Losing My Religion

Losing My Religion

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.