“Losing My Religon”
by Robin Bartlett
I somehow lost my chalice necklace on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston the same day I lost my marriage and my religion. I must have dropped it while I was walking down the street. It was a bad day.
Let me back up. I grew up Unitarian Universalist. I had a chalice necklace for a long time that I only sometimes wore. When I went to divinity school in 2009, I started to change so much that I didn’t recognize myself. I began to feel that Unitarian Universalism lacked depth and symbolism, and I began to love Jesus with a passion. I prayed to a radically loving and forgiving God I had never believed in before because I had never needed God until then. I had just finished a hospital chaplaincy internship. I just knew that I was going to die soon because I was thirty-five and if I live until I’m seventy then I’m officially middle aged, and I only had a little bit of time left to make a difference in this world. What if Unitarian Universalism couldn’t help me do that? My marriage was crumbling at the same time, and I was coming unhinged. It turns out it wasn’t just my chalice necklace that was lost. So was my soul. And my dignity. Has this ever happened to you?
So I wandered up and down Commonwealth Avenue, wiping away boogers and sobbing like my seven-year-old sobs when I’m mad at her, looking for my chalice necklace and actually saying out loud over and over again, “What does it mean? What does it mean?”
I talked to my therapist and a mentor about this incident, asking them if it meant God wanted me to be a Christian and not a UU. They confirmed to me that yes, I was coming unhinged. My mentor gave me one of her extra chalice necklaces and made me some soup.
Two years later, my sanity restored, I finally purchased a new chalice necklace at General Assembly in the shape of a cross. I thought, “this is how I can honor the place I have come to in my spiritual journey...where Jesus and Unitarian Universalism hug on this cross.” I wore it every day. People commented on it all the time. “I thought you were a UU. Why are you wearing a cross?” This made me feel very annoyed and, at the same time, gave me the kind of self-satisfied pride that comes from rebelling against your mom.
The week before my ordination, I returned home from church and realized that my chalice cross was missing from my neck. So I did what any totally sane thirty-something does. I took to Facebook to ask my Facebook friends, “What does it mean?!”
And my Facebook friends said a bunch of things, from “You need a better clasp on your chain” to “It means you don’t need outward symbols to know what is in your heart.” The most useful advice of all was: “Get a tattoo. You can’t lose that.”
The next day, I found my cross chalice, with its chain missing, in my inside coat pocket. So here’s what gives me hope for the next time I am feeling off the chain: When I am lost, I will always be found. I will always be found by the Love that won’t let me go. That Love doesn’t exist only in symbol. Instead, it almost always comes in the form of people—talking sanity, making me soup, and telling me what it all means.