My friend, Rebecca Blackwell, is a creative and courageous soul who has labored, like I did, for many years as a Presbyterian pastor. In this excerpt from The Smile on a Dog: Retrieving a Faith That Matters (downloadable for free here), her faith journey highlights the book’s pattern of questioning and emergence.
For the last 48 years, I’ve been on a journey that took me from the solid ground of Christian Fundamentalism to the misty mountaintops of whatever kind of Christian I am now.
The journey has required that I leave some things behind on the trail. I had to let go of certainty, fear, and shame. As my load lightened, I discovered a deep freedom, a peace that passes all understanding, a closer connection with God/The Sacred and the confidence that nothing can separate me from the love of God that permeates the cosmos.
I took the first step on this journey in 1972, when at age 18, I walked away from the church I grew up in. I could no longer abide their sexism, patriarchy, narrow-mindedness and fear-based way of life. Since they taught me that they were the One True Church and the God they proclaimed was the One True God, that left me with nowhere to go. So, I did not affiliate with any church.
About ten years into my exodus, I began to notice that even though I had left “church,” I was still praying (though not in a hands-folded, head-bowed kind of way), and I was missing a spiritual community. Could it be that God was bigger than I had been led to believe? I took what felt like a huge risk and began exploring other churches.
The willingness to explore and to say “maybe” to new experiences or ideas, and to trust my instincts and intuition (which I believe are the way Spirit speaks to us), have been key to this journey. I said “maybe” and then “yes” to the Presbyterian Church (USA); I said “maybe” and then “yes” to the Charismatic movement. I said “maybe” and then “yes” to seminary and ordination in the PC(USA); I said “maybe” and then “yes” to yoga, meditation, Reiki and other practices. I said “maybe” and then “yes” to seeing God at work in the deep dimensions of other faiths.
With each exploration that resulted in “yes” (and not all of them did), my heart grew more expansive, my faith more inclusive. So, where am I today? I consider myself a Christian, though I hold few of the traditional doctrines (heaven, hell, penal substitutionary atonement and others are gone), and the doctrines I do hold have been significantly re-shaped. My conviction is that the Mystery at the heart of the universe is infinitely knowable through a variety of means. The Bible (especially the stories of Jesus) is the organizing narrative for wrapping my head and heart around this Mystery, and so I call this Mystery “God” and “Christ.”
Should you be on a spiritual journey of your own, I offer the following aphorisms and suggestions in the hope that they will help you.
- Faith is a journey, not a trip. There is no precise road map, no timetable, no certain destination…the journey IS the destination.
- Hold everything lightly.
- Don’t confuse God with any church or religious institution.
- Your convictions don’t have to make sense or be logical/systematic to be true. Embracing paradox is the heart of Wisdom.
- Read and study widely…history, spiritual biographies, theology, faith stories, poetry, and great literature.
- Find some traveling companions, including people of different faiths or no faith at all; people who will talk, walk, think, and sit with you. A good Spiritual Director is an invaluable traveling companion.
- Trust your inner wisdom, no matter where and how it leads you…it is the voice of the Spirit.