Sarah does such a fantastic job of sharing her story and allowing it to help us make sense of our own experiences. This chapter made my heart sing because she put words on experiences I hadn’t been able to put words on until now. As I reflect on her chapters and write these posts, I feel drawn to share my own stories more and more because I hope they are helpful in you making sense of your stories as well.
Like I am sure many of you who grew up in church, I grew up singing a song that went: “Read your Bible and pray every day and you’ll grow, grow, grow.”
We sang this song every week. In church. I knew what it meant to be a Christian. Go to church. Read your Bible. Pray every day.
And what it meant to “grow, grow, grow” was to be more certain. Faith wasn’t something that evolved and moved. It was static. A yes or no, in or out event. I was never handed a faith that was difficult and moving and vibrant.
But this version of faith didn’t stop in childhood. As a pastor, most of the people I worked with and most of the churches I worked with understood faith to work in this way. Read your Bible. Go to church. Pray. Then you will know all the answers. If you have a question or a doubt, do these three activities more and it will solve it.
But as you know, faithful reader, I had doubts and questions about whether faith worked this way or not.
A good deal of my skepticism and questions came because I often felt the way we talked about the Christian life in Church was extremely disconnected from real life. I felt like there was a certain way to think and speak about life in Church, but it just didn’t translate into the realities of human existence. Specifically, I felt like there was little place for questions, doubt, grief, and darkness.
And if Christianity could not speak to the nitty-gritty of actually life, then what was the point?
Occasionally I would get glimpses of other people who felt this way, but I felt very marginalized with my questions and understandings. I often felt crazy or like I wasn’t really a Christian because I couldn’t buy the way people talked about God and following Jesus and it seemed like I was the only one who felt that way.
Then one day, I had to take historical and systematic theology classes.
Now, I don’t recommend a theology class as most people’s path to spiritual awakening…maybe not anyone’s…but for me, this class was huge. Because we walked through the history of thought about Christianity and God.
What I discovered (as Sarah points out) was that I was a part of this huge legacy of Christianity I had never known before. And I discovered there are actually people who have had the same questions as I do for hundreds and hundreds of years.
I was not alone. Nor was I crazy. There were other ways of thinking about God I had never been exposed to. And it was beautiful and freeing.
I also found a contemplative tradition, which changed the game for my spirituality.
I spend a lot of time in the intellectual world. If I am not careful, this can make God nothing more than words on a page or an abstract idea. Contemplative practices not only engage the real-life, everyday-ness of God but they take us into an experience of God which cannot be found in podcasts, sermons, books, blogs or Bible classes.
I discovered that within the first couple of centuries, the Church developed the Liturgical Calendar. And in this calendar there was room for waiting, grief, darkness, shame, death, and even ordinary life.
What I found was that the Church had always made room for real-life, doubts, and questions. I just hadn’t been told.
When we approach faith in static ways or assume we exist in some sort of historical vacuum, we often feel alone in our struggles and questions and pain. Because a static faith which only needs you to read the Bible and pray has no room for other voices. Why get other opinions when everything we need is found in the Bible?
But when we are able to discover the beautiful, long history of tradition of Christianity we find we are not alone.
This is one of the things I love about Lent and contemplative practices. As we borrow from the history of Christianity in ancient practices and wisdom, even when we are in times of solitude and silence, we are not alone. We standing both on the shoulders of and alongside those who share our heritage and legacy.
As Sarah beautifully points out, this doesn’t mean we don’t find places to belong. The diversity of the Church allows us to find like-minded people to belong to.
But we need the other voices. We need to avoid the temptation of becoming an echo chamber.
The ancient practices of Christianity offer a beauty and a depth we often miss. They engage us in the realities of life: the good, the ugly, and the ordinary. And they remind us in all of these moments there is opportunity for community and God.