How I Talk About God

Talking about God is not easy for me. When I can speak freely, God is perhaps my favorite topic of conversation. But the opportunity for uninhibited speech is rare. And even uninhibited, I do not think I have ever talked about God that I do not come away concerned that I have not expressed the things I mean to express. How does one convey something so huge and deep and central? How does one map an expanse with no borders?

I have no desire to preach. I have no desire to bash the beliefs of anyone who believes differently. (Unless those beliefs are loveless. I get pretty riled up against hatred and unkindness in the name of any god.) I am forever seeking common ground. Let us speak of love, of wonder, of art, of science. Because my God is love, my God is wonderful, my God is the artist of science. Let us speak of the divine within. Because the breath of my God is the pulse of life in every living thing. Let us speak of doing good. My God would have it so.

Yet I feel like a spider balanced on the safe lines of a web. If I lose my grip or stray side to side, I will be stuck like prey in threads designed to trap. When I talk about God with people who believe differently than I do, Christian or otherwise, almost inevitably one of two things happens:

1) The person decides that I am not a Christian, or not a “real” Christian, because I don’t pass judgment on differing beliefs or because I tend to draw the focus of spiritual conversation to similarities rather than differences. This isn’t because I agree with everything I hear. But if you want to debate, talk up differences. If you want to convince, point out areas of overlap. I think that at their core many people’s beliefs are disorganized versions of the same thing, the same drive to make sense of the intangible. The picture might not be clear, but the pieces are all there, like a puzzle that hasn’t been put together yet.

2) In other cases, a person jumps to the defensive, though I am almost never aggressing. Most of the time, I attribute this to the fact that when I speak of God, others don’t hear my words but the words of those who have hurt them in the past. When someone has been wounded by Christians, words like Jesus and faith and church trigger dozens of assumptions that have exactly nothing to do with what I believe about any of those things.

It is this fact that has taught me to downplay the specifics of my faith until I know someone trusts me enough for me to bring out the “church talk.” And even then I prefer not to speak without invitation. My intention is not to convert. Yes, I desire that others find Christ. But that is because Christ is lovely. Christ is the joy in my sorrow and the fire in my spirit and the drive in me aspiring to love over selfishness. Christ is my redemption, a light that penetrates the dark places in my own spirit that I cannot seem to overcome. But I do not believe it is my place to push other people through the door and into the light. I am only a window through which the light may shine. And if the glow draws others inside and out of the night, so much the better.

In the end, I am for God because God has convinced me of Himself.  I have thought about my faith from all sorts of logistical angles, and I think it holds up at least as well as anything else I could believe. But even if I could argue Christianity with flawless logic, I do not think I would win most people over. The factors that go into a person’s beliefs are too varied and complicated.

I believe the breath of the Divine resides deep in every spirit. I believe that deep calls unto deep, spirit unto Spirit. Almost everyone seeks something Vast, and I suspect that God is at the heart of that seeking. So I encourage people to explore the Vast as they know it. Because I trust that if they are seeking, God will meet them there, and He will reveal what I cannot. This too is faith.

I prefer to keep my posts more concise than this, and if you are still with me, I commend you. I cannot talk about God quickly or simply. As I know Him, He is a poem, meaning layered over meaning, symmetrical and unexpected. He encompasses more than you or I can imagine. He is vast, He is intricate, and He is quite likely entirely different than the way I comprehend Him. But this is what I know of Him. This is how I talk.

Long Walk

I tried to find a catchy first sentence. I searched for months, drafted for hours, and never found it. So this is how we begin the latest reimagining of the Asking Place: with petite failure.

I decided at last to begin writing without my catchy first sentence because although my inner perfectionist has loud opinions about these sorts of things, I have a suspicion that writing something is at this point more important than writing well. And I come to suspect that life is not so different.

The last year or two has seen me to the far side of intense doubt, self-hatred, and what felt like a cosmos of sadness. I will probably say more about that in time, but for now, the only point I want to emphasize is that I did not survive spirit-shattering, faith-toppling heartache with grace and saintly patience. I don’t know if there is a right way to do cosmic sadness, but if there is, I didn’t do it. I kicked and screamed and cursed and resisted the entire way.

Even now, I don’t quite know how I came out of it, and I’m not even sure I deserved it. “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream,” wrote the psalmist (Psalm 126:1). There is something surreal about the return of joy. I do not know when the shadows faded, only that I walked and walked and eventually I wasn’t in the valley anymore.

Sometimes it’s better to put down words than to make them pretty. And sometimes it’s more important to keep walking than to take the right steps. I don’t know how aimless steps become the path out of the darkness, but I believe they can, and I blame God for it.

If you are among those in the valley, know this: you’re not bad, you’re no crazier than anyone, and you’re not alone. You don’t have to carry yourself with grace. You don’t have to move mountains. You just have to keep walking. The valley is long and dark and terrible, but it is not infinite. The morning still shines on the other side.

So ask questions, get angry, be afraid, lash out, pile up your small failures. Just keep moving, and do not give up hope. Be brave, for morning’s sake.

Seeking God and exploring spirituality through Scripture, stars, quarks, and neurons.

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