It All Started With Marie Kondo

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve heard of her. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is an international bestseller, and perpetually on request at the library where I work. Last spring, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I expected an orderly makeup drawer, but reserved some skepticism for the book’s daring claim that Kondo’s methods would be life-changing.

Boy, was I wrong.

In case you don’t know how it works: you go through your belongings, touching each item to determine whether or not it “sparks joy.” If not, you (gratefully) relinquish it. We’ve all got junk in our trunks, and often, our belongings represent identity baggage—gifts that don’t suit us, things we’ve outgrown, items that represent who we’d like to be but just…aren’t. By applying Kondo’s process to my material goods, I was simultaneously stripping away what wasn’t me, and distilling the essence of who I actually am.

It felt great. To my surprise, this process quite naturally seeped into other parts of my life. I found myself evaluating obligations and paradigms. I bowed out of things. I passed torches. My life became more spacious, more peaceful.

This dovetailed nicely with my study of the Enneagram. Using this personality tool, I learned that, as a Four, my lifelong “quest” is one of identity and legitimacy. Ever on the hunt for a way to confirm my individuality, I despise herd mentality, buck trends, and continually explore ideas. According to Riso and Hudson,

“Fours enjoy being alone… [and are] Passionate about their relationships as well as their inner lives: willing to explore any feeling without judging it, they are the ‘deep-sea divers’ of the psyche. They emphasize beauty and enjoy expressing their feelings aesthetically….” (Understanding the Enneagram, 2000).

What does any of this have to do with my spiritual journey toward—and away from—Orthodox Christianity? Everything, it turns out. I was able to be honest with myself about the reasons I was attracted to the church in the first place, which were very ego-driven. One was its exoticism. I didn’t know anyone who was Orthodox. It set me apart.

That I could belong to such a mysterious sect! That I too could learn to bow at the right times and be permitted to partake of the Eucharist! My ego trembled with joy at the prospect.

I also converted because I’m an aesthete. Incense and choral music, mournful icons, the exchange of blessings, and the poetry of the liturgy really sent me. I remember admitting to someone shortly after my chrismation that I’d converted “primarily for aesthetic reasons.” I needed my church experience to be beautiful, and I didn’t see anything wrong with that. In many ways, I still don’t.

But once I was inside, things gradually lost some of that luster. I detected a certain country-club mentality within the church, a smugness about being Orthodox. The beautiful bowing people weren’t serene and Zenned-out when they weren’t in liturgy. Moreover, I wasn’t any different.

I’d been enchanted by the version of myself that I thought outsiders would see: interesting, part of some arcane tradition. I’d hoped to believe in that version of myself, hoped to really inhabit it so that I could feel special. I wanted to be someone else, someone exotic and esoteric and fascinating, so that I could love and accept myself. But inside, I was the same garden-variety me, and I knew it. I’d been trying to convert from the outside in, instead of the other way around. It felt gross and wrong, Pharisaical.

I also really, really didn’t like not being able to participate in the Eucharist. Jesus is for everyone—even doubters like me, who grapple with the fundaments of their faith on the daily. Now I wonder if it isn’t inappropriate to withhold the Eucharist from someone. If I’d been permitted to partake of it when I first began visiting the Orthodox Church, would I have converted? Would I have converted so quickly?

Yesterday I went to an Episcopal church near my house, simply because I knew I wouldn’t be denied the Eucharist. As much as I struggle with everything and question whether Christ was the only son of god, there is something mystical and important and sacred in the act of eating that holy communal “meal.” As the priest pressed the little lump of bread into my hand, he smiled and said, “The bread of Heaven.” Something in my heart sang out, a single note, true and pure as the resonance of a tuning fork.

I want that bread.