Lately I’ve been praying through my spiritual past, letting memory guide me through how I became a Christian in a non-Christian family, how I traversed fundamentalism to later become Episcopalian, and how the Episcopal Church dared to ordain me both deacon and priest. I’ve been remembering back to the evangelical days, numbered in journals and marginalia laden devotionals, where I would pour out my requests to God. There was an urgency in my prayers, a fear that if I didn’t spill enough ink and tears, my prayers might be absorbed by the hostile, secular world before they could reach the ears of God.
There was a time when Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz was a radical read for me. Each page gave me hope, as it revealed a world where I could ask the questions I had long hushed in favor of listening to large Bible carrying male pastors who had the answers, though they never seemed to get the question. Looking back, I would say today it isn’t enough, the theology doesn’t hold up, there are too many holes. But I can’t forsake the truth that back then anything more would have sent me running and anything less would have let me stay past God’s ask. That book got me where I am today so I can’t ever part with the gift it gave me even as I see it couldn’t stay with me all the way to this day.
Leaving fundamentalism was hard for me. I had become curious about the Episcopal church, had started going to an Episcopal Bible study, was trying to go to both an Episcopal church and Baptist church on Sundays, because the stars and service times aligned. I wanted to somehow hold on to both, but as each stretched out in either direction, I knew I’d have to choose to stay in one piece. I cried myself to sleep many nights, because I didn’t want to part with the way the evangelical church loved me when it loved me, though I knew I’d have to take its love with me and move on in service to God and the questions whose answers would finally place me behind the altar.
The beginning of the process of becoming who I am today can’t be marked by events, but by questions, and the moment when I was allowed to ask them. On this feast of the Annunciation, if you hear nothing else, hear this: God can survive your questions. If the mother of God can look into the eyes of an angel and bear on her lips the question, “how can this be?” then surely you can ask the same question and remain within the love and presence of God.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Birmingham Museums Trust]
Susan Caldwell says
I enjoyed this article so much! Thank you for writing it!
Thank you for sharing–the idea that God is big enough for our questions is a hard discovery for a fundamentalist. As an earnest fundie teen I remember listening with shock to a Michael W. Smith (!) song where he admitted having serious questions and wondered where the burning light went inside of him….were we allowed to ask that? (And was I going to get into trouble for listening to Christian rock? ..but that’s another issue.) I love that the Episcopal Church makes room for the mystery and anger and all the big feelings we have about faith without demonizing that journey. Thanks for sharing!