There are a lot of holidays around this time of year. A lot of them have to do with faith. These are the dark days. The darkest day of the year, the winter solstice may very well be the inspiration for most of these holidays.
It so happens that I am having to write about faith for my latest book. The loss and reuniting with faith. Which is not so easy. In my case, faith had been an old friend that hurt me.
Faith was faithless.
Except that’s not really possible. The problem was all the other voices. I decided that it was not faith, it was not God, which had failed. It was all the teaching I’d received. And when I reached across the chasm with my little finger like the Sistine chapel, I touched faith again. I found what I was looking for, the tiniest bit.
Readers, stick with me. This is a story from my perspective, and yet I think it is more universal once the whole thing is done.
I wanted more and more. It was not as simple as when I was a child. I was a mature 19 now. The stories and their interpretations did not work in my life. Here is what I wrote yesterday for my book:
I still didn’t trust preachers. I wanted to read the Bible, but I knew the whole thing had been “explained” to me and explained wrong. What was God really saying? How could I see through the mask of lies that covered these pages for me?
I picked up the bible my parents had bought for me a few Christmases ago.
Some Bibles were red-letter editions, printing the direct word of God and Jesus in red ink. “Let there be light” in Genesis was written in red. “It is finished” in the gospels, when Jesus died on the cross, was also red.
If I only read the red, just the words that God himself had spoken, maybe I could trust those to uncover the truth.
That is indeed what I did. It turns out that it is nonsensical to read direct quotations out of context, so I took the easy way and read the whole gospel. All four of them. Again and again. They’re not that long. For weeks on end I read the gospels. They’re pretty short. These words again and again. What did they mean?
Why did Jesus keep saying: “He that has ears let him hear”?
Everybody has ears.
I was still mad, in my young righteousness, at the preachers who had messed this up for me. And I didn’t trust them, ANY of them.
But I was sick to death of the gospels, and I needed more. It took a while, but I jumped off the high dive into the rest of the New Testament. Despite St. Paul’s very very black mark of teacherhood, I decided to give his letter to the Romans a try.
The very first chapter of Romans, has this:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Launch out of the chair and start pacing and ranting! RIGHT THERE AND HELL YES! Those preachers and pastors are indicted by the very gospel they preach. Yes, I KNEW the wrath of God and heaven should be sent down on these terrible people. He says it! God’s qualities are clearly seen and understand from what has been made. They are WITHOUT EXCUSE.
And there is more: God is understood by what has been made.
That makes perfect sense. If the world was spoken, in red letters, into existence, then all of creation is God’s word, on par with this Bible. They are the same. It is all God’s word.
God can’t contradict himself, or he’s not really God right? So if I see something that doesn’t make sense, it is because I don’t understand it. On the Bible side, OR on the creation side.
This was big. It was certainly lifting the mask that had been laid over the pages of my Bible. I had to understand this, all of this better.
I had a prayer and bible study habit for years. After this new understanding, I wanted it. For two and a half years I barely missed a day.
I had read the New Testament over and over. But in that long of a time, it was getting repetitious.
I was 21. I loved God. And I knew one thing: from the tips of my crazy hair to the bottom of my feet I was nothing but ignorance. Down to the molecules and the space inside them I knew nothing.
At least I knew that. My times reading and praying were great. I loved the closeness to God of those times. I still hung onto the idea that God is everywhere and in everything.
So why did I only feel this intensity of his presence during my prayer times? I wanted to kick down the walls of this prayer closet. I wanted out of the closet.
It was clear to me that my ignorance was keeping me back. The Bible had given me what it had, but the rest of the world was something I needed to study. I needed to address my ignorance with greater intention.
I stopped. No more. No more reading and prayer times. The world and all that was in it would stand as revelation.
Here we are at the holidays again. It’s a religious time, it’s a traditional time. There is the underneath, the “true” meaning of Christmas or solstice or any other holiday. And there is our history and all the things that are said that lay on top of the truth.
We take the time to intentionally think of one another about now. Gratitude and lights and gifts. Truth and faith and hope come up too. We sing together.
What is the point of the big story I just told you? This very personal experience I just shared with more than a hundred people?
Am I less ignorant than when I stepped away from studying the book? I would say my ignorance is more nuanced now. A richer, more experienced ignorance.
It is ignorance with stories. Stories like the one I just told. I tell it for the holiday. Not because I think it is so important. But because I think it will stick in your head, and some part of it will help your holiday musings about faith.