Saturday, September 6, 2008

Solitary faith...

While we were in NY, my mother in law sat Mark and I down to talk to us about going to church. She was insistant we go at least once a month, to take communion. I was holding my tongue, being respectful. After all, she has a point. We don't go to church that often. For them, it is an absolute way of life. Church is like breath, like food. It is where they recharge. It is where they find sanctuary. The conversation left me sad, and feeling totally misunderstood. She meant well, but if only she knew just how much God is part of my existence. He is like breath. There is no seperating me from Him.

My faith has always been a solitary thing, a moving ocean between myself and God. Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it is out, but it is always there. I am devout, but devotion isn't always apprent when you worship alone. My faith and my soul are best left by themselves. I feel closer to God with no distraction. I have never joined hands with another human being to pray. It is not in me. My faith and prayer are solitary things, rooted in my upbringing.

I always believed in God, even as a small child. My family wasn't particularly religious, but I did attend a Catholic school. If this was how my mother wanted to introduce me to God, the point was moot. He and I were familiar, if not friendly.

My church when I was young was a huge cathedral in downtown Omaha, attached to my school. St. Cecilias. It was beautiful, it's windows lined with glass like gems, it's choir loft hovering like heaven iteself over the entrance. The old fashioned organ sent shivers down my spine, the marble floors echoed with every step. It is a place that is still precious to me, and often when I pray, I picture myself in it's stillness and scent and feel infinitely closer to God.

I know some people find comfort in worship with others. But my faith was need based, a strong pull to believe in something, somebody good. A need to mend my hurt in the arms of St. Mary, who for a long long time, took the place of my mother. I would sit under her statue, watching her, willing her to get up and come to me. She never did of course, but my devotion to her never wavered. I loved and adored her, and still do. My child is not only named after my Aunt, but after St. Mary as well. She filled a void, even though her silence was profound. Many times I knelt under her marble likeness and cried from lonliness, from sadness, from hurt. I begged her to "make my mommy better". I know she cried with me. I felt it. My devotion to her is a satellite of my devotion to God. They move in parallel orbits.

I lost God for a really long time. I was angry with Him. I was frustrated with His lack of care. I was frustrated with His silence. With his ability to change my whole life, but his continuing choice not to do so. I was lonely. I was sad. I was aching. I knew He existed, but I found myself feeling as if He just didn't care. I let Him slip away.

Then came a Sunday morning in 2000. I was with my ex-husband, it was a horrifically bad and abusive relationship. It was familiar to me, the fighting, the hurting, the tears. I chose and stayed with what I knew. It is not smart, and it is not reasonable, but it simply is. I walked into church with a chip on my shoulder. I had only come because a friend invited me. The pastor walked onto the altar, picked up a guitar and began to play a song. (the song you are listening to now, in fact)

In the midst of the song, the words slammed into me like a wave. "Yesterday was the day that I was alone. Now I'm in the presence of almighty God." (Consuming Fire, Third Day)

I am not exaggerating when I say I hit my knees within minutes and gave my life back to God. Tears came from me like rivers, words of humbleness and despair and remorse. God took me back without hesitation. He took me back with joy. From then until now, nothing has rivaled the power of that moment. Not even the birth of my daughter. I stood up from my knees a different human being, a different person. I have never looked back.

My mother in law doesn't know me well enough to understand my faith. I know she means well, but the conversation hurt. I love God. I love him with a fire I can never, ever explain. When I look back at my life, I see how he saved me. I should have died, I should have been killed by my mother's abuse. But He saved me. He stayed her hand many times. He never changed my circumstance, and I will carry my burden of memory forever. But if I trace my fingertips along the lines of my life, He is there. He shines through the pain.

I know some find confort in the joining of hands in prayer, in the softness and stillness of a hushed church, in the songs of praise. But I don't. I find comfort in a walk in the trees, thanking God for the breath in my lungs, for my eyesight to see his creation. I find comfort in watching the mighty waves wash up on the sand and feeling God in my soul like tide. I find comfort in the echoing prayers in the chapel of my soul, where there are no others to distract me from my worship. I am not bound to a building to pray. I do not rely on a priest to tell me how to love God. The need for God is something I didn't have to be taught, and something I never need to have cultivated. It simply is a part of me. It is as much a part of me as my hands, as my breath.

So the question is, how do I teach faith to Lily? How do I show her the bone deep joy in knowing you are not alone, and there is always somebody who loves you? The truth is, she may never come to it on her own. She may need church to teach her. After all, what in her life will make her crave God like I did? What will make her reach out? She has it all- family, love, security. She has no need to reach beyond it's limits. I can't teach this to her, I can simply live it and hope she sees. I can offer her no proof of God other than my words, my deeds. After all, isn't that the real church? The home, the family? Isn't that where we are taught devotion to God, from the echoes of looking up into our parent's faces?

It is up to me to pass this on to her. I hope one day she will feel the desperate pull of her Savior, if not the desperate NEED. I hope she will seek His face, not because she beleives it is what she SHOULD do, but because it is what she wants to do. I cannot teach her to love God. I cannot explain Him to her. I can only show her the peace that comes from knowledge that our walk is never without a companion, never alone. We always walk with Him, whether we are within the walls of a church, or on a broad stretch of beach. He is there.