This weekend, I made a list and went shopping at a couple of stores several miles from my house. I wandered the aisles looking for the perfect presents to ship off to friends wrapped in paper and string, then selected groceries in another store. I was riding the bus, so I chose things carefully: I only can carry two medium-filled bags, plus my purse, successfully from the bus stop to my house. I’ve tried taking two big bags and had them start to break before, forcing me to cradle the items like clunky, overweight babies.
So this time, I made sure to double the brown paper bags Portland requires, dispersing my goods evenly as I waited for my bus.The sky was unseasonably clear and bright, with golden-edged clouds spicing the horizon. It was so beautiful, I took a picture, but my old phone camera is so shabby, it wasn’t worth keeping.
I read on the bus as evening came, not noticing those peppy clouds had invited several friends for a wild meteorological party. As I reached my stop, rain started falling, hard. My usual transfer was 20 minutes away, so I hopped on a different line. The bus driver missed my stop by three streets. Seven blocks separated me from my front door — an easy, pleasant jaunt, usually, but a bit daunting under present circumstances.
I finagled my umbrella out of my purse with one hand while clutching my groceries and gifts with the other arm, rain falling straight and fast. I am a fast walker on the sunniest of days. But with my bags quickly getting wet, I upped my pace to the point of looking, no doubt, like an out-of-place senior mallwalker.
Four blocks away, I gave up on the umbrella. I just couldn’t balance four things while speed-walking, and it was hardly helping anyway.
Two blocks away, the precious paper tenuously confining my purchases fully soaked through. I hugged my three bags and half-closed umbrella, hunched against the night. I almost laughed, and I briefly considered crying, but instead I just walked.
One block away, items started slipping. A clump of bananas lay despondent on the sidewalk. Some peppermint bark destined for a friend’s stocking plopped into a puddled driveway. The lid of a tin rolled into the grass of a neighbor I’d never met. At least a third of my wares fell along the street, belated bread crumbs leading me home.
Finally, I ran across my lawn — boots, tights, and socks long soaked-through and muddied — and flung the soggy brown pile onto my front porch before running back to gather the things left behind, gripping them with my sopping-sleeved arms.
My roommate helped pull everything inside. I stood dripping on the gray kitchen tiles, evaluating the wet chaos. And I realized: Nothing breakable had fallen. The groceries were intact. The gifts’ containers were wet, but they were undamaged.
That felt like a kindness. And like a revelation.
I don’t know how to articulate where I am with my faith. Am I a Christian or a skeptic? A prodigal returning or a chosen wanderer? I feel like I’ve been walking a long time.
As a kid, I knew what a faithful life was supposed to look like. At times, I would thrill in the spring feeling of belief. But I could never quite capture its golden fullness, and the questions rained down. I felt ashamed of these thundering doubts. I felt afraid of them, too.
I tried to prepare for the plaguing spiritual attacks, tried to double my protections with scripture and prayer and modesty and virtue and quiet times and poetry and angst. It was not enough.
I kept walking. You’ve heard that, haven’t you, if you’ve spent time in evangelicalism, that faith is a walk, a journey, a progress? So I just kept walking forward, hoping to find solace. Jesus walked, too, and on the waters of the storm. Would he walk with me now? Would he rescue me from the rain and the waves, from the doubts and the devils?
I am still walking and still wandering. I have let fall many doctrines, many quirks, many mores. And so I feel sometimes empty-handed, like I have lost something valuable, like I have ruined gifts I should have cherished better, believed better, and passed on to others yet; I should have turned my back against the rain, kept white-knuckling the totems and the creeds. I look back at all I’ve dropped, and sometimes I feel anxious, like I should rush back to where I’ve been.
But I also feel lighter. I feel the adrenaline relief at a storm’s passing, and the calm of dry soft clothes.
I am still walking, and I feel like I’m getting closer to home. I practice the sacraments sometimes, but I don’t always believe anyone causes or calms the tempests. I remember the bursting, bright sky of belief sometimes, but the convictions I still hold are less bulky than before.
I often don’t even know what to write in this space now, because I don’t know where I’m writing from, or who I’m writing to. I write best from the end of thoughts, and I feel like my thinking has only begun.
But there are simple rain-birthed revelations. The things I’m carrying aren’t as fragile as I thought — and it turns out, neither am I. That’s a kindness.