Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Root of All Faith

I got caught in the oldest faith trap in the book.

It happens, I guess, when I get too busy. Or I let the busy-ness of "life" swallow me up. When that happens, typically I fall back to the externals, to the routines, to the things I do. I get on my knees every morning and speak words. But is it really prayer? I open my scriptures and read, but are the words really getting past the jumble of my mind and into my heart? I go to church. I go to work. It all becomes part of a physical routine. Which isn't all bad in itself, I suppose. It provides some order and structure that gives us a kind of peace. But it's a worldly peace. The kind of peace that easily fragments into gnawing discontent, anxiety, frustration.

When I fall into that mode of being, it's funny what happens to sex. Sex becomes this hungry, crazy thing that takes on a life of its own. And I'm trying desperately to check it, manage it, keep it from taking me places I know I shouldn't go. But that's emblematic of my whole life at that point. The routines, the rules, the guides should be a reflection of what's in your heart. If your heart isn't there, the routines, the rules and the guides start to become burdens and agony.

And it's funny what happens to my family life too. I started to notice a level of frustration in Göran. A few months back, it seemed he had come to a place of acceptance in relation to my involvement with the LDS Church, and in relation to my efforts to practice LDS faith (for instance, living the Word of Wisdom). Then all of a sudden he was starting to get crabby and bitter about it again. He started complaining and fussing about me wanting to go to the LDS Church, fussing because I didn't want to drink coffee. Making snide comments about Mormonism. At first I felt blind-sided. How had we back-slided? Now I realize it was symptomatic.

The thing that had been bugging me most was my growing sense, day-in and day-out, that that familiar voice of the Spirit was growing dimmer and dimmer until I almost couldn't hear it. Like Starbuck in the recent episodes of Battlestar Galactica. She spent most of the first two episodes of the new season stuck in a jail cell screaming: "We're going the wrong way!" And with each space jump, she was progressively losing her sense of how to get back in the right direction.

Here's where the faith trap comes in. Satan persuades you (or I persuade myself -- it comes to the same thing) that the reason I'm losing touch with the Spirit is because of failure to perfectly enough conform my life to those externals, to the rules, to the outward observances. Oh, that's a devilish trap, wherever it comes from!

In my case, it starts turning into a nagging sense that I am fundamentally flawed because of my homosexuality. That maybe everybody who says I should ditch my partner and live a life of celibacy are right, that until I do that I'm doomed to lose the Spirit. I need to follow the rules more perfectly! Yes that will get me back on track! Those nagging doubts turn into fear, then anguish. And yet, I'm trying harder and harder to follow rules and it's getting me more lost, not less.

And then there came for me a moment of anguish where I was starting to feel burdened and lonely to the breaking point. A Sunday afternoon I told Göran and Glen I needed to go for a walk. Alone. I went off down to nearby Powderhorn Park and started just walking down the hill, past the trees, down by the lake. "Please just help me!" I cried. I wept. I kept walking and weeping. "What is wrong with me?"

And it was that moment of desperation when I felt the Spirit powerfully returning, saying, "All you had to do was ask. All you had to do was listen."

Then I remembered. Then it all came back to me.

Since that I have had to make a practice of listening again. It has involved breaking some rules. Ignoring some routines. Doing stuff I'm not supposed to do. (Yup, I skipped church for a couple of Sundays.) Stopping my worrying about what will happen if.... Not letting the voice of fear and loneliness and anxiousness take over. Focusing on taking the time for what is substantive, for what feeds me spiritually. But mostly, finding the courage to just listen again, just trust God. Trust that God is guiding my life and will help me, even when I can't seem to keep everything in control.

My course is coming soon to a close. This Thursday we are discussing Catholicism, and the experience of Christian immigrants to the U.S. The following week Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the experience of non-Christian immigrants to the U.S. Then Protestant Liberalism. Then Fundamentalism. Then the Final Exam. And then I'm done, until a future semester.

As I was reflecting on what I've learned -- from the course, from my life in these past weeks -- I was thinking about the vast panorama of religion that I've taught. And I thought, as diverse as all the religions we've explored are, there's a common root. It's revelation. You can almost look at the history of every faith in terms of that initial divine blast of inspiration, that initial dramatic confrontation with the divine that shatters all reality and ushers in a completely different way of understanding the world. And then from that moment on, the history of that faith becomes a history of putting distance between oneself and the all-consuming purity and life-shattering power of that revelation. It's about trying to circumscribe, systematize, routinize, iconize. Everything we call religion turns into the tension between those two things: the true, unbounded, unmediated living experience of God -- the Revelation -- and our very human, very worldly desire to be in control. Fundamentalism and Liberalism are two different rationalizations, two different ways to convince ourselves that we're not lost, when we really are. The former is a rules-bound, legalistic angry way, the latter is a rationalistic, touchy-feely, gregarious way. But they're both rationalizations.

The root of all faith is to listen. To listen to God, wherever it leads us. Even when it blasts all of our expectations and breaks all of our rules.


Bill McA said...

You've also been neglecting your blog which is, for many of us, a source of inspiration and emulation.

Welcome Back!

J G-W said...

Thanks, Bill. I'm on my way back... Now that things are winding down with my class, I should have more time...!

Beck said...

Very much on the same wavelength with you here... We get busy and the noise of the busy-ness gets in the way of any sense of communication or revelation... and we fall.

I have recently fallen due to such noisiness.