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June 23, 2016 / nicolespokane

Witnesses

by Karissa Knox Sorrell

When I write, I turn my back to the saints.

We moved into a new home in August. With our home came the blessing of an extra bedroom in the basement, which became a guest room/office combination. When searching for a space for our Orthodox icons and home altar, my husband suggested this room. He arranged our icons to the wall across from my desk, which faces a window. A few times a week I sit there, looking out into my backyard, trying to churn out meaningful words while the saints stare at my back.

The past three years have been a time of unraveling. I have questioned the Bible, the reason why Jesus died, and if we even need to saved. I have faced my own damaged self-worth and realized that the church was, in part, to blame for it. I have fumed when seeing Christians and Christian organizations judge and belittle others. There have been Sundays full of tears over having to go to church and Sundays full of guilt for not going.

My faith is fluid and faint now, my questions and doubts finally outweighing the certainty of belief I used to have. Layer by layer, I have peeled away every skin of armor I used to wrap myself with. It has been a painful, lonely process, but now I find myself in a place of quiet. I’ve stopped raging. I’ve stopped agonizing over what I believe. I’ve mostly stopped writing about spiritual topics. Do I know what I believe? No. Do I think God exists? Maybe. Have I completely abandoned Christianity? I’m not sure. And yet, none of this bothers me as much as it used to. I, quite simply, have just gone still.

When my husband nailed our icons to my office wall, the sight of our saints threatened to push me out of the calm and back into the storm. I didn’t want to look at Christ, or Mary, or Saint Nonna, my patron saint. I didn’t want to look at my children’s saints, Mary Magdalene and Ephraim the Syrian. I didn’t want to be in their presence or to remember how dear they used to be to me. I didn’t want to recall the many times I had prayed before those icons or the sweet faithfulness I had when I first converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.

I still have not made peace with the saints. When I write, I turn my back to them.

The saints remain, though. They watch and wait, and perhaps, if they are real, they pray for me. For what are icons but windows to heaven, images we look through to find the meaning beyond? It feels like a beautiful concept, though I’m not sure if I believe it. Yet in that space, in that blessing of a place of my own in which to write, a creative spirit often finds me. For me writing is an act of birth and rebirth, over and over. The saints are my witnesses, and for now, that is enough.

Karissa Knox Sorrell is a poet, writer, and ESL teacher from Nashville, Tennessee. She is the author of the poetry chapbook Evening Body (Finishing Line Press, 2016), and her poems and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Relief, St. Katherine Review, Gravel Mag, and Two Cities Review. You can connect with Karissa at karissaknoxsorrell.com or on Twitter @KKSorrell. 

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