Monday, April 16, 2012

Wrestling with the story...

In Lauren Winner's book, Still, she writes about a friend who felt her feet getting rather chilly before her confirmation at church.

I think of a story my friend Julian told me. She was twelve, and she was preparing to be confirmed. A few days before the confirmation service, she told her father - the pastor of the church - that she wasn't sure she could go through with it. She didn't know that she really believed everything she was supposed to believe, and she didn't know that she should proclaim in front of the church that she was ready to believe it forever. "What you promise when you are confirmed," said Julian's father, "is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever."

What a great way to express the truth of a life of faith.
The truth of any life, really.

We each and all have a story that we confirm in our lives.
A story of faith in God,
faith in Buddha,
faith in Allah,
faith in money,
faith in justice,
faith in peace,
faith in logic,
faith in ourselves,
faith in as many things and theories as there are people.

And our chosen story is one that we ... let me go back to first person singular.

I have chosen the story of faith in God, faith in the stories told by and about Jesus, and faith in the story that all of this faith will give me the courage I need to live this life with integrity, grace, and love and also provide me with life beyond the grave. However, like that twelve year old girl in Lauren's story, I often feel like I'm not sure I can go through with this. I'm not sure I can stand and proclaim that I believe all of it and will believe it forever.

The story about God telling the people to kill men, women, and children, without leaving anyone alive.
The story about the flood killing every human being on the planet and most of the animals.
The story about women being silent in church and being saved by having babies.
Even the part about Jesus' death and resurrection puts me on the defensive when someone pushes me to explain it all logically and neatly.
There are many parts of The Story that raise the hair on the back of my neck and make me drop my gaze sometime when people ask, "Do you really believe this? Can you imagine God doing this, really?" I cannot prove it; all I can say is that I believe it.

That's where faith kicks in, the belief in things unseen and not completely understood.
And that is also where wrestling with the story kicks in.

I remember going to wrestling matches when I was in high school. Frank Edwards was my favorite wrestler. When he was a senior, I was a sophomore. I loved watching him wrestle. I loved watching him play football and eat in the cafeteria and walk down the hallways in school, but that's a story for another day and another topic.

The two competitors would line up opposite one another in that small circle, wait for the ref to blow his whistle, and the match would begin. Each one eyeing the other. Looking for a weak spot. Looking for a place to grab hold and pull the other to the floor. To incapacitate. To pin the opponent down. To slither and slide out of the grip of the other. Wrestling was sweaty, painful, demanding work. To this day, I can spot wrestlers by their "cauliflower ears." All that face-to-mat time left its mark on the tops of their ears.

These days, I find myself facing off with The Story I believe. Often. Looking for ways to pin it down. To take the  legs out from under all the theologies and doctrines and inexplicable stories within The Story. To bring it down to a level I can handle and understand. But I confess that I cannot pin it down. I cannot explain it. I cannot lasso it to fit into any paradigms, patterns, or blog posts with a neat beginning, a pithy middle, and a clever ending. I can barely understand it. Yet somehow I still find that all of these wrestling matches have strengthened my faith muscles, increased my faith stamina, and left me marked for life. All this face-to-floor time, face-to-fist time, and face-to-foot of the cross time, has left my knees wrinkled, my eyes baggy, and my soul aflame. I am finding peace in surrender to the story. And, miraculously, I still believe.

Lately, I find that I am able to spot other wrestlers by the marks left from the tears, the prayer sessions, the meandering blog posts, the questions written - or that used to be written - on their furrowed brows, and their radical new (to me) strategies for fighting the good fight. We get together and shake our heads over cups of hot tea, wondering if the story can still be true - and if it is, what it has to do with our marriages, our parenting, our friendships, and the emptiness that always creeps back in right after we are feeling most full and satisfied. We call each other, and over the phone lines we wrestle with the stories we've been told, some of which are myths, and the lies we have come to believe and try to find ways to distinguish between truth and fiction.

Many years ago, I met a man in Spain, a man with whom I felt a nearly instant connection. We walked and talked and strolled through museum exhibits together. We talked, laughed, and spent long periods of time together in silence. During one of our long and winding talks, we tried to figure out how our connection had happened. We couldn't.

But he said something that I have never forgotten; he said, "Nos conocemos."
We recognize one another. We know each other.
No need to explain it; no reason to try. We know.
Unfortunately, not long meeting one another, we fell out of contact.
But I still know. I just know.

Which somehow takes me all the way back to the beginning of this rambling piece.
I'm not sure I ever can or will believe the whole story in its entirety.
I mean, I believe it, but only some of the parts, some of the time.
I cannot explain my unwillingness to let go and walk away from this story.
But I know that I will keep wrestling with this story, with my life story,
with my faith story, and with The One that has captured my heart
for the rest of my life.

Anybody else out there still wrestling with the story?
Do you have any marks or scars to show for the fight?

Nos reconocemos. We will recognize each other. We know. 
I just know.


Julie Smith said...

Thank you for your amazing posts about faith and about the people of Haiti. So much of what you say, I understand. I feel the space that you describe that prayer creates, when it gives my heart room to feel more, to care for more and more people. I also wrestle with faith every day. I know that feeling of closeness with someone who should be a stranger, from outer appearances. Please keep giving the gift of your words to a needy and hurting world.

GailNHB said...

Thanks, Julie, for your kind words and continued support. Sometimes I wonder where my words land or what they are bouncing off of. It is always a joy to know that something I've said resonates with someone out there.

I will keep writing. I'm glad to know that you are still reading.

Peace be with you.