I was unexpectedly hired today by a friend of a friend, or rather a client of a client, who is putting together a project on faith from 250 or so tapes he has shot over the last several years in numerous countries where he has interviewed people from a wide variety of backgrounds on their views on God, faith and religion. He has come to me as a consultant of sorts, to get him set up on the front end with technical issues and work flow, which – hooray for some extra cash. But what seems even more interesting is what all those people had to say. It seems from what little I know about it to be hours (weeks really) of reflections, experiences, stories and meditations on faith and God. What an incredible labor of love he’s putting together – I’m intrigued to learn more.
My prayer life is so spotty largely because I get frozen when it comes to what to say or figuring out what I really want to pray about or how I’m really feeling about something rather than praying as a natural extension of my life and thoughts without all the constant metaprocessing and backstepping and analyzing. And deep down I find I’m also looking for an experience each time – some moment of peace or clarity or otherness that lets me know I’ve connected with God rather than just blabbered at the windshield. Miller has this to say:
Don’t hunt for a feeling in prayer. Deep in our psyches we want an experience with God or an experience in prayer. Once we make that our quest, we lose God. You don’t experience God; you get to know him. You submit to him, you enjoy him. He is, after all, a person.
I’ve heard the exhortation to be natural in prayer, to speak as I would to a friend rather than composing religious-sounding language. And I’ve heard the one that says don’t go experience-hunting. This though somehow strikes me differently. It goes beyond just prayer for me – it challenges my perception of God. If I’m looking primarily to experience God, then to me he is an event or a set of circumstances. If I’m looking to get to know him, then he is free to be a person, and experience is only a part of the relationship. Joe quotes Miller again as saying,
In prayer, focusing on the conversation is like trying to drive while looking at the windshield instead of through it. It freezes us, making us unsure of where to go.
With a relationship it’s like spending all your time thinking and discussing how the relationship is going rather than just having it. There are downsides to being überanalytical when there’s life to be lived.
My five-year-old niece sang this one to me this evening, complete with fist-pumping choreography:
You shake me
You break me
You make me again
And while my first reaction of course was to say something like, “Wow, good job, what a fun song” or some other affirming sort of schlock, my inner reaction was – Does she have any idea what she’s singing?? Do kids this age really get explained to them the humiliation and utter destruction that God brings into the lives of people who are serious about following him? Did her Vacation Bible School teachers really get into the personal cost of believing in someone who is powerful and unshakable, and who has an intentional hand in our lives? How if this is really what we believe, and not just something we say to certain people at certain times when it’s safe or socially acceptable, our lives are for all other purposes forfeit?
“OK children, once we’ve all affixed our flies and boils onto our felt Job figures, let’s recite our memory verse for the day. Repeat after me: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…”
I don’t think I would have been any more appalled had she dropped an F-bomb and pumped her hips.
“A Thousand Winters Melting”
I’m realizing with each successive TSTSIMY post (plus the handful I posted when this feature was a page unto itself) that the songs featured here aren’t usually ones I’ve listened to recently, thought of specifically, or otherwise intentionally allowed into my grey matter. Instead they pop up unbidden, cracking into my consciousness with a protruding melody or phrase and prying their way into full foot-tapping status. So it is with today’s sticker, a galloping statement on love from my latest favorite band The Myriad. The verses talk about angels and the comfort of supernatural presence, but for me the haiku-like chorus is where I live:
A thousand winters melting
As you wrap your arms around me
My faith has been extraordinarily sluggish in its expression and growth over the last five years, largely because it’s done the opposite of grow during that time. I was talking with a friend the other day about our experience of faith and life and how it has evolved from our twenties into our thirties. I was very…exuberant in my twenties. My faith was vibrant, my confidence was high, and I knew how life was supposed to work. I could take big risks and try new things, I could pray with passion and move across the country to follow my dreams. The world belonged to me, in a manner of speaking. Now I am not so certain about things. Perhaps I belong to the world, no scriptural references intended. A poem by Stephen Crane comes to mind that I discovered in high school and admired then as a person admires a distant planet:
A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
Lately I think I am living on that planet. Or rather in that universe. It is…I was about to say humbling, but that gives me too much credit…discombobulating at times, devastating at other times, to discover how insignificant I am on these terms, that life is not actually all about what I want and how big I can dream. This has been my process during the last five years, which readers of this blog are probably aware of.
Lately though, it has felt different. Freeing, in a way, since I am frankly no longer as important. I am discovering a bit more of what it is to be, to exist and do my part and not worry so much about myself. And perhaps this could be just as profound and life-changing at times to others as I imagined in my big-dreaming ways that confident, bold faith could be.
Time seems often to hold me back. Time to sit and process where I’ve come to, to poke at the carcass of what has died and look around at the other things that have grown around it. Time to blog and read blogs, and books, and have conversations. Ah, who has that sort of time 🙂 In any case, I seem to be looking around again, even if I can’t see very far right now. My life, I have come to decide, is really not all that bad.