One of mine is surely not pastoral care. Mind you, I did some graduate work in this area, but it’s not my forte.
I screwed it up, as they say.
You will remember that I spoke about finding some bloggers who were in transition, having freed themselves of fundamentalism. They were in deep pain, struggling to retain a faith that had lost it foundations.
I felt that my offerings were not helpful. Yet one commented on that post and I felt encouraged enough to continue. I should have left well enough alone.
I have not the right words it seems, or the right attitude, or something. In point of fact, I think I misunderstood the “place” of the other person. I negligently thought I saw a person still struggling to retain faith. Rather I think I found a person who rejected fundamentalism in its interpretation of the bible, but accepted its underlying threat: It’s all inerrant, or you have no reason to accept any bit of it.
This is the constant and insidious ugly side of fundamentalism. Not only does it convince that a book is God, it convinces that if the Book isn’t God, there is no God to be found.
Most of the other commenters on this post are agnostics or atheists, so they were challenging me as well as supporting the doubts raised by the poster. Trying to argue a person out of agnosticism or atheism, especially when it is newly acquired is a worthless proposition.
But it did get me to thinking. How very different my own journey.
While I knew plenty of Catholics in my young life, they were never ones to speak of their faith. It just wasn’t done. When I did learn anything about religion and God, it was from a fundamentalist point of view. This was true through my early 20’s and through my 30’s.
I simply rejected it out of hand for this reason. I could never have believed in a God that was projected by a inerrant reading of the Bible. In fact, upon reading it, my reaction was, “what an evil and awful thing this God is!”
For, intuitively I knew this: God had to be at least as perfect and beautiful as ANYTHING I could create in my own mind. I suspected God was much more, but the Creator MUST be at least that perfect. I was merely a person, with a reasoning brain after all.
So reason, before I knew a thing about real theology, was a hallmark of believing. Remember, I am the one who, upon learning that there was no Santa Claus, placed God in the same category. Wispy magical imaginative whispers of non-reality. Nice, but not real.
Thankfully, God did not stop knocking at my door. And one of my first questions to Sister Doris when I explored entering the Roman Catholic church was, “Do I have to believe all this stuff in the bible literally?”
“My, my,” she laughed, “of course not. True, we do have tenets, things we accept in faith, but we don’t think God tricks us. The earth is certainly not a mere 6,000 years old, for instance. We have dozens and hundreds of fine Catholic scholars who study and examine the manuscripts and explain what certain texts mean.You will learn about myth and allegory and such in your preparation to join the Church.”
We had a lively conversation, and I left assured that my common sense and reason would never be assaulted by the strange child-like machinations of fundamentalist demands.
Since that time, I’ve studied under priests and other nuns who were theologians and biblical experts, some in the Roman tradition, and recently in the Episcopal tradition. They, individually, studied in some of the most respected and intellectually rigorous universities in the world.
I was never asked to accept their beliefs. I had the benefit of their scholarly learning, but one thing that all of these fine men and women taught me, was that questions were never bad, God was big enough to handle them. And moreover, I understood, whether said directly or by implication, that the hallmark of a mature faith was one worked out individually.
I have come to see it this way: God is like a key hole. We are the key. Yet, we are a key blank at the beginning. Our experiences, study, prayer, and so forth serve to try to create the key that we can place in the lock and turn. We work at this, making it sometimes jiggle, turn a bit, turn more, stick. We withdraw it at times and look it all over again. We hone, chisel, sharpen. Over time, with effort, we begin to unlock God.
Jesus, of course, was a perfect fit. Perhaps Buddha was as well. Others, those we revere as great mystics and teachers, have got the lock almost open. Once open, the kingdom is ours, today. Jesus tried to explain to us how to do this. He showed us “the way.” But there are other ways, I think, since I dare say the Dalai Lama thinks the Buddha’s way is such.
This is a God I can love, and revere and work hard to emulate. This God, who joyously provides all his sentient beings with keys, calling them to fashion themselves in his image.
Some wonder why it is hard? Should it be easy? What can we possibly learn if it is handed to us on a silver platter? No, we become Christ-like by the struggle. Study is my joy, teasing out the delicate threads of real value in sacred scripture. Sacred? Yes indeed, for all was wrought by believing minds speaking their truth as carefully and completely as they could.
Confound it, but I cannot speak this in a way that convinces the unbeliever. I preach to the choir only. It is my frustration. Is it yours?