"I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread." G. K. Chesterton
The quote above is one Evelyn Waugh used in his novel Brideshead Revisited. How ironic that my favorite book in the whole world is about grace and conversion. I, who am constantly negative and struggling and generally sarcastic about religion, love this book beyond reason. I’ve always felt that I’m on that unseen hook and line. God hasn’t bothered to reel me in, but I can’t get away, either. I’m just swimming about, irritated. In fact, I’m in such constant irritation that by now I should be spitting out pearls.
My mind balks. Make a statement about faith and my skepticism kicks in. If it’s the children who enter the Kingdom, well, I’m the brat who has temper tantrums, contradicts everything and always complains she’s bored.
I would like to experience the presence of God. Oh, and to know that’s what I’m doing, so that I can say, “Hey, that’s God. Cool!” I would rather the presence weren’t coolly eternal. I expect warmth and affection from my husband and friends, so I don’t see why God shouldn’t deliver something similar. Someone will say it isn’t about feelings and emotion, but I am a friggin human after all, and I experience the world through my senses, my mind, and my emotions. So unless I’m going to experience God on some ethereal plane, I would prefer something tangible, or a sweeping ecstasy perhaps. Hell, even the mysterious joy in the Lord that people refer to would work. A little change in brain chemistry. A vision maybe. My husband got a vision. Why not me? How are they parceled out?
The truth is, I’m a snob. I’m an aesthetic snob and an intellectual snob. Not in everything, but definitely in religion. I’m not going to lift my hands during crappy worship music and get all weepy and emotionally choked up. I can’t insert Jesus and Praise God into every conversation. Or even every 14th conversation. I can’t talk about “a personal relationship with Jesus” without flinching and wanting to suggest that we reframe the discussion into language that doesn’t sound like it belongs at a tent revival. Same for “born again,” a perfectly nice term that I have to scrub with bleach before I can handle. Give my life over to Jesus? What the f@#k does that mean? Should I wrap it up with a bow and leave it on His doorstep? I can’t read the Bible as if it were literal or settle for that much-used cop-out: “God speaks to us through His Word.” Meaning, shut up already and get your lazy ass to read this big boring tome. Then All Will Be Answered. I’m sorry. A book by Charles Dickens really is more interesting. Bite me.
So I’m bitchy sometimes, not exactly alight with Christian love. It’s not pretty. I’m well aware that pride is one of my flaws. But the thing is, I feel like a complete sham, completely false, when I try to fit into contemporary evangelical culture. I’ve tried, and I know that I am lying or at best telling half truths.
Which brings me to the few times I have experienced something beyond the ordinary, a sense of being lifted out of time and feeling a connection with the stream of human history and endeavor and its creative source. I’ve felt it when looking at certain paintings. When reading fiction and poetry. When listening to music. Sometimes when sitting in a cathedral, in a patch of quiet that smells of frankincense. Sometimes when driving and the light hits the trees in a certain way and the world seems like a pathway and yet at the same time the destination.
I have never felt it during a contemporary worship service. Or during a bible study group. Or during most of the praying I’ve done in devotions, or when anyone has prayed over me. Not even a little bit.
What I’ve felt in those true moments isn’t particularly Jesus-y or Christian-y. It feels more like being unfolded. That’s the term that came to me – not sure what it means. I suppose: that my soul which is forced to remain in my finite body, a rather cramped cage, gets to stretch its legs for a moment and suck in some fresh air. Then it gets shoved back in the cage.
Despite the lack of overt worship and Christian trappings in my daily life, I’m pretty invested in Christianity. I want it to be true. Maybe not literally true – do I really care if Mary was a virgin? – but True to the substance and nature of the Divine. That Christ reconciles a screwed-up world to the Father. That he died and rose. That He is creating a new kingdom and a new earth with us. That we aren’t at the mercy of the most hellish aspects of ourselves individually or corporately. That there is a life beyond this one. But don’t get me started on heaven, because I think singing praises to God all day long sounds dead boring (Waugh said, “The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish.”)
What the hell God was thinking in giving me this mental apparatus that constantly second guesses and deconstructs I do not know. I will never have a simple, trusting faith. I’m resigned to that. Still, I’m a fish, a hungry fish, so I took the bait. Now I’m just waiting for the twitch on the thread.
“Pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.” Evelyn Waugh