Image Map

Preacher's Daughter: A Goodbye and a Word About "the Shadow Between"

Well, we have reached the end of this series. This has been such a rich topic for me that, of course, there are many things I'd hoped to cover but didn't. For this last post, I thought I'd briefly discuss a woman whose music about the loss—or absence—of god has resonated with me personally over the past couple of months as I've thought and written on this subject.

On her 2010 release, A Heart of My Own, Canadian singer-songwriter Basia Bulat ruminates on the loss of god. Here she is singing the popular track, "The Shore":

Bulat's approach to spirituality is interesting, in part, because she has a very recent Christian background. Her 2008 EP, Touch the Hem of His Garment, suggested that she would go on to become one of those bland Christian Contemporary artists I've so roundly mocked here. But her real debut, the 2008 LP, Oh My Darling, was much more promising. 

Released for a mainstream audience, it didn't contain any of the EP's piety. As a bonus, it set Bulat apart from the clichés of her genre. Her penchant for lush instrumentation and the autoharp (of all things) made her interesting and quirky, a welcome addition to a folk genre filled with Dar Williams copies. "The Shore" is a contemplative meditation on the persistence of love even once you "take the divine away." The solemn sound evokes something sacred that doesn't necessarily include god.

Back in my evangelical days, I remember hearing lectures against romantic involvement with non-Christians, often paired with a statement like, "They can be good people, but they don't really have the capacity to love others." I found that statement tremendously stupid then, and as I navigated my own loss of god, I realized that such pretense is also harmful. Who wants to lose god if it impedes your ability to love others? For me, "The Shore" intervenes by simply situating love—romantic or otherwise—outside the divine, in the material world.

Perhaps my favorite song on the album, though, is "Heart of My Own," which may be about a couple of different things, but the loss of faith is certainly one of them:

The statements, "I've been uncrossed, and I've been untrue/I've been the thorn, and I've been the heart" play on Biblical imagery. To be "uncrossed" is potentially to be apart from god. To be the "thorn" is to tempt others—and probably the self, in this case—to move away from god. The imagery comes from a verse in 2nd Corinthians, and suggests that the "heart" and emotions have unapologetically facilitated this change.

It's the next few lines that speak to me the most: "But the heart of my own—burn it down low/The light in your verse and the shadow between/The way that I was when I used to know/If I go, what do I hold?" When I try to explain my faith to anyone, it becomes jumbled and incoherent. But I think these words capture where I am beautifully. I invested quite a lot in Christianity in my past, but that was before I got into the habit of (figuratively) burning things down and blowing things up. I am not quite an atheist, and because I still resonate with Biblical imagery, I am not quite an agnostic either.

I'd describe my faith as something having to do with "The light in your verse and the shadow between/The way that I was when I used to know." That is to say, I still find images and stories in the Bible that hold meaning, or even light, for me, but I have certainly become "uncrossed," and now I persist in that shadow between the words that resonate and the spiritual practice I've left behind. And I am better off in that place. I am not sure that I can name exactly what I have left—what I "hold"—but I know I can never go back to a place of putting spiritual pressure on myself. Left to that "heart of my own," I rather have to make my own way, "culturally Christian" or not. It's not fruitful to keep pushing for something that isn't there. "There are roses that come without seeking," Bulat sings, "There are the ones that I have to sow."

Another couple of lines, as I read them, speak to the tedium of forced spirituality: "It is work to be dancing out here/If tomorrow I'm mending the empty bones." I think this is a reference to Psalm 51, in which David is said to repent of adultery. One translation of verse 8 reads: "Let me hear [sounds of] joy and gladness. Let the bones that you have broken dance." When the metaphorical "bones" are empty, though, it takes work and showmanship to "be dancing out here." Repeated mending is, in my reading, a sisyphean task. Better to embrace the "roses that come without seeking" than to keep looking for something I lost when "I stood in the room of a house divided/And it washed away from me." There's a point, I think, at which those of us who have believed in something simplistic start to realize that we've placed all our eggs in "a simple charm to keep the wolves at bay" that just doesn't work anymore. We grow up. We learn to get on with life anyway. 

You all have been lovely to me in comments, and I hope to continue seeing you around! Feel free to follow me on Twitter if interested in receiving future updates about where to find my writing or chat about the kinds of questions I've raised here. Thanks to Kelsey for being a great editor, and thanks to all of you for your comments and lively discussions. I've certainly enjoyed writing the series, and I invite you to continue the conversations in comments, as well as comment on topics that you wish I'd had a chance to cover as well. Thanks again, and be well!

Let me sign out with Bulat's "If it Rains," which talks about holding one's friends "where the sun won't dry them out." I haven't mentioned here that I suffer from lupus, so I live with all of the flares and sun rashes that come with that disease. That's why this is a comforting image and one that speaks to me. At the end of the day, I think this is all I need in terms of "spirituality"—a community of earthbound people in which everyone can deal with rain—and keep each other close so the sun can't dry them out and burn them afterwards. I find this image hopeful and refreshingly unsentimental after a lifetime of being told that I was being pursued by a god who wanted me to love "him" passionately even though I never felt anything in return:

Guess what? Subscriptions to Bitch—our award-winning, 80+ page print quarterly—are 20% off to help us reach our $25,000 funding goal by September 30. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

8 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Thank you so much for writing

Thank you so much for writing this column. I have felt utterly alone in my gradual departure from Christianity, and your words have lessened that. Any way you can provide a recommended reading list for those of us whose religious views are in transit? Not atheist, not quite agnostic, no longer evangelical.

Ah, thank you so much. That's

Ah, thank you so much. That's very kind. To be honest, most of the reading list that has helped me through this has been academic - continental philosophy texts, specifically (Foucault and Adorno/Horkheimer, in particular). I can recommend Sarah Sentilles' new book, Breaking Up with God: A Love Story. I've just started reading it, but it's a memoir of a similar story. I'll try to think of some other things, though, and add them to this thread if I come up with anything.

At No Longer Quivering, they

At No Longer Quivering, they have put together a book list of books written from a variety of perspectives here. I havent' read most of them, but a number are about leaving evangelicalism in particular, and you may like some of these. Vyckie Garrison, who runs that site, is a friend.

I haven't always agreed with

I haven't always agreed with you, but I have gladly returned to your writing. This speaks, I think, to your wonderful honesty, openness and desire to challenge. Thank you for writing.

Thank you

Thank you for your open and honest reflections about. Your departure from Christianity. It is a painful process, and I appreciated reading your posts that affirm my own process leaving the Christian church.

Thank you for writing! I

Thank you for writing! I haven't read your other posts, and I'm sure you've addressed this elsewhere, but I would like to put in a word to say that atheist, agnostic and evangelical aren't the only options--there's such a huge and interesting spectrum of beliefs in Christianity and on its borders. Evangelicals and fundamentalists aren't necessarily the deepest believers, either--I come from a very politically liberal Protestant denomination and know many people who question a lot of aspects of Christianity but still have very deep faith. I'm not at all trying to say that you should be like that or stay Christian, but I just wanted to make sure that people know evangelicals aren't the only Christians.

Also, I'm currently taking a college class on radical critiques of Christianity, and if anyone is still looking for good books to read, I recommend "The Essence of Christianity" by Ludwig Feuerbach (in which he argues that all religion is human projections of human characteristics onto ideas of the divine), "Beyond God the Father" by Mary Daly (feminist rethinking of Christianity) and "In Face of Mystery" by Gordon Kaufman (in which he tries to come up with a universal concept of a Christian God that would avoid all the evil Christianity has done in the world). It's not exactly light reading, but if you want some brain food...

Thanks for your comment.

Thanks for your comment. You're certainly right that there are many different flavors of Christianity, of course. 

Thanks also for your list of reading ideas. One thing I do have to state is that Mary Daly, though she shows up all over feminist theology studies, really hated trans* people. She pretty much set in motion the very virulent strain of transphobia that we see throughout the history of radical feminism. She literally advocated for the extermination of trans women. 

I know that some women find some of her writing helpful, and are surprised and troubled later when they read about her transphobia. This isn't something I can relate to, though I saw a lot of writing about it when she died. I found feminism through transnational feminism, and I still resonate with that more deeply than I do with many of the dominant feminisms found in North America. I haven't read Daly, so I'm not qualified to speak about the relative worth of some of her ideas. But I do know a bit about the history there. 

Christianity

Hey, I stumbled onto this page while looking up lyrics for Basia and got to reading and afterwards it literally hurt my heart. It hurt because I hate to hear of people with bad experiences with the Christian Church or with Christians in general and for that to cause people to leave the faith is about as painful as it comes. I've been a Christian since I was 8 but like anyone I've had to face the realities of life and see if what I believe was just my parents faith of if there was something real to it after all. I've doubted alot and looked for backing to what I believe especially outside of just what the Bible says. Because if something is indeed true then it should be true no matter what. It should not be true then all the sudden not just because you now say you are a believer in this guy or this thing or maybe a believer in not much at all. Truth is truth! So when I found something true in my life I checked it against the Bible and it came back true every time. The problem is that so many people misinterpret the Bible or change it for personal use. As a human I admit to being wrong. I've been wrong alot and maybe when it comes to Christianity I am wrong too. All I know is that until I find something untrue about the Bible and about the Savior it speaks of I HAVE to believe it is true. I know everyone has had different experiences and there are some really really tough questions to be asked but just know there is more to life than just living and dying. Earth isn't just a random mass that came together perfectly by chance to create life. We were created by something intelligent and with a purpose. Purpose is what most people spend their whole life looking for and I would hate to think some people that have been hurt by the church or Christians would give up that purpose and not overlook the fault of a bunch of faulted humans to see a Creator that loves you more than anyone on earth ever could. I've been hurt and betrayed by people. Even close friends. Never have I been hurt or betrayed by God. Thanks for reading my long comment and forgive me for my own shortcomings when writing this