an honest thing

IMG_0417The weekend before my surprising Thursday nearly two years ago, I sat on a cushioned pew with Tim and cheerfully sang alto to a few Protestant hymns, waiting to hear a half hour sermon that I could expect would be a brilliant exercise in sophisticated biblical exegesis. I was in my element, ready to ask questions after the message if I needed to, during the provided response time.

Tim sang beside me in full voice, as well. Our marriage had been through a lot of good and bad and yet had thankfully endured for thirty years (during our fourth year we even signed divorce papers, but those got burned rather than filed). Tim’s knee would touch mine as we listened to today’s message; I would playfully jab his rib if I saw him nodding off. This was Sunday afternoon, and Tim had stood through the Orthodox liturgy that morning. A man of energy, he enjoyed attending both churches. Because our Protestant group met at 4:30, he was able to worship with our daughter in the morning and with me through early evening.

For more than a decade this “unchurchy” Christian community had been my great joy. It suited the group when we were described by visitors as a glorified Bible study. Our project — guided by teachers who, though highly educated, were accessible individuals and sincerely credulous regarding God as mankind’s sovereign Lord — was to discover what the original writers of the Bible had been trying to say when they put down their words. What were these biblical authors meaning to express about our Creator’s activities in history? Our tools for finding answers included careful study of original languages (by those able to do that), as well as of literary contexts found within and historical settings related to the Bible. We also worked, to a great degree, to grasp the philosophies of Western Civilization and how these had shaped the understanding of the average 21st Century American Christian.

I found solace in this project, because I wanted to get to the center, the main thing, the only thing necessary, for true belief in God. My faith was a big, serious deal to me. I wanted to take in what was real about faith, about belief, as God intended it from the beginning, and to reject those ideas that were false about belief. When it came to following Jesus, Whom the Bible made a big deal of, I wanted to get it right.

Then came my eventful February 2011 Thursday. In shock over the experience I’ve attempted to describe that rocked me to the core, I now looked toward going with Tim to one of the most churchy looking churches I’d ever come into contact with. Before this, a few Sunday morning services and our daughter’s baptism comprised my entire Orthodox Christian experience. I knew there were services for special days, such as their commemorations of Christmas and Easter. Tim had attended these major happenings with our daughter, but I hadn’t been interested. They went on a long time, I knew, with a lot of standing involved. Vaguely I imagined everyone in a circle sharing impromptu expressions of love for Jesus, going on and on. Maybe the choir performed really long numbers. My ideas sprang from the experiences I’d had growing up. There was nothing much more I could guess that people might do for hours at a time in a church setting.

As I looked toward doing whatever it was they did at St. John’s, my sensations were not unlike those I felt one day during the rocky years of Tim’s and my marriage. That day some friends bought me a ticket to go skydiving. I wasn’t planning to bow out; I had said I would do this (both the skydive and the marriage). But I couldn’t analyze anything very closely and continue breathing and moving forward at the same time. I would learn what I would learn and I would deal with it as it came.

If this present situation meant my spiritual life was headed for disaster, well, so be it. I couldn’t prove I had been given a real message from the true God. I agreed with (though for the moment I didn’t remember where I’d read) C.S. Lewis’s thoughts from his book Surprised by Joy. Lewis believed experience is an honest thing.

From a life in which I had already jumped out of a plane and lived, started over in a destroyed marriage that survived, and traveled far into ideas I later had to admit I disagreed with, my assessments concurred with Lewis, who said, “You may take any number of wrong turnings, but keep your eyes open and you will not be allowed to go very far before the warning signs appear. You may have deceived yourself, but experience is not trying to deceive you.”

Clutching this principle and wearing an unaccustomed head scarf, I hastened alongside Tim into St. John’s church the following weekend to stand among the Orthodox Christians.IMG_0416

Comments

Dee Ready said…
Dear Deanna, your story speaks to me at a deep level. I, too, have journeyed to find meaning in my life and in my beliefs. And so as you share, you will have me following your words with eagerness and respect. Peace.
Deanna said…
I always appreciate you, Dee. Thanks for continuing. I'll probably take a short break from this narrative, but as soon as possible I'd like to return to it.