My necklace was tangled, and I was late, and frustrated that my fingers weren’t quite working the knot out as quickly as I’d wanted them to. And I’d cursed under my breath because everyone else would be on time, with their necklaces untangled, unknotted, free, and I’d need to sneak in the back with my head bent, eyes down, mind heavy.
And that’s the story of my relationship with religion.
I was in college, and I’d been nice, quiet, compliant for twenty years. I’d volunteered, said my prayers, never littered. And I suppose it seeped in slowly – a breeze blowing into the back window – as I’d sat in a row of metal folding chairs while those around me sang, and the guitar on stage grew louder and the drummer’s beat pounded in my head and I thought: What if this is all wrong? What if I’ve gotten it all wrong?
It was my first knot.
Two weeks later, I was a lifeguard at a summer camp for church kids like myself, and when I closed the pool for the evening, I ran to my cabin, shut the door and read through everything I knew about the Bible – footnotes and highlights, old bulletins, random verses scrawled onto index cards.
And I’d wanted to encounter something, right then, in one night. I’d wanted the answer – is this true? is this the only way? – and I’d wanted it to be revealed to me like it happens in the movies, or in the books – a flash, a glimpse, a vision. Perhaps a burning bush? I’ve never been above a neon sign.
But the bush didn’t burn. I read and I read and I read, and I fell asleep in the thin pages of Psalms, heavy eyelids, weighty heart.
This story does not have a natural arc. There is no climax, no integral moment where the main character changes her ways – vanquishing doubt and gaining perspective in a single, earth-shattering event. It’s just that I never really left the thin pages behind.
There were seasons where my Bible sat dusty on my nightstand, for weeks or months, but then, on a random rainy Tuesday afternoon, I would return. There were seasons where my nighttime prayers were replaced by the scrolling of Instagram, the watching of House of Cards, but then, on a late Sunday night, I would return. I could not stay away, it seemed, not out of love, but out of curiosity.
What if the answers were tucked in the thin pages? I have always wanted to know.
I once read that adopting a religion does not mean you have learned the answers, or that you have discovered God. It simply means that you are committed to wrestling with it all. You are committed to returning to the thin pages when you don’t feel as if there are any words for you inside. You are committed to speaking to a God you cannot hear, and you are committed to looking for a God you cannot see.
And that is what my necklace, my religion, looks like. It is tangled, battered, but there is just enough space for me to pull it over my head and wear it, in all of its knotted glory.
In the past few months, I have encountered so many women with knotted necklaces of their own, women who believe that the damage is irreparable, who have tossed their necklace into the street gutters to be washed away in the midnight rain. The knots are too tangled, they have said. It is of no use to me now.
Still, the thin pages beckon.
Last month, after returning home from a business trip, the lariat in my bag had been bumped around enough times to produce a knot near its pendant. I wrestled with it, poking and prodding and muttering under my breath, and still, it would not give.
I’d thought of tossing it, but it was a talisman for me. It had been a gift from a friend to celebrate a momentous occasion, and it had meant something to me. No, it could not be tossed.
And so, I tucked it in a drawer. I will keep it, and I will try again tomorrow.