Saturday, 9 March 2019

Longing for Deeper Belief and Deeper Following

(originally journaled February 1, 2017)

Part of my prayers over the past year, in the "launching out into the deep" part, have been for a renewal of hope for eternity in God's kingdom. I don't know how I lost that so much ... listening to people who believe here and now is the kingdom (or for whom at least the present is the emphasis and the future is ignored); listening to others who scoff at the evangelical twentieth century (and further back) emphasis on the "ABC's of salvation" and "giving your heart to Jesus" to get fire insurance ... or maybe just my general questioning and doubts about almost everything except for Your ultimate existence, maybe from some of my "friends" but also maybe from my own deep discouragement I've gone through (and maybe YOU allowed it to allow me, in the end, to long for You most of all).

But whatever--at some point as I read that prayer over and over, I started longing for deeper belief and deeper following, living in You.

I longed for a renewed understanding, appreciation for, yes, need for, Your blood ... and then You pointed me to that writing about "Will I stand in God's house by night ... and become united with Him in His suffering..."

And then the other morning I awoke humming, "Mercy there was great and grace was free, Pardon there was multiplied to me, There my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary." And I have added both of those to my prayers. And this morning I woke humming, "What a day that will be when my Jesus I will see..." and I'll be adding that to my prayers, too.

Maybe a couple weeks ago, a Facebook activity was posted in which snatches of lyrics from 15 old hymns were listed, and the player was to choose (from 3 choices each), the name of each hymn. I haven't heard or sung any of those songs for years, and yet I got 15/15. I posted it and all kinds of other people, even those who no longer consider themselves Christians, were also getting 15/15 based on childhood memories ... people now in their fifties, sixties, and seventies. Time to start listening to, and/or reading, those old hymns again. For sure, a treasure stored in our hearts and minds, if only we are willing to have You reopen them for us. Thank You!

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Inerrancy, Doubts, and Faith

I’ve been talking to S. about our struggles with the Bible—especially as taking it as “inerrant truth.” Both she and I struggle with that “faith” in the Bible stories as precise, historical truth. I think of how I accepted them without question as a child and passed them on that way. But later they have become a real source of questioning, even of doubt, for me--and also for some of those to whom I taught the stories as historical fact.

Yet I also suffer from “guilt” for even questioning my “faith” in the stories as presented. And for wondering if God really did tell the Israelites, for example, to kill every living person and animals, and other things like that. I find myself wondering if they interpreted their understanding of God and his ways through the dominant tribalistic cultural ways of their time (don’t we still do the same)? And if so, what does that say about the “inerrant truth” of scripture? 

I see God revealing Himself overall (and especially through Jesus), but at the same time, I wonder how much in the Bible is man’s understanding and interpretation? I wonder what the Bible would sound like and focus on if it were written today—even by faithful, well-meaning, knowledgeable Christians who are doing their best to serve God and to love and follow and believe in Jesus? How might people a hundred or thousand years from now look back at the books we have written in our era about “what God has told me.” 

For that matter, we often look askance at interpretations by present Christian people we admire generally but have a hard time believing God really told them this or that. In fact, I have had plenty of doubts, looking back (sometimes not too far—or even presently) at things I’ve been pretty sure He’s been “telling” or “directing” me (including things I've written in this blog. I've thought of going through and removing some things--but the blog is a "Journey" as the title says, and those things are part of it). Things that seemed right in the moment, but it didn't take long for me to have second thoughts. 

How oh how do we possibly know and understand these "matters of faith"? I really do think we truly still, even with all our knowledge and theology, “see through a glass darkly”—and yes, will continue to do so until we “see face to face.” 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Off Track and Welcome Back

(originally journaled May 20, 2018)

Yesterday a friend posted on Facebook, wondering if it's possible to return to Jesus without having to deal with church. I responded, sharing a few of my own fears (such as being afraid I won't be accepted after I've "denied" God to some degree ... embarrassed about what people might say ... fear of maybe having to go to church and/or do other things I don't want to or am afraid of).

Lord, Your will be done ... and please forgive my denials. Please? You know I still worry about that a lot even though it's pretty apparent You called me back--a miracle in itself. And You know, too, that I sometimes have moments when I wonder if You are real--when I'm not having any "emotional experiences" and I'm still being influenced by the walking away times... and I know the enemy is trying to pull me back. Though I'm pretty sure I never did reach a time when I really didn't believe. Well, I know it's an "intellectual wondering" as deep inside I've always known You are with me, always have been. You don't let your children go, do You? (Unless they really want to, I guess...).

Been thinking a lot lately about that Chuck Girard song from back when I was a teen:
Welcome back to the things that you once believed in/ Welcome back to what you knew was right from the start/ ... I know that you thought you could turn your back/ ... But I can see that you know better now/ ... and I'm so happy now to welcome you back/ Sometimes you just don't know what you're missing/ Til you leave it for awhile/ Welcome back to Jesus.
I've found myself wondering, lately, where I got so off-track for so long. And why? But maybe it was a stripping kind of time, pulling away from parts of my faith that were extras, padding--that were blocking me from seeing You. Which is maybe why I'm nervous about picking up things like church.

I don't want to do things because I "should" but only because I believe and love you (even though it is still hard sometimes to know if I even do that ... It seems like that is the hardest part).

It's easier to "do things" that "show love" than to actually bare one's heart and be vulnerable and actually love. I don't like to be hurt. And I like to be intellectual because it feels safer. And it's easier to accept, too, because it can be proved. And I'm a bit skittish about things that can't be proved (like when I took an Apologetics course, and it seemed like so many things they tried to prove weren't provable in a dry, scientific way, and it just seemed like grasping at straws).

Faith is a hard thing because we can't see it, quantify it--and can't feel it emotionally, a lot of the time. Yet ... You've always been here with me. I've never doubted You (though I have doubted, and still do sometimes, the theology and theory of it).


Saturday, 9 June 2018

The Possibilities of Prayer

Attending traditional Anglican services and using the Book of Common Prayer there, as well as personal use of "The Divine Hours" (Phyllis Tickle) and "Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals") (S. Claiborne et al), and recent exploration of Centering Prayer (see Cynthia Bourgeault), leaves me with the feeling that in the tradition I was raised in we missed out to some degree on the possibilities of prayer.

We prayed a lot--at home we had "grace" before meals, daily "family worship" in which each of us, even small children, were expected to take a turn praying, individual daily devotions, lots of scripture memorizations, and extemporaneous, individually created prayers whenever circumstances called for it--illness, setting out on a road trip, praying before guests left, upcoming events, financial needs, and so on.

At church, we had a fairly lengthy prayer (by the minister, usually) in each service, opening prayers for special events or services, and of course, mid-week prayer meeting when everyone could pray in turn (or sometimes individually yet all at once), kneeling by the pews.

At school, we all repeated the Lord's prayer and listened to a scripture each morning, at least until it got phased out when I was in grade 9 or so, when we were on "shift system" and there just wasn't enough time in a 4 hour school day to include "extras." Soon enough, schools stopped doing morning prayers altogether.

Overall (excepting school prayers), the emphasis in the evangelical tradition I was raised in was on personal requests--for health, safety, finances, guidance. But we didn't often use Scripture as a prayer or guide, other than the Lord's Prayer and sometimes scripture in prayerful hymns or choruses, through which I suppose we felt we were covering "praise" and "seeking God" and "worshipping." Very occasionally, we would have a "responsive reading" from the back of the hymnal, a leftover from our denomination's Wesleyan and Anglican roots, I imagine. There was a simple liturgy of prayers, about once a month, for communion, spoken by the minister.

We didn't, so far as I know, draw upon other traditional prayers passed down through the church ages, nor did we use any of the creeds. I was 12 years old when I first heard of the Apostle's Creed, which we had to memorize for a badge in our church's children's club. No context, no use of it in our services, so I just memorized it and got my badge, with no idea where it came from or understanding of its significance. Oddly enough, I didn't think to ask anyone about it; mind you, I don't think we did a lot of "asking" about things like that. 

There were some prayers in the denomination's "Book of Discipline" in the section on rituals such as infant dedication, baptism, and so on--but again, these were read by the minister and were not in that sense congregational/ participatory.

In a sense, the hymns we sang (and we sang many) were our congregational prayers. And worthy ones, at that. Happy and joyous, deep and repentant, even militant (which at that time no one questioned). The hymn book was our "liturgy" I think, along with our informal but quite religiously followed "order of service" as laid out in the weekly bulletin. In fact, I didn't know what a liturgy was until I was at least in my late teens; I'd heard the word kind of whispered in "tut-tut" discussions of how "those mainline churches, and Catholics" worshipped. At any rate, I wonder if maybe when we gave up hymns and hymn books, for the most part, and replaced them with "worship choruses" on overhead projectors, if we really did lose an important part of our worship--in fact, our liturgy, though we'd never have called it that.

I have a copy of the hymnal of that denomination, which says of "The Role of a Hymnal":
The faith and life of the church have always found expression and reinforcement through its hymnody....
The hymnal teaches and inspires. It expresses faith, hope, and love. It voices our experience and aspiration. It is a way to share. It is a rich source of biblical theology. It is where we join with the saints of other centuries in a common expression of joy, praise, and worship. It is a force for unity. It is a stimulus to Christian action and evangelism. It leads us to God and to men. The combination of lyric and melody fastens truth upon the inner man.
Sounds rather like a description of liturgical books like "The Book of Common Prayer," doesn't it--although I still wish we'd had more participatory focus on scripture reading and congregational prayers. More emphasis on the "deep things" of common/ congregational worship. Still, I'm glad to have discovered some of those possibilities of prayer now, even if it's been a long journey to get here.


Monday, 4 June 2018

Afraid ... of church

Recently (for the past few months) I've been attending an Anglican church (early Sunday morning service; traditional liturgy) and I'm longing to be a "part of the family" ... and yet at the same time, I'm afraid.

The people are lovely and caring. I love the liturgy. The interim minister (who is Lutheran) is friendly and a good preacher. The church building is beautiful in an old-timey traditional way. What's to be afraid of, you might wonder?

It's not this particular gathering of the church I'm afraid of. I'm realizing more and more how deeply my heart was broken a number of years ago when two churches in a row, which I attended with full-heartedness, both dissolved into bitterness and anger and terrible disunity, and one ended up closing down completely. To this day I cannot understand how such a thing could happen, how a family with God as their Father and Christ as their elder brother could tear into each other with such rancour. And I don't think I could bear to go through something like that again. Probably it didn't help that at the same time I was dealing with my mom's dementia, and then both my parents' deaths within a year and a half and most of my children growing up and leaving home in that time period and so on, but out of all those things, the most heart-breaking to me was the acrimony among members of Christ's body. How, oh how, can that happen?

I have been part of a very small house church gathering in the intervening years, and I do love those people and I'm so grateful they accepted me as part of their family at a time when I was in so much pain. But I miss the sense of being part of the family of God across the world and through time--and I have been finding that in the Anglican communion. But oh my goodness--what if something happened and they split at the seams, too? Is it even possible to find a group of believers that really are in unity and will stay that way? How could it be that those who believe in Jesus could descend into such grievous disunity and pain? I don't understand. And yes, I'm afraid.

God, lead me, please.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Feeling Zombiefied

(originally journaled Feb 26, 2018)

I dread being relaxed ...

I hate how I can sit down in front of the TV and watch 3 or 4 episodes non-stop of repetitive stuff like forensics shows. Or slouch in front of the computer screen and scroll through endless Facebook memes. When I just glaze over and go with the flow--and end up feeling so guilty for wasting time.

I've been having a hard time avoiding screen time. Dear God, please help me fill those dull, empty spaces with things that will draw me into relationship with You and into loving others with Your love.

I feel like I've been zombiefied lately. I need to get active--but how? The more I work (and I've been working hard, especially brain work--tutoring, editing, writing), the more tired I become. Yet the more I sleep to overcome the tiredness, the more it increases. I feel like maybe I'm using sleep as a way to avoid something, though I don't know what. I'm so tired of blah days.

I don't care so much about happiness and pleasure and success. I just want Your joy.

I don't care so much about mushy human love and friends. I do want the love of God and neighbor that You offer and promise.

I don't care so much about solving wars and political upheavals (or even Christian/religious ones, which there seem to be a lot of these days). But I do long for contentment in You through Your peace that passes all human understanding (because that's the only way true peace will ever come).

I'm so tired of feeling zombiefied. Please awaken, enliven me with Your abundant life.


Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Honor God and Parents--Or Tell Lies

I woke this morning and lay in bed wondering why it is so hard for me to tell the truth about the tiniest things that might have someone think negatively about me. I was pretty sure it had to do with the guilt and embarrassment I feel when I think people will not approve or will catch me out not doing the best I can do. "Study to show thyself approved unto God (and people, oh yes! people especially), a workman (a hardworking one)..."

But at the same time, I actually fear that if I am successful I will be guilty of pride, that core sin. If I reach too high or am pleased by even small successes, I am stepping out of my place in life which is to be a humble and obedient little Christian girl, thus pleasing God and grandma and church and sometimes parents too, who in turn were under pressure to raise me that way--and by extension, everyone else (humans more than God, I strongly suspect).

Yet at the same time, I know I believe, deep down, that I am supposed to do well, particularly in anything related to academic education, writing, and teaching, to please and reflect well on my dad, the teacher.

Further, when I commit any one of an endless number of thou-shalt-nots, I find myself faced with the deep urge to cover it up by telling a little white lie. And then I instantly feel guilty, because by lying I have broken one of the ten commandments. It matters not that when I look up those ten commandments, I can't find the one about lying. The closest is to not bear false witness against my neighbour--but it seems that what I am really doing when I tell one of these lies is that I am bearing false witness against myself in order to please others.

After I got up and started the day, I checked my Facebook and did something I rarely do--took one of those silly quizzes. This one was about "success blockers" and after just eight questions, it decided that my personal success blocker was "feeling unworthy." It explained this goes back to the preschool years when our brain mostly is using theta waves, the same kind used for hypnosis and meditation. We sponge up everything that comes our way, and it affects our subconscious for the rest of our life. That fit in pretty well with what I'd just been thinking about, don't you think?

So sometimes I lie because I feel unworthy, or more likely unapproved, and need people to think well of me--while at other times I feel I must cover up my illegal feelings of worthiness (pride, you know) to prove my humility. It's a hopeless balancing act, an unattainable tiptoe walk along a narrow fence line. Yet I can't seem to avoid it because it is buried deep inside me and I know it goes way back to my earliest days when I was faced with expectations that, in reflection, I think were impossible for a child to live up to.

I know those in authority over me meant well; I know they were trying their best to themselves obey God and be humble yet approved, and I have no doubt that they were probably raised under stronger strictures that I ever was. I even have no doubt that I've passed some of this on to my own children, while at the same time trying to be more relaxed and approving, then feeling guilty for doing so in case it might lead them astray.

Yes, I'm an adult now and have been for 40 plus years. Yes, I should be able to overcome that beginning. Or at least be able to figure out what parts of my upbringing were an overreaction and set that aside, holding to the many parts which were good. And yes, I've tried. And tried and tried. Occasionally I manage, a bit. But then I find myself telling another little white lie, quite frequently in fact.

Am I alone? Am I hopeless? Should I be trying harder? Am I "unapproved" by God because of all this? Is there a way out, an escape? The video I watched offered a free course on how to set aside one's success blockers and become successful--but I turned off the video at that point because I had that little voice in the back of my mind warning me against "worldly methods" ... but what else am I supposed to do? Why does it seem like all my prayers and Bible study and church attendance and participation and submission and seeking the guidance of God's Spirit, and so on and on and on, is not helping either?

Do you face this struggle? Is there an answer in this lifetime? How do those perfect, approved Christians do it? Or are they struggling, too? And maybe telling their own little white lies (and maybe even big ones sometimes)?