I’ve been doing a lot of searching, lately. This quest began about two years ago, when I suddenly felt clobbered by a sense of mortality. For so long I’d been blithely living as though I had all the time in the world. Then in a succession of losses and troubles that hit close to home, I felt pulled up short, required to look long and hard at who and what matters most and what I’m going to do with that insight.
In a recent interview in the Toronto Star, the man responsible for “Blue Monday” listed three rather simplistic keys to finding happiness: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1317762–today-is-blue-monday-its-creator-offers-three-keys-to-happiness
I’m well underway on the first and third suggestions, but the second made me pause and remember a friend telling me several years ago that I seemed to live a more strictly “compartmentalized life” than anyone she’d known. What I heard her say was that I kept my family life, professional life, social life, writing life, and spiritual life in boxes with tight lids. I shook my head, not wanting to accept this rigid view of myself even though she assured me that she didn’t see this as a negative quality, just an interesting one.
In more recent years, I think there has been more confluence of my family, social, and writing streams. At book launches, I’ve allowed myself the morbid observation that this is probably the one time I’m able to see the cross-section of people who might show up for my funeral.
But while friends from my church are part of that cross-section, my authenticity is compromised by the mask that hides my spiritual life. I have excused as “privacy” my unwillingness to talk about or even acknowledge in most areas of my life that I am a believer, a member of a traditional Christian church. Indeed, I do consider my beliefs to be private. I grew up in a home where talking about politics, finances, and religion was just not done. I got over the political prohibition early and have no difficulty sounding off on my political stance, and I might even dare to ask someone (but only someone close to me, you understand) how much they paid for that new house. But my church affiliation, my faith? I’m working on that. Recently, I’ve oiled the hinges of that box, lifted the lid to describe the process by which my church, Lutheran Church of the Cross in Calgary, came to accept sexuality resolutions that were close to my heart.
My deep need for privacy in many matters notwithstanding, why the reticence to identify as a Christian? Partly, I think, the nature of my involvement in my church in spite of a lifelong – well, almost lifelong, a brief lapse of Lutheranism, in fact a lapse in belief in my teenaged years and twenties which I think is typical, perhaps necessary—membership in the church. With the birth of my first child, the church became important to me as “tradition”, the sense of obligation to expose my children to the Christian values and teachings that I’d always acknowledged had done me no harm, and given me a basis for making later-in-life spiritual decisions. I came back to the church, but had no wish to be involved beyond teaching Sunday school and Vacation Bible School and providing food as required for funerals or celebrations. The importance of coffee and feeding people were high on the list of Lutheran values I absorbed. It seemed to me that if I were to talk about my church, my religion, I might be questioned on matters of theology or expected to defend my beliefs. These were conversations in which I would surely have felt tongue-tied.
Partly, as well, my sense that the world I moved in academically, then professionally, and even socially was anti-religion of any stripe, kept me from confessing my beliefs. There were circumstances in which I felt embarrassed about my faith, and when caught unawares might suggest that I was a just-in-case-Christian. I’ve gotten over that. That’s who I was.
At this stage of my life, I’m finding comfort in being myself. And in giving myself that permission I’m finding it so much easier to tap into a deep well of compassion but know the point at which I am in danger of drowning. One thing I know for sure is that my faith is stronger now than at any point in my life, and that yes, I do need my church because it grounds me. Three significant pieces have fit into my puzzling over my spirituality recently.
Two weeks ago, I attended my godson’s confirmation (an important affirmation of faith for Lutherans) at First Lutheran Church and I was touched to the core by Duncan’s eloquent pondering on machines and robots, on the question of whether the future would hold mechanical reproduction of human beings, and how it all came down to the soul. I was affirmed in my belief that no matter which directions my children follow, the early religious training (which at times in their teenage years they insisted I was “inflicting” on them) was essential to the way I mother.
Last Sunday, I attended Lakeview United Church with a dear friend who has suffered terrible losses in the past year and who wanted me to hear a minister whose messages, she said, had been giving her comfort. The worship service was short because the church’s annual meeting was to follow, but it was powerful in its brevity. I smiled when the minister prefaced comments on the upcoming meeting with: “We are small, we are old, and we are white. But …” He challenged the congregation to look to how big the mission of such a congregation could be. This could have been a description of my own church, and in the years I’ve attended Lutheran Church of the Cross I’ve never doubted the ability and the desire of that congregation to reach out and do the work that needs to be done. I’ve always believed that there are no small works of caring.
But the important part of the message was a challenge I needed. “If being a Christian became a criminal offence in this country,” the minister asked, “would there be enough to convict you?” I know the answer. And I know the mask that I need to fling aside.
And finally just two days after attending that United Church, an email from my own church describing a celebration of works that on a global scale seem small, but are affirmation for me, once again, that even a small, old, white congregation (and I hope that any young, and fervently active members of my church will not take offense at this description) can make a difference by extending a full glass of water to not just one child but to a whole village.
Now my challenge to myself: how deep can I drink? Why would I limit myself to a sip from the cup every now and again?
No, I am not going off on a mission. My discomfort with proselytizing has not changed in the least. In writing this post, I feel I’ve taken off one mask, and even though I may reach for it from time to time, that will be okay.
There are other masks, but those are for other contemplations.