Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wrestling with the story

This essay is by the Rev. Buddy Stallings, priest-in-charge at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan.

Lauren Winner's non-memoir memoir, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, is a delicious treat during these waning days of Lent. At one point she writes, "Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith. I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless, prone to wander. And yet glimmers of holy keep interrupting my gaze." Reading the entire book Sunday on my cross-country flight, I found it to be charming, a description I hope Ms. Winner won't find objectionable, for it is much more than that. Its poignant gentleness is just what I needed as we near the end of an intense Lent of teaching and preaching.

My class Operating Instructions: A Series about Life  has been particularly exciting and draining. We 'cut to the chase' in this class with very little preliminary work, daring to engage a mutual adventure -- going closer to the margins of our faith than most of us may have suspected at the outset. The experience is a great testimony to the power of honesty, to speaking as clearly as possible, relying on as little insider church talk as we can -- an exercise in trust, deep trust that our most honest thoughts and wildest ponderings when measured, tweaked and argued in community, will not lead us astray. While we can be (and no doubt have been) honestly wrong, the speaking of what is as honest for us as we know how to be at any given moment is never wrong; it simply is; and is it quite different from that which we fabricate as truth even for good reasons.

Near the end of Winner's book, she tells a story about her friend Julian. When it came time for Julian to be confirmed, she told her father, who happened to be the parish priest, that she was not sure she believed enough to be confirmed and was certainly not prepared to proclaim before the whole church -- his church -- that she was ready to believe it always. The wise priest and father said to his young daughter, "What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever."

Of all the Operating Instructions we have considered in this course, this simple statement may say it best for me: we will wrestle with the story forever! In my heart of hearts, I KNOW that wrestling with God is always holy; and though we may on occasion limp away from the match, we leave with the mark of God, a transforming and life-giving experience that changes us forever.

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