Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My Faith Journey....part deux

Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to the story of my faith journey. Things have been crazy lately and this is the kind of post I wanted to spend some time thinking about before I write it. Let’s see, where was I? Oh yeah, I had just gotten divorced after a 20 year marriage, left the Southern Baptist church our family attended and returned to my Episcopal roots. I loved that little Episcopal Church. People were warm and accepting and obviously loved Christ. But the dissolution of my marriage had put me into a spiritual “depression” of sorts. I kept going to church, but inside I was questioning almost everything I had ever believed. Oh, I still believed in a loving God who sent His Son to rescue us. Other than that everything else was up for grabs. I had prayed for so long for God to heal my marriage, change my husband, make me more submissive. I read Scripture and claimed verses as promises from God that He would do a miracle. In the end, He not only didn’t do a miracle but left it to me to declare the marriage dead. And it was. Deader than the proverbial door nail. In the end, I came to understand that if I didn’t get out of this dead relationship, I would sacrifice myself, emotionally and spiritually, and that I had no right to deprive my children of their mother.

But I was deeply, deeply disappointed in God. To make a long story short, I spent the next several years wandering around in a wilderness not sure of what was really true or real. I felt like my faith and my church had let me down at best and lied to me at worst. During this time God gave me a very great (and undeserved) blessing….my husband Dennis. We were married in 2003.

Then last summer God shook me awake. My beloved Anglican Communion was in crisis and the Episcopal Church, the Communion’s US branch, was clearly apostate. For years I had gone back and forth on the various problems confronting the church, hearing both sides of the argument but not sure what was true. Finally this question came to me: “Do you want a God who glosses over your failings in the name of uncritical love or do you want a God who has the kind of love manifested in the desire and the power to change you?” I knew at that moment that the only kind of God I wanted to worship was the second kind. And let me hasten to add that this was clearly a work of the Holy Spirit. This question and its answer did not come from me but from God.

So I began to search for another church. I knew I needed a liturgical church so that narrowed the possibilities to two: the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodoxy. I started with the Catholic Church. Like a lot of people I thought Orthodoxy would be too ethnic and strange for this Anglophile. I read a lot of books about Catholicism, joined the RCIA class at my local Catholic parish and spent an inordinate amount of money at the Catholic bookstore. I learned a lot. I learned about sola scriptura (I had never heard of it before!) and why it didn’t work. I learned about apostolic succession and the early church fathers. The daughter of historians, I loved the connection to ancient believers. I got to know Mary and started praying the rosary. Suddenly, I had found my spiritual life again. But there were some problems, my divorce and remarriage being chief among them. I also had a hard time getting on board with papal infallibility. Although I came close at times, I never felt the go-ahead to become Catholic. I was at an impasse. I was clearly no longer Protestant in my beliefs, but neither was I Roman Catholic. Eventually, it dawned on me that I needed to consider Orthodoxy. I started my research with the Internet and Frederica Mathews-Green’s books. Then I decided I needed to bite the bullet and visit an Orthodox church. To my great surprise I found a friend from my last Episcopal church had just been chrismated there! She helped me through my first Divine Liturgy. I knew almost immediately I was home. So that’s where I am today. I can hardly wait for the day when I will join the great river of Orthodox faith that has its source in Christ, flowing down from the apostles in an unbroken stream that will continue until He returns.

Monday, May 28, 2007

My prayer corner

Here is a pic of my first prayer corner. The framed picture is one of my favorite drawings...Jesus holding a lamb close to Himself, with the nail scar on his hand visible. Underneath is the calendar my church gave me with Scripture readings and fasting rules for each day. On the table is my Bible and Divine Hours prayer book. There is also a candle that I already had and a vase of roses which I cut from this bush in my yard this morning.

Later I will add some icons and a vigil lamp or beeswax candles (I love the smell).

Friday, May 25, 2007

Show Me the Course

Steer the ship of my life, good Lord, to your quiet harbour, where I can be safe from the storms of sin and conflict. Show me the course I should take. Renew in me the gift of discernment, so that I can always see the right direction in which I should go. And give me the strength and the courage to choose the right course, even when the sea is rough and the waves are high, knowing that through enduring hardship and danger in your name we shall find comfort and peace.

Basil of Caesarea (c. 329 - 379)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A retraction....kind of

As an addendum to the first part of my faith story...my father (who reads my blog, thanks be to God) pointed out to me that a large part of the reason we stopped going to church was my tendency to refuse to go. While I can't remember any specific incident of this, I'm sure it is true. I do remember feeling like an outsider with the other kids. My sisters and I went to a different school than most of them. But at the same time I also remember mourning the loss of yet another familiar part of our family life, although I couldn't have articulated that at the time. All that being said, I would like to be perfectly clear....my parents did the very best they could. I always knew without a doubt that I was loved and I have long ago forgiven any failings, real or perceived. My prayer is that someday my children will do the same for me. And I feel so blessed that at age 50 I still have my dad here to have this conversation with. Love you, Daddy!

Sunday, May 20, 2007


As of today I am an official catechumen in the Orthodox church! Yesterday at catechism class Father was answering someone's question and mentioned something about an "official" catechumen. Of course, my first question was "what makes it official?". I thought that if you just came to catechism class you were automatically a catechumen. He explained the process, which is really pretty simple, and then said I could do it whenever I was ready. I think he was surprised that I immediately said "I'm ready"!
So this morning at the end of Divine Liturgy, Father and I stood at the back of the church (the entrance) and he prayed a brief prayer from the service book. I couldn't repeat any of it now but it was so personal and so moving that I almost cried. I've spent the last year trying to figure out where I belonged. No, that's wrong....I've spent the last 50 years trying to figure out where I belong.
There is such wonderful peace in knowing that I am finally home!

Friday, May 18, 2007

My Faith Journey

Karen had asked me about my faith journey and suggested that I post about it. Its a long story with many twists and turns but here goes....

When I was young, my family belonged to a Disciples of Christ church ( you know, First Christian etc.). I'm so thankful my parents made church part of our lives. I have many good childhood memories of that church. It was there that I was baptized when I was 11 or 12. I also remember my mom talking to us about God and reading us books about Jesus. And we always had bedtime prayers. Unfortunately, when some family problems arose during my early adolescence, we stopped going to church. But I never stopped wanting to have a spiritual life and decided that when I got my driver's license and/or went away to college I would find a church of my own. About this same time, I read a book that had a huge impact on me. The book was Karen by Marie Killilea. The true story of a family whose daughter had cerebral palsy, this book showed a family with a vibrant Catholic faith. The descriptions of the liturgical life of this family greatly appealed to me. I knew immediately that I wanted to find a liturgical church in which to worship. Eventually I ended up in an Episcopal church a block from my college campus. I loved being Episcopalian. I loved the liturgy. I loved the church seasons. I loved the kneeling and the reverence. I loved the music. Then I met my future husband (now ex-husband). He was raised Southern Baptist and while he led me to believe that he was open to the Episcopal church, I found out after the wedding that in reality he was stubbornly opposed to any church but Southern Baptist. For about the first year of our marriage we had a lot of conflict about this. Then I got pregnant with our first child. In the interest of family unity I agreed to become Baptist. I was Baptist for 20 years until my first marriage ended. I won't go into the reasons for the divorce here, but suffice to say I was almost as hurt by the reactions of our church to the divorce as I was by my ex-husband. I RAN, not walked, back to the Episcopal church. I found a loving, Spirit-filled parish and was very happy there. To be continued.....

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Prayer Rule

I've been reading various books on Orthodox spirituality recently, trying to establish some kind of regular devotional life. One of the books prescribed this:
1. Read a minimum of one psalm vocally.
2. Read a minimum of one chapter from the Gospels
3. Read a minimum of one chapter from the Acts, Epistles or Revelations
4. Read the daily prayers from an Orthodox prayer book, vocally or silently.
5. Read at least a page from a book of Orthodox spiritual instruction silently.
6. Read at least a page from the life of a saint silently.
7. In your own words, ask for help from God, His Holy Mother, your guardian angel and your saint.

The idea is that by "washing" your soul in prayer, Scripture, and godly instruction you can develop a relationship to God and gradually remove the destructive tendencies and sin that clutter and impede your life.

I'm afraid however that even such a simple prayer rule would be too much for me at this point. So using the above prescription as a starting point, this is my plan.
1. Daily morning, noon and evening prayer using the Divine Hours book of prayers.
2. Read the daily lectionary readings of a gospel passage and an epistle passage. The Orthodox calendar that I received from the church has a listing for each day. On weekdays, I can listen to The Path podcast on the way to work which is a reading of the day's Scriptures.
3. Read a page of a book about Orthodox spirituality.
4. Daily ask for help to be faithful from God and His mother .

I'm also going to run this plan by my priest to see what he thinks.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Preacher's Dark Night of the Soul

Came across this wonderful account of someone's faith journey. Please go read it all. My favorite bit comes after the writer's experience of unanswered prayers as a hospital chaplain which caused him to deeply question his faith.

It’s funny, when your faith finally caves, it goes all at once. You realize you were just a shell held together with hackneyed rituals and desperate hopes. You are not strong. You do not have answers.

St. John of the Cross calls it "The Dark Night of the Soul." He says those seeking God will walk the paths of others but eventually those paths will end and there will be no path. They will be left with “Nada, Nada, Nada.” Nothing, Nothing, Nothing.

It broke my heart. I grieved in joint and marrow. My reptilian brain cried. I was sad all the way to the bottom.

I received an email from someone puzzled about the grief I experienced when I gave up on God. This person felt liberated when she left Christianity.

I understand how some would feel that way. Many of you only know Christianity from bad books, TV preachers, and the people who watch them. If that were all I knew of Christianity I would celebrate my liberation from it all the days of my life.

But I was exposed early to the real stuff - Top Shelf Christianity - Deep and Old Christianity. This kind is practiced by people who work until they stink and take life in great draughts. Their hands are as rough as their hides, and they DO their faith in secret, hiding their good works in obedience to Christ. They know how to love and be loved in return. Their laughter is loud and has its roots in joy.

These Christians don’t want your money and they don’t advertise. You will only find them if you MUST find them. These are the ones who took me to Mexico as a boy and showed me pain and joy. They hid nothing from me.

Eventually, he makes his way out:

....we think having faith means being convinced God exists in the same way we are convinced a chair exists. People who cannot be completely convinced of God’s existence think faith is impossible for them.

Not so. People who doubt can have great faith because faith is something you do, not something you think. In fact, the greater your doubt the more heroic your faith.

I learned that it doesn’t matter in the least that I be convinced of God’s existence. Whether or not God exists is none of my business, really. What do I know of existence? I don’t even know how the VCR works.

What does matter is whether or not I am faithful. I think faithful is a hell of a good word. It still has some of its original shine. It still calls us to action.

Go read it. Now.

Monday, May 7, 2007

First Catechism Class

Saturday I attended my first catechism class. It was a small class....an older man (a former Roman Catholic) who was chrismated at Easter this year, a woman who came with her 13 year old daughter and me. It was a very relaxed class with plenty of room for questions. The big revelation for me this time had to do with the nature of Christ's sacrifice. I had always been taught that Christ's death was necessary as a "payment" to a just God for humanity's sins. That even if God wasn't angry with us (which most of the time it was implied that He was), His "justice" demanded that someone be punished. Suprisingly, that is not how Orthodoxy sees it. They see Christ's death as the means by which He conquered death. Before the Fall, death didn't exist. Death came into the world as a consequence of man's arrogance and decision to depart from God's way. All sin has its roots in the fear of death. Christ's willing sacrifice of himself to death, enabled Him to conquer death for all of us. So for the Orthodox, the Cross and Resurrection is seen more as a joyous victory than a payment of a debt to an angry God. Christ as victor not victim. This is probably a vast over-simplification and I know I have much to learn but there is such freedom in this knowledge! Its going to take awhile to get my head around that! It basically upturns everything I've ever been taught. Orthodoxy is a continual surprise.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Attacks, some self-inflicted

Stressful weekend. Had to work Saturday. Yuck. Even though I get Friday off, it never seems to come out even. You’d think after almost thirteen years at this job I’d be used to working every third weekend. Nope.

Then there was the “church” thing. I finally called my Anglican priest to resign from the vestry and tell him I was moving toward Orthodoxy. He asked me some hard questions most of which I have been asking myself for months. He did have a good question though…. “when you think about the Orthodox church do you feel peace?”. I could honestly answer yes. By contrast, even the times when I felt the most eager about becoming Roman Catholic there was always some measure of doubt or confusion be it small or great. I did not have the complete peace I have about Orthodoxy. And I was getting NO peace in the Anglican Church which is really strange for me because I have loved Anglicanism for all of my adult life. But every Sunday lately, I’d go to church and have this feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be there. Yes, I know the enemy of our souls could be the cuprit there but it didn't feel like it. Actually, all the endless, tortured questioning of myself over my motives for converting to Orthodoxy....that felt like him.

Of course all this discernment has taken a tremendous amount of time since I have to second-guess every thought I have and change my mind at least three times. Hey, it’s what I do.

Okay, so I make the phone call to my priest and immediately after hanging up start having a major anxiety attack. This too is what I do. Welcome to my world.