I’ve been thinking a lot lately about rituals — the actions we take part in every day that give us some peace in this out-of-control world, whether that means drinking our morning coffee out of a special mug, getting breakfast every morning from the same bodega or simply doing our laundry on the same day every week. Mormonism’s rituals aren’t nearly as interesting as those of pretty much any other religion, but thinking about the ones we leave behind when we walk out of a Sunday service for the last time can still bring on a sense of hesitant nostalgia. (That’s why Instagram accounts like this one are simultaneously amusing and nausea-inducing.)
In the depths of my faith crisis, I spent a lot of time by the lake in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park. I spent hours wandering around its perimeter, stopping occasionally to kneel by its edge or stare over the side of the bridge that spans it. (I’m a sucker for melodrama.) I lived only a few minutes’ walk away when I first realized I may no longer have wanted to consider myself Mormon, and the first thing I did was walk to the park. The park was where I ultimately decided to go inactive and was the last place I visited before moving to Las Vegas in 2013.
I didn’t return to Utah until March of this year, when I paid a visit to Temple Square. I felt like it would be good to show myself that this place that used to have so much control over me had become only a building to me. So I sat on a bench by the temple and I cried, allowing myself for the first time to feel grief over my experience.
I returned to Salt Lake again in August for the Sunstone Symposium. The time I spent in the city on this trip made me realize something: Where last time I realized that I had to allow myself to feel grief to start to heal, this time I realized that I have to give myself permission to let it go. Since rituals have been on my mind as of late, I decided to perform a ritual to say goodbye. To allow myself to start moving on.
Music was always the only part of the church experience I semi-enjoyed, as depressing as Mormon music tends to be, so I queued up the hymns I used to love, considering this last play a tribute of sorts to the person I used to think I was. I sat by the lake and cried through “The Spirit of God” and wrote a goodbye letter, which I’m sharing here because I couldn’t burn it in the park like I wanted to:
I can imagine myself as a young child, hair in a slick, high ponytail, frilly socks halfway up my calves.
“I’d like to bury my testimony,” I would have said into the microphone to knowing smiles in the congregation. “I know this church is true.”
So in tribute to that hopeful, optimistic, naive version of myself, I’d like to bury my testimony, putting to rest that old feeling that I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. I’ll bury it along with all the years of perfectionism and self-doubt, along with every time I ever felt like I wasn’t good enough and every minute I ever spent not appreciating this life out of fear of what may come in the next. I’ll bury it along with every time I ever rested on my knees in tears, pleading with a cruel God whose love was conditional on my ability to follow arbitrary rules instead of my heart. I’ll bury it next to the time and energy I wasted trying to save it.
I’ll bury it in the cool earth, deep enough that it can’t hurt me any longer but maybe too deep, deep enough that I forget what has made me into myself.
So maybe instead I’ll release it into the sticky air and watch it swirl around me, and I’ll no longer fear that every breath will be the one that suffocates me.
Or maybe I’ll set it ablaze and watch its ashes rise out of the crackling flames along with the knowledge I was once so sure of, dust to dust.
But I think I’ll let it drift into the water of this great, green-tinged lake, the site of my disaffection and the source of my comfort, and let the algal bloom take it over and transfer it back to Mother Earth, transformed into a benign shadow that I’ll watch disappear with the rising sun.
I noticed a flat piece of driftwood on the bank of the lake and figured that would do in place of my letter, but I struggled to figure out what my symbolic offering should say. Finally I settled on three words: I AM FREE.
I knelt at the lake’s edge and released the piece of wood … and it was really anti-climactic. I should’ve put it in a river, I guess, because all it did in the lake was sit right in front of me. So I picked it up and tossed it further, this time, and watched the current from a passing paddleboat overwhelm it as the final lines of “I Stand All Amazed” played. I walked away as the final song I had chosen played at last: Frank Turner’s “Glory, Hallelujah”:
Raise up your lowered head and hear the liberation beat, because there never was no God.