I wrote this last Fall as an assignment for a writer’s workshop. The question was Where Art Thou? Where do you currently stand before the divine? You know, just something light and breezy to share with a roomful of strangers. I borrowed a little from this piece, which I wrote a little over a year ago, and came up with the following. It ended up being a really interesting assignment and I so enjoyed hearing what the other workshop participants wrote as well.
It’s also been interesting to note, as I look back over this piece, that were I to rewrite it now, less than a year later, I would write something different. I hope that’s always true.
Where Art Thou?
When my oldest son was four we visited Volunteer Park for the first time. A fifty acre park with a sprawling playground, it beckons even the most reticent of children to play under the dreamy assemblage of towering oaks and giant sequoias. But while his younger brother plodded off toward the sandbox, my older boy hung back, unsure.
“Will you stay right here, Mama?”
“Yes, I’ll stay right here.”
“You won’t leave?”
“I won’t leave.”
“You’ll keep your body turned toward me?“
His anxiety mitigated for the moment, he slowly made his way to the sandbox, looking back over his shoulder again and again as he walked across the wood chips. Would I wave when he looked back at me? Would I nod and smile and urge him onward with the assurance of my eyes upon him?
Last March marked the first time in my life that I have deliberately stayed home from church. I say this not to sound overly dramatic or to exaggerate my piety. It’s just the truth. I have always gone to Church. My dad was a pastor so when I was growing up, staying home on Sunday morning was never an option. Even when we were on vacation, my family went to church. Before I married my husband we settled on which Sunday morning services we would attend together and when we moved to Seattle eleven years ago, priority one was to find a church.
The Church has been a gift. An unequivocal, beautiful gift. I have learned and loved and grown and changed in untold ways over the years and all of this learning, loving, growing and changing has happened in the context of the Church. Christian Wiman, in My Bright Abyss, writes that, “What we call doubt is often simply dullness of mind and spirit, not the absence of faith at all, but faith latent in the lives we are not quite living, God dormant in the world to which we are not quite giving our best selves.”
Taking a break last Spring did not signify what is called in Christian circles a “crisis of faith.” Despite the worries of my family and friends, I wasn’t falling away nor was I doubting the existence of God. I had discovered, rather, that the edges of my mind and spirit had dulled considerably over the years as I had continually endured aspects of traditional Christian expression, both devotional and practical, that, while meaningful to many, did not resonate for me. A slow seeping of water will eventually rend the rock and it was in this way that I discovered Sunday services suddenly (though not really sudden at all) unbearable.
Church has always been, perhaps out of necessity or maybe even by definition, a place where one is taught and told what to see. It is a place to find the answers. Yet I am finding more and more that instead of learning what to see, I should like to know how to see. Instead of answers, I’d like to ask more questions. I used to worry that my unease with the more traditional expressions of the evangelical Christian religion bespoke a certain barrenness to my soul; to my “spiritual walk.” But I have come to discover a richness in other forms and expressions of my faith and I no longer worry (much) about the bankruptcy of my spirit. My restlessness does not portend an inward poverty but rather a faith seeking new form, new language, new imagery.
But I am afraid. This longing I feel to root more deeply in the mystery, rather than the certainty, of God terrifies as much as it electrifies. If I take these tentative steps, what will I find? If I leap over the edge of the abyss will I merely free fall into nothingness? Or, as I suspect, does God swell up from depths, filling in from below, behind, above and around me? I believe the latter but still fear the former. I still find myself turning with each and every step to look back over my shoulder, asking the Mother God who patiently watches what my son asked of me all those years ago on the playground. May I explore a little? Will you be here as I venture out? Will you keep your eyes upon me?