Welcome to the Faith, Fully project. If you’re new to the project, you can read more about it and join us if it strikes your fancy. And you can follow us here or on the Faith, Fully Facebook page. You can read every Letter 1, or follow all the letters.
August 28, 2016
I’m excited to begin this project with you, curious what will emerge among the letters to come. Whether you’re coming to this project as a reader alone or as both a reader and writer, let me say first: thank you for being here.
I describe my own faith as Christian, and perhaps the best way I know to introduce that – and myself – is with a story:
I couldn’t have been more than seven years old at the time I made a decision: no more Sunday School. It was cheesy and boring, and I told my mother I wouldn’t go.
This introduced a question: what would I do with myself on Sunday mornings? I could have stayed home with my father, who didn’t do church, but the idea of staying home seemed boring, too. Luckily, my parents gave me space to answer the question by trying something and seeing what happened.
It can be a good approach to questions, I think: trying something and seeing what happens. I would take that approach years later as a young woman when I began struggling with what would eventually be diagnosed as a mood disorder. I recall one evening as I felt my insides starting to shift again, into an overdrive which would send me soaring and crashing in turn. That evening I went out for a walk, craving open air as if it were a space big enough to hold whatever too-big thing was gearing up inside me. My question was: how can I live like this?
I felt desperate, and in desperate moments of life there aren’t always clear answers. All I knew to do was to begin experimenting, and one of the things I tried came out of what that seven-year-old decided to try all those years before.
At seven, I decided to try spending Sunday mornings with my mother at services for adults in the church sanctuary. That sanctuary was the biggest room I’d ever been in. Thick rafters curved high above me. Windows held stained glass, dimming natural light enough that candle flames stood out vividly against dark wood. I’d hold a hymnal for my mother and myself, and we’d sing old words, which I loved doing. I was already a reader, relishing stories, the words that told them and the meanings they opened up. Of all things, I focused myself particularly on memorizing words the preacher used to end each service. Every week, he’d tell us to go and to remember that “by the love of God, fully revealed in the face of Jesus, we are being redeemed.”
I wondered what those words meant. I thought they sounded wonderful, whatever they meant.
Years later, those words came back to me that night as a young woman I questioned how I could live with something I thought nobody should have to live with. I remembered that benediction (that’s what those words were – a blessing): “we are being redeemed.” I remembered the curious, present progressive verb tense implying that redemption was already happening. I remembered the statement of divine love so strong it sounded like all of us and all the things we live with that nobody should have to live with were even in that very moment being healed, made right and whole, somehow.
Could I prove it meant anything, let alone that it was true? Of course not.
But, in the face of my question of how to live with what I was living with, I decided to try living as if those words “we are being redeemed” were true, to try living as if they were every bit as true as that roller coaster I found myself riding at the moment. I’d try and see what happened.
I am still, honestly, reminding myself to live as if they were true. I’m less likely now, though, to call it an “experiment” than to call it a “practice” – something we’re committed to doing again and again so often that it changes us. Does living feel like any less of a struggle sometimes? No. But, the struggle feels more meaningful. With trust that good and blessing and redemptive things will come, the sheer fact of perseverance now feels so very much more meaningful.
I was struck recently by what change such practice and perseverance can bring as I listened to civil rights leader Representative John Lewis reflect in an On Being podcast about working with fellow activists during the Civil Rights Movement. Explaining what made his efforts possible, he described his “sense of faith that what you’re moving toward is already done.” He said, “you live as if you’re already there, that you’re already in that community [. . .] If you visualize it, if you can even have faith that it’s there, for you it is already there.” I listened with wonder, admiring the faith which led him to give such life and blood to embrace greater justice – greater wholeness – on behalf of his whole community, black and white.
I can only hope to stand up to injustice, weather adversity and offer my life so fully. But, for now, I resonate with that sense of faith Lewis describes which lets someone live and strive as if the healing of this world and its creatures – a redemption for which I do hope – were so very possible as to be, in some sense, already true. I suspect this theme will be threading its way through my writing in the Faith, Fully series ahead. For now, I’ll say simply that this understanding of the difference faith can make led me, in my late twenties, to go to seminary and study Christian ministry.
I’m now an ordained clergyperson serving in Indianapolis. And, I’m now a writer trying out collaboration with The Geeky Press. I’m honored to be welcomed into this conversation and eager to see what happens.