I had the privilege of hearing my friend Anna Courie speak. She has published a book, Christ Walk, which is a spiritual approach to physical fitness. You can read more about it here.
Anna and I met in college. We had some common friends and have often been at the same weddings and football tailgates. Anna was one of the visitors we had in our June family experience the result of which was realizing how much we are loved.
|Nana's Hibiscus - photo by KDW|
Anna’s speaking engagement was part of my local writer’s group’s Christian Writers’ Showcase, an event I originally declined to assist with because Christian writing is not my genre. I did end up speaking on self-editing, giving a basic English professor’s take on preparing your work for publication. Also, I recruited Anna.
In all the years Anna and I have known one another, I have never heard the story of how she became a Christian, nor heard her experience of being rendered deaf by an illness when she was very young. She shared both during her talk on Saturday and I found myself moved by her story.
I also felt a slight envy toward Anna’s conviction in her faith. She felt wrapped in it, strengthened by it, meant to be part of it and meant to have it as part of her. I thought about the intellectuality with which I approach my faith and felt a small regret that I didn’t have a passionate, acute-transformation story like hers.
Then I wrote this down on the paper I had in my lap:
God is the source of life.God is the source of love.God is the ground of being.
And I remembered my faith story. I remembered the moment in which I first came to my faith.
I was in Dilworth United Methodist and Bishop John Shelby Spong, about whom I knew next to nothing, was speaking from our pulpit. His visit was a publicized event, heavily attended by congregations from other churches and protested by a small angry mob. Seriously, with picket signs on the front steps.
Anyway, there I was, a newly wed, just eight months after 9/11, having found my way back to church but still not really connecting with the faith in which I worshipped. Then Bishop Spong said this:
“There is nothing you can do or say that puts you outside of the realm of God’s love.”
And I started to cry.
What a tremendously freeing statement. What a great relief to be so forgiven. And yet, what a burden to accept that others, all others, are granted the same equal acceptance. I wanted more. I wanted to learn more, feel more, be more.
My faith story began with forgiveness.
I set about learning forgiveness, true forgiveness, the kind which sets both the forgiver and the forgiven free. I read the scholarship of Bishop Spong on everything from the virgin birth to the miracles of Christ. I redefined my faith with his vocabulary. I found a way to reconcile the disenchantment I’d felt with the faith I knew I had.
I even brought Charlie with me.
We have seen Bishop Spong speak several times since. We continue to discuss, using Bishop Spong’s vocabulary, our faith and our commitment to forgiveness and love and living life fully. We discuss how we raise our daughter in our faith and what language we will use to share it with her.
Most of all we believe that when we speak and act and see and hear with love, we are fulfilling the life we ought to lead in gratitude to the source of this life.
We feel faith is so very personal that expressions of it cannot be limited by doctrine and ritual. We are non-religious. Religion can provide cornerstones, foundations, or other structural elements that help believers weather uncertainty and fear. I understand the inclination toward a lighthouse. A shelter.
When my Nana passed in May I thought my faith could not assuage the hurt I was feeling. My faith is not a shelter. I was wrong. Not only did my faith assuage the hurt of loss, it has healed me.
The best metaphor I can use is that my faith is a flame within me which does not let wind extinguish it, does not let rain diminish it, does not deny its warmth to anyone, for any reason, and does not leave me wandering in darkness or hoping for some greater form of rescue.
My faith is within me; not a part of me, but the entirety of me.
My faith enables me to open myself fully to be changed by the art and experiences I am privileged enough to share. It enables me to feel happy for those who triumph and empathize with those who struggle and fail. It enables me to feel peace with those things which have already happened and can therefore not be changed.
My faith encourages me to love and accept all people and that’s hard sometimes, but I’m committed to trying. My faith challenges me to live purposefully, fully engaged and always working to be better and do better. It’s exhausting sometimes, but I’m committed to trying.
I think our faith stories help us share our experiences with God and I am grateful to Anna for inspiring me to think about mine. I am grateful to Charlie for sharing mine and to Bishop Spong for helping me define it. I am also grateful to anyone who’ll let me talk through it, which includes my Nana and my mom, both of whom listened patiently and worked to reconcile my approach with theirs.
Above all other things, the faith we dedicate ourselves to should be life-affirming and joyful. I feel joy when I tell my faith story. Thanks for letting me.
Do you have a faith story? How often do you share it?