Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nearly 900 Posts Later

Back in October of 2004, three blog posts into this blogging adventure, I wrote: 

I claim that my faith is the most important thing in my life. And it is. It really is. I leap out of bed most mornings and cocoon myself in my study room for an hour of "quiet time." I write in my journal. I read the Bible. I do some sort of preplanned Bible study. I marvel at how much I learn each time I read and meditate on God's Word. So why are there other mornings when I don't want to get out of bed at all? Why are there times when I am not so sure? When I wonder if what I believe is really true? I know that in the past I have had people berate me for revealing my doubts in public. Well-meaning people say that because I have taught Bible classes and advised other people on their faith, I shouldn't say that I'm not always 100% sure. But isn't the un-sureness a part of the faith walk? The Bible says that "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Sometimes I'm just not certain. Sometimes I'm not so sure. But I have come to believe that that's what faith is; it's continuing this God-oriented journey even when the outcome isn't clear, even when I don't feel the solid rock under my wandering and stumbling feet. But I march on. I press on. I remember once hearing a pastor say that he keeps a small part of his heart aside in case all this faith stuff is wrong, in case he's been duped by all this God-stuff. I remember that you could hear a pin drop when he said that. His honesty was unnerving, but also reassuring. Pastors are supposed to be sure, aren't they? Yet because he told us the truth about his doubts, it was okay for us to tell the truth about ours, for me to tell mine. I love the story of Thomas, the disciple who said he wouldn't believe that Christ had risen from the dead until he could put his finger in the wounds in Christ's side. He is often referred to as "Doubting Thomas." Even though the Bible doesn't tell whether or not he inserted his finger, there is a painting I love (I'll have to find the name of the artist. Perhaps it's Caravaggio...) that shows Thomas' finger in deep. He didn't just look at the wound up close; he sticks his finger into it. He spoke his doubts out loud in the company of people he loved and trusted, and in the painting anyway, when he had the opportunity to do so, he reached out in doubt and withdrew his finger with his faith substantiated. Good for him. How great it was for Christ to stand there patiently and let Thomas find out the truth behind the rumor of His resurrection first hand, or perhaps "first finger." Do we dare give voice to our doubts? Do we dare reach out our hands in doubt and ask God to give us a way to feel, to sense, to know - some sign of His presence? How do we find the balance between faith and doubt? Between hope and despair? Between telling the truth and keeping the truth secret??? This whole faith thing baffles me... 

Doubting Gail

Sorry for the format of it, the solid paragraph, the questions and quotes all in a row. But that's what my mind and heart were like back then - a long solid densely populated paragraph of wonder and worry, doubt and desperation, questions and confusion. But there was also a sense of contentment in the midst of the bafflement. Desire in the midst of the doubt. 

Nearly 900 posts later, a few things about me have changed. I no longer spend an hour of "quiet time" at my desk each morning. I pray more and read less. I'm better at formatting my blog posts. I know how to insert photos and links to websites. I break my stream of consciousness writings into small tide pools of sentiments that are easier to absorb. At least I hope I do. 

But my mind still whirls and twists around the same questions and concerns related to the things of faith. My wondering hasn't ceased. I'm still hoping to be offered the opportunity to put my finger into the the wounds, into the holes, into the doubts so that I can feel more assured, more secure, more certain. Much of the time, I find myself feeling less secure, certain, and assured with each passing day. Strangely, the uncertainty feels more reassuring than all that certainty I felt ten years ago. 

Lauren Winner writes about it this way in the preface of her latest book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis

The enthusiasms of my conversion have worn off. For whole stretches since the dream, since my baptism, my belief has faltered, my sense of God's closeness has grown strained, my efforts at living in accord with what I take to be the call of the gospel have come undone.

And yet in those same moments of strained belief, of not knowing where or if God is, it has also seemed that the Christian story keeps explaining who and where I am better than any other story I know. On the days when I think I have a fighting chance at redemption, at change, I understand it to be these words and these rituals and these people who will change me. Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith. And yet I continue to live in a world the way a religious person lives in the world; I keep living in a world that I know to be enchanted, not left alone. I doubt; I am certain; I am restless, prone to wander. And yet glimmers of the holy keep interrupting my gaze. 

Amen, Lauren. Thank you once again for your vulnerable, messy, uncommon honesty.

Since October 2004, I've read books about leaving church, finding an altar in the world, and how love wins.
I've read about how one woman learned to eat, pray, love.
Uncommon gratitude, the untethered soul, and sacred rhythms - all heart-strengthening books.
I've read blogs and written blogs. I've looked at art and created art. 
I've spoken millions of words and sat through days of silence. 
I've traveled thousands of miles, taken more than ten thousand photos, and filled more than 125 journal volumes with my ranting, raving, prayers, and gratitude lists.
I've taught and been taught, seen and been seen, laughed and been laughed at, loved and been loved.
And I am incalculably grateful for every moment since way back in 2004 when I began to share my life's journey in public - the joyous times, yes, but the horrific times as well, for in every moment is a lesson to be learned and a sorrow to be shared. 

But still - I find myself teetering on the tightrope between hope and despair,
between telling the truth and keeping secrets, 
between pouring out more stories and keeping them hidden within the pages of my journal 
and the caves of my soul, 
between keeping the faith as well as I can and giving it all up for some good old fashioned hedonism.
I'm fairly certain that I will do some of all of the above - probably before the sun sets this very night.

Nearly 900 blog posts later (878 to be exact, with 22 still in draft form), this whole faith thing still baffles me.

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