I have a confession to make. I haven’t picked up my bible in four years. And the three years before that, most of my engagement with the text was connected to my graduate studies. No, I wouldn’t say I’ve suffered from the burn out so many former ministry workers describe feeling when they’ve been overworked and underpaid and feel like the well of inspiration and passion dried up years before they finally found the courage to seek rest and recovery. Then why the resistance to engaging this sacred text? I am convinced that the answer is far more complex than a lack of discipline or a season of “falling-away” from the faith. I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite professors as he taught me how to hear children and adolescents (and really all humans) at a much deeper level, “What is the behavior trying to communicate?” Bear with me, as I allow that question to guide this post.
I can recall my first Bible. It had a blue hardcover and was a Student NIV bible that was gifted to me by my youth leaders a few days after I responded for the first time to an alter call. Yes, that was my initiation into the faith and I have all sorts of complicated and ambivalent thoughts around that subject matter as well, but regardless I still believe something supernatural happened that night and have only had a handful of equally as powerful spiritual experiences in the 18 years following. So perhaps I will revisit the alter call ambivalence at a later time. Or perhaps not. But that bible was a central component to the shift my relationship with the God of the universe was about to take in my late adolescent years. Prior to my so-called conversion experience, I would say I always entertained the notion that there was some sort of energy or divine force in the world, but the abundance of heartache and trauma that filled the pages of my early childhood narrative left me no real choice but to assume that force was poised in opposition to my very survival. My early journals were filled with poems about the divine hand I felt gripping my neck and holding me underwater. After being forced by my desperate-for-help mother to attend a youth program for several weeks, I wound up at a Christian concert where one of the band members had the audacity to suggest that this very God, whom I had presumed was opposed to my existence, actually loved me – not just a love that encompasses the whole of humanity, but a love that holds in it’s very being my particularity and unique beauty. And so I found the courage to suspend the belief structure I had held to be true long enough to entertain the idea of a complete paradigm shift. Days later, the team of youth leaders who were just as shocked as I was that something had shifted inside of me, handed me the book that was supposed to affirm and build upon the possiblity that I was the target of Divine Love as opposed to a divine wrath.
Thus my years of devouring that student bible began. I engaged it like my life depended upon it. It was never really something I read for “devotion” – a term I heard often and assumed had to do with a conscious choice or practice of creating space in one’s life for a ritualized relationship with the text. There was never an established ritual of reading the text in my life because in those early years it was something I read out of a ravenous need for understanding, for meaning, for purpose in a world that was being born out of the soil of chaos from my early years. This impassioned pursuit likely led to my premature transition from student of the text to teacher of the text. I was never one to cloak myself in the clothes of an expert, but instead stood as a questioner, a ponderer, and wonderer of the stories, the poems, the wisdom, the accounts of this man named Jesus. I wanted to invite others to explore alongside me in the journey. My wonderings aloud began with the youth of the church and eventually migrated through the terrain of the college ministry and ultimately occasionaly landed in the pulpit. It was in that season that I first discovered how my voice, my questions and explorations of the text unnerved a good number of people. For some it was simply that my voice was female. For others it was that my voice had not yet gone through the refinement of a seminary education. For many, I believe it was that my lack of church upbringing led me to confront the text with questions that those who had been spoonfed dogma for their entire lives weren’t yet free to ask. Or perhaps I was and am heretical in my questions. Whatever the reason, my voice became a point of contention in the church that had previously been the only “safe” place I had ever known. I came to understand just how quickly this book could lose its sacredness and become a weapon. I learned how distrusting many people actually were of the text they claimed was divine – they were frightened that it could be destroyed by the questions of skeptics, by those who wondered about the cultural influences, by those who acknowledged the complexity of swallowing the thing whole without question.
I knew something had to change. I knew I was loved by many in the church that had given birth to my faith, but I also instinctually knew I needed to individuate, to separate and find a way to follow the questions that captivated my very heart and soul. I eventually followed the questions all the way to The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. I felt a whole new world opening up in that space. It was a relatively safe place to ask the questions written on the pages of my story. I went there thinking I would wrestle my way through the questions and eventually find my way to solid ground. Instead, I experienced an even greater level of opening up, an expanding of the mind and heart. This funny thing happens when I follow the questions – instead of finding answers that make life feel safer or smaller, I discover life to be more beautifully mysterious than I ever could have initially imagined. This mystery is at times difficult to bear, but at other times it is the only thing that makes life worth living. It was in the season of my graduate education that I stopped using the sacred text as a means to force all of life to make sense and fit together in a way that my human mind can grasp.
So four years have gone by and I’ve been unsure of how to engage the text in this new chapter of my faith journey. My oldest daughter, who coincidentally is named Faith, came to me this past week asking for some help with a school assignment inviting her to explore the book of Genesis as literature and that’s when I felt something that I can only equate to the fluttering of my stomach. It’s that common human sensation that happens when we have first kisses, or receive an acceptance letter to graduate school, or buy a plane ticket to another country. It’s a sensation linked to desire. Unsure as I may still be as to how to engage this particular sacred text, I am aware of a new kind of beckoning. I believe it is asking me to come home. I don’t think this home is a return to what has been, it is an ever-expanding moving forward form of becoming. I am ready to opt back in to the conversation. Anyone care to join me?