Steps on the path, part 1

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Hello, this is Elizabeth. I haven’t posted on this blog for years, but here I am. A lot of things have wanted to be written for quite a while, but I haven’t given them their way until now. Here’s one of them.

My earlier theological history tended to be on the vague side. That’s not always a bad thing. My father was a theologian who talked himself up, down, and around in circles, with (so far as I can see) the primary objective of proving himself Not Wrong. That, I came to recognize, is even more important than Being Right. Being right, hedging bets, or being noncommittal are all fine, because nobody can point at you and laugh at you for Being Wrong. Naturally, I grew up with similar biases.

I couldn’t “believe in God” for a long time when I was young, although we’d been taught to as children. I thought believing meant “thinking something was factually true.” I couldn’t believe the Bible’s origin stories or the idea of a bigger and better dad in the sky called Our Father. I couldn’t inflate the image of my father into a model for something to worship (though I’m sure he would have liked me to). I couldn’t believe in a lot of the words people said about God.

What started to soften that stance was music. I was a violinist and a choral singer. In the latter capacity I experienced a lot of sacred music from the inside. I detested the soupy, sappy, sentimental kind (and generally still do), but I also had the chance to sing great music under the direction of a good choral conductor in high school and a superb one (Iva Dee Hiatt) in college.

The thing is, I didn’t agree with the words, but from my place in the midst of the music I knew that in the best of it the whole thing, the music and words together, were True. They were about something absolutely real that couldn’t be denied, but neither could it be expressed with words alone. (Music without words could be True in a similar way.)

I came to admit that the True Thing I was experiencing had something to do with God that was closer and more real to me than anything anyone had ever said about God. It was akin to my awe at the beauty of nature, although not identical.

I continued to hedge my bets for a while but became increasingly comfortable with calling that True Thing God. And once I’d committed myself to that, my experience of God became deeper and broader and more certain. It’s been quite a few years now since I would have said I wasn’t sure if God existed. God is sure and certain, and God’s seeds are growing in me all the time.

I’d be as unwilling as ever to write a Credo that defines what I “think” about God, or lays out a series of beliefs that others must agree to if they are to share my faith. I do sometimes find it hard to communicate with people who rattle off questions at me designed to determine whether I meet their criteria as a believer. Even my beloved John has a more literalistic view of God than I have, although thankfully our differences are a matter of dialogue and mutual querying rather than trying to convince each other that we’re Right.

Some would say my theology is still vague, and by their standards it may be. But I know God. I have no doubts at all that God is real, even if undefinable. I’m immensely grateful that God snuck up behind me and bypassed all those theology words and yes/no questions. God knew that the music, the love, the moon and the trees and the water all orange and purple in the sunset, would find the place in me that the words couldn’t reach.

And I know I am growing into a better and better person (still not necessarily all that good, but much better than I once was) because of the God I know. I have that most precious of things, a place to stand.

And now, yes, there are words that speak to that same deep place: Holy, holy, holy.  Dona nobis pacem.  Et lux perpetua luceat eis.  Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?…when the morning stars sang together, and all the children of God shouted for joy?  Even though I walk in a dark and dreary land, there is nothing that can shake me — She has said She won’t forsake me — I’m in Her hand.  And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish thou the work of our hands upon us.

And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth.

To be continued.

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