Monday, March 24, 2008

Strength Comes in Many Forms

The latest Weekend Wandering question posed by David McMahon was, "How strong is your faith?" That question has several answers so this may seem a bit of a ramble. Faith has so many different effects on our life that strength can be measured on several different scales, each as unique as the faith of the individual who's describing it.

What is strength? Is it intensity? Is it endurance? Is it a force that creates change? Is it simply a quiet call so irresistible that you can't stay away? I've been a believer for 25 years. During those years, my faith has been measurable on each of those scales at different times for different reasons.

When it was new, it was so intense that it was very much a life changing force. The minute I believed, I was changed. I had a religious experience that let me know forever after that God is real. My attitudes and personal behaviors, at the time consistent with popular culture, turned around and became those of the loving and kind beliefs I was brought up with. To say my life took a 180 is not an exaggeration. The effect of change at that time was instantaneous. I'd be sitting in church listening to the sermon and hear something that resonated with my newly found spirit of belief...Holy Change was effected without effort. Belief that it was right and fit with God's intent was all it took.

As I grew more experienced in my life of faith, I found things intruding on that walk with God. Most dramatic was my own anger. Nothing can take you away from faith like the belief that you aren't walking right. You get angry, unhappy, pull away from what you've known was right and just withdraw from the things that support you in your faith. There used to be an old saying which went something along the lines of, "If you feel far from God, guess who moved." Yep, anger moves you...far away from that which you no longer feel in sync with. Like Adam and Eve you hide in shame. Does the presence of God stop just because you turn and hide? No, eventually the quiet, soft voice of love brings you back. Why? Because no one loves you like God does. Not parents, friends, lovers, children, one! God's love is unique in its all inclusiveness. God loves every bit of you and nothing you are or do will make that change.

After experiencing the way anger can change your faith and its functioning, you discover how the world can change it. Being tired means you want to go home and sleep instead of going to Sunday services. Not knowing a soul well at a new church means you don't want to put yourself out to go to functions where there is no one you look forward to seeing. You tell yourself that you can worship God anywhere. While that last is true, there are things one gains by being part of a community of believers that solitude doesn't provide. The life you build for yourself can create impediments to you practicing your faith. Like the husband, that you want to spend time with, falling asleep during service. The length of the drive to the new and interesting church you found. The feeling that maybe you just don't fit in.

When I had gone through a marriage and divorce, a job change, and started trying to rebuild my life, I found myself at a church that kept me there but didn't feed me in all the ways I needed. I think this is called being a fallow field. I'd find myself uninvolved at church, unfed, unfulfilled, and get angry and think of going elsewhere. Why did I not get fed? Part of it was that I was so devastated from the collapse of my life that I literally hid within a crowd. When you hide from everyone and everything you approach life so tentatively that no one can successfully involve you in theirs. You don't involve yourself in the church community. You don't make any effort to fit in and thus you make no connections. Yet every time I looked for a different church I found that while some things were attractive there were things that made me say, "No way!" Nothing else seemed as right as the place I'm at. So I hung around for 3 years with no involvement and no friends at the church I attended.

I'm not sure what triggered the change but eventually my efforts to change my career caused me to feel I needed mentors. I was facing a role I'd never seen myself in...that of leadership. There were lots of people in my church who worked in the career field I was trying to enter. I needed a way to connect with them and find someone who could answer the many questions I had about this new role I'd chosen. God provided a retreat called Cursillo and I found some mentors and moved into the community of my church. Suddenly I was "involved". Within a year I had a circle of friends and then a best friend. I found another role to fill, that of servant, and became involved in the ministry of the Eucharist. God's still small voice was bringing me back to the fold.

Now, I'm a Lay Minister, an Altar Guild member, and have a small select circle of friends whom I love to spend time with and can talk to about almost anything. The creativity of that community is helping me grow and see beauty within where before I'd always looked without for that kind of view. My new experiences in creativity have started my efforts to share myself instead of hiding the gifts God has given me. A network of friends across the globe is building and I'm finding inspiration in the communion of life with others I'd never have believed I could enjoy 25 years ago when this path started.

Endurance...25 years worth. Intensity...enough to break through the barriers a hurting spirit builds. Force of change...building a new self image, developing a community, learning how to love yourself and in the process how to love others in meaningful ways. many new things, experiences, knowledge, connections, a whole world that only a God who loves you so much better than you can ever imagine builds for his beloved child. IS my faith strong? I'd say yes. Not because of anything I've done...but because of it's focus and creator. Thank God!


San said...

Beautiful, heartfelt post, Lee. Thank you for sharing your faith journey.

I celebrate with you the big and beautiful changes that are occurring for you everyday--most notably your sharing your creative gifts with the world. I am so glad that you write this lovely blog and that we are able to connect in this way.

Many blessings to you, friend.

Peace and love.

Maggie May said...

Wow, I am first! I have also written a post linked with David on the same subject, written in a much simpler form, but I identify with the intenseness at the beginning, that gradually wanes to a more livable degree.
Interesting to read other people's versions on faith & I hope lots of people write in! Thanks for yours.

Lee said...

Thank you, San. Your words mean a lot to me. I'm glad we connected through the blog too. You've added so many dimensions to my world.

Blessings flow in a circle, my friend!

Love back at'cha!

Lee said...

Hi Maggie May! Welcome to my place. Thanks for stopping in and commenting. Yes, new faith IS very intense isn't it. Sometimes I miss that intensity. It made everything so meaningful. My prayer life was awesome and God's creation was always part of any moment I happened to be in.

I hope others write on it too.


murat11 said...

"You tell yourself that you can worship God anywhere. While that last is true, there are things one gains by being part of a community of believers that solitude doesn't provide."

This part certainly resonates for me. I was all about the solitary quest for a good 30 years; an important journey, while it was in fact a journey - a wasteland in the later years of spiritual despair. What called me to Rec was the sense that God was in the people there. I wasn't worshiping something abstract and removed from our circle; I was celebrating and creating WITH the living presence of God in our lives.

I like the way you describe the different aspects and attributes of faith while on your journey. Nicely done, and thanks.

Lee said...

Thank you for the kind words, Paschal. Agreed! There is something special about Rec. What I hope to do is bring that "something special" into the every portion of my life. I'd like my every waking moment to be centered in my faith. Whether that's a practical or realistic goal I've no idea, but it's something I'd like to feel if at all possible.


Sandi McBride said...

That was such a sharing...and so heartfelt. I can remember being so involved in my Church, my longing to enter the Convent, the moving away from the calling, the following really opened my eyes Lee...I'm so happy for you! You seem to have your Faith back in your own back yard...which is where most of us are happiest.

Lee said...

Wow, Sandi! Your words are a sharing too! It's wonderful to know that your faith means so much to you. I'll remember it when I pray for you and Mac.


david mcmahon said...

I can identify so strongly with this post, Lee.

And your use of the word ``involved'' is so powerful.

jsd said...

Thank you for sharing your faith journey and hanging around Rec until something 'clicked' for you.

I've always had belief, but in returning to a community I've begun to learn what it means to live into one's fatih.

Lee said...

Thank you, David. It means so much having you in my community. May God always watch over and keep you.


Lee said...

Well (blush), Thank you for showing up Buddy! You're one of the very best parts of that place. I guess we're just gonna have to find out how far that "special feeling" Rec has will stretch. (G)


CamiKaos said...

David sent me over.

Beautiful post.

Cape Cod Washashore said...

Such a beautiful post - you've put proof of your faith down in tender, heartwarming words! I came here by way of David today. =)

Lee said...

Hi CamiKaos, Thanks for visiting. Glad you liked my post.


Lee said...

Hi Beachy, Welcome to my place. Thank you for coming, reading, and being so kind in your words. I'll be over to check your place out shortly.


Cath said...

Hello Lee - this has brought tears to my eyes. I can so identify with it - that feeling of "not belonging" and the anger moving me away from God - experienced that. I am so glad you have found the food you are looking for. I have found mine too but get frustrated by my own physical limitations.

I hope to post something on this before the week is out. Thank you for sharing this. It is wonderful.

I came over from David's btw.

RiverPoet said...

Wonderful post!

David sent me - Peace - D

Lee said...

Hi Cath. Thank you so much for coming in to read and leaving such kind words. I'm glad you've found your food too. Hang in there. We are our own worse critics, much harder on ourselves than God will be.

Peace! Hope! & Joy!

Lee said...

Hi D, thank you for visiting and for your kind words. I'll visit your place soon.


P M Prescott said...

A wonderful expression of your walk and growth in faith.

Lee said...

Thank you, Prescott. I'm so glad you stopped by. Went and checked your blog out too. Very interesting. I'll be back.