I’m reminded that coherence depends on the audience. To an atheist, much of what I might be saying would be not so clear. As I’ve said in the past, proselytizing has a major draw back. There is no “logical” fool proof “proof” of that which is offered as truth, one sees the truth because one believes. If one doesn’t, other explanations make as much sense.
All I can say, frankly, is that I’ll do the best I can to ‘splain what I mean, but if it’s not convincing, don’t blame me. Faith is not subject to cold hard facts as they say, which prompts the average atheist to exclaim in the best church lady voice, “How con VEEEE nient for you.”
It’s a well known fact that new converts are exuberant and suffer from saint complexes. They are “excessively” in love with their new faith and with their new God. This generally wears off in time, and church leaders are well versed in slowing down such people before they get into ministry and church activities way over their heads, only to find that there is still “life” out there to be lived.
I suppose the same is true when one joins another faith tradition. As a new Roman Catholic, I suffered or enjoyed, your choice, the traditional, more Catholic than the Pope, attitude. In time, it subsided. Mass became the norm it is for most, an obligation, which one can take seriously or ignore as one is wont to do.
I’ve been an Episcopalian for nearly a year and a half, and frankly, my holier than thou period seems to be getting more so than less. I’m inclined in some manner, to believe it has a lot to do with my particular church. It is something special, and I cannot explain it adequately. All I know is that forces have come to play in one place and time to bring together an extraordinary array of people who seem in some amazing way to uplift and uphold each other in ways that infuse us all with deeply felt awe and awareness that we are a very special congregation.
With each passing week, I find myself more drawn to the liturgy of the day, more reverent in my prayer and worship, more deeply aware of the holiness of this place, these people, and my God. He fairly permeates this building, oozing love and blessing from every inch of it.
I fairly don’t know what to think of all this. It has not happened to me before in so strong a fashion.
Concomitant with this, is of course, a growing knowledge and friendship with so many individuals. With that comes an awareness of the ups and downs of others lives. I find myself learning about illnesses and losses, setbacks and triumphs of various members. I begin to know who are those who are suffering, those who are in delicate circumstances, carefully navigating new jobs, careers, life changes. I share their joys but also their sorrows.
And, the paradox of it all, is that, even in the midst of all this empathy, I feel an increasing joy. This causes a great deal of consternation to me, and I’m not sure how to feel. I mean, when a friend is suffering, how can I feel happy? How can I feel joy when I carry the burden of sadness that some of my friends are going through great difficulties?
What happens, is that I feel the shame of my own meagre complaints. I complain about wind and snow and frigid temperatures. I complain about fairly minor digestive issues. I complain about lack of funds to buy laptops and high speed connections. They are nothing in comparison to what others are living with. They would cry with joy to have such “complaints.”
So I feel this joy, that my troubles are minor in comparison, and the shame of feeling the joy.
It’s all jumbled up in some rat’s nest of complicated thought that I cannot unravel. I can only try to explain it to myself, and to you. There are no right words to describe it. Poets and prose writers do that for us. I scribble my thoughts and hope in some way that I touch a cord with others, that I explain in my faulty way what they too feel. For I never think my thinking is unique in a general sense.
As people of faith, we attempt to describe, explain, and often convince others that what we believe is real and important. We mostly fail, as it relates to the unbeliever, and I don’t argue that it should succeed. Faith comes to one who desires faith I think. It cannot be logically transferred to the mind of the unbeliever and convince them.
The bible is no more than these attempts over and over again. There is seldom a point in the bible where plain facts are stated. It is, in parts, and in total, writings that have a point of view. The stories, whether actual events, or offered to express over arching theological principles, always are persuasive. They are not neutral.
This essay too, is not logical, not neutral. It will hopefully be understood by the believer, who too has traversed this paradox of sympathy, empathy and joy, all at once. I continue to ponder. I listen carefully for God’s whispered encouragement. I look for the signs that direct me to a better understanding. Until then, I sit with my convenient truth, on the edge of the razor, living the paradox.