Diving Into the Mystery, Again
Entering into death
Tomorrow night, I'm going to die and be resurrected. Again.
I'm not talking about the act of being "born again," which happened in its truest form when I was 13 and walked tearfully into a dining room where my prophetic dad and my preacher uncles had been talking about their faith and I declared that I wanted in, kneeling right then and there and saying the Believer's Prayer.
I'm not talking about the act of being baptized, which happened when I was 15 (I think—the records were literally lost in a flood!), in a church off the highway in central Indiana, where I waded into a pool behind the altar with my preacher grandpa and one of my uncles and was lowered into the water, dying under there with Christ and coming back to live, sputtering and soaked, praising God in front of a crowd of witnesses—many of whom shared my last name and my blood line.
Tomorrow night, the night before Easter, after a journey characterized by the ups and downs of growing up in a faith more deeply rooted than any home country, followed by years of questioning, struggle and falling away, then a final surrender (recounted at Episcopal Cafe) to a reluctant faith that admitted that belief is my framework and ground of my being, in the midst of all that, I'm placing another milestone on the road I'm traveling.
After nearly 2 decades of working on the staff of a cathedral both architecturally and theologically big enough for me to explore, play, and to be, with a liturgy and sacraments that celebrate the presence of Christ, without the burden of jagged transactional theologies that make me want to stand up in the pews and shout down the preacher (most of the time at least), a church where I work in my own little sound booth, apart from the crowd (and still rebelliously have not "officially" joined the church—is there a form or something for that?--despite being married there and having my son baptized there and being warmly welcomed for the many years I’ve attended, which is probably membership enough), I will stand up and reaffirm my baptismal vows in front of God and everybody.
A different plan
I had a whole different plan in mind for how this Lent was going to work.
I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene, an evangelical holiness tradition that didn't acknowledge the season of Lent or many of the liturgical and sacramental trappings of the Catholic or mainline protestant churches. The plainness of the worship was supposed to be closer to the rough-hewn worship life of Jesus and the apostles. Later, after stumbling upon the Episcopal Church, I began to recognize the power of these rituals in quieting my wild, caffeinated, New York City-fied monkey mind and aligning me to what the Spirit was doing.
In years past, I've taken the season of Lent, the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, as a chance to give something up. As Lent is traditionally a time of fasting and prayer, giving up something like alcohol or sugar or one of the other barriers that dull or stimulate the senses seemed to make sense as a way to clear the mind for any messages I might receive from the Divine before the miracle of the Resurrection, sort of like SETI pointing their satellites out to the sky, waiting for signals from the mothership.
This year, I didn't plan for my sacrifice to be about fasting, but about discipline. I planned a whole 40-day writing project, in which I was going to dutifully touch on every one of my doubts, questions, and affirmations about faith, just like so many rosary beads every single day, so that in the end, I would have taken complete stock of what I believe and why. Despite the great many emotional and mystical experiences I've had with my faith, it still drives me absolutely up the wall that I don't have any evidence for it, beyond my experiences and those of people I believe.
Evidence of the unseen
I am comfortable with living in some ambiguity, and have for many years, but if for no other reason, when I tell my son about our tradition, I want something to point to, some evidence beyond my own experience that says, "This is the way things are."
Here in the middle of life’s road, I want to know where I stand.
Apologists can point to archaeology and history to prove that Jesus existed, and that there was a dedicated band of followers who believed their experience with Him, but that's about as far as the science can go. No one has ever been proven to come back from the dead, so if we approach this like true scientists—questioning everything until the evidence shows us what likely happened—there is no incontrovertible reason to believe beyond our own subjective experience and those of the people we believe (which is why I don't go knocking on your door and bang you over the head with my Bible. If you've got a relationship with the universe or another faith tradition that is in line with your experience, who am I to tell you anything different, other than to simply share my experience? I don't know what goes on in your heart, all I can do is love you and show you how I do things.)
But the lack of data makes me crazy.
I still hold onto the belief that if I only had the time, I could sit down and figure it all out. From the construction of the Bible from a sprawling collection of literature spanning centuries and written for different people at different times for different reasons to the experience that caused the apostles to go into the world willing to die for the belief that they had experienced the Risen Lord to the improbable lasting success of this belief system that started among poor fishermen in a Middle Eastern backwater in the 1st century to what this radical love really means and why I believe that Jesus may have come to save us from some our own invented ideas about the transactions that save us—I've got it all mapped out in this noggin of mine, and in a thousand notes written on cocktail napkins and the margins of church bulletins.
Except it all falls apart on paper. There is always a point when the logical argument runs into a point where, at the beginning of the universe or the end of our moral lifetimes, something weird happens. Something mysterious. Every Jesus story I tell, including my own, ends up delivering something unexplained, a healing for which there is no medical explanation, a forgotten check that shows up in the mail when the rent is due, the grace that breaks through in an argument with someone who hates my ideas but for a moment we agree on a single thing and see each other's fears and hopes in crystal clear relief, or even a comforting breeze while I'm walking off some problem on a busted-up city sidewalk that brings with it the feeling that this particular problem isn't going to get better, but that by grace I have the strength to make it through.
And then I have to give up my grasp on certainty.
Present in the seeking
In the classes I've been taking in preparation for my confirmation of baptism, our priest shared with us a quote that "religion isn't something you believe, it's something you do," and as much as I'm resistant to this idea, I also find hope in it. In our regular church services, I often skip over the Nicene Creed, as I don't know that I can say it with conviction. What does it mean for God to be "light from light, true God from true God?" Some days I don't even know in my heart if He's real or just a Freudian projection of our idealized father who protects us from death. (Although I find the idea that the universe existed infinitely forever backward in time or was created by nothing from nothing no less bizarre than the idea that God existed infinitely forever backward in time or was created by nothing from nothing...)
But tomorrow night, I'm going to go up there and say the words, as an aspiration that I will receive the grace to believe.
I will denounce evil, and will enter into the mystery of life coming out of death, of love that will make any sacrifice for every one of us as though we were the only lost sheep in the world, of the irritatingly nagging faith that has dogged me every day of my life despite my attempts to distance myself from it with logic and doubt. I will proclaim my faith in this man who was also God, this God who was also man, this experience that is the best explanation of the universe and the people in it that I know of, this belief system that gives me hope and strength and that I hope makes me a better person to those around me than I would be without it.
I will enter once again into the mystery, dying to my certainty and rising again in hope.
At the beginning of Lent, I was thinking Easter was going to be a journey into certainty, that I was going to put all these puzzle pieces together and confidently shout "He is Risen" on Sunday morning because I knew—deeply knew—that it was so.
In truth, it looks like it's much closer to the beginning of the story, much like the old adage about writing a novel being like driving at night by headlights—I can only see so far in front of me, but have faith the rest of the road is there.
So with this post, and this very public ceremony, I commit myself to this journey.
Just as the idea that if every person sincerely does the best they can with what they have been given, that God could expect no more from them, is an essential part of my world view, so is the idea that every person, including myself, has a duty to be open to new ideas and new data, so that we can continue to renew and refine our knowledge of the true.
On a Saturdayish night 2000ish years ago, those apostles thought they knew what was happening. They had it figured out that their hero who was going to lead the people to rise up against Roman oppression had been brutally killed, that the revolution was crushed, and that, for all they knew, they were next.
It was only once they experienced the Lord among them again that their eyes were opened to the possibility that there was more, and they began to revise their future story.
With that in mind, my satellite dish is still out, and I'm still receiving new signals from the stars—including those beings made of stardust who walk all around me. They—and you—are all the ones who help me make out the shape of the road and the horizon up ahead.
And so, this site is the record of my new discoveries along the way.
Stay tuned, and thanks for going on this journey with me!