Thursday, June 26, 2008

So what do you believe now?

That question is one I don't get asked as often as you might think.

One of my best friends, for instance, has staunchly defended me when I've been targeted as theologically dangerous. Yet she's never actually probed to find out what I believe today.

I told her once, "Please feel free to ask me anything. I don't mind sharing."

She replied, "I like you. I trust you. I don't ask because I don't really want to know. If you share something that I find contradictory to my beliefs, I don't want that to change how I feel about you. I don't know if it would. So I figure it doesn't really matter if I know."

I appreciated that point of view, actually. Mature and kind. And the truth is, my changed beliefs do impact my friendships adversely sometimes.

Still on the occasions where I've been asked, I do a profoundly poor (stunningly bad, inadequate, impoverished) job of answering that question. I fumble, mumble, stumble over big words and ideas, and offer something really lame like, "Well, I'm Christian, but not a Christian any more." Whatever that means.

On Monday, my therapist tackled the big question. What do you believe now? Do you have a Higher Power, anything from which to draw strength or help you define your purpose? Timing made sense. I was crying over things I can't change, won't change and what those patterns have cost me... maybe for good.

She flipped through her notes.

"You were an ardent Christian at one point in time. But you say now that you aren't. How is that for you? What is your spiritual life like now?"

"Religion, feh!"

She laughed. "I didn't ask you about religion."

Oh for the love of Schleiermacher! Hello. I tap-danced, sandwich-boarded, and Four-lawed that script: Knowing God is about personal relationship, not religion. Faith is about spirituality not religious practice.

But I knew she was broadening the search. What about Buddhism?

Ack! Sorry. Can't get into it. Something about saffron yellow robes and vegetarianism. When I read Buddhist writings, it's that hard-working place of foreign language learning all over again. Nothing familiar, strange accent, translation required. No peace.

Yoga works for me because it's the body not the mind, not even the spirit (though my yoga instructor might say otherwise). I just yield to it and stop processing. The readings are grounded in the real, not the virtual. I can do that.

Weirdly, I do attend church. Started up a couple of months ago. Downtown, inner city black church. I don't blog about it because it's not a project, it's a place for me to be in community. I do love it.

But the bottom line is, I don't have beliefs, I don't have relationship (with God), I don't have spiritual practices. And I don't want them.

For years Jesus stood in the gap when pain mounted, when I couldn't get the love I craved the way I craved it. I worshiped, sang, prayed my heart out, wrote thousands of pages of prayers and love notes, studied the Bible like my life depended on it (and in some very real ways it did). But the bottom dropped out.

I'm not in a search for meaning, for guidance, for principles, for tangible support outside myself (and I mean that humbly... I'm not relying on myself either; I'm bobbing along like a cork on the vast sea of life, letting life itself, and all of my interconnections developed over a lifetime, support me).

My mother prays for me.

My church prays and I hold the hands of the ladies in hats who sit by me and pray with them.

I find myself praying at the oddest moments... in the shower, sometimes in the dark at night, often in the supermarket when I'm alone. I usually laugh while I pray because I don't believe in what I'm praying or saying. It's reflexive. And comforting. And habit.

And helps.

And is a waste of time.

God from below is like that. It's not a head thing. Not even really a heart thing for me. It's more like dirt. Soil, out of which I grow.

15 comments:

Sandie said...

A few things you said jumped out at me.

With my faith and worship these thoughts sum it up perfectly: "I just yield to it and stop processing." and "I don't blog about it (church/worship) because it's not a project, it's a place for me to be in community. I do love it." and "God from below is like that. It's not a head thing. Not even really a heart thing for me. It's more like dirt. Soil, out of which I grow."

While I believe in a higher power, a strong presence in the Universe...the Universe itself maybe....and I do pray, I have always understood the prayers to be 'good energy' or vibes I am sending out hoping to connect with others. And the act of praying helps me physically, spiritually, and even intellectually. I could not stop praying any more than I could stop breathing.

I really enjoyed reading how you are thinking about this now.

Mike L. said...

Great post Julie. I'm really digging your honesty. Thanks for sharing!

Nikki said...

Wow Julie... your words could have come straight from me. This especially:
"For years Jesus stood in the gap when pain mounted, when I couldn't get the love I craved the way I craved it. I worshiped, sang, prayed my heart out, wrote thousands of pages of prayers and love notes, studied the Bible like my life depended on it (and in some very real ways it did). But the bottom dropped out.

I'm not in a search for meaning, for guidance, for principles, for tangible support outside myself (and I mean that humbly... I'm not relying on myself either; I'm bobbing along like a cork on the vast sea of life, letting life itself, and all of my interconnections developed over a lifetime, support me)."

Bobbing along is a wonderful way to describe it. Not searching, and yet not in need of a search, not in need of answers. Thanks for writing so honestly.

SUSAN said...

I guess I am leaning more towards the place Sandie is in. I can't NOT pray and yet I am unsure if my prayers have an effect and yet it sometimes seems they do. My therapist asked me the same question two days ago? Where are you with God? I said, "Honestly, I pray and I hope that there is a God that hears me but I don't know if that God gets real involved except at times, I do believe supernatural things happen...so I haven't given up entirely on the concept. I just don't think of God the way I used to. "God" is so much bigger and more mysterious. Maybe I just think of the name I AM and leave it at that.

I am enjoying your mid-life reflections.

Susan

Susan

Kansas Bob said...

Great thoughts Julie! Ditto me on the four previous comments.

About prayer - I was just asking my two closest friends this morning if praying for miracles is like playing the lottery :)

iluka said...

I'm still not sure what you mean by "God from below" but I sure like this line. It's more like dirt. Soil, out of which I grow And it's no bad thing to think that way. God, for me, is what grounds me - keeps me connected and sane. The thing Anglicans always say about prayer, "when you've lost your faith, keep praying." which they do because they often have.

Mariam

iluka said...

BTW, Praying is never a waste of time, because it is the one time we are being completely honest. How can we after all lie to God, even if we doubt his existence (and maybe especially if we doubt his existence). It would be like cheating at solitaire - utterly pointless.

julieunplugged said...

"waste of time" - similar to the waste of money when Mary poured perfume all over Jesus's feet.

What a waste.

julieunplugged said...

"God from below" - ground of being, source, depths of experience, identified with suffering, roots...

That kind of thing. There is an entire development of theology that uses this language. My first introduction to it was through Bonhoeffer, but he's not alone.

The key difference: God from below emphasizes community - discovering God together through shared involvement with one another. God from above tends to focus on God's propositional self-revelation (to use Stanley Grenz's words).

Paul seems to imply this "God from below" viewpoint in how he conceives of Christian community... that together, through inter-relationship, we discern (experience, discover, reinforce) what it means to know God and how to live that out. It is not a static set of guidelines we hold each other accountable to, but a soul-searching process of shared commitment to serving and loving other people, particularly those who are suffering.

Kansas Bob said...

I love that God from below perspective Julie.

Interesting how so many things like worship and prayer seem wasteful from a human perspective.

TetheredtotheDivine said...

Where do I go to find this "God from below" community? I have not been able to find it in Christian circles. It seemed more apparent at the Toddstock (Todd Rundgren fans camping on his property for a week) than elsewhere. I know this "shared commitment" is what I'm longing for but ego seems to destroy the process. Thoughts?

julieunplugged said...

I know what you mean, tethered. I didn't attend any church for over seven years. The one I'm at now is traditional theologically. I don't hold most of the beliefs they teach the way they teach them. I'm there because I wanted to be a part of what this pastor is doing in the inner city and to learn about life, faith and Cincinnati through a lens different than white suburbia.

I have a hunch that the way we work out faith or community or depths of experience will vary person to person. For me, beliefs have become less and less important. What matters more is what the people care about and are doing. So that's how I made my decision. We'll see how it goes.

Steve said...

Julie:

Greetings from the free-wifi section of the Sacramento airport!

This is wonderful stuff. Perhaps you are paring it all down to what really matters. Our American Churchianity has taught us so much BAD stuff.

But, about 2,000 years ago, this mysterious man walked around Israel and changed the course of human history. And we silly Christian people have ever since been trying to mold that long-ago spoken of Abundant Life into something that looks like us!

Your tears are real. Go with that. God is there, somewhere.

Peace

iluka said...

Thanks for explaining that, Julie. I haven't run into that. Well, I'm not exactly well-versed in theology. Have you read "Take this Bread" by Sara Miles? It is fascinating to me because there are quite a few parallels between her personal conversion and mine. I'm reading it right now because the gentle little old English ladies in our church in their twin-sets and sturdy shoes have decided to host a community meal in our quiet suburban town (but with nevertheless its share of the poor, ravaged and homeless) once a month the day before Welfare Wednesday (the last day of month before social assistance cheques goes out and therefore when the poor are at their poorest). We are reading the book as inspiration, if not a manual. Her spirituality sounds a lot like what you are talking about.

Logikal said...

"I'm bobbing along like a cork on the vast sea of life, letting life itself, and all of my interconnections developed over a lifetime, support me)."

Julie, I'm enjoying discovering your older blogs. I liked this one because it speaks for me too. I don't know if one can go through life like that though. Bill Maher seems to not have a problem with it. His slogan is "I don't know!"