I am overwhelmed by the many areas of my life that have changed since my transition. It really does feel as though I have lived two distinct lives, without much continuity between the two. That is not by choice. It is just my reality.
Outside of relational changes with family and friends, one of the biggest areas of change has been in how I experience spirituality as a female. I haven’t written much about it because I am not sure I can put it into words. It’s time to try.
Back in the 1960s I used to see pictures of older women in heavy coats and headscarves crowded inside cold and drafty Russian Orthodox churches. There was never a man in sight. The Soviet system did its best to eradicate religion from society, and when it came to men, they were pretty successful. Women, however, were another story.
I was intrigued by that reality, more for my personal faith journey than for any interest in the Soviet Union. I struggled with belief in God, probably from the time of my high school years. I devoured Francis Schaeffer’s trilogy on apologetics and read Hans Küng’s tome, Does God Exist? I even considered doing a master’s degree in apologetics (the discipline of defending the veracity of God.) My sense of God’s existence waxed and waned. I felt hopeful when it was waxing, and frightened when it was on the wane. I did not find that the spiritual disciplines helped much. Like the forlorn father in the Gospel of Mark, I cried out, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”
Then I experienced the call to transition as a message from God. It was the first time I ever felt called by God. The same was true when I returned to the church, as well as when I felt called to become one of the pastors at Left Hand Church.
In the TED talk I did with my son, I said, “I believe in God most days. Tuesdays and Thursdays can be tough, and any day I’m on the New Jersey Turnpike.” But every time I see the talk I think to myself, “That was true of my past, but I am not sure it is true anymore.”
I began noticing the change about a year into my life as Paula. I no longer questioned God’s existence. In fact, I didn’t much think about the subject at all anymore. It became something that just was. Was the shift because I was finally living in the right body, no longer torn asunder by gender dysphoria? Did it happen because there was a fundamental change in my body? Or was it the growing sense that my body and mind were finally becoming integrated into one whole being? I believe it was a combination of all three.
God revealed God’s self 14 billion years ago in the Big Bang. The universe is one unified whole, ever expanding and always mysterious. God is also revealed through the Trinity – God, Jesus and Spirit. For Paul, God was a problem to be solved, a God to be understood, an ongoing search for the truth of things. For me, Paula, all of that is to be pondered, not dissected. It is to be taken in, not explained. It is the great I AM.
Now that I accept God’s presence in this precious and holy life, my preaching has become more courageous. My prayers are more spontaneous and soulful. I speak to God throughout the day, easily and audibly. A beautiful sunset seems to emanate from the eyes of God; a child’s laughter from the belly of God; a mother’s tears from the heart of God. God is in all and through all.
If the building blocks of the universe are, as Quantum Physics tells us, a pattern of relationships between nonmaterial entities, then love is the lifeblood of the universe, holding us all in God’s heart.
I often think of those Russian women in their ancient churches, practicing the faith of generations, holding forth love in a cold Soviet system. I think of the mothers with whom I worship at Left Hand Church, holding forth love as they tuck their children into bed. I think of the fathers standing in the freezing cold for hours, watching their little boys skating on the ice, slipping and sliding and occasionally hitting a puck in the general direction of the net. Those fathers too are holding forth love.
All of this is so obvious to me now, this all-encompassing compassionate love of the Creator for her Creation. This God who came to live among us and show us what it means to be fully human, this God who shows solidarity in our suffering, this God whose very name is Love.
I no longer question God’s existence. I do question my capacity to grasp God in all of his fullness. For I certainly grasp God better now than I did as a male. It makes me wonder how much more love we will see when we come face to face with our Creator?