I have indeed found myself blown away by the following series of posts on Jenell Paris’ blog:
Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 1)
I discovered Christian Wiman, poet and editor of Poetry journal, when The Christian Century excerpted his forthcoming book, “My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.” I’ve read the excerpted article several times and am finding much there for reflection.
“So long as belief is something that withstands the assaults of reason, experience, secularization, or even simply (simply!) the slow erosion of certainty within your own heart and mind; so long as that verb accurately describes the dynamic between your belief and all that seems to threaten it, then faith is an illusion in you, a dream that weakness clings to, rather than the truest form and fruition of strength.”
Occasionally I see my tendency (usually I hide it from myself) to project my ideals and longings onto God. God is perfect love, perfect friendship, perfect intimacy, and perfect closeness. No wonder, then, that I can’t find those things — I’ve defined them as just out of reach. Let the illusion go, let the beliefs go, acknowledge the slow erosion of certainty without embracing it or rejecting it, and you might just find yourself not having faith, but doing it.
Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 2)
Again, from Christian Wiman:
“Pascal: ‘We must keep silence as far as we can and only talk to ourselves about God, whom we know to be true, and then convince ourselves that he is.’ This is the fundamental vanity of the intellectual Christian, the belief that faith may be forged within oneself like a little spiritual pearl, which one may then present to the world as a rare treasure. In truth this encounter never happens, for this personal pearl is not simply a currency the world will find worthless, but, when exposed to the air of actual existence, a dull, ersatz thing which you yourself do not quite recognize. Faith is forged not by the mind alone but by the mind’s risky, messy encounter with the world at large. Faith is not something you have; it is something you do.”
1. Why, if I’m evangelical, am I an intellectual Christian? Evangelicalism is all about having a heartfelt relationship with a living God. But then we socialize converts into an intellectual religion based on rational assent to correct belief. The drama of evangelical conversion could enliven the entire life of faith.
2. How about, with respect to homosexuals, we start evangelizing in silence? We ought to evangelize to sexual minorities — sharing the good news of God’s love with them. How about we stop using words altogether, and only use actions? We could try it first for just a little while and see how it goes. It would help us sift out the moral education, the boundary maintenance, the politics, and the culture warring from the evangel.
Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 3)
more from Christian Wimans
“You continually seek something that will resolve your anxieties once and for all, will push you over into a consistent and comforting belief. You read book after book, you seek out intense experiences in nature or in conversations with people whom you respect and who seem to rest more securely in their belief than you. Sometimes it seems that gains are made, for all of these things can and do provide relief and instruction. But always the anxieties come back, are the norm from which faith deviates, if faith is even what you could call these intense but somehow vague and fleeting experiences of God. You have forgotten, or perhaps simply will not let yourself see, what true faith is, its active and outward nature (as opposed to active but inward, which is what all of those activities above are). Do not pray to be at peace in your belief. Pray that your anxieties be given peaceful outlets, that you may be the means to a peace which you yourself do not feel.
Does this mean that we’re condemned to be always anxious in our belief? Insofar as our efforts are directed inward, at appeasing or pacifying our own anxieties, the answer is yes. But when we allow our anxieties to become actions, when we perform concrete things in the name of faith, then we gradually begin to find ourselves inching forward on a rope ladder of action strung high over the abyss of unbelief, and our gaze becomes focused on what is ahead of us rather than forever staring paralyzed down.”
I’m afraid I’m not loved enough, so why not just kiss my son?
I’m afraid certain people don’t like me, so why not just start liking them instead?
I’m afraid I can’t finish the book I’ve promised to write, so why not just write?
I’m afraid my faith isn’t good enough for my children, so why not just share it with them?
God is not vague or fleeting. God is there in the rope ladder of action and in the courageous edge of anxiety that empowers a step toward concrete action.
Don’t Read This Unless You’re Prepared to Be Blown Away (part 4)
Last one from Christian Wimans
“Religious despair is often a defense against boredom and the daily grind of existence. Lacking intensity in our lives, we say that we are distant from God, and then seek to make that distance into an intense experience. It is among the most difficult spiritual ailments to heal because it is usually wholly illusory. There are definitely times when we must suffer God’s absence, when we are called to enter the dark night of the soul in order to pass into some new understanding of God, some deeper communion with him and with all of creation. But this is very rare, and for the mos tpart our dark nights of the soul are more pathetic than tragic, wishful thinking. God is not absent. He is everywhere in the world we are too dispirited to love…
Pain has its pleasures, not the least of which are its reliability, immediacy and even, in a strange way, companionability.”
I mistook the daily grind for despair. Truth is, I’m tired of sippy cups, diapers, wet beds, suffixing words with “ie” and “y”, talking about potty (see, there’s a “y”), having food taken off my plate, drinking toddler backwash in my water glass, vacuuming the same carpet, folding the same clothes, and living in this same sticky, cruddy house with the shitty kitchen floor and tiny yard that slopes at a 45 degree angle. And I’m tired of being tired of it, because truth is, this is the life I always wanted. I was complaining to a friend recently and she said, without sarcasm, “Funny how hard it is to have the life you wanted so badly.” I replied, without sarcasm, “Yes it is. Funny, that is. And hard, too.”
I felt a little better when I recast the matter as existential despair, loneliness, religious uncertainty, and a need to rethink the major life decisions of the last several years. Indeed, pain has its pleasures. But really, God is everywhere in this sticky, cruddy house I’m too dispirited to love. Naming the daily grind for what it is, instead of imagining the drama it could be, somehow makes it a little more loveable (except for the backwash).