Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A journey, part 3: April showers

This is part 3 of a story in five parts. Catch up here:
Part 1: Waiting for a sign
Part 2: A sinking feeling

I resolved that nothing was more important than my inquiry into the reality of Christianity. I was going to dig deep.

After some internal debate, I went to the registrar on the last drop/add day and dropped Professor Stansell’s Old Testament class. I’d never quit anything before and feared I was copping out to avoid challenges. But when I went by his office to ask him to sign my drop/add slip and said goodbye, I felt free to pursue the questions in my own way, on my own timeline.

I walked across the prairie with my boyfriend and told him I needed a lot of space. We decided to take a break. For me this was going to be a solitary journey.

I e-mailed the mentors of my childhood. I checked out of the library a stack of books on theology and faith I couldn’t carry. I drilled my roommate with questions she couldn’t answer.

My father typed up a summary of his own winding path to God, and sent it to me by e-mail. It comforted me for a moment, but I woke up the next morning afraid that I, as my father, would have to stray for years, to let go of God completely for a season, in order to truly return.

I canceled my spring break plans and went home to Maryland. I lay on the couch all week, discovering my mom’s 1960s folk LPs and sleeping. I didn’t visit my friends.

Natasha, my old youth minister, called and told me to come over.

When I walked in, we didn’t sit down, just stood in the foyer. “What’s up?” she asked.

“Well I guess I still believe in God.” I hung on the railing, not wanting to look in her eyes, yet wanting desperately for her to know my pain. I rambled about the latest fears.

“You are hearing a lot of voices, Katie,” she told me. “Mostly voices that are telling you God is distant. Give yourself time to hear the voices that speak for God, too.”

“I can’t run away from it,” I told her.

“You don’t have to run,” she said. “Don’t be afraid. Just listen.”

While I was home, my mother took me to the National Zoo. We walked around in chilly April air and saw the sea otters playing, carefree on their stone waterslides. We stood in line to see the new baby panda, black and white and fuzzy. At the elephant house, the zookeepers were giving the elephant a bath. I fell in love with the elephant as he gently stretched his trunk into a perfect loop and stuffed a tree in his mouth. How beautiful the giant grey folds in his skin, the slow, deliberate swinging of his trunk and tilting of his head.

As I watched him, I thought, yes, he evolved through natural selection, and I thought, yes, he was created by God.


Back in Minnesota, I went to church on Good Friday, wary of hearing canned statements about Jesus dying on the cross. I was broken. Why should I ask for pardon and atonement?

I sat in the hard wooden pew while a short pastor told a different Good Friday story. He spoke of a group of people who gave their whole lives to their friend, because they believed in him. One day they turned around and saw him stabbed and hanging on a tree to die. From the tree, they heard their friend cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

These words hit me anew. Was the Christian story from its beginning a story of doubt? Was even Jesus himself not immune to it?

I stayed up all night that night, sitting in the lounge with my roommate and another friend, nothing important to say, just that we didn’t want to turn out the light. Something in me began to open. In recounting her own journey, Simone Weil writes in Waiting for God:

If still persevering in our love, we fall to the point where the soul cannot keep back the cry ‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’, if we remain at this point without ceasing to love, we end by touching something…that is the central essence, necessary and pure, something not of the senses, common to joy and sorrow: the very love of God.

Was it possible that in stripping away everything, I would still find something left?

On Easter, two days later, I heard of quiet, fearful women unable to find Jesus’ body; whispers that something strange and frightening and wonderful was happening. A story I couldn’t touch. I liked it.

I began to amble back slowly. In quiet moments walking on the trails, a blooming pink bud reached a part deep inside me that still felt God. As I opened my Bible again, I skipped over certain books and stayed on the gospel accounts. When I accidentally opened to a confusing passage or heard a pastor say something contradictory, I felt my heart miss a beat. So I flipped back to the gospel of Mark, again and again, where the women wake up early on the first day of the week, go to weep over Jesus’ body and find an empty tomb, and don’t know what to think.

There are hiccups on every journey. I skipped a girls night with my friends one weekend, sat in my room feeling disconnected and misunderstood. I waded alone again into the library. Why should I put my heart through the dangerous business of hope once again? When I still had not answered the logical questions?

I called and told Ellen, the director of my Christian camp, that I would have to back out of my summer contract as a counselor. I couldn’t be a mentor of faith to teenage girls. She listened to my story and said, “Nonsense. We want you here.”

To read about that beautiful summer at camp, go to Part 4

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