It’s amazing how the meaning of a word can take on totally different shapes in different seasons of our lives. Take, for instance, the word “corny”. As a young adolescent, it probably was an adjective used for something silly or not at all cool: "God, mom, you're so corny!" As a young mother, it’s one of many descriptive ways of describing your precious little one's bowel movements to your other mama friends. Perhaps as a chef or a foot surgeon, it could be used professionally to describe a dish or a patient. I'm being facetious, but you get the picture.
Today, I realized that faith is one of these words for me.
In my earliest memories, faith was an invisible connection with a mostly friendly, although also very stern “guy in the sky” - someone to talk to, but also someone who was always watching me. God was a double-edged sword. As I entered puberty and also entered into an active practice of faith, the word itself became a stockpot of stewed ideas...
A personal relationship
A lot of rules
A community to belong to
A constant repentance
A reason to live
A set way of doing things
A label: Christian.
Some ingredients were delicious and others were down right rotten. Together, they’d stew and stew and I’d eagerly eat up each bite. Only later would I realize what an awful taste was left in my mouth and how sick I had become from it all. My stockpot of ingredients had formed perhaps the most toxic thing a human can ingest: Religion.
Recently, all the anger and sadness and resentment that have defined much of me for the past several years, have started to melt away. Like the icicles hanging from our gutters, drip-dripping from the sun’s glare; like the slushy snow lining the streets as the temperatures rise, I’ve sensed a subtle drip-dripping in my soul. I’ve looked around, but mostly within, and learned a lot. I’ve learned that, for me, faith meant religion. And I’ve learned that religion is just another bandaid over a wounded heart - like alcohol or money or shopping or sex - it’s a temporary fix, an illusory world. It gives the impression of control and a skewed sense of belonging, but really it’s just another way to hide and self-protect.
For years and years, the faith that I admired was a poised, strong, confident stature, with legs bent and arms ready for battle.
Armor was clean and glimmering in the sunlight. The jaw was strong, the eyes certain. Everything was neat and in order. Swords were sharpened over and over again, arrows added to the quiver incessantly and shields securely held, prepared for the fight. The whole thing had a glossy finish.
But today, the faith that I admire is weathered and ragged. The stature is on hands and knees, fingernails filled with dirt from clawing at the earth. This is not a stature ready for battle, prepared for the fight - it is a stature of one having faced the battle, one having fought and fighting still.Nothing is clean and there is no armor. Instead, cheeks are chapped from the fierce gusts of wind that life keeps blowing; tear streaks are dry, but visible from the dust lines that remain; hair is greasy and disheveled. There is weakness and frailty, instead of confidence and certainty. But there is movement and hope.
Today, I know that faith doesn’t mean religion.
Faith means courage.It is not a bandaid over a wounded heart; true, weathered faith - faith that has stared the world’s shit in the eyes, faith that has held a dead baby in it’s arms, faith that has said goodbye to a dying friend for the last time, faith that has known loss and abuse and betrayal - it refuses to accept the bandaid-fix, it chooses to walk with a wide-open, bleeding heart, day in and day out, as honestly as possible. And it is the most courageous act I have ever seen. To hope when all seems hopeless; to believe when all is grey; to take the next step when the path ahead is pitch black…
May I be called among the courageous.