In the end, no white light shines out from the wounds of Christ to bathe me in His glory. Faith is a choice like any other. If you’re picking a career or a husband – or deciding whether to have a baby – there are feelings and reasons pro and con out the wazoo. But thinking it through is – at the final hour – horse dookey. You can only try it out. Not choosing baptism would make me feel half-assed somehow, like a dilettante – scared to commit to praising a force I do feel is divine – a reluctance grown from pride or because the mysteries are too unfathomable.Marry Karr – Lit
I have an (almost) unwavering belief in a divine presence that connects us that I call God. But I just can’t seem to get fully on board with Christ despite the fact that for the past year, I have attended an Episcopal church near my house most Sundays and I cry almost every week when I receive the eucharist. I can describe the feeling that overtakes me only as a sense of gratitude for the deepest parts of me being seen and loved. As soon as my intellect kicks in, though, the whole Christ story doesn’t make sense to me.
It isn’t the miracles – I’ve been learning more about faith healing and I believe that Jesus was a gifted healer. The historians agree he was brutally murdered by hanging on a cross. I’ve always loved his teachings, although I have been perplexed by some. I have even come to believe that something so significant happened after his death that it caused his followers to continue speaking his message even under the same threat of death.
I struggle though with the idea that Jesus himself was divine, or at least any more divine than the rest of us humans are. It turns out, I’m not alone as his divinity has been a point of contention among Christians since the beginning. I’ve also struggled with the idea that his death was a sacrifice for our sins. God doesn’t need such a sacrifice, even though we humans might.
Growing up though, I understood I had to unwaveringly believe in both of these ideas to be “saved.” It’s, thus, been a struggle for me to accept that I can be a follower of Christ while acknowledging my intellectual skepticism about some of the factual truth of the tenets around Christianity. Basically, I’m the disciple Thomas before he saw the holes in Jesus’ hands. I always heard people condemning the disciple Thomas’s doubt. Now I realize that Jesus loved him too, even in the midst of it.
Mary Karr, in her memoir Lit, wrote about her coming to Catholicism kicking and screaming after her struggle to overcome alcoholism. Ultimately, she realized that she couldn’t resolve her doubts, she just had to make a choice to have faith based on her experience and emotions. Karr’s story helped me to grow in my understanding of faith from thinking it required certainty to realizing that it could be simply a choice in the midst of doubt.
I recently listened to Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass at Making Money audiobook. It’s not the type of self-help book I would normally listen to and I wasn’t even sure how it ended up on my library hold list. I put it there months earlier when I was trying to sort out how I felt about money, as I wrote about in Accepting My Struggle With Abundance. When it popped up recently, I figured I had a reason to put it on hold at the time. So I listened. It’s a good example of how my past three years has gone: helpful messages often pop up in unexpected places and at unexpected times.
Sincero emphasizes first and foremost that money does not equal greed. Money is simply a tool. Once past this limiting belief, she stresses the importance of faith in a higher power who wants the best for you and is giving you your ideas for how to make money. Most notably she says that when you decide to take the big risks to make money (or anything else), you have to rely a lot on faith. Without it you can’t survive the hard times when you will be tempted to throw in the towel.
Her emphasis on faith hit me because in my own decision to start writing and pursue it as something more than just a creative outlet, every day I doubt my decision. Every day I wonder if I’m crazy. I have yet to make more than $16 in a month from it. I have few readers that aren’t friends and family and I’m nowhere close to the numbers I would need to get a publishing company interested in me. I am far from finishing my book. And I’m getting close to the deadline on my savings balance that I set for myself for when I need to throw in the towel.
Yet every day I remind myself that I decided to write what I was writing because it was what I wanted to read and I wasn’t seeing it elsewhere. I take heart from people like Nas Daily on Facebook who made 1 minute videos every day for a thousand days and spoke in one of those videos about how he arrived at a place of breaking down and crying. He wondered what he was doing and why because no one watched his, at that point, hundreds of videos. With faith and commitment though, he persisted until suddenly a video went viral and he’s been going gangbusters since.
I’ve become a big fan of Ignatian Spiritual Discernment. I’ve become more attune to how good I feel about the work I’m doing now versus how down I feel when I think about possible legal jobs I might seek should I hit my “deadline.” Writing doesn’t fit into the ideas of what I’m “supposed” to be doing with my life, however, whereas much of the legal work does. I don’t believe I’m making the world a better place with my writing in the way I tend to believe some legal work would. Yet, the writing feels right.
It means everything to me that there are people, even if they are friends (and why is it that somehow their opinion matters less?), who tell me how much my writing means to them. So I’m trusting my feelings. Every day I make a choice to continue writing and trust that I’m on the right track, even if I can’t see how it’s going to pan out, even when it doesn’t make sense, and even when I doubt myself. That’s faith.
Which brings me back to my Christian journey. Every step has been unplanned. A friend who invited me to do some traditional healing with Shamans he works with in Columbia is also a Catholic who suggested an Ignatian Spiritual Retreat. That retreat led to my deciding to work with a Spiritual Director. My Spiritual Director never judged me for my doubts, but accepted me where I was at and encouraged my seeking.
In my younger years, I lobbed questions and doubts at Christian missionaries I knew in Ethiopia, a time when I started intensely questioning my faith. They often responded with “because here’s what the bible says so that’s the way it is.” These people would never acknowledge that their opinions were interpretations and that there might be a different, equally valid one. This type of rhetoric sunk in so deeply that while I kept searching, I had trouble accepting my doubts or interest in other spiritual paths as okay and ultimately it pushed me out of the Christian church altogether.
Eventually, one of the Ignatian Spiritual Retreats I attended, however, had me attending a church to take communion, and I happened upon St. Stephen’s. As I wrote about in How Much Love Must I Receive to Believe I Am Loveable, I cried through much of the service; the Priest’s sermon felt like it had been written just for me. So I kept going, but up until a few months ago, I arrived late and left early, not ready to engage.
That started to change a few months ago, when I was thinking about how I could work my spiritual practice into my work life (because I was doubting that I could ever be successful with writing, or that maybe it wouldn’t be enough) and thought about chaplaincy. The following Sunday my church had an announcement looking for volunteers to visit people who couldn’t make it to church. I thought it would be a good way to explore what chaplaincy might be like so volunteered. Raising my hand once, though, led to more.
The Priest asked if I’d be willing to also be trained as a Eucharistic minister, so I could distribute communion. I explained to him my doubts around Christianity, thinking it would preclude me from giving the body and blood of Christ to people. But he was unphased as he explained his own position about the power of the Eucharist and it being a gift for everyone, not just those who have it all figured out. So I’ve now distributed communion twice and, even on the giving end, had to hold back tears.
Realizing that faith can be about something that I don’t fully understand, but still feels right, I decided to start saying the Nicene Creed to test it out. The Nicene Creed is a statement of Christian faith that requires me to say phrases that I do not intellectually believe to be factually true – I don’t think Mary was a virgin, for example (and frankly, it makes me angry that there is an idea that she needed to be). But I am finding myself becoming more comfortable saying it anyway because I find so much inspirational about Mary and her faith story of becoming Jesus’ mother. In fact, Mary’s story is the touchstone of what it means to have faith.
An angel shows up at Mary’s home to tell her that she, a teenage virgin and dirt poor, is pregnant by the Holy Spirit and her baby is going to become King. Ha. Right. I have to believe she would have been scared to the point of soiling herself, not only because of fear that her fiancé might leave her as a result. Yet she didn’t hesitate to agree and then praised God that such a thing could happen to a woman like herself.
Every day of her pregnancy, people would likely have judged her for getting pregnant out of wedlock, and she had to steal herself with faith against it. As she raised a child that, based on limited stories, seemed highly disobedient and willful, she had to keep faith again. And it was her faith that led her to tell Jesus it was time to show the world his power in the most unexpected way – by turning water into wine at a party (which goes to show that perhaps I should let go of my “supposed to’s” when it comes to how I live my life, because turning water into wine would definitely not come to mind).
Whatever anyone may think about the factual truth of Mary’s story, it cannot be denied that it is a stellar example of what it means to have faith. When I stay in the truth of what these stories teach me about how to live my own life, rather than getting caught up in historical accuracy, I learn and grow. In this particular case, by starting to understand the importance of following my faith wherever it may lead, as scary as it may be because it goes against what I always thought I knew to be true.
As I dive into understanding faith better, I’ve heard from women in the church I grew up in who’ve told me about their own journeys and similar doubts and quandries that I’ve written about in my blog and how they’ve approached them. I’ve discovered writers like Rachel Held Evans who writes profoundly about her own doubts in her faith, particularly surrounding troubling bible stories of war and conquest that make her wonder what God’s really about.
Evans, in her book, Inspired, writes of finding solace in the Jewish practice of Midrash.
Midrash, with its imaginative engagement of the Bible’s stories, reminds us that biblical interpretation need not be reduced to a zero-sum game, but rather inspires endless insights and challenges, the way a good story does each time it is told and retold. Our relational God has given us a relational sacred text, one that, should we surrender to it, reminds us that being people of faith isn’t as much about being right as it is about being part of a community in restored and restorative relationship with God. This is how Paul engaged Scripture, after all, and Jesus – both of whom were Jews.”Rachel Held Evans – Inspired
Each new lesson has helped me to realize that having faith does not mean having all the answers. I need only to keep aiming toward the divine and trusting in what feels right, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when it seems contrary to how I thought I was “supposed” to live, and even when it’s scary because I can’t see what’s ahead. Only when I make the choice to live out of faith do I live my fullest life rather than a much smaller one born of fear.
 Although the theology of the eucharist may vary depending on denomination, it is a sacrament in which recipients consume consecrated bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ shed for our forgiveness of sins.
Also published on Medium.