For the past few years, I did not and could not possess ultimate hope for this world. Everyone and everything around me was tainted by evil, violence, suffering, laziness, and greed (just to name a few). I had no hope in the human race and I had no hope in a Divine, although I wanted it. I longed for it. I needed it. But such feelings couldn’t erase the belief that this world had gone to shit. And God let it.
Some time ago, I had been speaking with Thea (a fellow Urban Village community member) about these feelings and the lack of hope I had that “all would be well”. As I left her home, she affirmed my feelings and offered a simple challenge: Even if I couldn’t see it now, beauty did exist, love did exist, goodness did exist. Her belief didn’t change mine but it did stay with me.
A fellow CPE peer recently asked me during one of our group times: “What would God have to do to make me believe?” At the time, I didn’t know what to say. I had asked myself a similar question numerous times. Would a miracle produce belief in me? I doubted it. I would probably just rationalize it away. But his question stayed with me.
And then I had a profound moment of belief. I was sharing a verbatim (a word-for-word encounter I had with a patient) with the group for our mutual learning and invited my peers to help me see where God might have been present, since I myself was having a difficult time seeing God at all. I had shared with my peers that this visit had profound impact on me because it was the first time I could remember ever identifying with someone else. Not empathetically, but believing that in some mysterious way, I myself was that distressed little girl in the hospital bed, and comforting her meant comforting that part of me that felt like her. A peer pointed to the moment when I had brought the stuffed animal to her. She had been crying inconsolably and the distraction of the toy brought relief and comfort and enabled her to fall asleep. My peer's response cut through to me: "Maybe God was healing two people in that moment."
As soon as he said it, I believed it. Tears came. And then as quickly as I believed, I began to disbelieve. Cynical thoughts formed in my mind and a mysterious desire to run away from any faith that might be coming back to me became very real. I've been thinking about it ever since.
What changed? What prompted my response of faith...and my temptation to flee?
What was so significant about that moment that enabled me to see all that I had been seeing already (the violence, suffering etc) and yet come to a different conclusion? A belief in something greater. Something beyond myself. That moment felt holy - as if I was truly the recipient of Divine touch. or Goodness. Life. I believed. But in what? In whom? Was it the God of my youth? The personal One who remained active in the world as I had so firmly held in years prior? Or was it something - or someone - else who orchestrated this moment of healing and faith? Perhaps it was simply a chance encounter that carried profound weight; Life offering life once more.
I've been thinking...Perhaps Thea's question, and my peers prompting and proposition were just the things to "broaden my consciousness" (a phrase used by Rebecca Ann Parker in Proverbs of Ashes, 116) to include one of goodness, not only evil. Perhaps whatever faith I've received from that broadening had to come at this gut level. Perhaps it couldn't come from books or thought processes, witnesses to miracles, or mere determination. I had to feel it, to know it - in my gut - that it was real. Is this was they mean by existential?
And why on earth do I want to run away from that which brought such Light?
I am not sure I know the answer to this right now. But I do sense that it would be unhelpful and wrong to rush through this time and simply call myself a "Christian" again, glossing over my experiences with the religious paintbrush that looks Mennonite, or Catholic, or even Christian. I sense that the part of myself that wanted to run is afraid of such boxes and needs the time and room to breathe. I need to get to know this new faith of mine - whatever "it" is. For now, I'm choosing to call it Love.
I am so thankful for this CPE experience, and am indebted to my husband, Joe for his willingness to stay home with our son so that I can pursue this. I have been desiring spiritual clarity for some time now, and to live without it has been incredibly painful for me. And while I can't say that I have the ability to create an entire theology on my belief in Love and its possibility, to even be able to say the words "I believe in..." brings relief. It's been a long journey.
To those friends in my community and CPE program and family who have offered life-giving presence that stayed with me in the darkness long enough to listen: Thank you. It is this life you offered me that is helping me find salvation.