I grew up certain. With eyes closed and hands raised, a WWJD bracelet around my wrist. I knew who my first love was. I knew what my “why” was. I tried to share my hopeful truth in stumbling words and a life good enough that people would ask questions and I could tell them the answer was Jesus.
Now I am not so certain. I am not so sure. And as I have whispered my doubts, I have found company in other women who are also hovering at back doors on Sunday mornings rather than running to the front. Not wanting to leave, or let go, but finding it harder and harder to stay. We do not want to wallow, though, or bury our heads in the sand, or proclaim that we’re now going at it alone. We still want to grow.
And so, we are starting to find each other. And while I constantly question God’s involvement in our tiny little lives, at the same time I wonder: is it purely coincidence that our first gathering takes places minutes from the chapel I visited that day when the door was locked and the branches creaked threatening against an overcast sky? Is this some heavenly humour, some sacred synchronicity?
This time—in the shadow of the rolling South Downs and sprinklings of ancient trees—is different. Anxiety is not forcing my breath out in stutters. The sky is the bluest it’s been yet this year. I have chosen to be here. And from the first of the berries laid out like jewels in bowls upon a patchwork of rugs, looked over by swaying lavender, this feels like a holy moment. In a slightly overgrown oasis next to a rambling brick house with wonky floors we stretch out and breathe. We sweat gently, then offer faces and limbs to the breeze.
Bringing people together who do not know each other can be nerve-wracking. I want the women I love to love each other, but I know that's not always the case. You can't force it. My friends are from different worlds: mystical and political. Mothers and single. Midwives and dancers. Into yoga and considering the army.
But with suncream slathered on and coffee cups emptying, magic starts to happen. Somehow we dive right in with conversations around ovaries, menstruation myths, paying attention to our cycles and learning to honour our bodies, and common ground is found. Our wombs open doors to each other.
We talk about our mothers, being a mother, wanting to be mother, not wanting to be a mother, God as a mother. Mother God makes space for us. Our sacred spaces welcome each other in.
We risk sharing stories held close to the chest and find release and revelation. Our truths push open heavy doors, creaking after years of shame that have silenced us.
We talk about multiple homes, memories, siblings, and disappointing our fathers. We talk about being disappointed, disheartened, and depressed. We talk about choosing love over scripture, and we ask what worship means.
We are holding back and letting go. Saying yes after a lifetime of no. Standing our ground after being walked over. We are scarred and sometimes scared. But together, we bring fears into the light and imagine that God is the sea anyways, so if we fall, if we drift off, if the boat sinks or overturns or we find there was never a boat at all, it will be into holy water; we will fall into God.
After lunch, we walk past whinnying horses with shining flanks and over the field to the chapel. That same chapel. Ambling lightly from the opposite direction to which I approached it last time.
The air in the graveyard is warm. This time the door is open.
Inside it is simple, cool. I find the place that the Sheela Na Gig was chiseled away. If I hadn’t read about her before I never would have noticed the absence of a wild woman wearing her womb proud, repose in the wall of a centuries-old church building. But now I know she was here, and I am sad we missed each other. We don’t stay long in the chapel. It feels neither holy nor unholy. Neither empty nor full. We are a little curious, a little still, that is all. The sun beckons us back outside.
What feels more holy (or more magical) is the smell of fresh coriander sprinkled on curry, cooked to old school tunes and kitchen dancing. The glow spilling out into the dark garden—where shining eyes catch the light, as secrets are shared and hands held—is the shimmy of long grass on top of Chanctonbury Hill that we climbed together, plodding up to the rhythm of Ecclesiastes. There is a time for everything.
Later, with wine and chocolate, we talk about sex and books and space and God as an alien, even. We laugh.
For once guilt and shame aren’t the dogs snapping at our heels, but goodness and mercy like the broken psalmist once said.
These moments and these conversations will become the beads on my rosary that I'll thread through my fingers when the night is long and hope is hard to find.
In the morning, after solid sleep on lumpy mattresses, we return to the garden and breathe in time with one another. We massage hope into weary bodies. We thank our legs for the miles they’ve carried us, knead the dough of one another’s calves, acknowledging the miracle of skin and being held together. By our bones and by one another. We lay hands on each other’s bellies and honour the wonder that takes place within. We do not rush, despite running late and Sunday commitments beckoning. My friend says this is the longest that she's ever been held for.
I'm glad we took our time.
Katrina Quinn is a sea-loving writer and performer who can’t sit still for long. She's moved house more than 20 times; collecting people, poems, photographs and dance moves along the way. Katrina is currently based in Shoreham-by-sea in the South of England. She works in communications for a small charity and a theatre company. Her spoken word show, Individual Medley, is about moving to Zambia aged 12, and about swimming. www.katrinaswords.com
Psst, read Katrina's first work, Sacred Spaces.
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