I discovered something about myself today that surprised me.
A friend asked me whether I believed that God ever stops knocking at people’s hearts. Even though this is not a subject that I’ve spent much time considering, my rather confident response was that I believe God only stops knocking when there is no one left who has not responded to that knock.
This is a very different answer than I would once have given, but the change in my answer was not what surprised me. What surprised me was where my assurance came in giving that believe.
I’ve been thinking a lot about faith in the context of questions lately.
In the class that I am taking on the Hebrew Bible, we have reached the Prophets and the time of the end of the Davidic kingdom and the Babylonian exile for Judah. On Friday, we took a look at how these events caused shifts in the way that the Israelites thought of God and of their relationship to God. How do they worship God when they are no longer in the Promised Land? When there is no longer a temple? What does it mean to be the people of God when in exile?
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” ― Brennan Manning (in Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging)
I wrote last week about the idea of being loved by God as our primary purpose. That has been a big enough shift for me to contemplate in and of itself, but accepting this kind of radical definition of my purpose and being changes everything else, too.
“There is a divine restlessness in the human heart. Though our bodies maintain an outer stability and consistency, the heart is an eternal nomad. No circle of belonging can ever contain all the longings of the human heart.” ~John O’Donohue
I know this longing and this restlessness well. I have often described myself as a seeker because it seems like I have never found any religion, philosophy, or worldview that has been able to address this longing of my heart in a way that makes sense. I am always looking further to find answers.
I have a close relative who had a relatively brief out-of-body experience as a child when she died and was resuscitated. She generally prefers not to talk about this experience and would rather people not know of it, but she did tell me the story once. I’ve never forgotten it, but it only served to whet my curiosity to know more. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the reports of people’s experiences like this.
There was a recent one published in Newsweek by a neurosurgeon who had always been skeptical of the reality of life-after-death experiences. In enjoyed reading his account with his neurological understanding of what was happening to him woven into the story, but there was one particular part of the story that particularly caught my attention.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV)
The word faith tends to be used in a number of different ways as is evident from the number of definitions for this word that appear in the dictionary. I tend to think of it in religious terms because that is most often where I hear it used, but it’s more than just religious belief. Even the verse quoted above does not limit faith to only religious topics.
“but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (NRSV)
In the class that I am currently taking, we recently completed a paper where we compared various translations of a passage of our choice in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). I chose Isaiah 40: 27-31 as my passage, and I compared the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New American Bible (NAB), the Jewish Publication Society 1985 version (JPS), and the New International Version (NIV). This covered the most popular mainline, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Evangelical translations.
We’ve finished reading through the Pentateuch in my Introduction to the Hebrew Bible class this semester. It’s striking how much of instruction (torah) in these books is about how to actively live out one’s faith in the context of the world in which they found themselves at the time. While many of the instructions given for that time period in that setting no longer apply to our world today (like the animal sacrifices), it does make me think about how to best re-apply the fundamental concepts of loving God and loving neighbor in the world in which I find myself today.
As I look around me, I notice that there seem to be two primary ways that people go about this intentional practicing of their faith in the real world. Both have Biblical precedent, and both seem to be common approaches throughout human history.
“God refuses to be an object for attachment because God desires full love, not addiction. Love born of true freedom, love free from attachment, requires that we search for a deepening awareness of God, just as God freely reaches out to us.” ~Gerald May in Addiction and Grace (as quoted by inward/outward)
I have been a spiritual seeker all of my life, from my earliest memories. My childhood was steeped in religion as I grew up in a household that revolved around the church. Although I have wandered far afield from the beliefs and practices of my youth, that urge toward the spiritual has never left me. While it remains as strong as ever, I’ve noticed that the focus of this drive has shifted over the years.
As part of my quest to re-consider Christianity as a possible spiritual home for me, I have been doing a lot of reading blogs and articles from writers who identify as Progressive Christians because this is such a different way of viewing Christianity (compared to what I grew up with) that it often seems like a different religion altogether. I am finding hope within Progressive Christianity that this could be a way for my to re-claim my faith in a context that does that violate my intellectual integrity and my values.
I’ve come across several resources in the last couple of weeks that have been a huge help to me, so I wanted to share them in case they’d be helpful to others who may be on a similar journey.