I believed in god my whole life, until I didn’t. I loved religion, ritual, jesus, easter, apostles and the long fantastical history of bearded holy men in long robes and the women who suffered them. When I lost all of this and so many more filaments of belief that strung me equally into hope and longing, I became undone for a while. I forgot about god and all of it, in pursuit of a new set of beliefs to obliterate my old ones.

And then, on a trip to Sedona, going earlier than the group I traveled with, I found myself turning right to follow a sign for the Chapel of the Holy Cross. A church built into a red rock mountain high on a hill, walking up toward it as if pulled by invisible string, filled with tourists and people milling around the holy water, lighting candles and kneeling down to pray–and I, a non-believing ex-believer, sat on a bench marked with a IV, and cried. I cried for the loss of what I had long ago lost, and what I had never found. I cried in the remembering of what I had loved, who I had been when life seemed like a long story of faith and flight and the fantasy of a salvation that was both possible and impossible to earn.

It cost money to light a candle, donation money I did not have. So I sat watching those clustered, faltering lights and a voice, familiar and low, asked a question in my ear— ‘haven’t you paid enough?’ And I had, I was a woman who had suffered long enough, and I walked to the front of that magnificent place and lit a candle for the girl I used to be, and watched it burn for the woman I was becoming.

I have played to an audience in my life, from a stage filled with characters who have come and gone–I kept the god character out of the play, uncast with no lines, not realizing until just now, god was in the back row, in the dark of the theatre that stayed filled with the echoing voices and loud silences up until now. This god isn’t the same as the one I stopped believing in. It isn’t a man; no white bearded, robed all knowing judge. It is the one in the back who is silently applauding. It is the smiling light of people I love in a room, and a fierce protection from the people on the other side of the door who no longer or never held love. This god is sly and fun and is the fading laughter in a car, riding in the passenger seat on the way home from this play I stopped playing.

The stage is not for me, but sitting beside the one in the back, cheering and laughing, loving without rules, and living without suffering? That is god, that is us, that is what I lit the candle for, and what I now believe, fully and wholly, is it is still burning.