Editor’s Note: In this second installment of “The Breech & The Turning,” Cari Donaldson continues her spiritual quest and finds herself grounded, unexpectedly, in the Mississippi mud. If you’d like to begin at the beginning, read the first installment here.
I left college in May of 1998. By the next month, I had a teaching position in the same school district I went to as a child. The man I’d loved since I was 14 proposed to me in October of that same year, and we moved in together in February of 1999, with the wedding date set for August of that same year.
To say that it was a busy time in my life would be, in retrospect, an understatement.
Moving from the extended adolescence that college allows to something resembling responsible adulthood meant that I could, for a while anyway, shelve the whole search for a resting place in God. I did so with relief. I still maintained a set of holdovers from my pagan years—a belief in reincarnation, and a vague pantheism being most notable. Unable to figure out how God wanted us to relate to one another, I gave up trying.
Then time for serious wedding plans came. My first choice was an extremely small wedding of no more than 50 or so people, held entirely in my parents’ backyard—it was a beautiful setting, and full of comforting memories; I couldn’t imagine having it anywhere else. My parents, sensibly concerned about a number of logistical and potential problems a home wedding brings with it, encouraged Ken and me to come up with another option.
We couldn’t think of one. Neither of us wanted to elope, and the thought of the actual ceremony taking place in a dreary, municipal setting was depressing. Lack of options meant that when the Presbyterian church of our childhood was suggested, we couldn’t think of anything compelling to counter it with. What it lacked in religious significance for me it made up in sentimental ones. After all, Ken and I had both gone there growing up. And while we went to the same school, we were in different grades, so it was the church’s youth group that was the stage for our fledgling romance. Marrying in that church seemed a sweet nod to the physical location that brought us together.
The pastor who had worked there when we attended had since gone to another church, but Ken and I thought we’d see if he’d be willing to come back to officiate the wedding. We met with him in his office at his current church, and he agreed to do so. He handed us a packet of common wedding vows, and said that we could customize the ceremony however we felt comfortable.
I took him at his word, and spent the next several nights sitting at the coffee table with scissors and glue, cutting one phrase from one version of the wedding ceremony, and another phrase from a different one. In every version, however, I made sure to remove the name of Jesus from the proceedings. I was fine marrying in a church. I was fine having our childhood pastor officiate. I was fine mentioning God in the ceremony, but I would not allow Christ to be mentioned. It was too religious, too Christian. A non-specific “God” could be invoked, and that was as far as I was willing to go.
Both the pastor and Ken agreed to my editing job, and so we were married in a Presbyterian church in a ceremony that banned any reference to Jesus.
Despite the changes in my life, I found my thoughts returning with increasing frequency toward God. Having found nothing particularly useful in New Age teachings, absolute desperation turned my attention to organized religion. After all, I reasoned, if a religious institution was going to have staying power and a sizable audience, two things it needed to fall under the “organized” category in my mind, it probably had something logical and useful to say.