A year or so ago, I found myself in a bit of a rough patch, trying to make sense of a jumble of thoughts that refused to go away. There were a couple of pointed conversations with God about this, but mostly it involved just laying awake in the dark and staring up at the ceiling. I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud, even to my husband – who was on his own (wonderful, he said) spiritual journey.
Those may have been the good old days (if you measure “good” by the lack of existential angst.) Because all I was doing was wrestling with someone else’s journey. Can what he believes actually be true? Really? Hmmm. That’s a new angle on the Bible…
This place I’m in now – and it more or less snuck up on me – is intensely personal. I’m wondering about the basics: God, faith, the afterlife… the meaning of life. I have to tell you that this mostly feels like I’m digging through the proverbial giant pile of horse poop, but there’s no pony to be found, if you know what I mean.
At the beginning of “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer” Richard Rohr quotes 14th century Muslim mystic Shams-ud-din Mohammed Hafiz:
Pulling out the chair
Beneath your mind
And watching you fall upon God –
There is nothing else for Hafiz to do
That is any fun in this world!
Poetic beauty, or just plain sadistic? Depends on whether you’re sitting in the chair or the one pulling it out.
Oliver Wendell Holmes suggested that “a mind, once expanded, can never shrink to its original size.” How true. Only my mind doesn’t just feel expanded, it feels like it could explode. See, I was born into a legalistic church community that had life and God and stuff like that all figured out. We didn’t smoke, drink or dance. Or go to movies, wear shorts and have drums in church. And we definitely did not hang out with anyone who knew somebody who was related to someone whose second cousin did those things.
There were the pluses. Questions about how to be a Christian had answers that fit snugly into a nice little airtight box. It was easy to navigate – you just followed the rulebook, did what you were supposed to, and nobody got hurt. But during high school I started wishing we went to a church like my best friend; they had drums and an electric guitar…and way more fun. Then at my fundamentalist Baptist college I wondered why it was wrong to wear jeans before 6 pm. Are you getting the picture?
So when I got out of there I started on a journey. And it took me from that strict Baptist church to some Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Pentecostal churches, with some plain vanilla evangelical in between. Everyone was pretty sure they had found it, whatever “it” was, although I tended to think the truth was probably bigger, like in The Blind Men and the Elephant poem.
Seven years ago, our family wound up at GracePointe. What an eclectic bunch we are, even by Nashville standards. Pentecostals, Baptists, Catholics and Methodists. More than a couple of former pastors and tons of broken, healing twelve-stepping types. Yeah, alot of the former pastors probably fit into that category too. Our pastor reminds us regularly that the painful part of his own personal journey is what made it possible to be where he’s at now – with a truer faith, and more sure than ever that there really is a God, a good God.
Writing this blog is maybe the bravest thing I’ve ever done, next to moving to Nashville in 1987 all by myself with no job and no friends. I’m taking the plunge and my words are out there for God and everybody to read. Some of my friends will believe that I’m on a slippery slope – and others are silently applauding. Fortunately there are more than a few of the latter group at my church, and they are my lifeline right now. Just knowing I can ask these questions and it’s okay and I won’t be shunned or refused communion or the opportunity to serve my community is what’s keeping me coming to church every Sunday. I am very grateful for a pastor who isn’t threatened by my uncertainties and who encourages me to be honest (with myself) about… What do I believe? Do I really believe that? Do I really?
My name is Barbara. I’m scared, confused, hopeful, running, listening, waiting, disappointed and expectant – but mostly I’m just relieved to say this out loud and to know that probably someone out there is thinking, “Me, too!” And that in the safety of my community at GracePointe I can continue to stumble along, grab for a hand up when I need it and find my way back to meet the real Jesus.