I believe in Something and More.
Some call it the Divine or Magic.
Others call it the Great Unknown—
the mysteries, future discoveries
in the cosmos or a single flower.
But I call it Beauty and Wonder.
“Have you ever thought that maybe the trees would enjoy seeing you change color too?” an advertisement for sweaters asked me as I looked through a clothing catalog. That was several years ago, but I think about the question every year as I pull out the plastic purple tub containing my sweaters and scarves. The shades of yellow, blue, and red being packed away neatly for next summer are so different than the autumnal shades on the chunky cable knit sweaters that I gradually go through, welcoming back each one as I place it on a hanger in the closet.
This is how I celebrate the fall equinox. By changing color, too. “I changed color for you,” I’ll say as I walk past a tree in all the golden glory of early fall just to ensure she hasn’t missed my own new color palette.
I’d wanted to do something a bit more this year to celebrate the fall equinox. I’d meant to put some research into it and maybe choose something that felt me enough to try incorporating it into my own private welcoming-my-favorite-season-of-them-all ritual.
“I missed the fall equinox,” I said glumly to my husband last night as he crawled into bed next to me.
“But that’s the nice thing about no longer being in your old paradigm,” he replied. I was raised in a religious paradigm that was seeped in legalism and guilt. “The fall equinox isn’t going to get mad.”
“But the fall equinox didn’t get mad before,” I said. “I didn’t even know when it was. It was demonic.” Read More
I used to see truth—well, it was more like Truth—as something to be found and protected. It was like a treasure that, after days or weeks or nearly a lifetime of intense searching, was finally found. And then, fiercely protected and defended by the entire treasure-hunting party.
Truth was something that I had the corner market on. Well, me and everyone else within my particular flavor of Christianity that happened to agree with me. Truth was ours. Truth was what everyone else was looking for, in need of, missing out on. Truth was our shiny pile of treasure that we owned the exclusive copyrights to and we’d kick into litigious butt-kicking gear if we even suspected an infraction.
Or at least that’s how I saw it for years. Read More
Before I even fully think through what I’m about to do, I grasp the edge of one of the pages and with a swift yank the tissue-paper page tears out with a satisfying rip. I’m holding a crumpled, torn page from my gray fake-leather bible in my hand. The page barely weighs a thing and yet the words on it feel as if they’re printed in the heaviest element in the universe.
I toted this particular bible around with me as I went to youth group camps, volunteered with the middle school group, and sat through countless messages on purity and modesty and “a woman’s place.” It was my companion as I strove to be “on fire” for God, to follow the modesty dress code (which was continually growing and changing by the day), and to invite my “non-Christian” friends to church because the fate of their eternal souls was my responsibility. It was there as I had nightmares about the End Times thanks to my church’s fixation with the Rapture and it was there as I wore my light gray hoodie — JESUS SAVIOR written in enormous lettering on the front — around town in order to be a “witness.” It was there as I swallowed more and more mouthfuls of salty, toxic messages about my identity and self-worth until I was beginning to drown.
Nearly every morning during my adolescent years I opened its pages, praying that God would show me wonderful things from his word (a paraphrase of a verse I was taught to pray). I even snuck it along on sleepovers the way children bring along a favorite teddy (I’d read a few chapters early in the morning before everyone else woke up). I even read the painfully boring books like Leviticus, the books like Judges that could rival Game of Thrones in gore and violence, and the confusing, scary books like Revelation. Each word, I was told, was “God breathed” — so I read them all, again and again.
I highlighted so many passages in my favorite gel pens, took so many notes in the margins that it was transformed into my spiritual diary. When I read it, I read not only the text but also all of the messages I heard, all of the articles and books I read, and all of the bible studies I went to. Even without the notes, I could hear the voices of so many people in my ears.
It was no longer a book that I read; it was a book that conjured up the dogma I’d been conditioned to believe without question.
Thanks to my Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome I haven’t even been able to look at it for a few years, so I’ve been storing it out of sight, behind a row of books on a rarely-used bookcase. But I’ve still known it was there. It’s still been there haunting me. As I held it, I just couldn’t take it anymore. And in a split-second I decided to rip a page out, hoping it might make me feel a little better. I’d planned on finding some meaningful way of disposing of it; maybe something therapeutically artistic or maybe something more somber like a funeral service for my old self, my old life, and this old book. But that rip was so satisfying, freeing, healing.
I immediately grasp the back cover of my small bible and rip it right off.
I wrench a handful of pages out of the New Testament, and then begin shredding them into little bite-sized bits until the highlighted portions of the text are shredded and the marginalia is unreadable.
Rip rip rip.
My jaw is set as I fragment the Holy Text, taring and shredding as fast as my hands are capable. This is a violent, sacrilegious assault on a holy book — the holy book. This is a declaration of my freedom.
Rip rip rip.
I never thought I’d want to destroy a book, but now I feel as if I won’t find peace until the job is done.
Rip rip rip.
Tearing. Ripping. Breaking. Destroying. The pages, thin as they are, fight back — leaving red, raw marks on my fingers. But I keep pulling the pages apart as if my sanity dependeds on it. And maybe it does.
Rip rip rip.
Shredding some of the pages brings Younger Kelsey — with a passionate love for Jesus and a desire to be everything a Good Christian Girl is — back to life. She didn’t know she was being hurt; I didn’t know I was being hurt. And I cry for her as the rip rip rip continues.
Some of the thin bits of texts, like ashes, cling lightly to my clothing and float onto the ground. Ashes of my old life.
Rip rip rip.
Finally, when there is nothing left but a pile of paper shreds, I stop.
The bible no longer exists. I forcefully ripped it out of the present tense and damned it to the past tense. It’s gone. I metaphorically and literally destroyed the lies I’d been taught about my self-worth, personhood, and value; the lies I’d been taught about the people outside our particular church building, the world, and even Christ.
I destroyed it, but not because I ripped it up. That book was destroyed the first time I’d graffitied religious cliches and self-loathing inspired theology on its pages. Today, I didn’t destroy it; I put it out of its misery.
It no longer exists.
As I survey the literary carnage that lays in a pile on the table, spilling onto the floor, I notice a few tears on my cheeks; I notice how much my ink-stained hands are beginning to ache. Sometimes you don’t noticed how much something is hurting you until it’s over.
The journey towards healing from religious trauma, just like anything else, is such a personal thing. What are some ways — sacrilegious or sacred or something else entirely — that you’ve found a little peace and healing in your own life?
You’re a good Christian girl
So you’re trying to hide your new breasts
Hiding them under that thick, baggy sweater
But it’s not working
And you begrudge your body all the more for it
Puberty is always hard, awkward
But it’s harder for you because every new curve
Every new bend, possesses a toxic magic
It can topple a man’s moral scruples in an instant,
Or so you’ve been told
So you cover it up, keep it out of sight
In order to protect the men
You’re a modest Christian girl
So you’re following all of the rules,
Or at least you’re trying to
They seem to be getting longer by the day
You try to avoid anything that will remind the boys
Remind them you’re a developing woman
With breasts and an ass
You avoid spaghetti straps and short shorts
You stay away from shirts that hug or cling
Not a piece of clothing in your closet hints at cleavage
And you know that if you wore a bikini on a summer day
That your very salvation would be questioned
You’re a feminine Christian girl
So you’re wearing your brunette hair long
Once you wanted to chop it off,
To wear it just above your chin
But boys like girls with long hair, you were told,
And it might even be a sin
You would’ve had to wear a hat to church,
A sign of your submission
But it would’ve felt like a sign of your shame
So you leave it long, flowing
Because when it comes to your hair, your body,
You don’t get the final word
You’re an innocent Christian girl
So you haven’t learned about your most secret anatomy
Someone tells you the clear unmentionable
You sometimes see in your underwear is part of your
Monthly cycle, nothing more
When you learn it has a function, that it relates to sex,
You’re wracked with guilt
If you’d truly been a good girl, you tell yourself,
You never would’ve seen it
You know it’s a sign of your shame
You must have lusted,
Even though you can’t recall
You’re a pure Christian girl
So you believe your body isn’t yours
You can’t touch it
It would compromise the quality of your virginity
Compromise your worth as a woman
And you can’t give that right to others
Because it isn’t yours to give
Your God bought you in blood, He owns you
Someday your father will give you away
Yet even now your body is already reserved, taken
You’re already Future Husband’s property
Even though you haven’t met
You’re a submissive Christian girl
So you’re afraid of marriage
Afraid of sex
Because your body will belong to your husband
It will be your daily duty to give him sex
However, whenever he wants it
And women don’t enjoy sex,
Or so you’ve been told
So sex will be an obligation, a chore, a wifely duty
And when he decides to pass on his name and DNA
You’ll dutifully forgo the condom without a word
Because your body is not your own
You’re a nice Christian girl
So you’re crying after making out with your boyfriend
You love him, and he loves you
But you feel like you kissed him too much
Hugged him for too long
Enjoyed it more than you should have
And you’re afraid that now you’ve lost something
A tiny piece of your purity has chipped off
Some of your value and worth has faded
It’s as if a man’s hand brands his signature into your flesh
And you feel a little bit damaged now,
A little bit ruined
You’re a virtuous Christian girl
So you know next to nothing about sex
You can’t even identify your own anatomy
And you think that’s as it ought to be
But you’re mentally unprepared for some
Hot night between the sheets
How can you enjoy sex when you’re so terrified the
Thought of it leaves you sobbing?
You don’t view yourself as a sexual being
And you’ve never been allowed to be one
But once you say “I do” you’ll feel completely responsible,
Responsible for the sexual happiness of another
You’re a virginal Christian girl
So you’re wondering what it’ll feel like
Feel like once your v-card has been punched
You’ve done the deed
Gone all the way
Done the nasty
Lost your virginity
You wonder what it feels like
To lose your most valuable possession
To lose what you’re told defines you
You wonder if you’ll feel different once it’s gone,
If you’ll feel the loss
You’re an educated Christian girl
So you know Adam was made in the image of God
You know how the Psalmist praised the Lord
For being fearfully and wonderfully made
How he felt he’d been knit together in his mother’s womb
But you don’t believe this applies to you, not really
At least not all of you, not all your parts
Not your sin-evoking curves
Or your shameful, bloody cycle
You don’t say it out loud, barely even in your heart
But you believe you’re a card-carrying member of
The second-best sex
You’re a devout Christian girl
So you flinch at the very idea of God being feminine
And the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end
Because this is the very worst kind of sacrilege
It’s creating God in your own image,
Or so you’ve been told
And you believe there could be no higher insult
And no greater offense
Than to say that the Creator of the Universe is maybe,
Just a little, like you
The felony of golden cattle can’t compare to female pronouns
To saying She has a body like yours
You’re a hurting Christian girl
So don’t know your worth, your value
You’ve internalized it all, every cutting lie
But, My dear little one, listen to Me
You bleed but you do not die
How are you weak?
You possess the gift to create life
How are you not magic?
Your curves and bends were sculpted, planned
How could they be shameful?
Dear little one, listen to Me,
I have a body like yours