Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sunday Scribblings {Chocolat}

As most of you know from reading my blog, I come from a family of avid church goers. My grandfather is a Baptist preacher and so church, and God, has always been an important part of our lives. It's pretty much inseparable from our way of being. My grandfather always pastored small town churches which meant there wasn't any money to hire janitors, librarians, secretaries, ect. My grandparents were all of it. As a result, we were at church even when the doors weren't open. On Saturday's we'd help pick up the trash from the pews and place all the hymnals back in the pew racks (and of course we'd sneak in time to play on stage with a microphone and saunter up and down the stairs pretending to be Miss. America). I don't know life without God and organized religion. Even when I was very young I remember praying every night before going to sleep. I didn't understand it all, but I knew it was a part of my life I couldn't separate myself from. It came as natural as breathing.

As I grew older I became more and more involved in church for my own enjoyment and nourishment. I wasn't popular at school but at church I fit in. At church I found my place of belonging. And I did it well. By the time I was in college I new this would be an important part of my life from here on out. One summer, at a week-long retreat at Glorietta, NM with the Baptist Student Union from my university, I surrendered to the ministry. It is typical in the Southern Baptist tradition that when you make these kinds of commitments to God you publicize them by coming forward, sharing your decision with the church body, and letting them offer you their congratulations and support. I did all of this. Shortly afterwards I met the man I eventually married and shortly after that we were divorced. My plans for ministry took a dramatic change of course.

The August after our divorce was final I began an educational program called CPE, or clinical pastoral education. Basically it's a year-long residency as a chaplain in a hospital. I thought that by beginning this program I would get back on track with my ministerial plans. I thought this program would strengthen my beliefs and further solidify my faith in the God of my childhood. It didn't exactly happen the way I had planned. My two years as a chaplain were the most intensely life changing years of my life, but I found something I hadn't counted on. This program had nothing at all to do with religion and that freedom sent me into a tail spin but also gave me room to grow, breathe, and become. Through this program I learned to focus on my spiritual growth instead of religion and church. I learned to honor my voice, my feelings, my story, and my experience. I learned more about showing up and being honest than I ever had before. I began to acknowledge the limits my childhood religion placed on women and I began to break free from those shackles.

It was an amazing life experience but it left me in a very uncertain place. I felt much like Eliza Doolittle after her big success at the ball. Chuncking her shoes and shouting at Henry Higgins, she demands to know what she's good for now that he's completed his transformation. She even wishes he'd left her in the gutter where he found her. All the change, all the growth, but nothing to do with it and no place to use it. Although I didn't wish to be left in the gutter I did feel very similar. I wasn't cut out for traditional ministry anymore, not just because of my divorce or because I am a woman (although both of these are obstacles in this conservative, patriarchal, Bible-belt area of the world), but because my beliefs were no longer typical. And I was no longer fit for my Southern Baptist heritage either. I had begun to incorporate more Eastern philosophies into my beliefs. I explored the history of the goddess and the idea of the feminine-divine. I began to doubt and question more than I had ever given myself permission to do and although I would still have moments of communing with the God of my childhood (I'm sure you're familiar with him--white beard, white robe, sitting somewhere in the clouds), most of that communion revolved around ranting, raving and cursing. I found my most satisfying spiritual communion when I connected to the spirit of love dwelling within my spirit. None of this was expected and I didn't know what to do with it (and I'm still on this journey of discovering how this all fits together for me). I found myself, a woman with a minister's heart, with no place to use it or express it.

Towards the end of my two year stint as a chaplain I saw the movie Chocolat. To this day it is my favorite movie, one of those I can watch over and over again and never tire of. I love it because every time I watch the unfolding story of Vianne and her chocolaterie I find my own story. I relate and connect to this character because in my mind she is a minister, the best kind of minister, the kind of minister I want to be. Not a minister caught up in rules, tradition, deprivation, and unforgiveness, but a minister who uses what she's got (a gift for concocting mouth watering chocolates--and choosing people's favorites) to heal the lives of those around her through her grace, her acceptance, her boldness, her daring, her listening ear, and her open heart. And I love that she's not perfect. She has her own demons she fighting and her own past she's trying to come to terms with. But she doesn't let that keep her from her calling--walking side-by-side with others as they recover their power, their worth, and their wholeness. This fictional character is my constant reminder of what a non-traditional minister can do when she offers the greatest gift she has--herself. She inspires me to keep finding that place of sharing who I am...even if it is only here on this blog.


Blogger snowsparkle said...

i can sympathize with your spiritual journey, coming from an intensely catholic upbringing and fording my way solo into a less familiar, though increasingly more authentic expression of faith and love. (my parents are as frightened as i am strengthened by my profound spiritual discoveries.) one cannot reach understanding when fear stands in the way. i applaud your pursuit of your authentic spiritual path. i'm glad i met you on the journey.

9:12 PM  
Blogger yaya said...


10:01 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I am touched by what you have shared. Thank you.

11:12 PM  
Blogger liz elayne said...

this is beautiful. i see you this way...doing your part...inspiring all those who visit you to keep finding their way. yes. yes. yes. reminding us all that we are not alone.
even in those dark moments my dear, you do know who you are.
i hope to get to curl up on the couch and watch this movie with you some day...

11:38 PM  
Blogger Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

Alleluia Sister! May all our communions be like chocolate, rich and soothing! Thank you for putting hte pieces together and lettingus hear your story. Woman of God, which is

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Irene said...

I love love love the movie "Chocolat".

12:26 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Funny, last Friday we went to see a show in the city and before the show I had a hot chocolate with chilli; something I first met in Chocolat.

Michelle, there is nothing you can do to stop the person you are becoming on-line 'leaking' into the person you are becoming at large. And you could do much worse than taking Vianne as a model.

Thank you for sharing your story.

2:59 AM  
Blogger Visual-Voice said...

Religions are institutions. The spiritual path is one we must all basically walk alone. Community is important, but everyone's walk is different, and often the path one must take to grow spiritually will be at odds with the institutions. No insitution or organized "religion" will act as though this individual path is "good" as it threatens the institution's very existence.

I walked a similar road to yours, one in which I found my own voice, and continue to find it. Thank you for you honesty.

3:37 AM  
Anonymous krista said...

Ocassionally I read a blog post that moves me and I don't know how to cooment. This is kind of one of those times. But- it's hard to leave without showing I've been witness to your thoughts, and they've moved me.

Your life is fascinating to me, and I love your analogy of the movie and sharing of self. I haven;t seen that movei. I think I might have to now.

4:19 AM  
Anonymous beansprout said...

Beautiful and wonderful post! As are are you...

4:30 AM  
Blogger dani said...

lovely, and well said.

4:31 AM  
Blogger mayseek life said...

michelle, i have just returned home after a few days and when i sat to begin a familiar morning routine i turned to your page to look for the "spark" i get when reading your thoughts. you are indeed a gentle minister of love and connection.

4:56 AM  
Blogger gkgirl said...

i so need to see that movie now.

and i love how you tied that
into the sunday scribblings...

and what an amazing part of your life be able to say that you
did all :)

6:08 AM  
Blogger kelly said...

amen...i am struggling with my own,
spirituality at the moment. i was
raised in the catholic faith and
growing up, i always heard that
my faith was full of "shackles",
i feel there are shackles regardless, in any organized faith.

but i relate so much to you and
your story, and i really feel the
only reason i go to my specific church, is because of my parents,
and my children. but i have always
loved learing about all faiths -
regardless. we have to welcome
all into our journey, if we don't
we are stifled from humanity.

thanks for sharing...your words
soothed my soul

6:51 AM  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

Michelle, often you paint my very life picture - we've discussed this before. I think the tragedy of our upbringing (and it was just a passing along of what our fathers or grandfathers knew)is that denominational tradition got all tangled up with truth, until they were inexorable and indistinguishable. Then people began assessing on the basis of something that was not what God intended in the first place. It becomes a miasma, a noxious mix of tradition, skewed interpretation, judgement that can kill the spirit rather than nurturing it. You ARE a minister. And your accountability for your own particular ministry is yours alone, not to the host of people who may believe that there are two exclusive paths that spell "ministry." I affirm you. I applaud you. I embrace you. And I support you as you follow the Voice that is within you (the Divine one - not the one that sounds a lot like your grandfather or anyone else).

7:21 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Thanks for sharing this, I love chocolat too. I don't really ever think I thought of her as a type of minister, that is so perfect, that is exactly what she was!!

7:27 AM  
Blogger acumamakiki said...

This was a beautiful post. I felt like I got to know more about you and I love that the breath-taking movie that is Chocolat, is something that gives you strength. Thank you for sharing. You're on a journey Michelle and I know that as you continue, you will believe more in yourself and all that makes you wonderful.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

chocolat is one of my favs too. no one that i know in real life gets it, so it's nice to find another kindred spirit it the blogosphere.

vianne is the healer that i want to be. i always reread the book or see the movie around Easter to remind of what is what.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Kim G. said...

A pastor that visited our church this weekend said that bold love is one that "touches the wounds of others". The more I study about Jesus, the more he looks like people Vianne - not afraid to deal with the mess that is our lives and offer comfort, acceptance and most important - hope.

Just finished reading "Blue Like Jazz" and "Messy Spirituality" recently that address this issue. I loved both and there were many things in there that separated Christian Culture from the actual ministry of Jesus. It's amazing what we (man/woman) have added to the mix that wasn't there in the beginning.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

Wow. Wow!
Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts, and your Truth.
I can really relate to this, even though our journey was a little different. And I may be biased, but I really believe you are a lot closer to the truth. The truth being, that Spirit is real, and yet still too mysterious for any one system to totally encompass.

I KNOW you have work as a minister to do while your here. I can tell by your voice. Go to it!


8:53 AM  
Blogger tara dawn said...

This is an incredible story, and so meaningful to me personally. My beliefs, from childhood to the present day, are quite similar to yours (being raised with a Baptist preacher grandfather has a similar effect:)...thank you for letting me know I'm not alone on my spiritual journey...and thank you for sharing your courage, your strength, and your beauty as a woman.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Charmaine said...

It's so interesting you bring this up, right now -- in such great detail too. Finding "God" or "myself" has been something on my mind lately.

Oh, and I LOVE the movie Chocolat. It is one that I could watch over and over and never really get tired of the story or the visual images and metaphors.

10:37 AM  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Such a touching account of your search for spirituality and self. Thank you for sharing this lovely story!

10:38 AM  
Blogger lovegreendog said...

cheers to all the questions, and all that we can become when we listen. i loved this post.

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my mind, you ARE that kind of minister...I always feel refreshed and inspired when I come here...the very best kind of virtual chocolate. Thank you for that.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous samantha said...

OH! I've wanted to hear your story - shall I say "testimony" ;) - about being a chaplain and the road you're on from that experience. I have so much to say, so I'll probably write you an email. But I will say this in comments because I want people to really know (and I know that M. most likely researched this, it is not assvice) that there are denominations that allow, welcome, honor women as ministers. That is one of the major reasons I am a United Methodist today - it drove me crazy, eventually, that in the denomination I was 'raised' in, that women had no authority. That you could only go so far. So I rejoice that there are many denominations that are accepting the gifts of the daughters of God.

Just yesterday I listened to Mississippi's bishop - an amazing, spirit-filled woman - preach on my church's altar steps, and it was such a beautiful experience.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Josephine said...

Just wanted to say that you are a minister in a very unique way...

You were the first person to visit my site on a regular basis and you offered me encouragement to continue writing because you were there.

If it were not for you, I would never have found this wonderful community, who I share so much value with!!

Thank you for guiding me, and thank you for continuing to share your beauty with the world...

1:57 PM  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

Oh what a gift to be able to read of your experiences.

I love that movie too.


4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I loved reading this. The more powerful women I find here in the blog world, the more I am in awe of the amazing rich lives, full of surprises, love and hope we all share.

Thank you so much for sharing this story of You. It was brilliant.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Bohemian Girl said...

oh you.
tears flowed as i read this. so much of what you shared is my own story of growing up in a Christian church, going to bible college and mission trips, getting involved in student ministry and then once i learned the freedom away from the shackles (sans the rules, organized ways and traditions), i went seeking.

it was when i had the ephinany that spirituality is separate from religion that i researched Eastern philosophies. i tried to make sense of all that i felt so connected to learning of the goddess and divine feminie, and the God up in heaven that i love so much and am commited to. i am still trying.

you and i could sit on a couch for hours sharing. i haven't found many beautiful souls that have experienced both so powerfully and still don't feel they have the answers.

it makes me feel really connected with you.

i struggle with this deeply and now i do not feel alone.

love to you.

11:00 AM  
Blogger gracie said...

I'm new to your blog... this is a powerful story you have shared. Last year I did CPE and it was the most emotionally intense experience of my life. I'm not surprised that you found yourself in a different place spiritually. It opens up the box, throws off the roof and all the walls fall down!! God is very much outside of the box.
Thank you for sharing your story. The number of comments are testament how many people are already blessed by your ministry.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

Dearest Michelle, I have loved many of your posts (as you know)...but this might be my all-time favorite. I couldn't imagine where you were going with your story that would wind up with chocolate. :) But, oh, the place you utterly perfect as an example of the kind of ministering I truly adore. Just one ended with, "even if it is only here on this blog." Maybe instead you could say "especially if it's here on this blog." There's nothing "even if" about the showing up, writing, fearless sharing and creative expression you spill out onto this site...the words that you hand us with grace when we visit here form a beautiful ministry. Consider me a member of the Church of Michelle. xoxo

6:51 PM  
Anonymous b/sis said...

I read your blog because my sister
(bohemian girl)....who I know you comment on regularly, sent it to me via e-mail to read. She did this because I too am a minister and was once married to a minister who had a hidden 2nd life that resulted in our divorce. We were excomunicated from the church and I was devastated. I had a call on my life to serve God and that now had nothing to do with the fact that I was now single and a divorcee. That was 14 years ago and I have been through hell and back. I furthered my ministerial schooling and have also sought God outside of the "church" regulations. There is oh so much more I could can we get in touch? We sound literaly cut from the same mold. I have been a Christian for 34 years, but I have the soul of some divine godess from somewhere. I feel love in your words, but I also feel the sadness, lonliness, frustration too. Thank you for sharing.

All women have stories...we need to tell them to everyone!

8:05 PM  
Blogger susan said...

yours is a beautiful life and this story shows so much growth and understanding and forgiving in the face of such undeserved adversity (if i can be so bold as to call it that) you are a wonderful writer and i enjoy your insight every time i visit.
one of my favorite local poets is a minister in our area and her work is some of the most powerful i have ever heard...

7:09 PM  
Blogger AscenderRisesAbove said...

I really like this photo!!

Thanks for sharing your story!

6:39 AM  
Anonymous beth said...

I was drawn to your blog from it's name and this post made me realize why!

I have a book gift basket biz by the name of La Vie en Rose and one of my favorite baskets (and books) is Chocolat!

What a wonderful choice and an insightful reflection on your life.

6:01 AM  

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