I've been feeling a bit weary with my faith lately.
It started when I forgot my Book of Common Prayer at our house, and thus couldn't use it at my parents. This went on for weeks, and I happily ignored the nice little routine I'd built up of checking in with God every once in a while. Why happily? Because I'm lazy, and there is so much reading material out there that demands my eyeballs. Demands.
Funny thing--when you skip prayer, God starts seeming awful distant.
Add in the feeling still out-of-sorts at our church. Not to blame my church, but Dyami and I haven't quite found our place there with our post-childbearing lifestyle.
So then Lent rolled around, and I decided to use the cycle of the holiday to try to reconnect with God, and so I started reading the New Testament, rather than reading all that other reading material.
This has been a mixed success.
- On the plus side, I've really enjoyed the New Testament. I haven't read it in big chunks like this since college, and it's a fascinating read. I'm just reading it like any other book (rather than studying it, as was my somewhat obsessive habit in college) and I almost see more of the text when I'm not trying to be a scholar or a monk or something. Paul's personality, Jesus' personality, these really come through reading the whole thing in long chunks.
- On the minus side, I find myself kind of annoyed by Jesus.
But Jesus? I read a lot of his speeches in John and was just frustrated. Like: why are you so hard on your followers? How are they supposed to know Who the heck you are? and Can you just please speak clearly? and Who are You, exactly? And what difference does that make? and Why do You sound so religious? I want You to sound fresh, not like I've heard a million sermons on these words so much so that they've ceased to have meaning.
Of course, this latter complaint makes little sense. Jesus can't help that I've been a Christian for nearly twenty years. Or that familiar words are, well, familiar. I'm priviledged that I can read and understand the central text of my faith (I was stunned and humbled in Three Cups of Tea when a villiage headman wanted school for his children because he wanted them to be able to read the Koran like he'd always wanted to). But I hate going to church or bible study or reading a passage of beauty and thinking "Been there--done that."
And then there are all the textual criticism things that pop up whenever I read the Bible--like, how literally should I take all this stuff? And what does it mean that the Bible is "God-breathed?" and how do I balance intelligent reading with faithful reading?
Sigh. All these questions make my head spin.
Then I started reading Eat, Pray, Love. Which was really quite fabulous. And an interesting portrayal of this woman's search for God and faith and herself. Especially interesting because it is similar, in some respects, to mine, while being absolutely different all at once.
I could really hear her describing the God I know and love in many passages and experiences. And then there were passages that I disagreed with. Those same passages often made me envious, though. That she could so easily decide to take up the mantle of another faith tradition (well, not easily, exactly--the process sounded a lot harder than anything I've ever attempted with faith)--and assert that we should do the same if ours isn't working for us? That, in the end, the faith traditions are all seeking the same poetic metaphors?
This niggles at me. Sometimes...well, my faith doesn't work for me. Sometimes I feel it is heavy, and difficult. But I wonder: is it my faith, or is it me? Other days, when I remember Who exactly the God I serve is...those days, I realize the faith I have chosen is, well, easy, and it's burden is light. The other days, the God I'm serving is usually one of my own creating. Ie, small and petty and graceless and demanding.
I would like a Christian wiser than me to help me learn how to incorporate the meditation techniques and traditions of other faiths into my own practice. Because I think they have a lot ot teach Christians. So often modern Christianity is so head and intellect based that it leaves my heart out cold.
And I yearn for the transformative experiences Gilbert describes in her book--they sound awesome. So much so I wanted to (at moments) go to India to study with her guru and pray to Shiva.
Except my understanding of Christianity is (as she points out in her introduction) intertwined with Jesus' claim that he is The Way. The Only Way. Which always leaves me wondering how much I am free to pick and choose from cool portions of other faiths, and how much I am supposed to look and not touch.
I kind of feel like I've been married to Christianity (and perhaps not always to Christ. Which may be the problem) for a very long time, and the description of someone else's tumultous and wonderful affair with a different faith is leaving me, well, a bit itchy (then there's the 'seduced by books factor, which always gets me. I beleive everything I read, really).
Except--I'm not a big believer in divorce. What I mean is: I don't want to discard my faith because it isn't sitting right, or it isn't actualizing me. That seems kind of self-centered to me.
Indeed, much as I respect and admire Gilbert for her path--much as I hope I can have as much courage to seek my faith as she had to seek hers--some of her book seems self-indulgent to me. I think, perhaps, at the end of the book, I want to know what's next. Sure, she has come through hell, and healed herself, found God in an amazing way. But is that all? Is that all God leads us to--being right with ourselves?
It's the same problem I often have with Evangelical Christianity--that with all the talk of personal salvation, people forget about helping the poor. That they join six bible studies, but never go visit prisoners. I'm as big of a hypocrite in this area as any one else, I'm sure.
Is faith's ultimate goal just fuzzy warm feelings? Is it just self-esteem? Is it just about finding what I want, what suits me? I don't want to belittle Gilbert's encounter with God--I think good works will flow out of really understanding God's love and acceptance and character--heck, that's why I like Jesus, when I'm not annoyed at Him--but it bothered me, a little bit, that she doesn't make that leap. Perhaps it goes without saying? Perhaps her experience in Bali, helping her friend buy a house, points that way? I don't know.
Sigh. I am all bent out of shape about this post. I don't feel like I'm expressing myself very well, or giving enough credit to what was a wonderful book. Or enough credit to the hard road of finding faith these days. Sometimes it seems to me like we're all so lost, in our modern world of choices. Everything we choose is a freedom. And yet, all that choice--what we eat, what we wear, what our career should look like, our gender identity, how we raise our children, our music, our faith or spirituality--is dizzying. And sometimes I'm skeptical that each of us, locked in our own limitations will be able to find a God that is any bigger than our limitations. And that in discarding all of our traditions--in neglecting them, or disdaining them , we've lost our center and our wisdom. But what other choice (oddly) do we have?