I’m still working out where I fit on the religious/spiritual spectrum. Do I have a relationship with one god or goddess, or hundreds, or none? Is god just a convenient placeholder for a word that doesn’t exist for the magic of the universe? Am I praying when I thank my plants for growing? Is every peanut I throw for the crows an offering to the gods? If I worship trees does that turn every forest into a temple?
Sometimes I look at a full moon and I feel like I don’t fit inside my own skin, I’m about to spill out. Even at it’s literal physical biggest (now) my body feels like an inadequately small vessel to contain the joy and reverence I feel when I see a fat juicy moon glowing in a mauve sky. In moments like that I understand why so many cultures have sacred and ecstatic dance, why hymns exist, why people fall to the floor and speak in tongues. If I had no inhibitions I would be whirling through the streets at least once a month singing made up words in devotion to our glowing satellite.
There was a particularly fragrant Choisya ternata bush on the walk from my old house to Crouch End train station, the one in the front garden of number 63. During the first lockdown I would often walk home at night after a gruelling shift at work, and I’d stop to bury my nose in the white flowers and feel completely uplifted. I prayed to the choisya, I said thank you for everything that’s beautiful and alive. On the nights when I was sure that no one else could see me I whispered my words whilst kneeling with bare knees on cool concrete, because sometimes it feels appropriate to prostrate yourself in front of that kind of beauty. I’m not free of the more selfish relationship with spirituality either, there were times I prayed to the choisya bush and the moon and asked if I could be as beautiful as them.
I went to visit my mum last spring and we got up while it was still dark out to go walk through the woods and listen to the dawn chorus. We stood underneath a tree, and for the first time in my life I watched and listened to a nightingale sing. I got teary eyed, my gratitude was an ocean and my body couldn’t keep it all inside. I felt blessed.
In the car on the way home from our dawn chorus walk I thought about how I had felt a month before; my hormones were all over the shop and I was having an especially intense day of PMS coupled with the kind of birthday blues that make you want to cave your own head in with a brick. I get one suicidal day of PMS every couple of months, according to my useless GP “that’s just what being a woman’s like”. I try to remind myself that it’s just hormones and it will be gone in a day or two, but sometimes I have to guilt trip myself into staying alive; imagine how it would forever ruin my mum’s life, or how it might make my sweet, gentle therapist feel like a failure. I was closer to the edge on my birthday, and the guilt trip wasn’t working, so I thought about all the birdsong I wouldn’t hear if I lay down on the dual carriageway that night. When I’ve read about people saying god spoke to them, I imagined they were having auditory hallucinations of a man’s voice booming from the clouds, I hadn’t considered they might be trying to describe hearing a nightingale sing.