Finally, one of those moments I crave, which turns out to have come in a short string of such moments: a moment when a prayed question is answered, in resoundingly unambiguous terms.
It's not that the question was one of the Biggies (why evil, why suffering) -- but in my personal world, it's a question that took up half a Sunday last weekend: How can I talk about my personal experience of faith in public, when it really spans only a handful of years, and consists almost entirely of subjective revelation? (Versus the years of book- and Book- larnin' most of friends possess.) Or in other words, who's ever going to believe that God has spoken to me in a dream?
Believe me, I've told a handful of people; but the responses haven't generally been encouraging. Only one person has really reacted in a way that indicates acceptance and interest, and everyone else pretty much clams up then and there.
Sunday morning Bible study is what made this question into a "crisis." And because my family simply couldn't tolerate seeing me disappear into the sewing room to blog or email for hours about the Question, I instead spent the afternoon in the livingroom window, seated with a notebook and pen, trying to work it out. The writing took the form of a letter, to another friend, a letter I knew I might or might not post. It's four pages long (lighweight really) and is still sitting in an envelope in my purse, where I've kept it all week.
Last Sunday I sat between two very different people at Bible study. One I would describe as an intellectual, a smart contender in the world of ideas, someone living a more-or-less middle class existence similar to my own. I'm fairly intimidated by this friend's ability to embrace and parse questions of metaphysical import; and, he was raised in the faith. My neighbor to the right was another friend whom I don't know well, a woman I like and respect but haven't found much connection with. She is from the South, is African American (I'm white), is married to a white man with whom I'm often at odds, works in childcare; and over time I've made assumptions about her level of educational attainment that I should not have. All that said, in my heart I'm fond of them both, and both are far better at opening their mouths during Bible study than I am. They are comfortable with their faith and their opinions. Unlike me.
My four-page letter was a fairly self-defeating rant about how there just doesn't seem to be anyone like me where I go to church; or if there is, I'll never know, because I'm too afraid to talk about my experiences. I don't have the answers, haven't been confirmed, haven't read enough Bible, haven't participated enough in casual religious conversations. I don't know how to talk to people who have "earned" a standard set of beliefs, who know what we're supposed to say when cross-examined by the pastor after reading the day's Gospel. All I have is the belief that God talks to me, rather often in fact; and the assumption that if I start putting this belief into words I will surely humiliate myself. Plus, the whole format of the Bible study gripes me anyway, since we're going from a sort of curriculum that seems intended to test the book-learning of the average 14 year old evangelical. What am I supposed to do? I feel like I'm back in high school math class, in one of those dreams I have where I'm 40 and have been forced to sit classes with teenagers in order to finally pass Algebra.
This week, BOTH of those Bible study partners I mentioned wrote short pieces for public consumption, in which they described dreams -- Dreams that featured direct communication from God. Writing unambiguous, humble, moving. Here, and also below:
"After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near, Repent and believe the good news!”
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said”And I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
The call of Simon and Andrew “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” When I first came to Minnesota, if anyone had said come with me and I will make you fish for people, I would’ve looked at them funny. All my life I was lead to church not asked if I wanted to be there or not. My life back them was by my mother’s choice, so when I came up here to Minnesota I was the one who was making the choices. I had a different spin on my faith and religion at the time. I would have felt a little irritated if I had been asked, “Do you believe in god and if you died today would you go to heaven?.”
At the time I knew of God, but I was running away from God because I felt pressured by my mother’s religious beliefs. When I came to Minnesota, things were different and I started to dream more about Him in a good way - but I still blocked God out of my life. One time I had a dream that God was calling me to come to Him. I was quite disturbed and woke up crying. I decided that turning away from God wasn’t the answer. I needed to listen to Him.
When I am at home or driving, I feel such peace when I am listening to KTIS. The music is so calming and it makes me feel connected to God. That is my personal worship time each day. I feel like I have come a long way in my relationship with God. So now I will be like Andrew and Simon and fish for people.
SO THERE. Dummy.
This is part of a week of revelations big and also small, as I mentioned. Without going further right now, I finally realized earlier this week that in fact I am NOT equal to my faith. I'm not up to it, can't do anything other than admire it and pursue it, as it were, faithfully. I can't BE as good as my faith would urge me to be, which is in no way an excuse to abandon the effort. God knows my limitations and faults and vices exceedingly well, loves me anyway.
The other related "a-ha" moment was simply that, as regards my position and relationships at the church, I am fucked either way. By this I mean that no matter what happens, my love for it and them is already out there and if I wind up heartbroken it's not my damned fault. Moreover, if it doesn't disappoint me I'll remain overcommited and unwisely fond of it and them, which will surely continue to wring me out from time to time. Hopelessly trapped; yet, perhaps, somewhat blissfully.