Monday, October 24, 2011

The Mystery of Faith

I've been thinking a lot about religion and faith lately. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this post, other than to say, it's something I'm thinking about. I was raised Presbyterian, and I've continued to participate in Christian life in various forms and fashions over the years. I belong to a church here in NYC, and I've become very involved there in the past decade.

Lately, I feel myself growing tired of some of the trappings of church life, and particularly some of the pretenses of myself that I feel I must maintain when I go there. I enjoy and value the community of friends I've made, but when at times I feel I don't actually share some of the fundamental belief system it is all built on, I wonder if I am building community under false pretenses?

I've never claimed to be a great Christian; I would shudder away from calling myself "devout" or "faithful" or anything even close to that. I do believe in God, but the true nature of the God I believe in is a very great mystery to me, and sometimes I think church goes too far in trying to explain God and what God's all about. What God would want me to be, or to do, and how God participates in the world.

We don't know. We can't know. And while I'm awed by that mystery and while it does lead me toward faith (of a fashion), I'm also bothered by the ways we try to rationalize God. When I think of all the destruction--socially, politically, interpersonally--that adherence to religious doctrines has caused around the world, it makes me ache because all of these rules of faith that we seem so willing to kill and die for are human-made. We might seek to worship God, but religion itself is a human construct, an answer to questions that every society has wrestled with over centuries--and ultimately answered in its own way.

Why are we so sure that we're right? More importantly, why are we so afraid to be wrong? In my own faith journey, I've always found that the greater power lies in the questions, rather than the answers. I know there are a lot of people out there like me, not so sure of things and just trying to figure it all out.

This week, I read an essay--a sermon, actually--that a friend and colleague of mine wrote about the similarities between being a person of faith and being a writer. She talks about the intangible sense of having something to express, and the struggle of trying to capture it all, and the need for constant review, reflection and revision. (The essay is posted on her website, here.) It was like placing a mirror to my own struggle, and it made me go "Ah!" I read her words, and I instantly felt more comfortable, more confident in my personal (awkward) process of faith, and more comforted than I had felt in a very long time. I have no trouble seeing a little bit of God in that.

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