“For the biblical way is not so much to present us with a moral code and tell us, “Live up to this,” nor is it to set out a system of doctrine and say, “Think like this and you will live well.” The biblical way is to tell a story and invite us, “Live into this. This is what it looks like to be human; this is what is involved in entering and maturing as human beings.” We do violence to the biblical revelation when we “use” it for what we can get out of it” -Eugene Peterson
Where do you begin with something you’re not sure when exactly, or where, it even began to grow? The more I step forward, the further back in myself I recognize beginnings wanting to grow, questions wanting to be asked. I’ve been facing a lot of questions about God, church and, as a people, our relationships with both of these. I’ve been wrestling with what I’ve been taught and what my heart and eyes have become opened to. In attempting to answer questions, I have ten more in place of each original. But I am welcoming it. I feel more awake in this universe and on this earth and alive in communion with God than before. As I have thought this over, I believe this active wrestling match began somewhere in the four to five years ago when J was going through treatment. I experienced God and my relationship with God in a way I never had before. J’s diagnosis and treatment, by leaps and bounds, has been the most life shattering and painful event I had, and have, yet to experience. As the years have moved on since J’s treatment I have experienced a tremendous amount of change, growth, and awakening in my personal life. It hasn’t been and continues to not be easy.
When one walks through such suffering, as I did with J, we really have just a few basic choices about how we will move forward. Because we have to keep moving forward; that is just the laws of the world we live in. We can’t halt time, to give ourselves a way out of what we face. So our choices really are: am I going to feel this suffering; am I going to create the space in myself to feel this pain, to let it move through me, so that I can move through this period of suffering in my life? Or am I going to fight the suffering? Am I going to resist the pain and not give it space? Will I, in essence, instead of creating space for this pain to pass, will I attempt to stuff it into a compartment, where I don’t have to deal with it so directly? Yet in doing so, I will continue to carry the pain and suffering with myself, instead of letting it pass through and move on. And pain doesn’t move through us without leaving scars. Just as a rushing river carves its path over time into rock and landscape by wearing away at the edges, so we are shaped from suffering we have experienced. But it doesn’t have to be jagged, sharp edges like rocks demolished by explosion. It can leave softened and smooth edges, like the polished stones pulled from the edges of a riverbed. This carving and wearing away exposes what was beneath the surface.
That period of suffering and pain grew me. It woke me up. Not immediately. But with gentle timeliness. To stand back and look at the length of J’s fight with cancer as a whole, I would not say that I was consumed with anxiety. There were many times when I agonized decisions we had to make regarding J’s care. None of the moments of pain were in any way easy, but I see that in feeling the pain and allowing God space to be in my pain with me, by not asking Him to remove my pain but allowing Him inside of my suffering, all of this pain has indeed passed through me and it is how I am able to now live each day not consumed with worry of J’s health. There are moments of pause, anxiety and concern, but not a consuming. All of this is to say: this painful, suffering period in my life wore away my rocky surface that was resistant to change. The parts that were afraid to ask the questions and believe something different. That were afraid to be uncomfortable by stepping out into the unknown. It is in these moments of being unsure that we are able to see new things, or see old things a new way.
I have been awakening to who I believe God truly is, how he wants to interact with us and have us live with and interact with him and each other. And in all of this growth and change it’s been difficult to find a comfortable place to rest within church walls. In awakening, I find myself so excited about the new things I am experiencing and seeing, the old things don’t look or feel the same anymore and it can be challenging to find how to fit all of the puzzle pieces together. Amidst all of this has been a growing dis-rest inside of me for how things are growing and changing within the church, our church. How do I preserve the tradition of going to church and being in church community that I cherish and reconcile church to all of the new parts of God I have discovered? I have found myself in a completely different place than I have been before. I find myself in a place where I don’t know the path I should, or want, to take. Change of this magnitude isn’t comfortable.
We have been attending the same church for twelve years. It has always been much larger than any church I have previously attended. Also in the past four to five years, this church has been expanding, growing, and changing. Some have been timely, wonderful changes. And some of the changes feel wrought with growing pains; they do not look like what I am searching for. All of them are done with the best of intention and heart, but I have come to realize that, perhaps, the direction the church is growing and the direction that I am growing are not really the same direction. And I have been coming to realize recently that it is okay, and that it is okay that it’s okay with me that we be growing in different directions.
I struggle through this process. Growing up, we attended church most Sundays. We were taught in the traditional, Western Christian way of living and thinking. Thinking outside of this mold feels exhilarating and scary at the same time. But it has challenged me, and I welcome that. In my struggling, I have become open to trying something different. I have attended a couple short services at a small, local Episcopalian church. (I think it may be the first time I have set foot in an Episcopalian church.) It is an evening, candle-lit service where there is no message, just a few readings and hymns sung by a choir in the balcony behind where the people sit. The moment I walked in I fell in love. There were wooden pews, like I grew up with. The light was soft and atmosphere hushed. But more than all of this beautiful quietness and stillness was the palpable sacredness that hung in the air. It was like stepping into God. The people sitting in those pews were holding God in this holy place in a way that I have not experienced for a long time. It almost brought tears to my eyes for the beauty of it. This is something of what I have been missing in my church. The sacred space we make for God in our lives. A carving out of our time and our selves to sit in quietness, to sit in stillness, to still in the presence of God, yet in community together as well. Creating and dwelling in a sacred space together.
Sacred is defined as: connected with God; regarded with great respect and reverence. For me, the way church has grown to feel like a large production has forced the reverent sacredness out. The simple ways to connect to God feel complicated and just too big, too full of noise. All of the bigness, all of the attempts to appeal to the masses and catch people with relevancy has like a vacuum chamber, sucked the sacredness out connecting with God. There is no way to talk about God and not have it be relevant, not have it be current, not have it be modern. God is in every single thing. We cannot look around us and not be seeing a part of Him. We don’t need to attract people to God. He is already in us. We just need to be awoken to that. We need to wake up to God all around us.
The latin roots of sacred are: sacer meaning holy, sacrer meaning to crown; in middle English it is: sacre meaning to consecrate. I have been missing in my community of church this crowning of holiness. Where the space we create in all being together feels consecrated. Where in our wrestling of issues openly, in our asking of the difficult and hard questions, in our seeing things in a new way and differently from each other, we usher in the sacredness of God. How can that exist and not be holy?
“It’s possible to resist the very growth and change and expanding consciousness that God desires for you be appealing to your religious convictions.” -Rob Bell
What Bell says here blows open the doors of Western Christianity and challenges us to “live into this” like Eugene Peterson said in the first quote of this post. The Bible is not so much a set of rules for us to follow, as it is a book of examples of ways people have tried, some successfully and some unsuccessfully to “live into this.” It is the history of God’s people discovering Him, trying their best to follow Him. It is God meeting humans in the places right where they are at and leading them into something better with Himself. Into a sacred, holy relationship with Him where religious convictions aren’t needed. But a sacred space, created within our lives, to let God be alive and working within us, this is what I need. This is where I am journeying. This is the direction I walk. Into the sacred.