A friend of mine seems to be having a crisis of faith. I haven't really had a chance to talk with her so I don't know exactly what is going on with her, but she asked me to raise some rather foundational questions here on my blog and I agreed...
The first pair of questions are "Why do we believe in God... why should we believe in God?" I've been thinking about these questions for a few days and I think I'll answer a slightly different one... why do I believe in God?
I think there are sociological reasons why populations believe in God or not and we could argue for decades regarding whether or not it is a good thing to do (why should we...) so instead, I'll just get personal.
I grew up as a nominal American Protestant. My family regularly attended church - it was the thing to do - but faith was in large degree taken for granted. You didn't talk about it. You didn't question it. And you certainly didn't let it become too emotional or demonstrative. In general, I think my family assumed that believing in God was the right thing to do and that it impacted your life even though they would have been unable to articulate what that meant beyond, "it helps you to be a good person."
At that point, I guess I "believed" in that way, but didn't have any personal ownership or real commitment. I lived on Chalfont St,. went to Turner School, and God was there. They were givens and didn't require anything more than assent. When I was in high school things changed. A number of mystical experiences... looking at the logic of the situation... watching the changes in friends' lives when they made commitments to follow Jesus... all lead to a decision for me. That started me purposefully on my path. Faith was no longer a passive given... it was the breath of life. (that story is another post perhaps)
But that was a long time ago. What about now when my life is very different? When I have known both the settledness of a middle class life, the pains that inevitably come all of our ways, and the joys of love and parenthood and deep, deep friendships? I don't have the same kind of intense mystical experiences I had in my younger years and the circles I travel in don't lend themselves to the radical transformations I saw then. What has replaced those experiences is a more moderate/even/reliable sense of the holy, of wonder, of the luminance of all of creation, of God's presence with me each day. I think that without that awareness, life would be much more difficult. Indeed, I don't now how some people face those days when we wander in the valley of the shadow of death without that awareness. I see God's fingerprints all around me. I rest in a sense of being loved and known exactly as I am. I see a general movement in the universe towards that which is good and beautiful and it feels utterly trustworthy to me. I have a sense that I am a part of something much bigger than I am... I hold the past in my memories and in the stories that give shape to my life and I see the future in my children and in the other children in my life. I don't have a feeling of certainty about much, maybe very little beyond that Love, but I don't feel a need for it. I trust in that Love that I feel surrounding me and that is enough for me.
And that will bring us to my friend's next question - "is there truly an afterlife or is this all we get?" In a few days...