Tuesday, December 19, 2006

finding faith alive now

more cows was good enough to challenge me recently to think about what brings faith alive for me now.

I was surprised at how much of a struggle it has been to try and answer that question. I think in part that might be because of my struggles with my religious tradition -- and consequent tendency to push away old ideas of God, of what a relationship with the Divine might be. It struck me that I've been doing a lot of thinking about God lately, but haven't had that many experiences that I explicitly identified as being in contact of communion. I haven't had many experiences lately that really made faith feel alive for me (with the important caveat of having the privilege of reading blogs by such good people as more cows and mags).

Which, naturally, saddened me a bit. Have I (through my efforts to resist elements of a religious tradition I am struggling with) ended up pushing God away as well?

Part of where that gets confusing is the difference between having an experience of the Divine, and explicitly recognizing it, labelling it or acknowledging it as such. I would guess that I have continued to have the former, but perhaps fewer than I should of the latter.

Which got me thinking about the kinds of experiences that do provide an opportunity for faith to come alive. Here's what I've come up with (and please pardon a brief segue) -- these kinds of opportunities occur out of the response of the full human being. (Sounds all nice and theological, don't it?)

Let me explain how I got there. The brain consists of various sections. Each section has its role or job, and can function fairly independently. For instance, if I am asked "what is 2+2," the memory and/or math calculation portions of my mind would spring into action to answer that question. Yet other situations call upon us to process information on a different level. If a friend of mine says that they are hurting, I'm not just using my analytical side to understand the cause of their pain. I'm feeling with them, striving to make sure I'm understanding them, perhaps moving closer to them to show support, verbalizing something supportive (hopefully), monitoring their response to see if I've got it right, etc. In other words, I'm processing this information with much more of the entirety of my being.

I think this experience is called many things by many traditions. Some might call it "being fully present." Some might call it "mindfulness." Some might call it "compassion." But it is a response out of the fullness of ourselves.

It is in these moments, I think, that I am most aware (or most capable of being aware) of God's presence -- of having an experience that brings my faith alive. Whether that is in kissing my son goodnight and simply recognizing the power of my love for him, noticing the beauty and grandeur of the sky, or reading the inspiring thoughts in others' blogs. After all, the question is not whether God is there, but whether I am able to be aware of Her presence.

Thanks, more cows, for inspiring my reflections on this one.


more cows than people said...

Thanks, Steve, for seeking to answer what proved to be a difficult question for you . Thank you for taking the time to wrestle with it and offer what you found within.

I find myself wishing for you communion- a meaningful connection to the Body of Christ that helps you be intentional about naming your encounters with the holy and cultivating the faith that came alive for you so many years ago. I understand that many times the institutional church can be more of a barrier than an aid in this process. I think I have some understanding of what has led you away from the church in which you were raised. I understand all the problems with church. But I also value all the blessings of church.

Steve, I don't think, in any way, that you have pushed God away in your process of trying to shake of the baggage of your religious upbringing. You seem to be seeking God and seeking church even through the blogosphere. You are a beloved child of God, and I don't believe that any of our resistance, rebellion, or even intentional pushing away can erase that identity.

I just wish you could find an embodied community that helps you more fully claim that identity. In the meantime I'm glad you've found Mags and me.

I hope you don't receive this as a "You'd be a better person if you went to church" comment. I don't mean it in that way at all. I value you as you are. I just feel this longing for you that I felt compelled to share.

Gannet Girl said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog -- I am looking forward to exploring yours. I loved the Hershel quote you left me.

I have pretty much concluded that God's absence (which I have experienced rather profoundly) is the same thing as God's presence. The question is: who and where are we when God is in hiding?

more cows than people said...

gannet girl- can you say more about what you mean about God's absence being the same thing as God's presence? I'm intrigued.

steve said...

more cows,

Thank you for another thoughtful comment. I find myself yearning for what you describe -- active involvement in a church that can provide some sort of regularity or structure to my spiritual quest, signposts of the holy, if you will.

I recall very fondly my years at St. John's University (MN). Going to mass regularly, with friends all around. Taking classes towards my minor in theology.

I'm pretty sure if I lived in that area, if I had a faith community around me like that again, I would have far fewer qualms about my religious tradition. (Heck, the monks that ran the place actively encouraged us to go see "The Temptation of Christ" soon after the Pope declared it "not worth watching").

But I'm not there now. The local Catholic church here all too often preaches about the "sin" of homosexuality, about how it is all fitting and proper for women to stay where they are in the church, etc.

So I feel stuck. At some basic level, I feel Catholic. I have this immense sense of loyalty to the tradition. But I find it so very hard now to gain much spiritually out of attending mass here.

Oh, and BTW, I would certainly never have assumed that you were implying I would be a "better person" if I just attended church. Your concern about that brought a smile to my face -- only because I know how very unlike you it would be to make such an implication!

Thank you again for you comments. Peace, friend.

Magdalene6127 said...

Steve, thank you for this lovely reflection. I would just say this: in my tradition (Reformed) we believe that all the experiences you have of thinking about God are moments of grace... God puts it in your heart to think about Her, we are not capable of getting there on our own. So, despite the fact that it feels like you are thinking about God more than actually being in relationship, I would suggest that the relationship is there... your struggling with all these questions is a sign that God is moving in your life.

I echo More Cows' hope that you would find community... Ten years after my own struggling with that question, I will share with you how I ended up articulating it to myself: You can only be in the desert for so long before you have to start walking towards the water.

Gannet Girl said...

After the holidays.

more cows than people said...

o.k., gannet girl! i'll check back later. nice new dining room btw.

and thanks steve for indulging a side conversation in your comments.