You may have noticed that I have a slight tendency to speak as I find.
I am opinionated, sometimes brash, staunch in conviction, and sure of everything I say.
That is, I am some days.
You may have noticed that I have a slight tendency to silence my certainty.
I am reflective, sometimes wavering, calm in doubt, and questioning of everything I see.
That is, I am some days.
I have come to understand my particular faith as a peculiar thing.
It is a faith that oscillates, sometimes hourly, between righteous indignation and abundant grace.
In the same service, the pouring of the water into the chalice before the wine may send me into a car-ride-home-rant about the necessity of being proper with our symbols, while the screaming child that the mother decided to leave in the service instead of taking out, distracting everyone, may find me staunchly defending the need for these interruptions to be met with tenderness.
Or vice versa.
On the same day.
In the same breath.
(Seriously, ask my poor friends about what it's like to go to church with me. Any church.)
Little things, these, so why do they matter?
Because it's not just the little things. There are days when I can't bring myself to call the Eucharist the Eucharist, but hold strong to Communion. There are days where the bread is but bread and not a greater substance, while on other days the lived metaphor of that bread as the Body is just shy of Substance that it could reach out and touch It.
And while I cling to some personal, deep absolutes, like how the bread no matter how sanctified or how holy is never the literal, transubstantiated Body, I live in a state of flux as to what else it may be. I know where my final line is, but before that line, it depends on the day. It depends on my morning. It depends on if I have been reading O'Conner or L'Engle or Wright or Descartes or Wharton or Eugenides or Aquinas or text messages.
So ask me in the morning what I feel about street evangelism and you'll have one livid, impassioned response decrying the whole affair, where by the afternoon I'll be out there with them suited up and riding a bike with an impossible smile on my face and tract in hand.
Well, perhaps not that far. But the idea is true. I'd likely be buying them Common Grounds and asking if we could sit down, if I could listen to them, to understand.
I wonder why this is.
I think of how strict many people are when it comes to their beliefs, how they see necessity in right doctrine, while my idea of right doctrine may on Sunday morning be the need for stained glass windows in the sanctuary and steeples outside, but by Sunday night may be about coffee houses and candlelight.
One minute, The Message is a lovely translation of the Scriptures for everyday people and the King James is too confusing, the next, the King James preserves the art of the Scripture and The Message is a filthy rag.
All the while, the rooted faith, the desire to glorify, love, and serve the Lord remains.
The doubt and questioning have nothing to do with Him, but with practice. And feeling. The terrible, beautiful gift of feeling.
Christ our Lord, what's to be done?
I believe there are, in fact, absolutes. But exactly what all of them are, I have but a handful. I believe--oh how I believe!--in one holy, catholic, apostolic church. Just don't ask me to be consistent as to what that means. It doesn't change much or often, but it changes just enough that I can't make a codified statement. Unless, of course, it's on a day where I am feeling very black and white.
I frustrate a lot of people because of this.
I make the very worst theologian.
I am always in flux, learning new things, seeing new angles, writing new stories.
I think that in order to write fiction well, you need this kind of theological momentum. God did not call me, thank mercy, to write a systematic theology. He called me to weave narrative, to sub-create within the infinite bounds of His creation. So some mornings I need to be a bit more Catholic (big C) than others. Some evenings a bit Puritan. And every so often, rare as it is, a Presbyterian.
I rejoice in those who He has endowed with the gift to logically organize their beliefs. Barth, Augustine, Williams, and many others litter my shelves and I read little passages of their ideas daily in turn, sit back with a cup of coffee, and think to myself how amazing the fabric of our family is. Our big, strange, loud, crazy family of believers.
Well, that's on what I consider to be more of a good day. On some days, there's a lot of angry, "NO!"s written in the margins and furious texts to my best friend about the latest bit of heresy I have uncovered.
But I'm getting better. I am learning, in the good words--and today, I am thinking of them as good words--of Mary Oliver, that it is best to live in such a way where you speak softly and bow often. I can still cling to my absolutes, but I cling with a certainty that they are, not a certainty as to what they are.
And yet, this is only true from time to time.
I keep glimpsing pieces of who I want to be in who I am. I keep trying to encourage the former to spend a little more time at the kitchen table of my soul. Maybe one day he will.
Maybe that's the point of it all. Or, better said like this:
In Easter, we light the paschal candle, white and proud, that retains its light through the year. I reflected on this yesterday evening when I went to St. Paul's here in Waco for an evening Mass. (That's the word that came to me. Really, it was Eucharist. For my parents, it would be Communion. But Mass was the word that came, so there it is.) I thought of the resilience of the paschal candle, how in the way it symbolizes Christ, resurrected and whole, glorified and triumphant, unwavering and bright, He is the absolute of our faith. The pillar. Ultimate, present, and yet mysterious.
But the candles on the altar, the place where sacrifice is still symbolized, where we come up to relinquish ourselves unto our Lord, upon the altar the candles with their flames dance and waver and billow. They flit this way and that, but they cling with desperation to the source of their light. They shine bright, despite their dance, and in their dance still keep their hold upon their source, regardless of how they turn.
I am not the paschal candle, but a light on the altar. I am laid forth in the sacrifice of my self to the lordship of Christ, dancing in frenzy, holding fast to the Source, until such a time as my sacrifice is made complete and I am snuffed out. Snuffed out to be united, at last, to the paschal candle Himself, to know as I have been known, and there to find an unwavering peace.
Grace and peace, my friends.
(I'm glad I wrote this today. I probably will disagree with it tomorrow.)
And this, my friends, is but a bit of imperfect prose ...
So what about you? Are you one of those horrible black and white people that today I just can't stand? Or are you one of those awful, wishy-washy people that I'll dislike tomorrow? Or, like me, have you found a peace in flux?
A special shout out to Jamie, the very worst missionary (according to her), whose blog title inspired the title of this post. I am new to her blog, but quickly falling love. Please pop over and tell her hello!
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