Faith and Charlie Horses

It’s hard to explain faith. Someone–an acquaintance from college–recently wrote that they were doing me a kindness by not considering me evangelical and writing me off.

The truth is, I don’t mind being written off. But I am concerned about being considered evangelical. Because I’m plenty busy with keeping myself in line without getting involved with what anyone else is doing. (Unless those someone elses are trying to devastate large parts of humanity. Then I get upset and noisy.)

I can’t tell you exactly why I’m a person of faith. What I can tell you is that it has little to do with identity politics, or what I was born into, although those things are real and provide context.

It’s a million lonely moments. Times when I was crushingly without direction and full of anxiety. For some time just after 9/11 I lived alone above a little violin shop in Germantown. Muslims in America had gone from mostly unremarkable to public enemy #1 virtually overnight.

I had recently gone through a divorce, having found out that my husband was involved in some stalker behavior that, beyond wrecking everything I thought I’d known of him was just downright….creepy.

I was working a lot, running an evening clinic on top of my day job. And I was fighting to figure out where all of the energy to keep going was going to come from.

And the weirdest thing started happening. I’d been praying, for solace, out of desperation, I’m not sure exactly, except it was a space of peace. But I could never wake up for the pre-dawn prayer. Until I started getting charlie horses–muscle cramps in my legs at the exact time of the pre-dawn prayer, so intense it felt like my calf was being wrung out like a rag but someone forgot about the bones. First time in my life I had had them and I though I was dying; they’d wake me out of a dead sleep.

Once, a mouse trap went off just at the right time–the violin shop was next to a dive-y Chinese take-out place. Kind of terrifying because I can’t handle mice. It wasn’t always idyllic, but it was my small, strange conversation with something bigger than myself. I had asked for more equanimity, more comfort, more steadfastness and the morning prayer was it for me. It anchored something that had come unmoored, maybe something that had always been unmoored. It was the honey of my spiritual life, if only I could manage to wake up for it.

That period in my life revolved around a conversation more intimate than I can describe, made of dreams and mousetraps, pain and laughter and tenderness. And, you know, that’s what my faith is forged in. Not in what or how anyone else believes, not in a text or a cultural tradition, but in those minuscule, unimaginable, ridiculous moments of intimacy with the Divine in the form of charlie horses at 4 a.m.

My life is a lot different now, noisy with two young children. But the sweet nourishment of that time is what everything else is built on. It’s the well that I drink from; it’s how I make meaning.

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