed by the Board of Elders at our church. When they threw that last orb my way, I tried to pull it in and hold it below the surface, and all the balls shot into the air. Once they saw the light of day and felt the freedom of being set free, I knew I would never be able to hold them underwater again.

It was disorienting and frightening. Without any balls to hold underwater, I had the entire lake to explore. I watched as the balls drifted away, and for a long time, I just hung out on the beach, hoping some of the balls would drift back to shore. It was a sad time for me. I didn't know what I believed, and I knew I didn't have the energy and desire to gather the balls again. It was time to let them go.

Each one of those balls represented an unresolved question. The final question for me that found its way to the surface was, "If Evangelical Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit who is leading and guiding them, how can sincere believers who are seeking wisdom on a topic arrive at such disparate conclusions?"

In the end, I think I got tired of defending God and being out of integrity with what I believed. In my Evangelical indoctrination, any question gets turned around on the believer - you aren't sincere, you aren't praying enough, you should fast more, it's not what God wants for you, etc. Over time, the effect on me was that I started to doubt myself and my desires (even though God gives us the desires of our heart, the heart is wicked and deceitful, it is impossible to know outside of results, whether or not God is leading you.) Fundamentalism is an entire system carefully constructed (systematic theology) to answer all the questions you could have, and if you aren't satisfied, you are the problem.

I spent many years exploring who I am without that belief system. I've learned so much, and I want to share more of that side of myself here, but I've been hesitant for several reasons. In the end, I've decided to write more and more and post it here for those who find it and hopefully relate and find encouragement.

I've been dabbling here and there in Celtic Christianity and Spirituality, finding a home in a belief system that is more earth-based and less dogmatic. Last night I gathered on zoom with a small group of women on a similar journey. Each of us spent most of our lives in the Evangelical world - one in the Southern USA or Bible Belt. All of us have been experimenting with what it looks like to believe in a God of love.

We gathered to celebrate Samhain, a day in the Celtic tradition that represents a thin place where you can connect with your ancestors and the saints who have gone before you through the veil to the otherworld. I've been a little anxious about it. The old messages about what is allowed and what isn't allowed when it comes to my beliefs are still present. Anything with roots in the pagan world would surely have been frowned upon (except Christmas and Easter, but that isn't the topic here.)

We talked about all the messages we have brought with us about gathering for Samhain. We set our intention as a circle of women. We are a safe place to openly discuss and explore the spiritual resources available beyond our evangelical experience.

Someone led us through a guided meditation to meet an ancestor. We listen to a Celtic hymn. We read poems and share prayers. We each share the story of a Saint who has influenced our thinking. We talk about what it means to call on our ancestors when we are in need and the comfort that brings.

I've slowly stepped off the shore and moved into the water. My job isn't to hold the balls below the surface. I lay back and float, feeling the sunshine on my face, knowing that the love of the Divine is holding me. It's taken ten years to get here, and I finally feel free to let the water carry me.

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