Sunday, September 03, 2006
How to survive a faith non-crisis
What do you do when your faith is in a stage of such flux (not crisis, mind you, but intense change) that you are questioning everything you have ever believed or been taught?
"You read more theology," says a thoughtful, scholarly friend. Most of it is so complex that it does my head in. None of it draws any actual conclusions, but it teaches me to ask questions. I learn new, more interesting ways of approaching the God-stuff with my brain as well as my emotions. This is a revolution and I get addicted. Sadly, I can't discuss any of these new concepts at Bible studies or prayer meetings, since the ideas are not evangeical enough. I go to Greenbelt instead, where at least I see that there are other people asking these questions too. Also, it gives me something new to talk to The Girl about. She likes theology, the freak.
"You stop being so busy with the Church out of a sense of duty, and start worshipping in the ways you choose to," says a wise fellow-member of my church. That sounds great. I no longer try to fit music group rehearsals and PCC meetings and endless Bible studies (of questionable theological stance) into my schedule. I have more time to spend with God, not to mention with the people who are important in my life. I also have time to think up more questions.
"You just keep going to church," says my vicar. I take him at his word, and start going to a different church every week. Just as long as I avoid the one I've been going to for a generally contented, very committed three years - and where now, every week, I feel like I want to stand up and scream in response to every sermon, comment or badly-written modern hymn.
"You take a sabbatical from religion," says a friend who has been in my situation. Apparently, this sabbatical thing has Biblical precedent. I like the idea. I get a lie-in on the occasional Sunday morning. Which would be great, if my girlfriend didn't get up at 7am anyway, and then she helpfully brings me a cup of tea, and then I'm up, and then I might as well go to church, because I miss it if I don't.
"You accept your new place in a post-evangelical, post-modern, post-Anglican, post-Church Christianity," say the books and the more radical Greenbelt lectures. Yet I can't help thinking there's more to life than being post-everything - especially since these wacky, new-fangled ideas are actually quite ancient concepts that have probably been buzzing around since the very first Christians started arguing about shellfish.
"You connect with your developing spirituality, which cannot be explained in words or concepts," says a neighbour who believes in reincarnation, yoga, extreme veganism, crystals and the power of mental thinking, but not religion. I don't quite understand. For now we see in a mirror dimly...
"You blog it," says The Girl. Funny how the best advice I get about my Christian beliefs comes from an atheist.
This morning I went to the latest church on my round of the local Anglican parishes. It was actually the second time I've been to this one. For me, at the moment, that's almost a commitment. Someone shout at me, won't you, if I start joining the choir or volunteering to run the Fairtrade stall? So there I was, quietly sitting there in the midst of the chaos (four children were getting dunked in the font), playing the 'how evangelical is this church?' game (solution to this week's puzzle: really not at all), trying to remember whether one crosses oneself from left to right or from right to left in an Anglo-Catholic church, wondering whether that's any different from the actual Catholics, and boggling at hymns that I used to sing at school... So light up the fire, and let the flames burn... When, somewhat unexpectedly (I wasn't exactly concentrating), God said something to me.
Helpfully, God's comment had absolutely nothing to do with my faith non-crisis. It was, however, quite reassuring.
Sometimes I feel like the narrator of A Prayer for Owen Meaney, with all his worrying about the resurrection as Easter approaches: "I am terrified that, this year, it won't happen; that, that year, it didn't." So busy worrying about losing his faith, in fact, that he neglects to notice the faith that he has. God, I think, has bigger concerns than my knowledge of theology, or how busy I am with church stuff, or whether I attend the same church every week, or whether I need a few weeks off church altogether, or whether I'm post-evangelical or not, or whether I'm 'connected' enough to my spirituality. (God is fascinated by my blog, of course.) It was nice to be reminded, today, that God cares about other stuff in my life, as well as about some ethereal concept of what 'state' my faith is in.
Of course, this does not help me solve the problem of whether or not to go back to my church. That would be too easy. If there's one thing my God is not, it's practical.
I hear there's Biblical precedent for that, too.