For six weeks, we’re exploring the question, “How do we walk out our faith in the midst of pain, suffering, disappointment, and loneliness,” with a book club discussion on Thursdays about Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Today Tara Pohlkotte shares her story inspired from Chapters 2-4. Tara is a kindred spirit, a weaver of beautiful word poetry that helps me see differently, a generous and kind heart. I know you will be as inspired by her as much as I am.

I grew up cradled in other people’s faith.

In a small pine church in Northern Minnesota
my grandpa held me up on top of a pew, my back pressed to his chest.
I could feel the hymn rise through the length of his body, reverberating into mine.

I felt so safe there.

Held by his miner foreman hands.
Hands make thick for the life they had made,
for the responsibility they carried

and yet, soft –
with my heart
with the land
with the spirit.

There in his hands,
my body learned the timbers of song
and I would watch the trees outside the church windows.

Trees with their heads bending,
shifting their branches,
leaves whispering their own benedictions

and my heart joined in the chorus of all creation.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes about her first being aware of a divine presence,
long before she first had a vocabulary for such things, describing:

“As hard as I have tried to remember the exact moment when I fell in love with God, I cannot do it. My earliest memories are bathed in a kind of golden light that seemed to embrace me as surely as my mother’s arms. The Divine Presence was strongest outdoors, and most palpable when I was alone. When I think of my first cathedral, I am back in a field behind my parents’ house in Kansas, with every stalk of prairie grass lit from within…My skin is happy on the black dirt, which speaks the language by bones understand. If I roll over and think only about the places on my back that are touching the ground, then pretty soon I cannot tell whether I am pressing down on the earth or the earth is pressing up on me….

Because I was not brought up in church, I had no religious language for what happened in that golden-lit field or in any of the other woods or fields that followed it. I had no picture in my mind of a fantastic-looking old man named God who lived in heaven above my head. I did not know to close my eyes and bow my head to speak to this God, and I certainly did not know that there was anything wrong with that field or what I experienced in it. If anyone had tried to tell me that creation was fallen or that I should care more for heaven than earth, I would have gone off to lie in the sweet grass by myself.” {Chapter 3}

When I read this passage
hot tears began to roll the length of my face
“yes” is all I could whisper.

See, my soul rarely feels full of the Divine Presence in a room full of people.

I need an open sky,
a pine needled floor,
with the wind laying hands on me.

A place prayer doesn’t require words –
where prayer is a posture,
a constant heart-state.

When a sob, or a whoop of delight is all that breaks forth,
and I know that I am known.
Not just by name, but by the way my hair smells warmed by the sun.

Even as a child I had a hard time connecting the benedictions I could hear rustling in the leaves
to the worksheets filled out during Sunday School.

It felt as though the wonder and vastness of a Creator
was being distilled down to little more than a history lesson.
The messy act of forgiveness, the hot passionate pursuit of love – missing.

I still feel an urgency within myself to avoid most tired Christian phraseology.
These catch-phrases, like other words used by people who have a history of being oppressors,
keep people away, perhaps wounded by those that spoke those words before, instead of drawing in.

Within these statements I feel the constraints of man-made religion.
A Jesus: white skinned, brown bearded, simply robed, complete with a felt backing
to be stuck on my life in convenient truths.

Barbara did not need to know the name of worship,
there between the blades of sweet grass,
her soul lifted, and she was communing with her maker.

She did not need to be told to bow her head, fold her hands to speak to God.
She clutched God’s breast when she felt the soil at her back,
She was aware of creation greater than herself, and with it, she felt oneness.

I believe we do an expansive God an injustice when we distill His presence into prescribed formulas.
We need not be afraid of the individuality of each person’s road, each person’s version of Jesus.
Understand that Church can be found many places: A corn field, a living room, an amphitheater.

When we stop to listen to one another, truly listen to their life,
not wasting our interaction with them by making character or morality assessments,

we get the amazing opportunity of laying our bodies out on the ground together.
Marveling at how expansive the sky above us really is –
and sit amazed,

that for all that expanse, that ol’ sun finds us still.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you still experience God in the same places you did as a child? How has this grown or changed?

2. Are there statements in the Christian faith that you find too snug or restrictive?

3. Are there statements in the Christian faith, or passage of a book, etc., that encircles a whole of an experience for you? That when you first heard or read it, like I read Barbara’s passage, you thought – “That’s it!”

4. Barbara talks about helping people being an extremely large motivator in her vocation. Do you identify with this? What motivates you?

Tara Pohlkotte
Mama of two sweet souls.
Lover of simple beauty.

You can keep in touch with Tara at her blog: Pohlkotte Press, or her writer’s Facebook Page.

Join the conversation in the comments and on the Facebook page at Redemptions Beauty Book Club. If your a blogger and you’ve written a post about walking out your faith in the midst of difficult circumstance, add you link in the comments.