Recently, the world watched as a long-lived monarch was mourned and laid to rest, with the kind of ceremony that we rarely see; it was in a way a spectacle more than a memorial. There is something about the rituals of mourning, in all their expressions and customs, that comforts the hearts of many; perhaps because it takes the thought out of the process, makes it easy in a way, requires less thought; or perhaps because the familiarity of the words lets us bring them back when we need some sense of peace, or normalcy. I supposed some faiths, and some congregations within those faiths, all have their differing degrees of formality; being raised in a Methodist church, the habits and customs of Catholicism and the Episcopalians or even Presbyterians are not familiar to me. But my life has always orbited around seeing a larger reality through eyes filtered through beliefs – some taught, some retained, some still emerging within my own soul.
Like many of my generation – and apparently, a smaller percentage of the generations since – I went to Sunday school. For whatever reason, I could never really leave behind those childhood lessons, that way of looking at life, that seeking of understanding that was ultimately unquenchable. My desire to grasp at something more spiritual than intellectual is far from unique; seeking “answers” is common throughout all cultures, all peoples, all history – in different forms, with different stories – stronger for some than others. Fool, perhaps, but I still reach out from somewhere inside me, calling out to what others have given many names to, in many languages. This seeking voice, this hungry heart, whispers in all the corners of my life.
I often wonder about word origins, and history – in this case, I think on the word Christian, which originates from Greek translations of a Hebrew word for what the members of that faith might call the Messiah, or promised one; deliverer. So many words; it strikes me as ironic that the narratives that form the basis of the Christian faith were never uttered in the form we know them by those whose lives we read of in the New Testament. There are far too many out there, in every faith, claiming they alone know the whole truth, and all the answers. It’s been a cause for struggle, internally – all the different perspectives about what is “right” and “wrong” – conflicting with my undeniable, and what I was taught was unnatural, attraction to men, instead of women. For many like me, they abandon any effort to embrace the faiths of their earlier years, having endured the rejection and judgement, the condemnation and hatred as outsiders, some find greater freedom by simply walking away, and never looking back. For many, faith is no longer even a factor in their daily life.
Perhaps that is why what struck me, among all the coverage of the “royal funeral” in Britain last week, was a moment where the luxuriously bedecked coffin lay surrounded by the elegantly dressed elite, and the family – the moment when, as part of the no doubt well-orchestrated ritual, those present joined in “The Lord’s Prayer”. In my decades of life I have sat in many, many services of different congregations of faiths, large and small, diverse in various ways of practice and belief and conduct, where these words were spoken. The reading of the “Lord’s prayer” in a congregation has always appeared to me to be somewhat of a mechanical response – perhaps less committed to memory than it used to be in common practice, perhaps read – but just sort of “run through”, chanted, like a magical incantation that somehow, by being spoken, satisfied the need to provide a blessing, an appeasement to a great spirit, or a freeing of whatever burden was carried. Having grown up in my church chorus, or even school chorus, I had learned the “traditional” musical setting of the words, which committed them to my memory well – “Our Fahhhhhtherrrrr … which are in Heaaaaaaaaavennnnnnnnn…… hallowed beeeeeee … thy name……..”
In times of crisis, I too would mouth the words of the “Lord’s Prayer” like something Harry Potter would say to cast out evil spirits. In the years since my youth, my own quest to understand, to find peace, has taken many forms, and many times I have prayed – desperate prayers, seeking help to be made “right”; to overcome fears; to not be exposed. How sad that religious practice for many leads us to find ways to hide, instead of ways to accept ourselves and one another as flawed but loveable! And I have studied the books of the Bible, sat through many sermons, listened to broadcasts, read the thoughts of long dead theologians and some still living – only to find that answers were not easy to come by, but questions would spring up like weeds. That was the simplistic, desperate, childish belief that was my indoctrination – not all that different from aspects of many other faiths – just say the words; just go through the motions. I suspect for many, that is the substance of what hope they have – not wanting to question further, just perhaps to get by, enough.
Today, when I consider what traditionally Christians call the “New Testament” – knowing enough of the history of its development, translation, and contradictions to see that it too is incomplete, and but a shadow of whatever inspired its writers to try to capture their own understanding of “Truth” – I tend to think through things a little more deeply than just mouthing the words. Even though I probably never will fully know, or understand – the reaching out for something beyond my comprehension seems to be hard wired into the deepest part of my being. Many people see those who call themselves Christians as liars and sinners, petty and shallow – and we often are, probably like those of other faiths, including those now long forgotten of ancient civilizations. Many people do not like the word “God”. And I am among them – because something so generic, so casually discarded or held up with pride, could hardly begin to capture the vastness and power of whatever forces created the beauty of our universe, the intricacy of our bodies and every living thing and creature on this globe, the delicate balance of so many elements that keeps our world turning.
I have written about many things on this blog – my family, my challenges with growing up gay, tours of San Francisco, and sprinkled into many of those posts were glimpses of the spiritual lessons that bubbled up through all those fragments of my life. My days of attending services, seeking “healing”, are distant; but the words I read there, and the songs that echo from those days, still bring comfort along with mystery. I have never fully confessed my own questions, or perspectives on faith and prayer with anyone – any pastor I turned to for deliverance or understanding; any caring friend who knew I was hurting and seeking answers; I kept them “hidden in my heart” for the most part. There were times I held myself forth as a Christian, of various stripes, but the suit never fully seemed to fit, and I would never claim to be a source of inspiration. But – seeing life through a lens of not religion, but an emerging faith – struggling to be born, to be acknowledged, to be heard and lived out daily – has been simmering in my soul for so long, I cannot remember when it was not present, in the foreground or background of my life – always there, sometimes buried among all the other chaos that comprises our existence. And I am certain that in that lonely quest, I am far from alone; others silently wondering, reaching for answers, reaching for light but not quite finding enough.
My sense today is that I need to take a leap of faith, here, among the strangers who see these words, most of whom never will meet me. A kind of anonymous opening of my soul – with its quiet voice asking questions, when I awake at 2 and 3 am and the stars are silent, the cats at our feet, my husband sound asleep. It is often then that I try to pray, but struggle with knowing exactly how to go about it – despite the years of sermons and bible studies. But I always return, eventually, to … “The Lord’s Prayer”. If you were to pull out a bible, or lacking one go online, you could find the scriptural reference, in many translations, where Jesus, as we call him, was asked – Lord, how should we pray? His followers, his disciples and others, were mostly non educated commoners who followed him, one of many itinerant teachers common to that era; they, like us in a way, would go to their sabbath meetings and hear one who had been trained read from their holy writings, designated segments, ritual, words. But for some reason, they sensed that this man, performing acts of wonder and speaking of “Yahweh” in ways they had never heard before, could tell them something about communicating with their Creator in a way that no one ever had before.
When the rush of the daily is muffled, my heart speaks loudly enough to guide me to that inner place where I want to speak with the eternal – I think about those words. I don’t pretend to be wise, or mature, or have answers – the older I get, the less I am certain. Even my profession, accounting, was centered around trying to find something measurable, something final – but faith is far from knowledge, and belief is a very distant cousin to science. The majority of peoples around the earth over time might never hear these words, but others – other beliefs, other traditions. Let me be first to acknowledge that perhaps no one has anything to gain from reading what I think, or my questions or weird little perspectives. But my heart, or something speaking through it, is telling me that this is the time, and place, for me to open up – share my questions, my perspectives, my anger and my joy. So, my commitment, for my next post – the words of the “Lord’s prayer” – treasured by many, changed over time, meaningless to others – filtered through my curious, questioning, seeking heart. I hope you might join me then.
An addendum, before I say “until next time” – I actually wrote this several weeks ago. I have held off posting because … it feels unfinished. But isn’t that the point? We all have questions, we are all looking for answers, hungering for “certainty” or something close to it. The pursuit of perfection sometimes only leads to delay; I admit I also have a kind of apprehension that by continuing to open up my heart here, to those who know me, or part of me – and to strangers – I will stumble, somehow. But the path ahead isn’t always clear in life; and sometimes, when we fall, we discover a better way. That will be my hope, when I write next. Until then … love, always.