Well hello there! It’s been a minute. Exactly two and a half months. No wonder this blog doesn’t expand, I really, it seems, struggle to stick to a tight writing schedule!
There are things that have been happening in the world that matter much more than a blog post which is why I have been quiet. When it comes to the Anti-racism movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, the conversations happening, this blog is not really the platform for me to share people, ideas, content that matter. Since there was nothing of value I could add to these conversations, I chose not to write at all and focus on other avenues and concrete actions. I knew eventually I’d want to write something that could go on this blog, something that maybe would add something to someone’s life, it just wasn’t going to happen for a while.
This blog has, more often than not, been a place to discuss faith in a variety of ways, including talks of justice, since faith cannot be separated from justice. But faith seems to not be the most popular topic on the inter web… In fact my stats (very humble stats if I may add) clearly show you all prefer blogs about relationships or dating (or the absence of) because, let’s be honest here, we are all a little nosey.
However, no matter how hard I try, faith is always part of my blogs.
It comes to no surprise then that what drew me back here was a little thought process that happened only yesterday and had a little (or a lot) to do with God.
So here it goes, brace yourselves for a really gripping story!
A couple of weeks ago I ventured on a plane to fly home to France for two months. You see I need a regular fix of heat, cicadas, fresh vegetables, olives, cheese and wine. Not all stereotypes lie, and I am a walking cliché and proud to be one.
In fact the first thing I ate was a piece of baguette.
Anyhow. Only yesterday I was paddling in my parents’ little pool, thinking a lot of thoughts. I was reflecting on my spiritual path, particularly in the last two and a half years.
It has been a wild ride, most of it pretty scary, some if it freeing, all of it vital. It’s not been boring to say the very least. I’ve had times where I could not set foot in my church without wanting to run away, others where I recited Celtic prayers , or prayed with a candle, shuddered at the sound of evangelical worship music, cried at old school hymns, in short it’s been… bumpy!
And since I guess it wasn’t enough (?!), I decided to start my long-awaited theology degree and write long essays on the topic of faith. That’s my idea of fun apparently.
However, yesterday, as I was soaking in the lukewarm water, in the bright afternoon sun, to the sound of cicadas, I realised that I missed the naïveté of my younger years.
I don’t regret facing the questions I had (and still have) or shaking up things I’d believed for so long, but I do miss the simplicity of the early days. I know I can’t go back to being the girl I was back then, nor do I intend to.
Whilst pondering I realised that what some call ‘deconstruction’ (the testing of your faith and all that you were taught) can *seem* to lead to a life without God.
It’s often because of that preconception that some refrain from engaging with questions or objections they have. They are afraid of going ‘the wrong way’. When I started deconstructing if you will, I had no idea where it was going to lead me and it terrified me. Certainty had been the currency of my faith for so long that the unknown was a threat. I used to be so sure of what I knew of God, how God might be, the way God might speak. It was more than being familiar with someone, and akin to believing I could not be surprised by God in a way that felt completely foreign. God’s surprises were expected to be such as ‘I got sent on a mission trip somewhere I did not want to go’ or ‘I read this verse and it really challenged this part of my daily life’. However it did not occur to me (and others perhaps) that I could find God in places where it looked like God wasn’t. Most of faith seemed shaped around where God was found and where God was not to be found. Much like the Lion King scene where Mufasa introduces Simba to the Kingdom and explicitly tells him the parts in the shadow is to be avoided at all costs. It seemed to me that deconstruction was that place in the dark: where God was not to be found, the slippery slope, the road to danger. God was meant to be where it was clear.
It seems almost obvious now, that God is in fact where you expect God the least:
in the arms of a poor teenage mother, in the still small voice speaking gently to a depressed man, on the road to Emmaus with doubting and scared men trying to grapple with the death of their Rabbi, or at the tomb with a grieving friend. The clues were there all along, that darkness is as bright as day to God (Psalm 139).
But I spent most of my life thinking God and faith had to look a certain way to be verified™ .
It appears we like easy and simple answers and rules, but faith offers none of that. We try to turn God into an instruction book, missing the fact that, again and again, where God was expect not to be, God was found.
Once I went through the process of questioning, pushing back, I found myself feeling distant from God.
And only yesterday did the explanation for it sink in:
I still believe loving God should look like this:
Lifting my hands in worship when the bridge comes along.
Crying at some point in the sung worship of a service.
Proclaiming ‘God’s promises’ over my life so they materialise.
Spending 45 minutes of ‘quiet time’ with reading my Bible-In-One-Year plan.
Signing up to some discipleship program.
Going to every church meeting.
Being on ‘Fire for God’.
And so on and so forth.
And though all these things can be signs of ‘loving God’, they are not an exhaustive list of what faith and relationship with God might look like.
Maybe I was not actually distant from God but simply believed that I could not be anything BUT far away from God if I did not fit the enthusiastic evangelical pattern anymore?
Let me clarify: I do not believe being an enthusiastic evangelical is bad or fake. It’s not who I am so much anymore. God knows I have been there, and maybe I’ve simply overdosed on the concept.
However what does that mean that I can, truly, love God, thrive spiritually and look nothing like 22 year old me ?
Again I was swimming, and water brings me peace and clarity of mind often. (Maybe that’s why I used to spend hours in the pool as a child and teenager, so much so that my blonde hair would turn green because of the chlorine.)
So there I was, swimming, doing handstands over and over again, thinking about all of the two and a half years just gone and how I was not sure I knew God at all anymore.
Then I remembered something I read that very morning by Sarah Bessey who reminded me that God’s love is a constant:
‘ I can’t do anything to make God love me more or less and there is freedom in that. It cannot be taken away from me by anyone removing their approval’Sarah Bessey on ep.5 of the Evolving Faith podcast
It’s something I’d heard before of course. But it always felt like a promise with an asterisk* : God loved us unconditionally but we might find along the way that we did not quite read the ‘Terms and Conditions’ correctly and we in fact lost God’s love. It might because we became a ‘bad’ Christian, our sexuality did not fall in line with the church we grew up in, we held views seen as controversial, or we made a dent in the precious theology of our flock.
But when I read this yesterday, it hit different. It came at a time I acknowledged I felt out of the lines of the ‘good Christian’ I was so used to being.
And God still loved me.
Not less than when I was a zealous 22 year old.
Not more than when I was a faithless 30 year old.
Not more or less than the minute before and the minute after.
Surely if God gives us love, it has to be better than the love we can give each other in our imperfect ways?
Surely if God loves us unconditionally it has to be in an outrageous way? It has to be a love that makes either no sense at all or makes all the sense in the world? A love we can’t repay, can’t change, that truly sets us free because we have no incidence on it?
If we believe this deeply, we will stop the rat race to try and earn God’s love. We might learn to be who we are, where we are, and move forward and experience for the first time the true freedom that comes with knowing you can’t loose something. Like children who grow up in secure families, who know that whether they run away in anger or hide in the room next door, the parent will be there at the end of the day and not a thing will have changed.
If I believe in a God of love, it has to be otherworldly, exceptional, something I can’t create myself. It has to be divine, irrepressible and incomprehensible.
As I was floating in our small pool I let that truth sink in:
God loves me.
God loves me.
God loves me.
Right then as a 32 year old doing handstand in a pool like a child. When I’m anxious, when I’m careful, when I’m careless, whether I love big Christian festivals, prefer the quiet of a Catholic chapel or can’t be in a single Church service anymore, when I pray ancient prayers, read the Psalms and when I don’t open my Bible.
I am so tempted to add a ‘but’, tempted to say that of course the love of God doesn’t give us license to do such and such thing.
But I’m not going to do that because God’s love is outrageous and without asterisk. And I don’t want to limit it simply because I’m afraid of making mistakes and unfamiliar with extravagance. My spirit of scarcity shall not contain the love of God or create boundaries to it.
So I hope today you think about this a little bit:
You are loved. Whether you feel it, believe it or not at all. Whether you feel like you failing or meeting the mark, it does not matter.
You are loved in a way that’s not meant to be contained.
Just a thought,