Monday, February 24, 2014

The spiritual battle continues to rage!

Well, I guess I will write about what happened yesterday, even though I find it confusing, terrifying, and maybe even a little embarrassing. I have written before about my spiritual struggles, and all I can say is they have continued. Nobody has come up with any absolute answers, so I have continued to look for them myself. I have read at least a part of a number of books in the last week, from Glennon Doyle Melton, who does not really develop her spiritual beliefs in her book, but who came closest to views that seemed to match mine, to Anne Lamott, to Ravi Zacharias. I just wanted to know what intelligent people thought, how intelligent people could reconcile the hard questions with having faith.

I didn't really come up with any answers, though, so yesterday I said well, heck with it. It seemed what I had really been craving was an experience of worship, so I just put on my headphones and tuned into the Worship playlist on my iphone.

Yesterday was a very emotional day. My oldest daughter had left that morning to move out of state, and I'd been very, very, very happy for her because she is going to a good place, but also very sad because I will miss her. I'd had a talk with my youngest daughter about her own "soul sadness," which made me feel sad and yet also hopeful for some really weird reason involving a really honest faith that life will work out for the best regardless of the bumps she may encounter. So with this inner swirling of feeling of happy and sad, worry and hope, I put on my headphones. I washed the dishes, and when that was done I wandered into the living room. I stood looking out my window at my famous view of the San Francisco Bay area. The sun was just setting, still a fiery ball on the horizon, but dipping behind the hills across the bay as I watched, leaving a fiery glow across their tops.

A song came on at that time by Grace Williams. Who is Grace Williams and how did she get on my iphone anyway? I really, honestly don't know. I'm not saying that this was some sort of heavenly plant. I have no doubt that I put this album on my itunes at some time. I just don't remember it, and don't remember ever having listened to it. I don't actually listen to music all that often, and when I do it's always one of my playlists, and never the one labeled Worship. So when the song "Don't Ever Let Go" came on, I was completely unfamiliar with it. It was a gentle, repetitive song, just kind of meditative. I am including a youtube video of the song so you can hear what I heard. I don't, by the way, know who the person is who posted it, and I don't necessarily recommend visiting his website cause I haven't visited it myself and I don't have any idea what's there. But the video has the song playing to the background of photos of sunsets, very much like the one I was looking at.

There just happened to be a Bible on a table near the window, so I picked it up and opened it randomly. It opened to Hosea, one of the minor prophets, not one with whom I felt any kind of intimate acquaintance. I started reading, and of course being the rational, intellectual person I am, I started at the top of the left hand page. Blah blah blah, something about judgment and punishment, just exactly the sort of thing to turn me off. But before I closed the book, I recognized that the first place my eye had been drawn was almost to the end of the facing page, to chapter 11. This is what I read:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called, the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. 
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
and I bent down to them and fed them.

They shall not return to the land of Egypt, 
but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.
The sword shall rage against their cities,
consume the bars of their gates,
and devour them because of their own counsels.
My people are bent on turning away from me,
and though they call out to the Most High,
he shall not raise them up at all.

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.

They shall go after the Lord;
he will roar like a lion;
when he roars, his children shall come 
trembling from the west;
they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria,
and I will return them to their homes, 
declares the Lord.

Now okay, that has a lot of that judgment stuff in there as well. But at that particular time, the song I was listening to changed gears. When you get to about 3:30 in the song, you can hear it yourself. Instead of Grace Williams singing to God not to let her go, suddenly she was calling to me, telling me that God was holding me right now, touching me right now, holding me in his arms of love, and that combined with the Bible passage above, which felt like it could have been about me ("the more they were called, the more they went away"), well, you know, it was like one of those moments in life when you just feel that God is talking to you. Was I being called to return to him, like a dove from the land of Assyria?

My answer? I looked into the sunset and said, "But God, I don't even know who you are!"

I spoke briefly to a former pastor I have always loved, and I told him about all my questions, and basically all the reasons I couldn't embrace the Christian faith, and he just told me that faith was about a relationship with God. Well, okay, that's a starting point. 

I will tell you this also, that I woke up in the middle of the night scared to death by all this. I woke up in the morning thinking, no, no, no, I won't go. I don't want to go. Yet I started thinking about it, wondering what it would look like, if you get what I mean. I have changed a great deal since I last embraced Christianity. I am not the same person I was then, and I do not want to go back to being that person I was then. I am a much better person now, I think, and also much nicer. So who would I be, if I believed? What is it that I would believe? I don't think there is a church in the world that would accept me as a member if they knew all my thoughts. Well, at least not a church that I would want to attend, which is a kind of a funny thing in itself.

I am not saying here that I am going to do one thing or do another. I have no idea how this will pan out. I do know why I like that song "Who Am I?" by Casting Crowns. I am without a doubt a wave tossed on the ocean. Right now I've gotta say, I feel a little seasick. 

I'll keep you posted, and as I've said before, I loooong for your comments. I am just sitting here, waiting for someone to point out the way to solid land.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Dear God, who are you?

I feel a deep, deep longing to know God, to have a faith, to believe in something. For a number of years I fulfilled this longing through the Christian faith, and it fulfilled it really nicely for awhile there. There was that Book, the one with all the answers. I really loved that Book, the look of it, the feel of it, the turning of the pages and the words within. Umm yes, there were parts of it I had to rationalize away, and there were other parts that lent themselves to the most magnificent spiritualizing. That part about God's people entering the Promised Land, for example. Historical text, maybe, but for me it was a promise that God had a place for me in this world, my own spiritual Promised Land, but that in order to enter it I needed to prepare myself, and to be willing to kill off all that might come between me and God, or cause me to stray from Him. In that respect, it was beautiful. But in its actual black and white text, I have to admit it was pretty horrific, that God's people when they entered the Promised Land were commanded to kill every man, woman and child living there, because if they didn't then they might accidentally be led astray into worshiping those other people's gods. Just doesn't feel right, and yet I was able to make it feel right, as a spiritual lesson rather than a history lesson.

Then there was church. I loved church. My favorite part was the worship. If you are not a churchgoer, you might not be aware of what that means, but basically it is singing. We didn't sing namby pamby organ-led hymns at our church. We sang contemporary worship music, a genre I still adore. Instead of an organ, we had a contemporary band with piano, guitars, drums, and various other instruments, and instead of a choir we had a worship team, blessed with the most amazing voices. They would lead and we would sing along with them, often with hands raised and eyes closed, and so many times it brought me to tears. The pastor of the church I went to, well he didn't seem like the most sincere guy in the world. I think part of it was that he was a really smart guy, and I kept thinking that as a really smart guy he must have doubts about what he was doing from time to time, but he was stuck, it was his job, and so he just kept doing it. I don't know that this was true, just kind of what I felt. Definitely not warm or fuzzy and you didn't get the feeling he really cared all that much about people, but as I said, he was a smart guy, and he taught the Bible in his lectures rather than filling them with emotional exhortations, and that really appealed to my intellect. There was more than enough love to be found there elsewhere.

But, one day in November 2009 I woke up and thought, "Wait, this just doesn't make sense." There was the Old Testament stuff, like the killing off of all the people who lived in the Promised Land, but there was the entire basis of the New Testament beliefs. This was that all the people who believe the story about Jesus dying for their sins and being resurrected will be saved, and all those who don't believe that story, whether for cultural or simply intellectual reasons, will not be. In fact, there is even a threat, depending on linguistics and interpretation, that those people might actually suffer for eternity in a lake of burning fire. 

This is just not my idea of a loving God. 

Now I know these Christian people, and I know that they are absolutely loving people, and they do believe that this God is loving. They will tell you that he sent his very own son to die a horrible death for you, so that you can be saved, and what could be more loving than that? Well, hmm, let me see. A god who is less "holy" maybe, so that we normal people don't need a blood bath in order to be able to enter into his presence? A god who doesn't consider our nature to be sinful maybe? A god who sees us as a work in progress maybe? Because that's what I feel like, a work in progress.

Now understand, I am not trying to denigrate Christianity, because quite honestly I miss it. I wade into the shallow end occasionally, reading Christian books, watching Christian programs, just trying to find a reason to go back. When I left the church, I was very afraid my decision would impact my son. He was very involved in the church, intended to become a youth pastor, and I actually wept to think of the possibility that my decision could derail him. I couldn't help wonder why I was so upset over that. If I thought it was all a bunch of baloney, why would I not want my son to be set free from it? As it turns out, it did impact him. He likes to say it didn't, but I'm pretty sure that if I had stayed in the church, he would have stayed as well. But he did leave shortly after I did, and, well, there were some of the most beautiful chains of the finest, sweetest gold that held him to the church that he had to tear apart on his way out. His exit from the church left a path of devastation, and it truly broke my heart. 

Ah well. What's done is done. I may have left Christianity, but I never stopped believing in the spiritual dimension in life. I kind of looked at many other of the paths people have struck through this existence in their desire to find the meaning of our existence. Of course you undoubtedly know that each of the major religious traditions took root in different geographical areas. If you happened to be born in a certain country, you were at least influenced by if not absorbed into one of these faiths. This was not a good thing for any of those faiths, since they all ended up being represented by people who often didn't really represent them. That includes Christianity by the way. I was kind of interested in Buddhism and Hinduism, but I have to admit I balked at the part where you give up the self. I really wanted to make my self as shiny as I could, not get rid of it. Character flaw maybe, but it prevented me from venturing far into these areas. I also find it impossible to meditate. My mind does not like to be still. It wants to absorb stuff, and it wants to spit stuff out. It doesn't not want to be idle. If I am doing something physical and cant' be reading or writing, I generally plug in headphones and listen to an audiobook while I am doing it, because my brain just has got to keep busy. Even while watching TV, I feel as though I have to be doing something else to keep my mind busy, like being on the internet, or playing a game.

Somewhere along the way I kind of reconciled myself with the idea that we human beings can't really know the truth of the universe. Hey, this is one of my lessons in this lifetime, isn't it? Learning to live with the questions, without finding answers? I kind of tend to believe in multiple incarnations. I definitely believe in love, and that includes the right of men to love men and women to love women. I guess I kind of believe in the path of the heart. I believe that my longing for religious attachment comes from having Pluto, the Lord of my chart, in my ninth house. These things kind of exclude me from Christianity. For a long, long, long time I could not say the word God, because it held connotations of mass murders and judgment in the guise of love. But eventually I figured out that God is an unknowable term, but that doesn't prevent my use of it, and it doesn't prevent prayer, whether all this is directed toward a being of any sort, or the energy of the universe. I don't know how a cell phone works. If I stopped to think about it, I'd be pretty darn certain it would be impossible for a cell phone to work at all. But this doesn't prevent me from using it, you know? I don't know who or what my prayers connect to, but I can still pray, and the one thing I know for 100 percent certain and that is that it is not going to hurt anything.

Still, there is this yearning in my heart to know what is true, to believe, and really to worship. I honestly keep wanting someone to tell me that I completely misunderstood the concept of Christianity. I would love to find another explanation, and to find a church with the love and fellowship and certainty, without the judgment and exclusion. Okay, I'm going to sound shallow here, but I have on a couple of occasions attended more liberal services. I went to a Unitarian Church one day to hear Marian Williamson speak. But those people are singing hymns like they are back in the early 1900's. So odd that the more liberal congregations have the more conservative and uninteresting services. Perhaps shallow that I require the experience of music and worship in a church, but I do. The song below, Who Am I by Casting Crowns, is an example of one of my favorite worship songs.

I look at people who believe, and I envy them actually, but I also wonder, have they never thought about these things that make it impossible for me to believe? Have they just rationalized away the answers? Or could they have actually found the answers? Sometimes people will go through and read very old entries on my other blog and comment on them, drawing my attention back to the me who existed several years ago. Recently someone drew my attention to one in which I wrote, "Faith is like an ocean in which I swim, but sometimes I get thrown up on the beach and I sit there for awhile, drying out a bit, asking questions. But the depths call to me, and I plunge back in. I pray for the mind and heart of God, that his thoughts would be my thoughts, his desires would be my desires. I pray for answers and understanding, because I am intellectually driven. And I move forward on the path set out before me, even when it is dark. I know the light will come again."  What does this mean, I wonder? I have tags in my other journal, and I went through and read all the entries I had tagged with "faith," and I was surprised how many of them echoed exactly what I am saying here. The above entry that I quoted was written probably a month before I landed on the beach, got up, turned my back and kept going. I marched up and over the hills, towards the mountains, toward the desert. 

I am sure that there are some people who think that I gave up my faith because of my daughter, Michaela, who was kidnapped and never found. That really isn't the case. It's in my mind, not my heart, that doubt arises. It is my heart that longs to believe, in something. I long to worship to acknowledge the sheer glory and heartbreak that is this life.

I'm going to end with another video, another of my favorite songs, also by Casting Crowns. When I had a myspace page for Michaela, this song played when it was opened. Gotta love it, always. Sorry for the ads, and if you have too much trouble playing these videos let me know. I think you might have to click on the youtube link to watch them, but it is too confusing to go through youtube searching for one that will play in the blog, because the only way to know is to embed it.

I am really happy to receive your messages regarding this post. I may not print them all, but I will read them. Thank you, and I love you all.