Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Intentional Spirituality

It's hard to pursue a graduate degree in English without questioning your faith. We are trained to parse words, to analyze texts for multiple meanings, and to recognize the inadequacies of interpretations and translations. Throw into the mix extremely intelligent, well-spoken fellow graduate students who either regard the Christian faith as outdated and irrelevant or who are openly antagonistic towards it, and your uncertainty is intensified. And if, as I do, you have the type of personality that always searches for the answer, that must be certain, that has to know, well, you may be headed for a dark night of the soul even as you search for some small ray of light.

I was groping through that darkness. I think the physical and mental exhaustion of completing a PhD in three years (teaching full time one of those years and Honors Symposium all of the summers, driving so far back and forth the first year, living away from home and family the second) contributed to my spiritual dryness. I poured all my energy into completing the degree, slowly crowding out time for Scripture, prayer, meditation.

Life is funny, though. Right in the midst of my barren times came synchronicity. I guess you could also call it providence. First, I read a book called Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. This is a beautifully written book by a woman who left Christianity to pursue the Sacred Feminine, and while I did not agree with her journey into paganism, I did admire her intentional spirituality and was intrigued by her research into the nature and being of God. This led me to books on theology, where I encountered this appellation for God: The Divine Mystery.

Everything in me reacted to this name. How beautiful! And how freeing! Augustine said that if you have understood, then that which you have understood is not God. Elizabeth A. Johnson says that the "incomprehensibility of God [is] a mystery of free and liberating love, love that draws near, chooses us without our deserving it, accompanies and bears us, walks the path of struggle, promises victory, dwells among us to gather us in." This name for God, The Divine Mystery, allows us to not understand, to not comprehend completely, and to know that we never will. Yet, at the same time, it validates our pursuit towards understanding. It's almost as if this name gave me permission to believe and cling even through all my questions and doubts. It gave me permission to not have all the answers.

Then at the same time, because Marilynne Robinson was going to be speaking at the Christian Scholars Conference, I began reading her book Gilead. I have never read a more beautiful novel in all my life, and maybe I never shall. When I read the Twilight series, I said that I'd read almost two thousand pages without wanting to underline one sentence. This novel was the exact opposite. I wanted to underline every sentence of Gilead, and double underline some parts. I have never read a novel with so much Scripture and so little dogma, such holiness coupled with such humanity. It is a celebration of mystery and love, of the spiritual as well as the physical. Nothing I can say about this novel could do it justice. It is the story of a life lived in honor of The Divine Mystery.

Then, as I said yesterday, while at this conference I met some wonderful people who have chosen to live with such spiritual intentionality, searching for and worshipping God even as they realize that The Divine Mystery can never be fully comprehended in this life. I guess maybe all my life I've been drawn to this idea of God because I've always loved I Corinthians 13:12, especially in the King James Version: "For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part, but then I shall know even as also I am known."

I want, though, for my pursuit of God to be characterized by love instead of fear, by the desire for relationship rather than oughts or shoulds or guilt.

Suddenly, my cup seems full.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your heart with us who love to read your blog. What joy to serve a God so far above us, yet who identified completely.

You brought tears to my eyes.

Thank you, Stephanie.

I should be at the dinner Thursday night. I look forward to seeing you!

Sarah said...

Wow, Stephanie. I want to send a link to this post to everyone I know. You have just written (quite beautifully) exactly how I feel--let God be a mystery and worship Him for it. Love others out of love, not out of fear.

Thank you.

Stephanie said...

I appreciate your kind words, Amy & Sarah.

lisa b said...

and the church said . . .


Ash said...

For lack of anything to add...GREAT post, and thanks for sharing.