Wednesday, November 10, 2004

wrestling the angel

I've been drawn to the Orthodox faith lately--again. Ever since my friend Julia joined the Orthodox Church, back when I was just beginning college, I have periodically asked her about it when visiting her and going to church with her. I wondered if it was wrong of me--somehow wavering in my faith--to consider a change like that--but I really do not think it is.
Over the past week, however, as I have been studying Orthodoxy, I have been giving some serious thought to why it is that I am drawn to it. Looking at my life thus far, it seems like an odd leaning for one with such a staid protestant background as mine is. Then again, maybe it is not so solidly protestant after all . . . When my Father was a youth pastor, in Canada, it was in a German Baptist Church that his family had attended ever since immigrating from Germany. He and Mom had met at Columbia Bible College, a nondenominational, evangelical seminary. Mom was raised as a Presbyterian. In Africa, we were with a nondenominational mission, and the Church there was also nondenominational. These all had a distinctly protestant feel to them, though.
I, on the other hand, have never felt quite comfortable in my protestant skin. Now, I should clarify that never, in all my remembered life, have I considered any faith but the one that has been who I am since going to bed each night as a 7-year-old, repeating as my bedtime prayer, "And God, just in case you didn't hear me last night, please come into my heart. And please, if I am not being sincere enough in wanting you to, please help me to be tomorrow night . . . when I ask you again." Seriously, I have vivid memories of those nightly repeated prayers, and of, even at that young age, worrying that I somehow might not be asking Him well enough . . .so, I had better ask again the next night!
So, as long as I can remember, God has just been an ever-present reality in my life. I have worked through all manner of questions in my faith, continuously coming to God with all my pleas, me fears, my insecurities, and my joys. It is second-nature to me to be out on a run, or walking in the woods, having such an intense conversation with Him that I end up in tears--of sorrow, worry, or even joy.
All that to say, I am quite comfortable examining my faith without worrying that it is somehow in jeopardy--God has a hold of me, and He will not let me go, no matter what my fickle nature, prone to wander, as it is, may tempt me towards. Which brings me back to my question of what leads me to these examinations of Orthodoxy:
My first memory of a feeling of righteous indignation came early in high school, when a member of my group--who went on to become a Pastor, actually--commented on his interpretation of the passage we were studying. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what passage it was--the most I can remember is that it was one of Paul's letters in the New Testament. At any rate, this friend of mine said that he thought it was clearly advocating an aspect of doctrine particularly held by our denomination, and that he could not see how other denominations could consider themselved saved if they thought differently. I was absolutely horrified, and immediately protested, as best as I could muster in my timid nature at the time (I am not quite so timid anymore). After that night, I spent the better part of the week dwelling on that, and feeling that there was something wrong if differences in opinion on small matters could lead one part of Christ's body to question the salvation of another.
That was the first in a series of moments in my life when I have been caught off guard by the intensity of my feelings on that matter, and the need to fight for justice when I see denominational differences interfering with the work of the Church as a whole. I have no idea why I feel so strongly about this, but it has led to a willingness to be involved in many different denominations. Once we moved to the U.S., we attended a Presbyterian Church. During high school, though, I have vivid memories of the few times I was in other churches. A visit with relatives in England, at the Anglican Church where my uncle was a priest; attending midnight mass with close friends--these were experiences where the liturgy, choral music, and ceremonial nature inspired me with the way it created an indescribable sense of unity, and of being just a small speck in the midst of something great and wonderful that I could just be a part of.
At the same time, mind you, I have been just as moved by the social activism of the Lutheran Church I attended in Tacoma. I loved the way we were situated, intentionally, in the middle of the most infamously bad part of town, practically filling all the obvious needs there. We opened the Church up to families, as a homeless shelter, alternating as overnight hosts; we had weekly free meals, open to anyone who wanted to come in; we offered free tutoring services, paired up with one child that we would work with consistently throughout the school year. For the 5 years that I was a part of that Church, during college and beyond, I loved it with all my heart. Granted, I have never been a part of another Lutheran Church, so for all I know, this could have been a unique one. It was standard in practice, liturgy, and doctrine--but, our fabulously rowdy gospel choir may have been different, with our tendency to sing songs that inspired us to let loose with clapping, dancing, and swaying (helped, no doubt by our epitome-of-a-gospel-choir-director leader--she could inspire even the most timid-natured soul to let out her inner Tina Turner).
So, I will readily admit that I am by no means certain about any faith-decision, ot least as far as deciding on a Church to claim--or rather, that may claim me. That is always how it has been in the past: each time I have moved, God has placed the Church for that coming time of life glaringly in front of me. And this is another of those times of transition; this time, however, it is not as easy, and is requiring more reflection and decision-making.
I do know that tradition inspires me, in the sense of a faith steeped in history. I also know that I can easily think myself into an abyss of over-analyzation, leading to a need sometimes for someone to force me to just "be still and know that" He is God. Liturgy, hymns, and ceremony are some of the things that do that. At the same time, though, I have a need to know that I am filling a tangible need in God's kingdom, ministering to practical needs--that helps me avoid dwelling too much on my own needs. Which I may very well be doing at the moment . . .
When it comes down to it, I guess I have to just be at peace with not knowing for now. The truth is, it is such a crazy time of juggling work and grad school that it is probably and unwise time to try to force a decision. I must trust that if I simply keep faithfully attending Godly churches each week, God will be faithful in providing assurance about where I should be . . . or perhaps just about where I am.
Postlude, take 2:
So the lure of my old Church home proves too strong to resist. And now, I have been "visiting" so much that I realized it is silly to fight any longer and try to find a new Church home . . . it is no use, it seems, and a time away has been beneficial and helpful, for sure--but not permanent. I'm fighting no longer, and just going home . . .


Rouser said...

Hi Anne
here are a few of my thoughts:
1) God doesn't care where you are as much as who you are. I would encourage you to lay aside focus on demoninations and paticular groups. Church is not where you go, it's what happens. Church happens when the love and the knowledge of God grows. That can be over coffee or telephone, it's even happened in a bar. Meet in a "church" building, but don't lose sight of what the reality is. Remember our individuality before God. We are not accepted by where we attend church or what organization we are apart of. We know we are accepted because we are children of God by the spirit of Jesus within us. That is all that matters in this world.

You mentioned how you continually asked Jesus to com einto your heart. My sister struggle with the same insecurity. Just a short time ago, I was reading 1 John. I came to the end of the book and he said, "I have written these things that you may know that you have eternal life". That stopped me dead in my tracks. I asked myself, "What did he write that I would know, KNOW that I have eternal life?" I stopped, went back, and read the entire book again with that inlight. His words meant so much more then ever.

"The presence of God, is the presence of love
The presence of God, is the presence of peace
And the presence of God, is my assurance of salvation."

I enjoy your writing ability and what you have to say. Be blessed by Jesus

Julia said...

Dear Anna,

I believe that you are precisely where God wants you, right now, living in the present moment, in this precise struggle that he has led you to. ("I just have to be at peace with not knowing for now.") I can see that you are not trying to squelch your state of uncertainty, or master it with your own strength, but you're letting it take you closer to reliance on Christ, just like you did as a little girl, when you prayed fervently every night. I think that these kinds of prayers, with such trust, are what pleases him. "A broken heart and a contrite spirit, O Lord, you will not despise."

I agree with you that the issue of denominations, their dogmas, their differences, is vexing. Your questions are more than just legitimate, they're necessary to you right now, and I think that God has given you a mind and heart to explore those questions, and to rely on him, and draw closer to him than ever, as you do.