Who are you? Who are you spiritually? What “counts” as spirituality in your life and how do you live into it authentically?
Authenticity has been much of my mind of late, as I have been writing down memories from the first 30 years or so of my life. I am in midlife now, and I find that I want to reclaim what was beautiful and authentic in my life, what I lost because I was afraid of what others would think.
She was a young woman in her mid-twenties, about a size 22 or so, 5’10”, big by anyone’s standards, but more Reubenesque than otherwise. She wore a black leather biker jacket with handcuffs on one epaulet and a steel cockring on the other. Her hair was buzzed short and she wore big, femme earrings to go with it. Further in the butch-femme combinations, she has long violet nails on one hand, short on the other. She painted on bright, fuchsia lipstick whenever she went out to events. When her hair wasn’t buzzed, it was black or fuchsia, or both.
She had piercings and tattoos. One piercing showed consistently—the one in her tongue. Once it had healed, she loved it. She loved the feel of it. She loved it as a tool in lovemaking. She just loved the heavy steel in her mouth. She wore short skirts with Mary Janes to go dancing. She had one pair of stockings with seams up the back. The butch she was dating loved those best, and so did she. Otherwise, it was dresses with hiking boots, a remnant of the way she had dressed before her heart had been broken.
She smoked Marlboro Reds out of a long cigarette extender. Or sometimes the black Russians her father gave her for Christmas one year. When she smoked clove cigarettes, she kissed whatever nearby woman would let her—on the street, in a restaurant, at the bar, wherever. She loved the sweet taste of a woman’s lips with the cloves. Truth be told, she loved the taste of a woman’s lips, period.
The above is word picture of me. It is a picture of a young woman trying out identity. And it is also a woman living into an authentic expression of who she was. When I went to spend time with the Sisters of St. Joseph, they interpreted various things—taking out my tongue ring, letting my natural hair color grow out, giving away my jacket, wearing more colors—as shows of authenticity. They were wrong.
Being stripped down to our bare bones presentation is one way to be authentic. It is one way to show who we are and even who we aspire to be. I watched the Grammys this week, and there were people dressed up who clearly didn’t want to be, people dressed up who were delighted to be, and people dressed down for whom it was a mandatory expression of who they were. I was struck by the different expressions of authenticity and the felt sense that some folks clearly had of mandatory inauthenticity.
I recently had my hair dyed blue and violet. Why? Why on EARTH would a minister dye her hair such crazy colors.
I colored my hair because I missed that aspect of my authenticity, even of my spirituality. My spirituality has always been founded in joy. Although I have a particular devotion to Our Lady, Queen of Sorrows, have a fundamental position that “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ) And Joy is the relative of Delight. For me, delight is found in color, in flamboyance, in expansiveness, and sometimes in intensity.
I have labored under the belief that UU ministers must look a certain way, have a certain body type, not have mobility issues, be theologically middle-of-the-road, and be what is commonly understood as “healthy.” I have labored under the belief that I ought to be thin; have sensibly cut, brown hair; and not be a “problem” in the requests I need to make to accommodate my mobility concerns.
Some of the character (myself) I described above had her accoutrements as a function of her age. My mid-twenties were a time of exploration, of figuring out just who I was and who I wanted to be. Some of it, though, was an authentic expression of something I was seeking, something I was deepening into, something real, true, and authentic.
What is authenticity for you? What are you holding in check because you’re afraid of the consequences of living into your real life?
I’m going to write more about this in Reflections, so if you’re interested, please sign up for the newsletter, here. You’ll have the opportunity to read more of my thoughts, get a sense of what is coming up with The Way of the River—Discernment work, Tarot teachings, and retreats, and that’s just what’s coming up soon!—and generally get a spiritual boost in an irregularly regular format!
Hope to see you there!